Friday, June 14, 2013

This Must Be the Place (2012)

Man, I never heard of this movie coming out.  I discovered this in Target of all places and I've always been a HUGE Sean Penn fan especially for the movies She's So Lovely and Sweet and Lowdown and for the movies he has directed.

It's beautifully shot, slow paced, but most of all, great dialogue--existential stuff that sounds like poetry.

Sean Penn is hard to look at.  He's this guy in drag minus the women's clothing if that makes sense, with Granny glasses.  He stumbles around like Frankenstein and speaks very slowly.

Dublin--my favorite part of the film--I wish it all took place here

Cheyenne, played by Penn, is an ex-rocker with a beautiful mansion in Dublin.  Occasionally he meets this goth girl Mary at a coffee shop at the mall and tells her to be nice to a guy who works at the mall, Desmond, a shy quiet guy who is trying to ask her out the fact that he likes Mariah Carey is a deal breaker.

His wife played by Frances McDonald is SO COOL.  She's smart and his age--all very non-stereotypical for a rocker's wife.  There are probably Sharon Osbourne/ Ozzy Osbourne references going on.

A singer of a band called "Pieces of Shit" --great name!! wants him to produce the band's next album.  The singer liked that Cheyenne and The Fellows (Cheyenne's band) made the rhythm guitar more important than the lead guitar back in the day and wants the same.  "You can change anything but our name," the singer says to Cheyenne, Sean Penn's character.

I wish the movie stayed here.  I wish I got to see Cheyenne produce that album.  I wish I got to see Mary go on a date with Denton.  I wish the movie was more about Cheyenne making music again, but it's not.

New York

The movie gets darker.  Cheyenne's father is dead. The search for the Nazi war criminal his father was looking for is on.

David Byrne playing himself may inspire Cheyenne to be an artist.  Cheyenne drives around listing to Pieces of Shit's demo perhaps considering to produce them but the movie doesn't go there.

Bad Axe, Michigan

Road trip for a week. Great existential conversations. Scenes that look like Nan Goldin photographs. A Batmanish character randomly walks by him and it reminds me of a David Lynch film.

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Cheyenne hangs out with a woman and her son.  I'm pretty confused at this point.  I can't tell where this movie is going.

Huntsville, Utah

Harry Dean Stanton!! (The Straight Story; Pretty in Pink; Wild at Heart; Paris, Texas).

The movie is over and I'm not sure anymore if I should be telling you about this movie.  This movie is like Paris, Texas or My Own Private Idaho or The Straight Story in that it's a road trip, it's so painfully slow to watch but it's uber cool and leads up to a final scene that reverses the order of things.  I'd have to watch it again probably to understand it more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate is one of my favorite movies; it's definitely a good "teaching film."

Katherine Ross and Dustin Hoffman as Elaine and Benjamin

I showed it to my film class two weeks ago and last class we spent AN HOUR just talking about and breaking down the last FIVE MINUTES of the film.

Mike Nichols directed.  He came from a theater background.  The movie he directed before this was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf which was in black and white with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor screaming at each other a lot.

Dustin Hoffman was a new type of lead in a movie, not blonde and looking like a model, like Robert Redford who they were originally considering for the part.

Anne Bancroft who plays Mrs. Robinson, Elaine's mother, was in real life only six years older than Dustin Hoffman.

Mrs. Robinson in one of her many leopard-skin outfits.

There is definitely a water motif going on.  Benjamin often looks like he is in a fishbowl, when he is in front of a fishbowl, when he is looking out the window at the swimming pool below, when he is deep in the swimming pool in his diving suit.

There are also so many stylistic shots, like the shot of Benjamin which we see through Mrs. Robinson's legs.  Or the shot of Benjamin coming out of the hotel and into the Braddock household in one doorway sweep during the montage at the end of Act One.  Or the shot of Benjamin's head swinging around three times in a row after Mrs. Robinson comes through the door, naked.

 One of many stylistic shots.

