(Again REALLY Belated) Weekend Update – July 31, 2011

31 07 2011

“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”

– Meryl Streep

“You have to show violence the way it is. If you don’t show it realistically, then that’s immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, then that’s obscenity.”

– Roman Polanski

Out and About in the Community

As a sort of cop-out for not publishing this on time, I’m going to overpublicize two events I participated in recently over at the Large Association of Movie Blogs (The LAMB), a giant database of bloggers that get together and pool ideas and posts.

The first was the LAMB Acting School, a monthly series that gathers reviews and retrospectives centered around a single actor.  This month, it was the legendary Meryl Streep, the woman who may well be the greatest actress of her generation.  For those who get sick of her or claim that the Oscars are overly obsessed with her, just look at her filmography and tell me that the diversity of roles present and the dexterity with which she pulls them off isn’t flooring.  Her emphasis is obviously on the drama, but she can pull off comedy just as easily.  She is often lauded for her ability to change the accent of her voice to fit a character; however, it’s that incredible Streep pathos that she brings to every role that has made her a symbol of consistency and reliability in a volatile cinematic climate.

Not to mention I owe Meryl Streep a very special favor myself.  If it hadn’t been for her and “Julie & Julia,” this blog probably wouldn’t exist.  She has changed my life for better and for always, and I am eternally grateful.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Click on the graphic to go see all the posts, but here are links to what I have reviewed from her illustrious career:

It’s Complicated

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Julie & Julia


Music of the Heart

Then, a week prior, I participated in the “LAMBs in the Director’s Chair” event, which celebrated the career of Roman Polanski.  I haven’t seen too many of his movies and have reviewed even fewer, but I admire his skill behind the camera and don’t wish to comment on his legal status.  I saw “Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired,” which I found an interesting portrait of a haunted man, and it just made me even more torn.

Nonetheless, “The Pianist” may be one of my all-time favorite movies.  It is so powerful and moving, perhaps the only intensely personal non-documentarian account of the Holocaust we will ever get.  I’m really hoping “Carnage” is another big success – I always love a good play adaptation.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Again, click the link to be taken to the post with reviews and commentary. Here’s what I submitted:

The Ghost Writer

Classics Corner: Rosemary’s Baby

A Week in Review

This week, I reviewed the two non-Smurf new releases, “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Crazy Stupid Love.”  My expectations were high for the former, low for the latter; the output was low for the former, high for the latter.  Click the pictures to be transported to the reviews.

I also celebrated my two year birthday/anniversary, whichever it is – without the pomp and circumstance.  And I’m totally OK with that.

Recommended Reading

Here’s some of the great work I read this week:

The Rant

This is a thought I had upon further thought on the sex friend movies of 2011, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends with Benefits.”  (Believe it or not, it is possible to think on them.)

Isn’t in hypocritical that the MPAA has begun a crusade against cigarette smoking yet have done nothing about what I think is a much bigger issue in movies nowadays: the casual attitude towards unprotected sex.  While I’m not going to dismiss smoking in movies as something that can influence kids and teenagers, I would argue that they are much more likely to imitate the sexual behavior of screen characters.  Smoking is a social behavior, so kids see it out in public all the time.  Movies just reinforce what they see in real life.

Sex, however, is a very private matter.  Their education nowadays is abstinence or a very sanitized, conservative, condoms-on-bananas approach, like Coach Carr from “Mean Girls” (see the clip below).  What they see in the movies defines how they perceive it in the real world.

While sex on film has evolved with the constantly changing societal norms, from “Carnal Knowledge” to “Brokeback Mountain” to the 2011 duo touting casual sex, I’m surprised that public awareness (and perhaps anger) of how sex is being portrayed on screen hasn’t caught up with the times.  While the conservative definition of sex as an act between man and wife was thrown out quite a while ago, that isn’t an excuse not to care.  Attitudes may have changed, but that doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye and abandon all responsibility simply because we don’t fully agree with something.

The routine nowadays for sex is two people start passionately kissing, find a flat spot, disrobe each other, and begin thrusting.  Is it really that hard to add the simple, responsible step somewhere before the thrusting begins of adding a condom?  Would it really disrupt the scene that much to add in a shot of a Trojan wrapper on the ground?  A hand reaching in the drawer for a rubber?  We don’t actually have to see it slide on, but for kids who believe that movies reflect real life, there really needs to be some sense conveyed that these people have taken measures to be safe.  Otherwise, there should be consequences.

Only two mainstream movies (to my knowledge) have really dared to have any major results from having unprotected sex, both coming in 2007: “Knocked Up” and “Juno,” both of which featured characters who had to deal with a life-changing pregnancy either willingly not using a condom (the latter) or accidentally not using one (the former).  Both tackle the issue in a respectful manner but also serving as subtle cautionary tales.  But other than those, the only other movie I can think of that shows safe sex being practiced are, ironically, “No Strings Attached.”  (I should also credit 2005’s “Must Love Dogs,” a lame Diane Keaton rom-com that featured a scene where she and John Cusack choose not to have sex because they can’t find a condom.)

