Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar 2010: The winners

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter

The rest of the winners.

I'll say it one last time for the record: The King's Speech is a wonderful film that deserved to win Best Picture. It's anchored by two outstanding performances, one of which produced an Oscar win, and it's clearly been an inspiration to many people with speech impediments around the world. It may be "Oscar bait," but it's good Oscar bait: it's funny, moving and well-acted.

I still believe, however, that The Social Network was the better movie. That said, I can live with it losing because the difference was not so great as to be a miscarriage of justice. It's like Network was number 1, and Speech was number 1-A, you know? They were close... and we were fortunate to have ten worthy candidates for Best Picture this year.

I'm seeing a lot of resentment towards Speech producer and distributor Harvey Weinstein. Gripe all you want about him - there's no doubt that he can be Machiavellian in his Oscar tactics - but let's not forget that he's the one who successfully fought to get Blue Valentine changed from an NC-17 to an R. Yeah, he's gonna release a PG-13 theatrical cut of Speech, which ain't cool, but at least it comes after the original R-rated version made over $100 million domestically (and he did fight against that movie's R rating, too).

What bothers me most was David Fincher losing Best Director to Tom Hooper. I shouldn't have been surprised; Hooper won the DGA, and it was clear for weeks that Speech was gonna take Picture after it won the PGA (though it didn't clean up as much as I thought it would). Still, I find myself at a loss to imagine how Hooper could have been judged as having done a better job with his film than Fincher did with Network, or Darren Aronofsky with Black Swan, or Christopher Nolan with Inception (which won four Oscars, tying Speech). In my mind, there is no comparison. Maybe I'm not seeing something?

James Franco & Anne Hathaway were less than impressive as hosts. They didn't stink, but they did little to distinguish themselves when compared to past Oscar hosts (seeing Billy Crystal again was a bittersweet moment). And yet, the show itself seemed to move at a relatively brisk pace. For once, sitting through it didn't seem nearly as brutal as in the past in terms of time, but then, the orchestra music-cued so many award winners off the stage that it couldn't be otherwise (Randy Newman being a notable exception). Anyway, I'm glad it's all over.

Enjoy the show? Hate it? Did you win your Oscar pool? Let's talk about it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Set List special: Movie music reimagined

Breaking with the format this week to spotlight two recent articles from the site Cinematical dealing with some creative twists on movie music. The first is a piece about a YouTube channel that features original songs for "musical" versions of popular movies. Sampling the videos there, I have to admit most of them aren't bad. Here are two of my favorites:

"Predator: The Musical"
The lead singer imitates Arnold to near-perfection.

"Robocop: The Musical"
I like the lyrics in this one.

The second article from Cinematical is an interview with a DJ who remixes and mashes up movie scores. I love mashups, so something like this is right up my alley. The article provides a bunch of examples of his work. I like these two in particular:

cky Theme Remix"
This one is epic and yet danceable at the same time.

"Beetlejuice Remix"
Keeps the eerieness of the Elfman original yet has a distinctive spin.

Like? Dislike? Let me know.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
seen @ Gateway Film Center, Columbus OH

One bright day in the spring of 1993, when I was still in college, I came home to find a letter from my school informing me about a summer art program in Europe that they offered. One could choose from a variety of art classes held in different European cities which one would get credit for. I looked it over. The only one that appealed to me was the painting class in Spain, but I wrote it off as being too expensive (college was expensive enough as it was). I set it on my desk and forgot about it. By chance, my mother came upon that same letter and asked me whether I'd be interested in going. I said "Sure, but are you willing to pay for it?" She said, "Consider it a graduation gift." (I was a junior at the time.)

And just like that, I took my first step towards one of the great adventures of my life - the summer I spent in Barcelona. I could go on and on and on about that summer - it changed my life in so many profound and vital ways - but I'll attempt to limit my recollections to a handful of highlights.

The painting class was offered through the school, and it was open to undergraduates as well as continuing-ed students, but we had far more of the latter. As a result, I would be spending this trip with a bunch of adults way older than me. I was, in fact, the second youngest person in the group of about 25 - by a considerable margin. That almost was a dealbreaker for me. I didn't fancy the thought of hanging out with a bunch of old people. Nor was I comfortable with the fact, as I quickly realized once I got off the plane and met with the others, that I was the only black person.

I needn't have worried in either case. It wasn't all senior citizens; the average age of the group was 35, so I didn't feel the generation gap as profoundly as I had feared I would. And our common bond of art brought us together, despite our many cultural differences - indeed, our group represented a number of different countries, not just America, so I didn't feel quite so isolated.