My favorite moment of the film occurs when toast pops out of the toaster in the Braddock kitchen, ending a scene.  It's just so weird and unexpected.

This film was also one of the first to use songs that were already hits instead of a musical score.  Simon and Garfunkel's songs permeate the film, sometimes in their entirety.  Only the song "Mrs. Robinson" was written for the film itself.

The ending of The Graduate too is such a surprise and so over the top. It's hard to forget and there's a lot to talk about but not until you've seen the movie....

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Last Detail (1973)

Oh Jack Nicholson, how I love thee!

Hal Ashby, Otis Young, Jack Nicholson

The same is true for director Hal Ashby who also directed probably my favorite film of all time, Harold and Maude.

The Last Detail was last night's showing in my film class.  And we laughed a whole bunch.  Constant laughing for 103 minutes, even though the underlying reality is SO SAD.

Come to find out, this movie also had Robert Towne on board, who penned Chinatown, as the scriptwriter (adapting the novel by Darryl Ponicsan), and Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver) as the cinematographer--Chapman has a great bit part as the taxi driver who gets the three marines to the nearest "cat house."

Otis Young is great as Nicholson's Buddusky ("Bad Ass") partner, Mulhall, in this journey to take 18-year old convict Meadows (Randy Quaid) to a Portsmouth prison.  And his crime? Stealing forty dollars from a charity box and not even getting the forty dollars.

I started off saying to the class something like, "Okay, get ready for some male bonding."

 Look at the depth of field in this shot!

I also tried to tell them why Hal Ashby is my favorite director, but it's not so easy because he doesn't have the best picture awards to back me up or the virtuoso-type shots that some film students love.  "He's really good at what he does, but it's subtle," I told them.  "You'll see how much Wes Anderson is influenced him when we study Wes Anderson later on."

Hal Ashby is really good at editing first of all.  He was an editor first on such films as In the Heat of the Night. Secondly, this movie has a kind of realism that you will never see in a Hollywood movie EVER.  And finally, he lets actors really shine.  John Voight, who Ashby directed in Coming Home (also a must-see film) talks in an interview about how one time he was messing up his lines and Ashby told him not to worry about it, that they were making a movie and what could be greater than that--Take all the time you need. Voight starts to choke up after saying that.

What I love about this movie is how it's a journey, but it also is a movie that shows you how to be adventurous, how to be curious about things going on that you might not understand (like chanting), how it's okay to get angry sometimes, how we're all in some kind of prison so we just have to really savor the few moments we are free.

Jack Nicholson, the king of helping people with low self-esteem onscreen.  I will forever by grateful.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies--Twilight with zombies?

Not really.  There is no love triangle, for one.  Just a zombie interested in a human girl.  He sort of walks around like Frankenstein and grunts.

I think the movie is supposed to be more like Romeo and Juliet than Twilight as the main characters names are "R" and "Julie" and there is a balcony scene where R calls out to Julie from below.  The movie came out around Valentines Day, which was some pretty smart marketing.

I watched it for love, for escapism, for a world set right--and it delivered all those elements.  It's PG-13.  I think parents can enjoy it with their teens.  I wasn't scared once.

The director of this movie, Jonathan Levine, did 50/50 and adapted this screenplay from the novel by Isaac Marion.

I thought Nicholas Hoult (the kid from About a Boy!) as a zombie that can only grunt a few words out at a time did a really good job.

I liked the actor who played his best friend "M" (Mercutio?) as well, Rob Corddry.  I liked that his best friend was a guy a lot older than him.  Did you know that in PG movies, the f-word can only be used once so you have to make it count?  Well, in this movie, M gets to say it.

Julie, played by Teresa Palmer, is sweet.  Her dad, played by John Malkovich, is not that threatening--I don't really get that casting choice.

One of the best parts of the movie is the set designs.  The airport gone apocalyptic, the suburbs gone apocalyptic--very visual stuff.

The next best thing, for me, were the dream sequences, even though they happen from R eating someone's brain (ew!).  I don't know how they pull off that kind of fuzzy outlined--highly lit dream sequences but they were ethereal and they contrasted well with the dark zombie world where most of the movie takes place.