Does Hollywood really expect us to believe that 95% of the time, there are no consequences of having unprotected sex?  Wouldn’t it be so refreshing to see Katherine Heigl get chlamydia in her next romantic comedy?  Or after a drunken one-night stand, have Jessica Alba get pregnant?  These are things that happen to real people when they don’t act responsibly, and by dwelling on the small percentage of times that unprotected sex has no ramifications, they are promoting an illusion that could damage lives.

In our immediate gratification culture which demands movies on DVD sooner, data quicker, and social information faster, I find it almost unfathomable that people have chosen to fixate on eradicating smoking from cinema with all of its LONG-TERM effects.  Lung cancer takes a while to develop; you start to feel pregnancy within a month or so, a sexually transmitted disease sets in even sooner, and emotional scarring may be present the next morning.  While the wages of sex are usually not life-threatening, that doesn’t mean we should just turn a blind eye to Hollywood’s dangerous condoning of an irresponsible practice.

Check back for more “Weekend Update” on August 7 … hopefully it will be published on time!

REVIEW: No Strings Attached

23 07 2011

It’s pretty unfair that “No Strings Attached” was the first sex friends movie of 2011.  Simply by the calendar, it automatically made “Friends with Benefits” the other movie, the rip-off that people would avoid on principle.  Too bad, as the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher combination is inferior to Justin and Mila’s tryst in just about every way.

Not even judging it against its doppleganger, it still disappoints, falling at the low end of the already low romantic comedy spectrum.  Kutcher and Portman have such an awkward chemistry that unfailingly feels fake and manufactured.  Their two acting backgrounds – he from “Punk’d” and “Dude, Where’s My Car,” she from working with Luc Besson, Mike Nichols, and Darren Aronofsky (not to mention her Harvard education) – make them a mismatch from the get-go.  Their incompatibility makes the inevitability of their relationship’s end just that much more unbearable.

Portman as doctor Emma and Kutcher as TV writer Adam make for strange bedfellows, quite literally.  Their relationship hardly qualifies as friendly before having sex, and how they wind up starting their casual affair makes even less sense.  Everyone surrounding them is just as brutal, including his father dating an old ex-girlfriend (Kevin Kline), his encouraging friends (Ludacris among others), and her flat and useless colleagues (Greta Gerwig and the very funny Mindy Kaling, undeservedly wasted here).  It’s an unfortunate blemish on Portman’s otherwise very impressive résumé, and perhaps the film’s reception will give her more caution in her selection of comedy films from now on.  As for Ivan Reitman, the family mojo has clearly shifted to Jason as this is clearly not the same filmmaker who made classic comedies like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.”

Turns out you can’t have sex without falling love in an American romantic comedy … who knew?!  In case Hollywood hasn’t hammered this into your head enough over the past decade, the studio executives gave you TWO movies this year that literally say it to your face.  So if you don’t want reruns of a rerun, choose “Friends with Benefits” because it will actually make you laugh on the way to its predictable conclusion.  “No Strings Attached,” on the other hand, will bore you with its unconvincing romance and bland melodrama.  C- / 

Shameless Advertisement #22 – January 2011

1 01 2011

In a heated four-way tie for the most anticipated movie of January 2011, I chose “No Strings Attached” over “Country Strong,” “The Green Hornet,” and “The Way Back.”  Why?  Because it has Natalie Portman but, more importantly, Natalie Portman.

This is the first movie since “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” that has been shamelessly advertised without having been soaked in Oscar Moment champagne, so here goes just what I wrote about it in the January preview post:

“No Strings Attached” looks like a suitable romantic comedy.  Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, the movie tells the story of two lovers who only want a physical connection – in other words, the flip side of the coin of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s directed by Ivan Reitman, who helmed old classics like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” but also new stinkers like “Evolution” and “My Super-Ex Girlfriend.”  All I can say is that this had better not be for Natalie Portman what “Norbit” was for Eddie Murphy.

And I made a few New Year’s resolutions that I thought were worth advertising on this post:

1. Revitalize the Facebook page

One of my goals for 2011 is to enhance the community that reads and supports “Marshall and the Movies.”  And since certain people are a little skittish about commenting (or just forget to visit the site), I know it might be easier to connect with people by bringing my site to them on the site they are most likely to check everyday.

So, to start off the New Year strong, I’m going to try to breath some life into the discussion boards!  There will be a contest to reward the most active participant, and the winner will receive a DVD or digital download of “The Social Network!” The contest will run until Sunday, January 16, and points will be distributed as follows: 1 point for replying to a topic, and 2 points for starting your own topic!

What are you waiting on? GET TO THE FACEBOOK PAGE NOW AND START DISCUSSING! (please)

Fun fact: did you know that Mark Zuckerberg made the primary color of Facebook blue because he is red-green colorblind?  Now you know.