Our painting class was ridiculously easy. We had three different instructors - more like advisers, really - and there weren't any strict requirements as such. For three hours a day, five days a week, we painted what we wanted, and they offered critiques and encouragement when we needed it. I've never been all that adept with oil paints, and the stuff I ended up doing wasn't all that memorable, but then, that wasn't entirely the point as far as I was concerned.

We also went on group outings to museums, parks and buildings that showcased the distinctive art of Barcelona, learning about artists like Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali and others. Some of us spent a weekend in Madrid to see the Prado, or a day in Figueres to see the Dali Museum, or a day in Montserrat to see the religious iconography. It was all part of our art education, and I took to it eagerly. It helped that many of the natives spoke English, though my English-to-Spanish phrasebook did come in handy many times.

I've mentioned before about some of the friends I met there. Shawn was my roommate in the hotel we stayed at. We were the two youngest members of the group, me being older by a couple of years. He was a tall, skinny kid who liked to come across as tough. We hung out with Jessica, Betsy and Sherry. I'll never forget the first time I saw Jess; it was on the plane. A drop-dead gorgeous redhead like her was easy to spot from the opposite side of the plane, though at the time, I thought she was just another passenger and didn't think I'd see her again. So you can imagine how shocked I was to discover she was part of our group, too! I don't think I ever had any serious romantic designs on her or the others, but it didn't matter. We all had fun together.

Amanda was an older woman from the West Coast. I remember talking to her a lot, even writing her letters long after we came back home. She was an excellent painter and a bit of an eccentric. I remember one group dinner where she claimed to be able to read tea leaves. Margaret was from Minnesota. She was kinda shy and quiet, but very sweet in a girl-next-door way. I remember flirting with her on several occasions. Lisa was a tall blonde from Wisconsin. She and I got lost in the old historic section of Barcelona once. Jeff was this laid-back dude with long curly hair. He was there with his sister Christie. Steve was the adventurous type. He ran off with a couple of local girls for a weekend. Kathy was a country girl, another terrific painter.

And then there's Vija. My earliest memory of her was the day she and I went to see the Sagrada Familia, the great unfinished church designed by Antonio Gaudi. I was desperate to go with someone that day but everyone else had other plans. Finally I asked her, even though I didn't know her that well yet. She agreed, and we spent the afternoon seeing not just the church, but walking around most of uptown Barcelona. I remember liking her paintings; they were abstract, though I can't remember too much about them. I do know that she paints different stuff now than what she painted over there. I liked her well enough, but I didn't hang out with her much, even though she was friends with Amanda. An incident on the last night of the vacation, however, forever changed the way I regarded her... but that's a tale for another time.

A year or so after I came back to New York, a new film came out called Barcelona. By that time Vija and I became pals, so I called her up and asked if she wanted to see it. She did, and we went with another fellow traveler from our group, a Greek dude named Anastasios. I didn't care that it was an "art house" movie; I just wanted to relive the experience of being in Barcelona again. I wasn't that impressed with it (I don't care for Whit Stillman films in general), but ever since then, I've kept an eye out for films set in Barcelona, and Vija and I have seen a few (among the many other films we've seen together). We were gonna see Javier Bardem's Biutiful with others from our group that we recently found on Facebook, but mixed reviews and the grim nature of the story quelled any enthusiasm we had for it (yes, Bardem got nominated for Best Actor, but that didn't seem to matter either).

I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona when I was living in Columbus and though I liked it, I was sad that I couldn't see it with Vija. I even remember telling her about it the first time I had read about it, and I had no idea at the time that I would leave town before it hit theaters. Not that it matters anymore now that I'm back in New York, but at the time it did.

My memories of that summer in Spain are among my most precious. I hope I never completely lose them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Barney's Version

Barney's Version
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

The first time I remember noticing Paul Giamatti was in the 1997 Howard Stern biopic Private Parts. He played Stern's boss when Stern came to New York, and seemed to go out of his way to make life as a disc jockey difficult for Stern. Typical uptight authority figure role, but Giamatti was memorable in it, nearly stealing the show from Stern himself.

Since then, I'd see Giamatti pop up here and there in small roles in other films, like The Truman Show and The Negotiator, and I'd always go, hey, it's that guy from Private Parts again, and smile because I liked that guy, even if I never could remember his name. By the time he appeared in Man on the Moon in 1999, I knew who he was. I wanted to see more of him, but I wasn't sure if he'd become a leading man.

I needn't have been concerned. With the one-two punch of American Splendor and Sideways, Giamatti became, if not a household name, then at least a legitimate Hollywood star. The former is the best film adaptation of a comic book, bar none, and the latter was a Best Picture nominee, but both times, Giamatti missed out on a Best Actor Oscar nomination despite near-unanimous critical praise in both films. The Sideways snub is particularly galling; in addition to Picture, that film was also up for Director, Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay, and was the only Best Picture nominee that year whose leading man was not nominated. (He'd eventually get a Supporting Actor nomination in Cinderella Man, though.)