The music choices?  Very retro--from Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" to Guns n' Roses "Patience."

How come the bodies were getting warmer?  I never figured that out.  It can't just be "love," can it?

I haven't read the book by Isaac Marion yet, but I do like to read the book AFTER the movie, so I'll let you know.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Princess Bride (1989)

"The Princess Bride" won the poll this week, "What movie should I show my film class on Valentine's Day?" over the movies "Annie Hall" and "Harold and Maude." I guess the other two movies, though perhaps more brilliant, are arguably more of a downer and definitely lesser well known.

"The Princess Bride" is a great example of framed narration, a movie told with two stories, the frame story (in this case the story of the grandfather and his grandson) and the embedded story (here, the story of Wesley and Buttercup).

"The Princess Bride" was directed by Rob Reiner  (his third movie after "Spinal Tap" and "The Sure Thing") and written by William Goldman based on the book he wrote in 1973, sixteen years before the movie came out in 1989!!! Needless to say, the project changed studio hands and directors a few times.

In the commentary, Reiner explains that the movie was hard to market from the beginning because it was kind of an "oddball" movie. It doesn't fit into any one genre.

However, over time, the movie became popular due to its great performances and one liners that made their way into pop culture, lines like "As you wish," and "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

This movie also had the incredible low low budget of 16 million dollars. It was filmed on location and on sound studios in Sheffield, England.

 Wesley and Buttercup

Robin Wright who plays Princess Buttercup was only 19 coming fresh off the soap opera "Santa Barbara" (which I used to watch religiously)!

Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (now popular on the tv show "Homeland") practiced sword fighting endlessly for five months so that's them doing all the sword fighting in the movie (except for the flips).

Other great performances in this movie include Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, Peter Cook, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, and Andre the Giant.

"Marriage is what brings us together today."

Every time I watch this movie, I wonder how the stunt doubles for the main characters don't break their necks rolling down a really steep hill.

I am also grateful that the princess is a pretty strong and brave character, never whimpering around giant eels and very large rodents.

This movie is definitely a classic that can be enjoyed both by parents and their children. Definitely watch it if you haven't already no matter what age you are.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do the Right Thing (1989)

This week in film class we watched Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and talked about cinematography especially.  Every time I see this film, I notice another layer of meaning.

This movie shows racial tensions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, on the hottest day of the summer.

As serious as this movie is, it has so many funny moments as well and it was great to see the movie with an audience and see everyone laughing so much.

Ernest R. Dickerson, the cinematographer, uses expressionist techniques to show the intense heat of the day such as painting an entire wall red.

The movie begins with Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in a sea of red light in front of a row of stoops that is an homage to West Side Story.

Many canted angles are used to show the increasing tension as the day goes on.

But this movie is about LOVE just as much as HATE.  Radio Raheem, a character who walks the streets with the largest boom box wears both of these words, rings, one on each hand.

He has a monologue much like the one Robert Mitchum does in Night of the Hunter, another movie with expressionistic cinematography and beautiful lighting.

There are so many great performances in this movie by so many actors including Spike Lee himself, Bill Nunn, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Joie Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, John Savage, Samuel L. Jackson, and more.

At the beginning of the movie, Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) tells Mookie (Spike Lee) to "Do the Right Thing." Does he?  At the end of the movie, Mookie does something that causes a riot to break out.  It's not obvious that he does the right thing but I think he does--one could argue that the riot is a diversion for the need people have at that moment to kill somebody.

Does Sal, the owner of the pizza joint Sal's pizzeria, have the right to only put photos of Italian-Americans up on the wall or should he like Buggin' Out asks put up photos of African-Americans too since all his customers are African-Americans?  Students will always be divided on this issue seeing both sides.

One student wrote on our discussion board later that he had to get pizza after the movie--ha ha.  Try to find a place where extra cheese isn't two dollars.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hello I Must Be Going (2012)

"Hello I Must Be Going" is very funny and sweet.  It's also very well written.  The title comes from a Marx Brothers movie which Amy likes watching to cheer up.

