F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 17, 2014)

17 01 2014

You’ve seen biopics of complex figures, but director Todd Haynes isn’t interested in presenting his portrait of musician and cultural icon Bob Dylan like anything else ever made.  His “I’m Not There” is a bold experiment, manifesting the fragmentation of Dylan’s persona by literally splitting him into six characters.  This iconoclasm pays off in a rewarding and challenging experience, leading me to name the movie my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

It’s not necessary to know Bob Dylan or his music really well to admire “I’m Not There.”  Rather, all it takes is a willingness to see the connection between the six pseudo-Dylans … or perhaps their incongruity.  The Dylans take many different shapes, including a young African-American (Marcus Carl Franklin), an older man (Richard Gere), a born-again folk singer (Christian Bale), and an actor attempting to get inside of him (Heath Ledger).  We float through each of their lives and struggles in bits and spurts.  Just when we think we get a grip on Dylan, he slips away.

Oddly enough, the one who looks the most like the Bob Dylan we know … is played by a woman.  Cate Blanchett is Jude, a raspy-voiced chain smoking folk musician.  Not unlike her work in “Blue Jasmine,” Blanchett disappears inside her character and makes us forget that aura of regality she so often conveys.

She captures all the frustration of misunderstood artistry along with all the pains of drug addiction.  Blanchett brilliantly fulfills the most frequently recognized Dylan iconography yet also breathes something deeply human into her character, something no amount of cameras or reporters could ever really capture.   She’s at once vulnerable and inaccessible.

Much like Jude, “I’m Not There” floats between all these contradictory lives of Dylan, back and forth with well-orchestrated indirection.  It never settles, never aims for some sort of absolute truth.  It’s like a fictionalization of the concepts brought up in a documentary like Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell.”  We are many different things to many different people, and there is no fixed point from which to observe reality or memory.  Perhaps we just exist as the sum total of the masks we wear.

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Random Factoid #527 / I’m a DC

6 01 2011

So Katie over at “Stories That Really Mattered” invited me to be a part of the meme called “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC” (which should ring a bell from Mac/PC in your head).  I’m pretty noncommittal on the two comics powerhouses as I don’t read the books, and the movies just run together for me.

But, since she asked so nicely, I’ll make a commitment.  I’m a DC!!!

Why?  Three reasons.

  1. They had Heath Ledger.
  2. They have Batman and Christopher Nolan, who made “The Dark Knight,” the only comic-book movie worth talking about as anything other than a movie adaptation of a comic book.
  3. They have “Watchmen,” which was a pretty average movie, but a great graphic novel!  I only read it thanks to the movie, TIME magazine, and a friend’s recommendation, but I certainly did enjoy it.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read another one again, yet I certainly was enriched by reading an entirely different kind of literature.

So there.  Those are my reasons.  Take that, Spider-Man!  Turn off THAT dark!





Random Factoid #523

2 01 2011

Still living in 2010 with the factoid column as a report of celebrity death hoaxes hit Entertainment Weekly and caught my eyes.  They said that in the past year, the Internet has carried false death claims for Owen Wilson, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and Morgan Freeman.

I’m never one to believe these things, largely because I don’t have a Twitter or check it ever, so I’m not exposed to these false claims.  Only when a celebrity actually dies do I notice it on Facebook because suddenly everyone posts statuses.

I’ll never forget when Michael Jackson died and “RIP Michael” flooded Facebook.  If I recall, his death was the biggest spike in Internet traffic ever.  I remember I was on my way to see “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” when I heard he had collapsed, and then I got a text from my mom on my shattered iPhone that he had died.

And I’ll also never forget when Heath Ledger died.  I was having my second driving lesson of Driver’s Ed, and while sitting in the backseat, the radio DJ announced that he had died.  At first I didn’t believe it, but then they kept saying it between songs and I realized it had to be true.  Every high school girl died a little inside that night, and they took to Facebook with their grief.