What I like about Giamatti is his "ordinary guy" look and style. He looks like somebody you'd know from work, or somebody with whom you'd go out for drinks with the fellas, things like that. He's visually distinctive, yet he has the ability to immerse himself in his roles so that you don't see him, you see his character. He usually plays put-upon, heavily flawed, sad-sack types, yet he's had beautiful women like Virginia Madsen, Laura Linney, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike as his cinematic wives and girlfriends. He can be funny or he can be tragic, but he's always believable.

I was happily reminded of this when I finally saw Barney's Version yesterday, the film for which he won the Golden Globe. I have Andrea to thank for this one; when we went to see The Illusionist a couple of weeks ago, this movie came up and she said how much she loved it. I had already considered seeing it at that point, but her rave convinced me that I had to, and I'm glad I did. Barney is another heavily flawed character, unlikable in places, yet Giamatti makes us able to feel for him. And how appropriate is it that Giamatti shares this film with the great Dustin Hoffman, a character actor from another generation, one who proved you didn't need classic movie star looks to be a movie star. Seeing the two of them on the same screen was a rare treat.

Giamatti has a lot of stuff coming in the next couple of years. I hope they're all as good as this movie was.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar 2010: My predictions

Time to put up or shut up.


Black Swan
The Fighter

The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter's Bone

The people's choice, it would seem. Haters be damned, Speech is a wonderful film. Is it better than Network? I wouldn't go that far, but it's clearly the one the Academy wants.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

I know Hooper won the DGA, but I'm prepared to go down with the ship on this one if need be.

Lead actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Lead actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Supporting actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

At this point I don't think anyone's gonna dispute any of these choices, though I'm still hoping for a Bening upset.

Supporting actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

There's been some recent talk of an HBC surge, but I don't think it'll be enough. I'm not 100% convinced of that, but I think HBC has a better shot than Hailee.

Adapted screenplay
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Original screenplay
Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right

The King's Speech

We can bitch and moan about Christopher Nolan getting shafted all we want but it still won't change reality. Maybe he needs to make a more Oscar-friendly movie to get noticed.

Black Swan

The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

With ten nominations, True Grit is gonna win something. I originally thought it would be for Hailee, but now I think it'll be this.

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Networ

But the REAL winner, Inception, will go unrecognized.

Art direction

Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
The K
ing's Speech
True Grit

Costume design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech

The Tempest
True Grit

In Contention has a theory on who will take these two based on past history. It sounds reasonable to me, but I'm gonna go with Speech for both.

Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

Just thinking about them getting sun-burnt in the desert makes me wince.

Original score
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
127 Hours

The Social

Original song
Country Strong
127 Hours

Toy Story 3

These seem like safe choices.

Sound editing
Toy Story 3

TRON Legacy
True Grit

Sound mixing
The King's Speech

The Social Network
True Grit

Visual effects
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Iron Man 2

Again, I doubt there'll be much dispute over these choices.

Animated feature film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist

Toy Story 3

Okay, who wants to bet on Cars 2 getting a Best Picture nod next year?

Foreign language film
Algeria, Outside the Law
Canada, Incendies
Denmark, In a Better World
Greece, Dogtooth
Mexico, Biutiful

I've debated for weeks on whether or not to see Biutiful. I decided to wait till it comes to video.

Documentary feature film
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job

Waste Land

Though one can only imagine what may happen if Banksy wins.

Documentary short subject
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up

The Warriors of Qiugang

Animated short film
Day & Night
The Gruffalo

Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, a Journey Diary

Live action Short film
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love

Na Wewe
Wish 143

Taking complete guesses here. A film named for a Rage Against the Machine song probably doesn't suck; Pixar is always a safe bet; and I just like the title "Wish 143."

I don't care that much how many I get right; I'm just playing along with everyone else.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter
seen @ Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn NY

They call the neighborhood DUMBO, which sounds kind of silly until you learn what the acronym stands for: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The Manhattan Bridge stretches across the East River in the shadow of her more famous sister, the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Manhattan at Chinatown with the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the downtown Brooklyn area.

In recent years, there has been a flurry of development along the Brooklyn waterfront, with a combination of green space and high-rise apartment complexes. While the designs for all this new living space look nice, I wouldn't want to live there, though - it's a little too far removed from public transportation despite minimal efforts made to close that gap.

DUMBO in particular has become an art enclave not unlike Manhattan's SoHo. Amidst all the imposing warehouses and office spaces are galleries and studios and performance spaces. Last year I went to the DUMBO Art Festival for the first time, an entire weekend's worth of art and music, which is where I saw the Galapagos Art Space for the first time. I only stopped in briefly at the time - it was a packed house and there was a group of guitarists performing on stage that I listened to for a bit.