It's about a woman (35) who moves back home with her parents in Connecticut after a divorce from an entertainment lawyer and has an affair with her dad's potential client's son (19).

Three different characters (the mom, the brother, the dad) tell us how important it is for the woman not to screw up this dinner with the client's family which is a bit overkill.

And I don't get why the dad would just give up on her in the end as he has been her ally throughout the whole film.

But this is nitpicky stuff.

The two leads, Amy and Jeremy, really help each other out emotionally and their dialogue is great.

I'm glad we eventually meet her ex.  And yes he's 180 degrees different than Jeremy.

I downloaded the soundtrack too.  It's good. Shazam-worthy.

Amy hitting bottom

I hate the two reviews I've read so far for this movie--one uses football references when there is nothing about sports in this movie and the other one talks about if she's pretty enough to be attractive to a 19 year old! Wtf?#!

Yes, Melanie Lynskey is beautiful and I definitely see the sparks between Amy and Jeremy.  Every time they get together they are all over each other.  And she's whimsical.  And he's not your average 19 year old because he has acting experience playing Robert Mapplethorpe and is about to play Walt Whitman.

This movie leaves me smiling so definitely watch it when you have been wearing ratty t-shirts for a week or you want to down a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

Citizen Kane (1941)

This week my film class covered mise-en-scene (everything in the frame) and Citizen Kane.

If there is one movie that every film teacher has to teach, it has to be Citizen Kane, right?

Every scene has virtuoso shots, brilliant cinematography, great acting. It was Orson Welles' first feature film and he was only 25 at the time! From then on, Orson Welles would still make films but would be given less and less creative control and so none were as good as Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane is the number one movie on American Film Institute's best 100 movies and was also number one on Sight and Sound's list until recently (2012) when Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo bumped it off the number one spot.

Citizen Kane was a hard movie for me to like at first because it is not a love story. At least it's not a love story between Kane and another woman.  It could be considered a love story between Kane and himself.

fish eye lens shot

Once I got over that though, it is mesmerizing to watch the innovation of camera technique, lighting and editing in every scene.

There is a fish eye lens shot from the vantage point of a broken snow globe. There is a shot where the lighting makes a book glow on a table. There is a shot so wide that Orson can walk all the way to where the windowsill is above his head and back.   There are shots where the camera goes in through a neon sign and down into a skylight in the roof.  There is a shot that tracks up and up and up to a catwalk high above a stage. There are low angles so low, Orson ripped up the floor boards to go lower. 

There is a famous montage that shows a marriage of many years at the breakfast table in two minutes.

And more.

The whole thing is a mystery, what did Kane's last dying word mean when he whispered, "Rosebud"?

Even when you know the answer, you can enjoy the film for all the techniques it uses.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cemetery Junction (2010)

A nostalgic 70s movie set in England? I'm so there.  "Cemetery Junction" though obvious about where it's going is still a nice ride.

It takes place in 1973.  Matthew Goode who normally plays the romantic lead now plays a "bad guy." Ralph Fiennes plays a "bad guy."  Not bad so much "bad" as "stodgy" insurance salesmen.  Or guys who need to "piss off." Christian Cooke who plays Freddie, however, is not a bad guy.  Will he learn that he doesn't belong with the likes of them, then?

Felicity Jones who plays "the boss's daughter" is "conveniently for plot purposes" engaged to Mathew Goode and admired by Freddie.  Is it a coincidence that her name is Julie and they've styled her hair like Julie, the hostess "The Love Boat"?

Felicity Jones as Julie
Anyway, carrying on, Julie is quite daft throughout the film until the very end.  (As you can see, I'm trying to put as many English expressions as I can in this review.)  Emma Watson plays Julie's mom in the film.  It was hard for me to see such a wild actress who has been in movies like "Breaking the Waves" play a repressed woman, but that was the part.

