REVIEW: 20th Century Women

5 06 2017

20th-century-womenI’m a bit of a sucker for generation theory, which lumps together similarly aged cohorts and attempts to impose a coherent narrative on their lifespan. So it’s only natural that I’d fall head over heels for Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women,” a film that treats centuries, decades and generations like immutable facts. In his recreated 1979 Santa Barbara milieu, the accident of birth is destiny for every character.

This goes doubly so for the young protagonist of the film, Lucas Jade Zumman’s Jamie, born at the tail end of the Baby Boom and the cusp of Generation X. Unlike his mother’s Greatest Generation, which held together through the Depression and triumphed in World War II, Jamie’s coming-of-age sees the radical promise of the ’60s being subverted into the reactionary, turbulent ’70s. We are more than just our generation, writer/director Mills suggests, but the formative years of our lives explain so much more of us than we are willing to admit.

That’s why Jamie’s mother, Annette Bening’s steely Dorothea Fields, seeks out proper influences for him since she’s a single mother. Luckily, her boarding house welcomes an assortment of characters from punk photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to wayfaring carpenter William (Billy Crudup). Dorothea’s permissiveness also grants plenty of leeway to the sexually forthright teen Julie (Elle Fanning) to come spend many a platonic night in Jamie’s bed as well. Together, their makeshift family helps prepare Jamie for a world that’s challenging for beta males – or at least male feminists – like himself.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Rules Don’t Apply

15 11 2016

rules-dont-applyPoor Warren Beatty. The man has been trying to make a passion project about Howard Hughes for the better part of four decades. The film faced significant challenges, including 2004’s biopic collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio that nabbed double-digit Oscar nominations.

12 years later, Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” finally makes it to the big screen only to have the misfortune of opening in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. The timing doesn’t exactly feel right for a mostly breezy, old-fashioned tale about an eccentric and potentially deranged billionaire who wants to control women’s bodies and limit their personal freedoms. (A remark where a young actress declares, “I think Howard Hughes should be president, there’s no one else like him” is sure to inspire some nervous laughter.) To be clear, none of this is Beatty’s fault. He has no control over the circumstances under which his movie gets released.

But he did have control over what kind of movie he made. Beyond the unfortunate parallels to the man dominating global news headlines, “Rules Don’t Apply” is not a film built for the long haul – it is certainly not the kind of project that clearly evinces forty years of thought and development. After all that time, it feels like Beatty should have figured out the story’s protagonist – Hughes, his latest starlet prospect Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), or the married company driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who falls for her against his better judgement. The film plays out as a series of loosely connected, scarcely progressing scenes involving these characters – nothing more.

Of the key trio, only Ehrenreich’s Forbes is a character deserving of his own film. Beatty plays Hughes as a slave to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, turning his neuroses into a joking psychosis. Collins, meanwhile, dashes through her lines with such speed that she delivers them without seeming to understand what any of them mean. Or, at the very least, she doesn’t feel them with any strong sense of purpose.

Ehrenreich, meanwhile, recalls the unflappability and easygoing cool of a ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio. As a corporate pawn torn between his show business attraction and his familial commitments, Forbes is the only person in “Rules Don’t Apply” whose path does not seem predestined. Too bad that Beatty did not line up the heft of the movie fully behind him. C-1halfstars





REVIEW: Ruby Sparks

3 08 2012

My second review on this site was for a movie I was quite high on three years ago, “(500) Days of Summer,” and remain a big fan of to this day.  Back then, it was the little indie that could, a summer sleeper that provided a smile and welcome relief to canned romantic comedies like “The Ugly Truth,” and a nice reminder of the acting prowess of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.  Then, it went mainstream, said the slightly bitter pseudo-hipster with a sigh.

Never could I have imagined that Marc Webb’s film could have been so influential.  Beyond just elevating Joseph Gordon-Levitt into major leading man status and turning Zooey Deschanel into the modern ideal of the “manic pixie dream girl,” the film made quirky a cool and acceptable facet for the genre.  “Ruby Sparks,” the sophomore film from the people that gave us the middling “Little Miss Sunshine,” attempts to dovetail the success of “(500) Days of Summer” by virtually replicating its emotional ride.