I didn't think I'd be back there anytime soon (nothing against the place; I just don't make it out to DUMBO that often), but there I was last Monday night, watching a special Valentine's Day screening of the film Brief Encounter. The film originally scheduled was Greta Garbo's Ninotchka, but there was a last-minute switch; I'm not sure why. Still, I could hardly complain when they replaced one great film with another. I was told that movies are somewhat rare at the Galapagos, and the schedule of events as presented on their website would seem to bear that out.

One big reason why I never come to DUMBO is all the construction. Some of the streets have been ripped up and are presumably in some state of repair, but this has been going on for a long time as far as I can tell. Between the cobblestones in some areas and the old trolley tracks peeking through in others, the DUMBO streets are hard enough to navigate without the construction.

Still, there are places that make it worth the trip. There are some nice delis, some restaurants (never been in them so I can't judge), and quite a few bookstores. While waiting for the Galapagos doors to open last Monday night, I went into one called PS Bookshop for awhile. Definitely my kind of place: towering shelves of used books in a big space, yet not as claustrophobic as Strand can be. I bought a Richard Wright paperback and walked out happy.

The Galapagos is a smallish theater/bar. The main stage is fronted by an unusual arrangement of circular tables and couches, with what appear to be artificial ponds embedded in various spots on the floor. Maybe that's meant to be evocative of the Galapagos Islands? Dunno. A center aisle bisects the floor and off to the left is the bar. I sat at a table towards the back. The lighting was very low; in addition to the dim house lights there were candles on the tables. Unfortunately, this wasn't anywhere near light enough for me to read as I was waiting for showtime. I actually tried holding the cup with the candle inside over my book, but that didn't get me far at all and the candle light went out in short order.

They served pizza for the show. I thought for four bucks I'd get a Pizza Hut-style pan pizza, but no, it was a relatively small single slice that was devoured in minutes despite my efforts to make it last.

Brief Encounter was as great as I remembered it, although there were a couple of dudes near me who laughed at some scenes that weren't meant to be funny. While I was disappointed at not getting to see Ninotchka again, I've seen it so many times that it doesn't matter. I suppose I'd go back to Galapagos again, but if I do, I'll bring someone with me and we'll eat dinner ahead of time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WSW @ The LAMB, Oscar style

Every year, The LAMB celebrates the Oscars by getting a bunch of LAMB bloggers together to write about the nominees, and this year I have contributed to the cause in a unique way. I've talked about my cartoon character City Mouse here before, and I decided to bring him out of mothballs for a special strip on the Oscars. All the contributors get assigned a different category; mine was Costume Design, so that's what I wrote and drew about. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Saturday Set List special: Xanadu

Yeah, I know. I know. But you have to admit the soundtrack was good at least. And the Broadway version got great reviews, as I recall. And it definitely fits in with our theme this week, so let's give it a spin! I promise none of these videos are from the movie itself.

Olivia Newton-John, "Magic"

Electric Light Orchestra, "I'm Alive"

Electric Light Orchestra, "All Over the World"

Olivia Newton-John, "Xanadu"

And one more shot of ONJ as she is today because she's still gorgeous.


Previously in A Love Bizarre Week:
Bride of Frankenstein
Breaking the Waves

Harold and Maude

Friday, February 18, 2011

Harold and Maude

This is A Love Bizarre Week! All this week we'll look at some of the strangest romances in film history - some of them supernatural, others just plain disturbing or even funny, but all of them unusual.

Harold and Maude
seen online via YouTube

Late last summer, a study based out of Australia, conducted through singles websites around the world, concluded that "cougars" don't actually exist. In fact, the study revealed the opposite - that women wanted men about their own age or older. This theory has been challenged, naturally. I cannot speak to the validity of the study or lack of same, but I can say this: I've found that as I've aged, older women look more attractive to me, though not necessarily for sexual reasons.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure what my reasons are. Part of it, I suppose, has to do with me being adverse to the whole dating scene in general; clubs, bars, that sort of thing. That environment has always been off-putting to me because it comes with so many expectations and preconceptions that are difficult, to say the least, at living up to. Parties are easier, especially parties hosted by friends I know. There's usually a better variety of people there, and in the past couple of years I've had wonderful interactions at parties with women who have become acquaintances and friends.

As a result, I've tended to meet more older women than younger ones, and many of them are great to talk to and be with, and I find that very attractive, even sexy, age difference be damned. Of course, a lot of them are married. I met one older woman who was going through a divorce, one which actually put her off of relationships in general... which is too bad, because I adored her and loved talking to her about all kinds of stuff.