So go away celebrity death hoaxes.  No one’s ever going to believe them unless they hear it from all angles.





REVIEW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

6 09 2010

With the sense of wonder of a child and the intelligence of an adult, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a truly dazzling film. From the mind of Terry Gilliam, this Faustian fairy tale indulges our imaginations, often growing dusty from years without activity and becoming more seldomly used with each technological advance and each passing year. I feel like I saw in this movie what the multitudes saw in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but I found the bubbly exuberance on display here was ultimately much more winning.

The titular Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is traveling England doing an antiquated theater and magic show in a horse-and-buggy. He has sold his soul to Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), an incarnation of the Devil, to counteract the immortality he won from the big red guy down below in a bet several hundred years before. Parnassus soon has to give back his 16-year-old daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), to Nick, and he’s especially dreary given those circumstances. It doesn’t help that his “imaginarium” has become somewhat of a laughing stock.

But everything changes when they rescue a hanging man (Heath Ledger), later discovered to be a philanthropist named Tony. Parnassus’ crew discovers first, though, that Tony has a true knack for the theatrical, and he revolutionizes their marketing approach. Soon enough, all sorts of high-class mall shoppers are entering their mysterious mirror into a world of untapped imagination. But soon enough, they find out that Tony was involved some shady dealings, and the troupe is subsequently brought into this world of danger along with their newest member.

The movie has the unfortunate distinction of being Heath Ledger’s final role. As it was widely publicized, he was still in the middle of filming this movie when he passed. While his performance as the anarchical The Joker will forever make him an icon and legend in cinematic history, it was a role that certainly did not represent Ledger’s off-screen personality. As the mysterious Tony, all the charm and artistry that made him one of the movies’ golden boys is on display. It’s really comforting to know that Ledger’s final movie shows us the Ledger we want to remember.

I was worried that the movie would be too much of a memorial to Ledger and that Gilliam couldn’t figure out a way to downplay his death. His solution is executed with poise, having Ledger play Tony in the real world and three capable actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) play different incarnations of him inside the mirror. Depp, Law, and Farrell are all great, bringing their distinctive acting skills to the role while also keeping in line with Ledger’s version of the character. It’s also nice to know that their dedication extends beyond the screen as they all donated their salaries for the movie to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

But let’s not dwell on the past too much because this movie gives us a great opportunity to look forward to the future. “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is one of the first roles for Andrew Garfield, recently cast in the reboot of the Spider-Man series. Audiences will probably look back and see “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network” as the movies in which they discovered him, but here we get a very nice introduction to the actor who is poised to make a big splash in Hollywood. With charisma, nobility, and sensibility, not so unlike Ledger, Garfield should be a welcome addition to Hollywood’s A-list.  A- /





NOLAN REVIEW: The Dark Knight

14 07 2010

After the modest critical and financial success with “The Prestige,” Nolan returned to the Batman franchise and released a movie that riskily omitted the name of the Caped Crusader – “The Dark Knight.”

Two years later, how do you review Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight?”  What hasn’t been said?  There’s no one left to convince to see the movie; if anyone hasn’t seen it, they aren’t worth the effort.

After watching and rewatching Nolan’s films prior to this, it only made me realize more that “The Dark Knight” is a perfect realization of all the themes he loves to explore.  It’s about the extent of rules and limits, something he touched on in both “Following” and “The Prestige.”  It’s about the blurriness of morality, a theme he examined in “Memento” and “Insomnia.”  It’s about fear and what it can drive us to do and become, something that we saw a lot of in “Batman Begins.”

But there’s plenty unique to “The Dark Knight.”  It’s a rumination on terrorism as the anarchistic Joker seeks to cause madness in the streets of Gotham.  Batman, the only person with any hope of stopping him, has to consider how far he is willing to go to eliminate the Joker before he himself becomes the villain.  As their fight escalates, Bruce Wayne becomes more and more uncertain that he is the hero in his own story.  Some have read into this undertones of George W. Bush waging war on terrorism against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.  That’s a rather extreme way to look at it, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this storyline did tap into the zeitgeist.  We ourselves have wondered where to draw the line in our fight on terrorism as to aggression.  How much counter-aggression does it take before we ourselves become the aggressors?