To be fair, “Ruby Sparks,” written by its star Zoe Kazan, is probably quite a bit smarter than its rom-com relative.  However, the film’s charms are far too easy to resist, namely because Kazan is a poor man’s Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano is just a poor excuse for an actor in general.  They can sell the film on an intellectual level, but neither is particularly good at making us care.  Had it been Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in the highly-strung emotional climax, I’m convinced I would have been riveted and moved.  Instead, I just sat there pursing my lips like Miranda Priestly.

Read the rest of this entry »





Know Your Nominees: “The Kids Are All Right”

7 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “The Kids Are All Right.”

“The Kids Are All Right” is set in Los Angeles, fairly obviously although not entirely prominently.  But according to writer/director Lisa Choldenko, the movie was originally set in New York.  The availability of Annette Bening, however, was contingent on moving production to Los Angeles.  Cholodenko decided to rewrite the script with the setting changing coasts, and she claims that it helped bring the characters more to life.

Cholodenko also claims that the movie is slightly autobiographical, mainly at the beginning as she and her partner in real life were looking to be impregnated by a sperm donor.  In walks co-writer Stuart Blumberg, who was a sperm donor himself.  He wondered what children he brought into the world, and the two of them came up with what we now know as “The Kids Are All Right.”  In 2006, the movie was nearly greenlit for production – but Cholodenko became pregnant and shelved the project for family matters.

The revision process was also grueling.  The initial draft took a month to write, and as we know, nothing is perfect the first time.  So Cholodenko and Blumberg re-wrote every character, scene, and line at least 10 times.

Who was the first actor onto the project?  Several years before production began on “The Kids Are All Right,” Julianne Moore met Cholodenko and expressed her admiration for the director’s work.  The two kept in touch, and Cholodenko sent Moore the script for her next movie around 2004, which the high-profile actress was attached to for many years.

When Annette Bening came aboard the project later, Cholodenko has stated the she retouched the script to make the character fit Bening better.  The character Nic that we see in the movie better serves a vessel for her voice.

Mark Ruffalo received his first Academy Award nomination for his role in “The Kids Are All Right,” but it might interest you to know that he intially turned down the role.  He was cast sequentially after Moore and Bening, and he was approved from a list that Cholodenko had made for potential actors to play the character.  After his initial refusal, Moore used her personal relationship with Ruffalo, who she starred with in “Blindness,” to reel the actor in, even texting his wife.

How did the kids come aboard?  Cholodenko chose Mia Wasikowska after seeing her work in HBO’s “In Treatment.” On the other hand, her on-screen sibling didn’t have it quite so easy.  Josh Hutcherson received got the script and auditioned for the role.  I guess “Zathura” wasn’t quite convincing enough…

Indie movies are, by their nature, independently financed.  But for the quality of filmmaking you get from “The Kids Are All Right,” you’d be surprised how rushed the schedule was.  The entire movie was filmed in 23 days. And as for the budget, the movie was made on $5 million; according to Ruffalo, the stars made almost no money just like virtually any indie movie.  Oh, and they only had five days to rehearse.

Unlike “The Social Network,” which was shot word-for-word for Aaron Sorkin’s script, “The Kids Are All Right” underwent some metamorphosis during the filming process.  Two scenes were added during the shoot, and the last line of the movie that appears in the final version wasn’t written until pre-production.

Ok, and what about the movie’s politics?  Lisa Cholodenko acknowledges that the political climate in which “The Kids Are All Right” is being released in makes most people believe that it has an agenda.  But in numerous interviews, she has stated that she did not see this as a gay movie.  What she wanted to get at with the movie was something more universal.  It’s a movie about family in any way, shape, or form.  All the stars said they didn’t need to do any research on same-sex parenting because they approached it like any family movie.

Check back on February 10 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The King’s Speech.”





REVIEW: Mother and Child

19 12 2010

 

Most movies that we eagerly anticipate, we run out to see in theaters in the first few weeks of release.  Those that we leave for video are ones that we expect to be trash or those which we had no real desire to see in the first place.  Why do we have these low expectations?  Because, for the most part, Hollywood perpetuates them.  What we save to see on video is rarely any good.