I suppose the emergence of the "cougar" in popular culture has started to reverse the double standard of older men dating younger women to be acceptable, but not older women dating younger men. If anything, it seems to be a by-product of the sexual revolution and the women's rights movement; being over 40 no longer has to be a death sentence for women. Sex and the City has seen to that.

Let's be honest, though: when it comes to Hollywood, older women still get the short end of the stick. For every Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren, there are at least a dozen much younger starlets who continue to get more work and exposure. The recent Melissa Leo Oscar fiasco helped to illuminate this fact. Romance movies involving older women simply get very little traction for anyone not named Jennifer Aniston.

Which brings us to Harold and Maude, the movie that takes the cougar idea to its most ludicrous and extreme limit. For all of its black humor and absurdity, however, it is at heart a touching and sweet love story, in its own way. It's the heir to The Graduate, another famous cougar movie, in more ways than one: note the way the film depicts Harold's relationships with the adult authority figures in his life. They talk at him, not with him. The generation gap exists in more than one context with this movie.

Harold and Maude is the kind of movie they mean when they say, "They just don't make them like they used to," although we'd better watch out... sooner or later, somebody's bound to want to remake this with Betty White.

(The illustration at the top is by Alex from Film Forager, a copy of which can be yours if you visit her Etsy page!)


Previously in A Love Bizarre Week:
Bride of Frankenstein
Breaking the Waves

Thursday, February 17, 2011


This is A Love Bizarre Week! All this week we'll look at some of the strangest romances in film history - some of them supernatural, others just plain disturbing or even funny, but all of them unusual.

seen online via Crackle

They say opposites attract. "They" also say that birds of a feather flock together. So which is it? When we look for love, we expect to find someone not too different from us, yet often times we end up with someone who's very different indeed: one neurotic, the other self-confident; or one neat, the other a slob; something like that.

I've never considered myself a social butterfly (though I can be when I want to), but I have often found myself attracted to women who are Chatty Kathys. When I was younger, this tended to be a bit of an issue sometimes, because feelings of jealousy and possession would get in the way. These days I've made a greater effort to gain control over those feelings, but this serves to illustrate the kinds of problems that arise when two people who seem incompatible on the surface come together.

One girl I carried a torch for was as different from me as you could imagine. Her tastes and attitudes on music, art, and life in general were far left of center and deeply underground, and this was at a time when my own worldview was still growing and expanding at a rapid clip. Being around her was a true learning experience, and I never doubted she enjoyed my company, but I suspect a part of me knew all along that we were simply too different to ever mesh romantically. I was never the type she'd go to bed with, and I knew that, but of course I was too stubborn to admit that to myself. No hard feelings, but sometimes when it comes to people from different worlds, there's just no love connection...

... except when there is. I had seen John Carpenter's Starman before, but I think I remembered it as being cooler than it actually is. It came out the year after ET, and it's basically the exact same story except with adults. The romantic element, significant as it is, wasn't quite enough for me to ignore the ET parallels, though it was nice to see the young Jeff Bridges again.

When it comes to alien-human relations, the way Hollywood depicts them in the movies seems to come and go in cycles. In the 50s, aliens were aloof and mysterious and always bent on conquest. Then came Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and all of a sudden aliens are benevolent and gentle, and that lasted for awhile. Then in the 90s, Independence Day swung the pendulum back towards mass destruction, and now aliens are badass! We didn't see too many more alien invasions for awhile, but now they've come back with a vengeance thanks to District 9, Skyline and the upcoming Battle: Los Angeles. (Keep in mind I'm not including humans and aliens in outer space here; just humans and aliens on Earth.)

If I were an alien running around on Earth and I fell in love with a human girl, I think I'd be more concerned about things like whether or not we could be sexually compatible. They never talk about THAT, although Bridges' alien didn't seem to have any problems there, amirite? Maybe I'd figure out a way to take her back home with me if she wanted to go. Bridges' character can do all these amazing things and has all this wild technology, yet he couldn't figure out a way to bring Karen Allen along with her? Come on. (Though I suppose that's the great tragedy... sigh...)


Previously in A Love Bizarre Week:
Bride of Frankenstein
Breaking the Waves

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breaking the Waves

This is A Love Bizarre Week! All this week we'll look at some of the strangest romances in film history - some of them supernatural, others just plain disturbing or even funny, but all of them unusual.

Breaking the Waves
first seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York NY

The following is a short list of some of the oddest things I've done for the women I've loved. One of them is fake. Try to guess which one it is!

1. I got into a shouting match with a guy bigger than me in the middle of Times Square (well, Port Authority, actually) that, if not for a cop coming along and breaking us up, would've easily become a physical fight.

2. I hitchhiked from Washington, DC to Boston when my Greyhound bus ticket got stolen. It was during the night and I remember sitting in a rest stop somewhere in Pennsylvania, spending my last quarter calling my pissed-off sister and asking her for money.