Of course, you can’t discuss the movie without heaping superlative after superlative on Heath Ledger’s The Joker.  It’s a role that deserves to take its place among the most iconic characters in cinematic history, something Ledger’s unfortunate passing sealed.  His complete immersion and stunning transformation overshadowed pretty much every other performance in the movie, which says a lot because there were some other fantastic turns.  Forget the deep, raspy Batman voice and Christian Bale is flawless, delivering a subtle portrait of Bruce Wayne’s affliction and inner torment.  Aaron Eckhart is compelling as Harvey Dent and Two-Face, as good at being the hero with a face as he is at being the villain with half a face.  There’s solid foundational performances from veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but the movie’s true unsung hero is Gary Oldman.  As the only truly noble man in the movie, he’s a figure to be admired and respected, and there’s a good chance you won’t even notice it.  But that doesn’t stop Oldman from putting any less sensitivity or emotion into it, nor does he try to overdo anything to make himself stand out more.

Still, it wasn’t Heath Ledger alone that drove the movie to extreme critical acclaim and some of the most enormous box office receipts in history.  Nor was it the look of the film – which, by the way, was spectacular, particularly Wally Pfister’s breathtaking cinematography.  It was Nolan’s script, full of intelligence and insight, that won audiences over.  Such intellect was so unconventional for a movie of the genre, and we had generally allowed ourselves to think that action movies don’t require us to engage our brains.  Yet Nolan challenged our assumption and delivered a movie that successfully blended smarts with action, and we loved the exciting and refreshing change of pace.  Now, we want every action movie to be more like “The Dark Knight.”

So call it a masterpiece.  Call it the most thematically rich and relevant movie in recent memory.  Call it the first shot in a revolution for the comic book, superhero, and action genres.  Call it the movie to define a decade not just of moviegoing but also of American life.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 21, 2010)

21 05 2010

I thought I would give a one-week reprieve from the heavier movies. Now, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” takes a step towards the wrenching with “Monster’s Ball,” a movie with the power to conjure up all sorts of emotions. You might remember the movie because of Halle Berry’s emotional Oscar speech after becoming the first African-American to win Best Actress. But as soon as you watch the movie, you will remember the movie because of her performance, which is the film’s heart and soul.

Berry inhabits the character of Leticia Musgrove, a woman who is stuck in circumstances she can’t stand. Her husband (Sean Combs or whatever shortening of his name he goes by now) is set to receive the death penalty. Her son (Coronji Calhoun in a mesmerizing and powerful debut performance) is morbidly obese, and she can’t get him to lay off the candy bars. Her car is busted, her house is about to be foreclosed, her job situation is hectic. Most of all, her soul is weak under all these burdens.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a correctional officer at the prison where Leticia’s husband is executed. He is a cold-hearted racist and doesn’t hesitate showing it. He can’t stand his son (Heath Ledger) who is trying to follow his own moral compass. He is bitter for being straddled with the care of his ailing father (Peter Boyle), an even more extreme racist than himself.

Don’t Leticia and Hank sound like an unlikely pair?  Moreover, doesn’t Hank’s shoulder seem like the least likely place for Leticia to cry into?  Yet as events unfold, the two connect in surprising ways, shocking the traditional Southern community around them.

Halle Berry is absolutely astonishing, hitting every emotional high and low with pin-point precision.  There’s no doubt that she deserved the Oscar.  I haven’t seen “Things We Lost in the Fire,” her only non-comic book or action movie since her win, but I’m a little upset that she has squandered such incredible talent on such unworthy material.  She needs to get back to roles like these, ones that accurately showcase just how talented she is.  Maybe Mo’Nique and “Monster’s Ball” producer Lee Daniels will give her a role in the Hattie McDaniel movie – here’s hoping!