But then again, with these low expectations, it’s just that much easier for a movie to sneak up and floor us.  Such is the case of “Mother and Child,” Rodrigo Garcia’s hyperlink drama intertwining three different stories of maternity.  As the style becomes slowly hackneyed by the system, it’s a nice ray of hope that someone can still get it right with a story built around three strong female characters and hard-hitting situations.

As Karen (Annette Bening) prepares herself for the imminent death of her mother, she can’t help but wonder what has become of the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was 14.  As she and her mother were never particularly close, she finds herself overcome by guilt and wistfulness, wishing she could have the time back to repair the mother-daughter relationship.  It doesn’t help things that Karen discovers post mortem her mother found the daughter of their Hispanic maid to be more like her child.

Then, there’s Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), whose hard-knock childhood has led her to be a family-spiting woman driven only by rationalism and furthering her career.  Her life is exactly as she wants it to be: unsentimental and free of unnecessary relationships.  But love finds a way into her life in the form of her boss, Paul (Samuel L. Jackson), and she soon finds that what she avoided for so long arrives on her doorstep.

Dead-set on adopting a child, infertile Lucy (Kerry Washington) has her mind on nothing else but becoming a mother.  Desperate to feel that maternal bond, she lets her marriage fall by the wayside in the mere hope that Ray (Shareeka Epps) will give her the child inside her womb.  The need to be a mother ultimately drives her to emotional extremes that alarm her friends and family.

Bening, Watts, and Washington all turn in performances so emotionally charged that it stings.  They bring so much passion and feeling to the project, and it exudes from the screen like a bright beam of light.  But it’s Garcia’s script, so thoughtful, beautiful, and heartbreaking that “Mother and Child” makes for one emotionally wrenching watch.  Providing three distinct takes on what it means to be a mother, it’s a deeply moving moviewatching experience – even sitting on a couch. A-





Oscar Moment: December 10, 2010 Awards Round-Up

10 12 2010

Welcome back to another exciting awards round-up post!  It’s been a whole week since I’ve said anything about the Oscars, which is the longest I’ve gone since September!  It’s a good thing this week has been pretty stagnant aside from a few minor critics groups and some top 10 lists out in the mix.

Please remember to take the poll at the end of the discussion!  It will help to make these posts more community-driven – it’s fun just reading it and writing about it, but I sure do enjoy it more when I get your feedback!  You don’t have to live and breath Oscars like I do to take part!

As for last week’s poll, you all think that “The Social Network” will beat “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture.  And by you all, I mean all one voter that took the poll.  So let’s shoot for higher this week!

(And another reminder: I spent a lot of time linking the titles of movies in this post to their respective Oscar Moments/reviews if you want to know more about them.  So don’t hesitate to click!)

Awards

Washington, D.C. Film Critics announce. Generally not a very exciting bunch; Kris Tapley of In Contention said their picks are usually just guessing what the Oscars will nominated in about 7 weeks.  Like myself and several others, they think “The Social Network” is going to be the cup that the Academy sips from when picking their awards.

Their Best Picture line-up was absolutely stellar though: “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” and “Toy Story 3.”  If those were Oscar’s five (way back when they only nominated that many movies for Best Picture), I would be a very happy man.  Since many are already boiling the race down to a horserace, it’s curious not to see “The King’s Speech,” but it got plenty of love, including a win for Best Actor for Colin Firth and Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay nominations.

Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone,” which definitely showed some strength from the win as well as nominations for Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Adapted Screenplay.  I think we could definitely be looking at a critical favorite in Lawrence, although this is a very similar trajectory to Carey Mulligan last year who wound up not taking home any major prizes.

Predictable wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” in the supporting categories, with the former looking more and more like a lock with each passing day.  “The Social Network” also won Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, neither of which was surprising given the group’s love for the film.