3. I gave away my entire collection of X-Men comic books. The girl in question, a comics fan, said she had never read the book during the 80s and my entire run was nothing but 80s-era books.

4. I tried learning a difficult and uncommon foreign language. The library only had one book on it and I struggled mightily with it for a long time before eventually giving up. (This was before Rosetta Stone came out.)

5. I willingly submitted myself to public humiliation and embarrassment at a midnight Rocky Horror screening.

Okay, perhaps none of these things are as extreme as whoring myself out to complete strangers and describing the experience to my crippled lover, but to me they felt extreme enough. (Well, except for the one I made up just now.) And that's what love does to us, isn't it? It completely turns our heads around. All of a sudden we find ourselves in situations that we would never normally be a part of, doing things that we might've thought ourselves incapable of, or unwilling to perform, because we believe our lover is worth it, is worth the physical or emotional or mental challenge.

There are those who say that what we call love is a chemical imbalance, a strange alchemy within the brain that disrupts our normal neural pathways and prevents us from doing the things we're supposed to be doing to survive. I don't know enough science to be able to speak to that point, but we've all experienced that feeling of not being able to think straight because of that loved one, right? Sometimes, if it's intense enough, it can feel like a physical change - and we get to thinking we'd do anything for that person. Is it a delusion? A self-deception? Because after all, sometimes the object of our affection is unwilling or incapable of returning that affection. What do we do then? Is the only inevitable outcome... madness?

That's the basic premise behind Breaking the Waves, one of the most emotionally intense movies I have ever seen. I'll never forget the first time I saw it. It was at the Angelika, a place that was still relatively new to me at the time. I wish I remember how I heard about the movie, because at the time I was only beginning to become a film geek and foreign films like this one still weren't a regular part of my viewing habits. I probably read a review in the Village Voice or someplace like that and was enthralled enough by the premise to go see it.

Actually, this might've been one of the first foreign films I'd ever paid to see (along with Secrets and Lies, which also came out that year). The Gods Must Be Crazy was probably the first foreign film I'd ever seen (either that or The Red Balloon), but that was part of a school field trip. I didn't start regularly watching foreign films until I worked in video retail in the mid-90s, so this definitely would've been one of the first that I'd seen theatrically around this time.

It hardly seems necessary to say that Emily Watson (no relation) had me sobbing before it was all over. For awhile, I followed her from one movie to the next (including seeing Waves a second time at the Angelika), though she has yet to match such a superlative performance. I have Waves on DVD, and I was going to watch it last night, but I was in a good mood and I honestly didn't want to depress myself with such a film. Besides, I've seen it so many times that I can easily talk about it from memory.

There are so many different aspects of this movie I could continue to talk about: the religious imagery and themes; director Lars von Trier and his penchant for making movies about female martyrs; the "Dogma95" school of filmmaking that von Trier led, exemplified by films like this; the soundtrack - but since the emphasis this week is on weird love stories, I'll conclude with this: Bess does the things she does because she believes it'll save Jan's life, even though there's absolutely no evidence that it will. She doesn't care about the cost to herself because she loves Jan that much. Is she nuts? Maybe. Naive and easily susceptible? Definitely. But when it comes to love, you can probably say that about almost anybody. Sometimes that's a bad thing... but not always.

(Highlight the text to see the answer to my little quiz. It's number two. My Rocky Horror story is coming, I promise!)


Previously in A Love Bizarre Week:
Bride of Frankenstein

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to manage this summer's blockbuster slate

...the big movies this summer are under pressure to produce big $60 million, $70 million, $80 million-and-above domestic openings. Start out to anything less than that, and they're putting huge pressure on the foreign market to help them achieve profitability. The domestic market might just be too crowded for big second- and third-week performances.

The record number of movie ads during the Super Bowl told the story -- studios, including Paramount, which has a number of big films on the summer calendar, weren't shy about ponying up $3 million a pop for 30-second commercial pods, given the Darwinian level of competition this summer.

But in this kind of summer, building huge awareness among moviegoers with big ad spending might not be the complete answer.
There's gonna be a whole lot of summer blockbuster movies this year. I mean, more than usual. We've never really noticed how far gone it's gotten these days, but the competition has gotten more and more cutthroat - and let's face it, they can't all make $300 million. (Just as an aside: I try very hard not to think about the obscene amounts of money invested in blockbuster films. I mean, the numbers are so far above what the average person deals with on a daily basis that it's perhaps easier to think of them in the abstract, like Monopoly money or something.)

Do you really need to see all of them? I mean, stop and think about it: you know that not all of these movies are gonna rule. And even if you do have money to burn on all of them, every week, is that a wise investment of not only your money, but your time? You still need to pay the bills and buy groceries during the rest of the week. And two hours of a crap movie are two hours you'll never get back.