Cemetery Junction is the name of the town and apparently, if you live there, you might as well already be dead because you'll just work in a factory, hence the name "Cemetery."

Tom Hughes who plays the tough guy, Bruce, works in such a factory with Freddie's father, played by Ricky Gervais from "The Office," and is always getting into fights because he thinks his dad is a useless drunk who watches telly all day.  I LOVE how the story plays with this stereotype at the end of the film.  Bruce's character and his black leather jacket so reminded me of Matt Dillon in "The Outsiders."

My favorite part of the film occurs when Bruce hears that his friend Snork wishes to sing and he makes it happen.  Bruce talks to the band at an insurance ball and gets his mate Snork a chance to sing with the band.  In the audience, Bruce smiles and gives Snork a wink of encouragement. To me, this is a very sweet moment of friendship between the lads.

And so I ended up spending a lot of the time during this movie wondering, "Well, is there going to be a bird for Bruce, then?"

I must say, there is a significant lack of snogging in this movie.

The themes of the film are great ones.  Look out for your mates, avoid all things predictable, there is someone out there for everyone, and if some fine woman sets down a cup of tea for you, for God's sake, say thank you.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ordinary People (1980)

"Ordinary People" is the second film I showed to my film class this week.  It was adapted from the book by Judith Guest and was Robert Redford's debut as a film director. It beat out Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" that year as Best Picture at the Oscars.  "Raging Bull" is arguably more stylish but not as well written.

We were talking about narrative in film class and the difference between "plot" (how events are shown in a movie) and "story" (the events in chronological order including backstory and events not shown).  "Ordinary People" has a lot of cool flashbacks that are well placed throughout the film and that slowly reveal what happened to this outwardly "perfect" family.

Flashbacks include Conrad, the son, seeing rows and rows of headstones as he's stopped at a railroad crossing in a car full of boys heading to school that is very curious and disturbing.  Then there is Calvin, the dad, remembering dancing with a younger Beth in some disco bar.  There are the memories Calvin has of banging on Conrad's door and then a shot of a red siren flashing that is very powerful. And the nightmares Conrad has about some boat in a storm at night.

I hadn't seen this film in awhile, but I remembered loving it.  It holds up well after 30+ years.  I still think it's one of the best movies on depression.  It shows how some people don't want to deal with it, some people are ashamed of it, and some people ask stupid questions about it.

I also adore Donald Sutherland in this movie and in "Klute."  Timothy Hutton too is perfect in this role as a twitchy guy who has pretty large mood swings, one scene breaking down or hiding in his room, and one hilarious scene where he is so happy he sings "Hallelujah" at the top of his lungs all the way home from school.

Judd Hirsch (I love how his tie is all askew here.)

Judd Hirsch plays Conrad's therapist, Dr. Berger, and though he says "kiddo" too many times in my opinion, he is a therapist we'd all like to have.  Therapists don't answer phones in the middle of the night to my knowledge anyway.  The therapy scenes are extremely funny too as Dr. Berger encourages Conrad to get angry and Conrad gets to talk about masturbation.

Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth McGovern plays a girl from choir whom Conrad is interested in.  She's really cute in this movie.  I told my students about three different times, "She's the mother in 'Downton Abbey' now," but I don't think they were excited about this as I was.

The last scene of the film is overly sappy--dad and son hugging and crying, so much so I was embarrassed showing that part to my students.  Why am I so uncomfortable when men are over-emotional?  Maybe that's bad conditioning on my part.  Maybe they could just have Calvin say to his son, "We're going to be okay."

Another aspect that makes me uncomfortable about this movie is that the mom, Beth, is such a nightmare.  The student beside me said about five times out loud, "She is so scary."  Beth is almost as evil as Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  Both roles are scary to me because I think roles like these can make people seriously hate women, but hopefully that is just me being paranoid.

Alvin Sargent wrote the screenplay for this movie and his name and this movie comes up a lot in books on screenwriting I read. I took a screenwriting course last summer and the scene where the grandparents are taking photos of the family and Beth doesn't want to take a photo alone with Conrad was shown as one of the best examples of subtext.