Interestingly, “Inception” won Best Original Screenplay over the field of “The King’s Speech,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Another Year,” and “Black Swan.”  This category has played out interestingly at the Oscars over the past two years.  2009 brought us “The Hurt Locker” ultimately triumphing over “Inglourious Basterds” with “Up” as a dark horse looming in the background.  2008 was the horse race between two totally different types of movies, “Milk” and the almost non-verbal “Wall-E.”  Given what’s been going on recently, “Inception” makes a fascinating wild card.  “The King’s Speech” is like past winner “Milk,” and “The Kids Are All Right” gives off “Juno” vibes.  There hasn’t been a movie like “Inception” in the race in a long time (unless you want to compare it to the mind maze of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).

For a historical reference point, last year the group picked “Up in the Air” as their Best Picture.  Aside from the slam dunk supporting categories, the only Oscar winner they selected was Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker.”  Since 2002, they haven’t been a very reliable predictor at all of the ultimate selections of the Oscars.

For a full list of nominees, see the official press release from the WAFCA.

The British Independent Film Awards. Predictably, “The King’s Speech” cleaned house at the British Independent Film Awards, the equivalent of the Independent Spirit Awards across the pond.  The very British story of King George VI took home Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay.  Curiously, director Tom Hooper lost Best Director to Gareth Edwards for his work on the ultra-low budget “Monsters.”  Mike Leigh was also nominated for “Another Year” in this category.

These awards don’t really show us much other than that the British are firmly allied over their love of this movie.  Last year, “Moon” triumphed over eventual Best Picture nominee “An Education,” the movie considered to have the “British vote” going into the Oscars.  This faction will be crucial to “The King’s Speech” if it is to prevail in the Best Picture category, and this is a very reassuring ceremony for the movie.

Also worth noting: “Never Let Me Go” may be almost entirely forgotten, but apparently Carey Mulligan isn’t.  She won Best Actress for her performance, and I still wouldn’t count her out as a dark horse Oscar nominee.  I don’t think a Golden Globe nomination is entirely out of the question (a la Tobey Maguire in last year’s “Brothers“).

The European Film Awards. Not much to report here as the only awards contender really in play was “The Ghost Writer,” and it capitalized on its seven nominations by winning a stunning six categories.  Lesley Manville was in contention for “Another Year” but lost Best European Actress to an actress I’ve never heard of in a movie I’ve never heard of.

Read the rest of this entry »





“The Kids Are All Right” Poll Results

31 07 2010

As “The Kids Are All Right” rolls into over 800 theaters this weekend, including many that are very much in the mainstream, it seems as good a time as ever to check out the results of the poll I ran along with the Oscar Moment on the movie.

The poll was a little bit different than any other one I’ve run before (at least with an Oscar Moment).  Rather than answer a simple “yes/no” question, I asked readers to pick ALL the contenders from Lisa Cholodenko’s film that they expected to wind up nominated at the big dance.

So there might have been some confusion, and I apologize for that.  The results seem normal now, but at first, they didn’t seem … well, all right.

There was a clear favorite candidate: Annette Bening.  With six votes, readers clearly think she is going to be a major threat in the Best Actress race.  (Although I will say, after having seen the movie, I think Bening should be supporting and Moore should be lead.)

Then things got a little more interesting.  Four people think that the movie will be nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.  That’s a nice number, but it shows that not everyone is convinced this is the real deal.  Only one person thinks Lisa Cholodenko will receive a nomination for Best Director, which isn’t too shocking given that the movie isn’t the type where the director gets a lot of credit.  But in 2007, Jason Reitman sneaked in for “Juno” when no one expected it, so you never know.

Among other actors, Julianne Moore received the next highest votes of confidence with four.  In my review, I singled her out as my favorite, and I sincerely hope she wins.  Hopefully no category fraud issues spell her doom.

Surprisingly, Mia Wasikowska wound up with more votes than the elder statesman Mark Ruffalo – two to one, in fact.  Many people consider Ruffalo very overdue for a nomination, particularly after being snubbed for 2000’s “You Can Count on Me.”  But if the field is weak enough, Wasikowska could sneak in if love for the movie is strong.  It wouldn’t be the first time that two actresses from the same movie were nominated in the category; it’s happened the past two years.

Also worth a mention, Josh Hutcherson received a vote, which I sure liked to see.  Represent 17-year-olds!  (Fun fact: he’s two days older than I am.)