That's why you need to ask yourself these five simple questions before you get ready to take on this summer's movie slate:

- Do you need to be the first kid on your block to see this movie? After waiting months, and in some cases years, the Big Movie is finally here. You've poured over every article, every interview, every new image associated with this flick and now it's here. But what if it sucks? More and more summer films these days are "critic-proof," meaning that people will see it no matter how badly it gets reamed by the critics. Now, if you don't care what Roger Ebert thinks of the Big Movie, fine. Listen to your friends instead. With social networking, it's become easier and quicker to get reactions from your peers about movies. If there's any doubt in your mind as to whether the Big Movie will be any good - and as fans, we always have some doubts that we're hesitant to admit to ourselves - find out what others are saying about it first; if not established, respected film critics, then your friends at the very least. Don't let passion and the desire for bragging rights sweep you up into an opening night frenzy only to leave you disappointed for the rest of the weekend.

- Do you need to see it in 3D? This has become, for better or worse, an increasingly bigger factor in the moviegoing experience these days. Now I could link to articles that talk about the futility of making truly successful 3D movies, but that may not do anything for you, so let me ask you this then: if you think that the Big Movie will suck, will 3D really make it any better? And if you think it'll rule, will it be because of the 3D, or because of the story and the acting and the special effects? How big a difference will 3D make in the Big Movie, and is it a difference you can live without, all other things being equal?

- Can you see it cheap? I love the thrill of seeing the Big Movie on opening night with a packed house of eager fans as much as anyone else. It can make a big difference in your enjoyment of a film, and if you go with friends, it's even better. But with evening shows costing $12-13 bucks without 3D, is that something you're gonna want to do every Friday? Look for matinee showings and other discount deals at your local multiplex. If it means seeing the Big Movie in the afternoon (or even morning), or on a weekday, well, what's more important: being first on your block to see the Big Movie, or protecting your wallet?

- Does this sequel look familiar? We got a lot of sequels again this summer, surprise surprise. Do they represent the natural progression and expansion of a story, or is it just more of the same old bullshit? This, I'll admit, seems like less of a factor these days. Most Hollywood sequels used to rehash the same stuff over and over again, but it appears as if more of an effort is being made to make them installments of a single narrative. Still, beware of those that offer little, if anything, other than recycled stories.

- How many levels of stupid will you put up with in the name of entertainment? We hear a lot about fans who insist that for certain movies, especially summer blockbusters, one needs to turn their brains off and simply enjoy it. You wanna do that, fine. I do it too. The last movie I paid money for knowing that it would be a piece of crap was Hot Tub Time Machine, but I did not care because I had a good time watching it anyway. However, if you plunk down cash for the Big Movie with this mentality, then you forfeit any right to complain about it. As fans, we love to complain when a movie goes south for whatever reason, and that's natural. But if all you want is to have fun with it - if that's all you want - it makes no sense to complain about plot holes and bad special effects and even worse acting because you deliberately chose to lower your standards when you paid to see the Big Movie. So when you decide which movies will get your $12 this summer, you need to make a conscious decision as to how much stupid you're willing to tolerate.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bride of Frankenstein

This is A Love Bizarre Week! All this week we'll look at some of the strangest romances in film history - some of them supernatural, others just plain disturbing or even funny, but all of them unusual.

Bride of Frankenstein
seen online via YouTube

I've never been on a blind date, but I can imagine how terrifying it must be. I would imagine that the level of anxiety is directly proportional to how much you trust your friend or relative to set you up with a person they think you'll like. One doesn't like to think that one can't find one's own true love. If somebody were to do a study on the number of blind dates that led to long-term relationships, I'd imagine the percentage would be very low.

Bride of Frankenstein is kind of like the original blind date movie. Like any good sequel, the further evolution of the characters means the stakes are raised, and the Frankenstein monster's continued development as a sentient being is key, because now he's able to express his desires. Sensing his own uniqueness, he wants the companionship of another like him, but the great tragedy is that even among other monsters, he is more alone than he realizes.

I had forgotten how much fun this movie is! I suspect it was intended to be taken as seriously as the original Frankenstein, but there's a madcap approach to this whole story that feels inherent. I admit, Mel Brooks ruined any possibility of ever taking either this or Frankenstein seriously anymore, and there were lots of scenes where I could only see Madeline Kahn and Gene Hackman and especially Cloris Leachman instead of the original actors.

At the same time, though, James Whale films this with a frenetic energy that's palpable, and it does feel like he's aware that it's only a movie and that it's all in good fun. The opening scene with Mary Shelley is a good example. That this scene was even thought of at all was clever, a way of letting the audience know that hey, you don't have to take this quite so seriously. Imagine, by contrast, if the opening scene of The Twilight Saga: New Moon began with Anne Hathaway as Stephanie Meyer talking to her friends about the original Twilight book, completely taking the Twi-hards out of the story they've invested in and believed in and loved and landing them back in the "real" world, if only for one scene. The rioting would last for days.