Oscar Moment: “Iron Man 2″

28 04 2010

In nine days, the summer movie season will officially kick off with the release of “Iron Man 2.”  It will most assuredly begin the very profitable period with a bang, potentially with the highest opening of all-time.  According to the Los Angeles Times, interest in the movie is very high ahead of the opening and polling has confirmed that people are indeed eagerly anticipating the release.  Whether or not it has what it takes to topple the record held by “The Dark Knight” is something no one can really predict.

“The Dark Knight” had many extraordinary circumstances in its favor.  The first “Iron Man” movie primed the pump for intelligent popcorn flicks by proving a surprise hit amongst fans and critics.  The rebooting of the Batman series with “Batman Begins” also gathered a large fan base, and people were excited for the follow-up.  But what arguably became the key factor in the success of “The Dark Knight” was the tragic death of Heath Ledger and a new layer of intrigue that was added to the movie as a result.  Rumor was that the drugs Ledger overdosed on were to help him get over the psychological distress of playing The Joker, and excitement to see his villainous turn quickly became some of the most intense anticipation in cinematic history.  People threw out casual suggestions about him being in contention for awards, and his death made an Oscar nomination a near certainty.  When the movie was released, Ledger’s win was sealed.

“Iron Man 2” features what could be another outstanding villainous role in Mickey Rourke taking on the part of Tony Stark’s foe, Whiplash.  After dealing with many substance abuse problems, Rourke triumphantly blazed back onto the Hollywood stage with “The Wrestler” in 2008, winning the Golden Globe and receiving an Oscar nomination.  His role in that movie led to a surge of interest in the actor, and the first role he took was in “Iron Man 2.”

But did Mickey Rourke lose all chances of being considered for Best Supporting Actor by being alive in the months leading up to the release of “Iron Man 2?”

It may be best to start by analyzing the category.

This is a category that LOVES villians – Christoph Waltz this year, Ledger, Javier Bardem in 2007, Tim Robbins in 2003.  It is also a category that likes to reward actors (usually veterans) who are overdue for a trophy – Alan Arkin in 2006, Morgan Freeman in 2004.  By these two characteristics, Rourke would appear to have a great shot.  He’s scary even whenever he’s not a villain, and he has a great deal of Academy support despite his loss two years ago to Sean Penn for Best Actor.

Judgement, however, cannot be based on the category alone.  It’s hardly a secret that the Oscars don’t like comic book movies.  They declined to nominate “The Dark Knight” for their highest prize despite being successful in every area and popular with every group in favor of “The Reader,” a movie that had lukewarm support from critics and fans.  Right out of the gate, Rourke and “Iron Man 2” have a massive strike against them.  It would take the movie out of the picture without the expanded field, no matter how much praise it was met with.  In my estimation, it will take a tremendous performance by Rourke to overcome this hurdle, one that I believe he is fully capable of delivering.  But if the movie tanks critically as sequels often do, it would be all but impossible for him to be nominated.

Then again, Heath Ledger overcame it.  We can never know how performance vs. politics played out or how things would have turned out had he been alive.  All politics aside, I believe Ledger gave one of the greatest performances that I have ever seen, and he deserved to win an Oscar for it dead or alive.  It was a total immersion, and if Rourke can pull off something similar, I see no reason for him not to be nominated or even win.  But awards can’t just be about the art; it’s a game where how you play matters just as much as how you act on screen.

I’m skeptical about Rourke’s chances, as you can tell.  We just have to remember that performances aren’t given and movies aren’t made to win awards; they are made to entertain and captivate an audience.  If Rourke blows us away with Whiplash, awards attention is just a bonus.  The real award comes from the creation of art that does more than serve its purpose.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing/Editing

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rourke)