2. Absorb the classics

Can you believe I’ve NEVER seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie?  It’s actually been an act of defiance as I have been waiting for a new year to start so I can devote a whole twelve months to study the director’s work.  I plan on watching a manageable one movie per month in a series I’m calling “Hallowed Hitchcock;” here’s my tentative schedule.  I’ll gladly take any suggestions!

January – The 39 Steps
February – Rebecca
March – Shadow of a Doubt
April – Notorious
May – Rope
June – Strangers on a Train
July – Dial M for Murder
August – Vertigo
September – North by Northwest
October – Psycho
November – The Birds
December – Family Plot

Also in January…

F.I.L.M. tie-in with Oscar nominees. Prepare for the next two months of the “F.I.L.M.” column to feature an unheralded or unknown performance from one of 2010’s Oscar-nominated performers.  Expect Natalie Portman at least once …

Extensive Oscar coverage. I’m debating whether or not to live blog the Critic’s Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and/or SAG Awards.  Sound off below!

Reviews, reviews, reviews. Expect some 2011 mixed in with some 2010.

I’m looking forward to a great month!  Remember to participate, and you can help me make “Marshall and the movies” an even greater community for movie lovers on the web!

What To Look Forward To in … January 2011

13 12 2010

Hard to believe we are just around the corner from a new year!  2011, here we come … er, here we enjoy 2010’s movies a little while longer until the new year offers us something good.  Here are January’s sincerest efforts!

January 7

Nicolas Cage just keeps distancing himself further and further from his Oscar win for “Leaving Las Vegas” back in 1995.  He kicks off another disappointing year of quirky movie selection with “Season of the Witch,” originally slated for release about 9 months ago.  This supernatural thriller where he plays a 1300s Crusader and gets involved in some sort of black magic.  Needless to say, go see “Little Fockers” again.

Speaking of 2010, most theaters will finally be receiving “Country Strong” this week; whether it comes with any sort of awards season heat though is yet to be seen.  Gwenyth Paltrow’s vehicle as a fading country music star in desperate need of rehab looks a little corny and cliched, but would you rather see “Season of the Witch?”  My guess is no.

January 14

“The Green Hornet” was going to be a fanboy favorite, despite the casting of Seth Rogen as the title character.  Then some footage was released at Comic-Con, and everyone saw that it was just a typical Rogen slacker humor-a-thon.  They got angry, but I got happy.  I love Seth Rogen’s shenanigans, and I’m happy to see him move them to some genre other than gross-out comedy.

Is it possible for a movie’s trailer to get more coverage than the movie itself?  That’s likely the case for “The Dilemma,” a comedy of best friends, secrets, and infidelity strangely directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard.  With the use of the word gay, the trailer sparked an uproar and plenty of discussion on the power of words in society.  Apparently the joke stayed in the movie, and while I won’t head to the movie just to see that, I’ll probably hit it some other time once I’ve knocked out my mandatory 2010 viewing.

Also worth noting: “Rabbit Hole” should be getting a wide expansion this weekend.  If you haven’t seen it, SEE IT!  As for other 2010 movies just seeing release in the new year, there’s also “Barney’s Version,” the dramedy starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, and Dustin Hoffman.  All those names together can’t be too bad.

Opening as well is “Every Day” with Liev Schrieber, Carla Gugino, and Helen Hunt in a rare appearance.  But given the no-name distributors, it’s going to be a while before it hits anywhere other than New York or Los Angeles.  And for all environmentalists out there, “Plastic Planet” looks at how safe plastic really is.

January 21

“No Strings Attached” looks like a suitable romantic comedy.  Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, the movie tells the story of two lovers who only want a physical connection – in other words, the flip side of the coin of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s directed by Ivan Reitman, who helmed old classics like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” but also new stinkers like “Evolution” and “My Super-Ex Girlfriend.”  All I can say is that this had better not be for Natalie Portman what “Norbit” was for Eddie Murphy.

If “The Way Back” didn’t look interesting and gritty as you-know-what, I’d probably joke that it’s the “Defiance” of 2010/2011.  But alas, I can’t poke fun at this trailer.

And for the third time, “The Company Men” has been moved, this time to 2011 and out of Oscar contention.  So now everyone can safely stop worrying about Tommy Lee Jones pulling another “In the Valley of Elah” and get back to writing this movie off.

January 28

Hey, look!  It’s another movie starring Jason Statham and a gun!  In other words, you’ve probably seen “The Mechanic” before.  As for other retreads, there’s another Catholic Church conspiracy theory movie combined with an exorcism movie.  Top it off with a little creepy Anthony Hopkins, and you get “The Rite!”

From Prada to Nada” opens also in limited release, but this Jane Austen wannabe tale looks entirely dismissable.  Unless, of course, you want to see Carmen from “Spy Kids” all grown up.

So, what’s the verdict on January?  Are you going to don the glasses for “The Green Hornet” or just see “TRON: Legacy” again?