The images in Bride, as well as the original Frankenstein, have become so iconic, so embedded in our culture, that to see them in their original context is a little surreal, and at the same time, thrilling - to say nothing of the influence these films have had on other works. Watching Boris Karloff as the monster, I thought of the Hulk, as he was originally conceived: a creature born of science gone awry, quick to anger yet peaceful at heart, never completely divorced from its humanity, wanting to live like other people, to appreciate beauty, to have a friend...

...and to love. We all want to be able to find someone to complement ourselves, someone compatible. To charge someone else to find that special person takes a tremendous leap of faith. We may say that we're not thinking long-term when we get set up with a total stranger, that we'd be lucky to just get a second date, but isn't it in the back of our minds every time we meet a person who we think could be The One? I find it's truer the older you get, when you become more aware of your impending mortality. You don't want to believe that something about yourself is repulsive to a potential lover, and you certainly don't want to go through an endless parade of one-night stands anymore. The Frankenstein monster realized this to a certain degree, I think, which is why he opted for the only solution that made sense to him in the end.

Anybody got any blind date stories?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Muriel's Wedding

Muriel's Wedding
first seen @ Village East Theatres, New York NY

I haven't been to the Village East in awhile. It's a decent theater. Their selection is a mix of independent films and some Hollywood fare, with a lean towards the former. I remember liking their popcorn a lot. They used to host Rocky Horror nights, I think, before that moved crosstown to Chelsea. For awhile I used to always confuse the Village East, which is on Second Avenue, with the AMC on Third, until I devised a way to distinguish the two: odds and evens. Odds (Third and 11th Street) for the AMC and evens (Second and 12th Street) for the Village East.

I don't know why, but I never think of this place as being in the same class as the Angelika or the Sunshine, even though it definitely favors indies and foreign films. Maybe because it doesn't have quite the same reputation as those other art houses. I suspect it's not the first place one thinks of when one wants to go see an indie film in New York. Still, I've seen some good films there over the years, and I'd go there again.

I saw Muriel's Wedding there with Vija, when it first came out. I remember this, in part, because it was playing in the big auditorium, as opposed to the smaller screening room-sized theaters. This was one of the first movies I saw with her, though not the first; that was Whit Stillman's Barcelona, which I was eager to see with her because that's where we met. She and I were part of a painting class in Barcelona offered by my school the previous summer, and our friendship continued after we returned to New York.

I suspect part of the reason why I started hanging out with Vija more - besides the fact that I genuinely liked her company - is because the clique I was part of in Barcelona kind of broke up. Jessica and Betsy stayed in Europe, continuing on to Paris, I believe. I think Sherri did too; I don't recall for sure. The point is, they didn't come back to New York right away. As for Shawn, my hotel roommate, we just fell out of touch. Can't explain it at all. It's not as if we suddenly didn't like each other anymore; I think it was more like the spell of being in a foreign country just wore off. It shouldn't be like that, but sometimes it is. Anyway, I found Betsy on Facebook months ago. We had dinner one evening. That was great.

So around this time I was still getting to know Vija, and one of the things I found we had in common (besides art, of course) was a love of movies. I quickly discovered that she favored indie and foreign films, and while I didn't have anything against them, I certainly didn't seek them out on a regular basis. It would be another year before I started down the road to being a film geek.

I learned about Muriel's Wedding completely by chance. I was up late one night and flipped to Jay Leno, and he had on as a guest a young Australian actress named Toni Collette, who I, naturally, had never heard of. She was there to promote Muriel, and I watched, more out of boredom than anything else. She talked about how she put on something like 20-25 pounds for the role of Muriel, and how the movie had a bunch of Abba songs in it. Then they showed a clip from the movie, which I actually found amusing. (It was the one where she and Rachel Griffiths go home with some dudes from a club and the dude she's with is struggling to get her clothes off and she's laughing hysterically.) That stuck in my mind, and when the film came out, I asked Vija if she wanted to see it and she said sure, and we both loved it.

For awhile, I followed Collette (and to a lesser degree, Griffiths) through her subsequent films. I was really happy when she got Oscar nominated for The Sixth Sense. It was as if I had made an investment in this particular actress, and that investment paid off. And then when Little Miss Sunshine hit it big, she was back in the spotlight, even if she didn't get nominated again. I have yet to see her in the TV show The United States of Tara, but I'm sure she's great in that too. She'll always be Muriel to me, though.

You ever have that happen - when you follow the career of an unknown actor who blows up after several years?