I've also read that a film like "Ordinary People" would never get greenlit in today's Hollywood.  If this is true, I hope this changes because this movie is the type of movie I really enjoy seeing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss." Crazy. A date that leads up to midnight New Year's Eve. Homemade camera feel (low-budget).

Warning: All characters have potty mouths.

She's CRAZY.  He's looking for crazy.  (Vivian and Wilson). Some surprises happen along the way.

He's definitely down and out, and I was definitely rooting for him.  Who doesn't want a sensitive guy in a dark pea coat following you around, willing to empty his bank account for you?

She seems to cry and get mad for no good reason. I did want to like her.  She has a great sense of style and she is spirited.  In the end she takes something from his bathroom that I thought was a nice moment.

There is a great scene where his roommates dress him up for his date in hip hop gear and he feels a little awkward.  There is another great scene that comes to mind when they save her (plush) bunny.

Why are all the images of this movie on the web in black and white?  This is not a black and white movie on my DVD. (I think some version released was.)

I like this film because it is experimental and it shows off L.A. (places like the Orpheum theater) and because the plot goes to some interesting places.

It won an Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award in 2008! However, I'm rather surprised it got such good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and reception other places because it is so raw and the characters and situations are so over the top.

But if you throw reality out the window, you will have fun watching this movie.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tonight You're Mine (2011)

"Tonight You're Mine" is a movie I can watch a million times because it's a rock n' roll love story and the rock n' roll is very good.

I would never have found out about this movie if it had not been a preview on the DVD of "The Artist" that I watched recently and I'm glad I did.

It is quite a cinematic feat because the whole movie takes place at a real rock festival, T in the Park (in Scotland), with hordes of people, so how many retakes could they have really done?

The premise is a lot of fun: Two musicians, Adam and Morello, who are right away at each other's throats are handcuffed together by a security guard who walks off with the key and they are stuck together for the rest of the night.

As a friend Pat MacEnulty reminded me, the two leads in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps are also handcuffed together by another person (a cop). The woman thinks the man is a scoundrel and they have to spend the night together on the run so it could be a slight tribute to that.

For hours everyone in both bands: the Make (the boy band) and the Dirty Pinks ("why don't you just call yourselves the Vaginas?") are looking for "bonecutters" to break the chain.

The two chained musicians both have other significant others.  Adam is dating Lake, a model, and Morello is dating Mark the banker --though the way that "banker" is said in the movie, it sounds like "wanker."

One of my favorite moments occurs when Adam and Morello and Lake are sitting in a backstage tent and they are comparing how many Twitter followers they have--hilarious!  Of course, Lake has the most.

There is also such a standout performance by Mathew Baynton, who plays Adam's bandmate, Tyko.  I could have sworn the whole movie that his name was "Psycho."  Wouldn't that have been a great name for a stage persona?  He has some great one-liners and some wicked dance moves.  I love how Adam and Tyko look at each other and scream their heads off before they perform.


At dawn, Tyco walks out onto the festival grounds full of rubbish from the previous night's festivities and stumbles upon a bra which he slowly picks up in the same manner as a floor-sweeper does in the first scene in the original 1932 version of "Scarface."  Another tribute? Who knows?  It's cool how I saw those two movies close together though and was able to pick that similarity out.

In a quieter moment, late in the night in a backstage tent, Adam and Marello play an improvised blues acoustic number (E-A-E-A-B---you can watch her shape the chords! as he strums!) based on Marello calling Adam a "womanizer" that is pure guitar heaven for me.

It all leads up to a really hot shower scene...  And an onstage reunion helped out by fans, a scenario I've read in many young adult books.  But if you like this sort of thing, it's loads of fun with standout performances, great music, and beautiful shots!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Artist (2011)

"The Artist" is the first film I'm showing my film class tomorrow.  It's a great film and a good one to start with because it is a silent film that celebrates old Hollywood when the sign on the hill said "Hollywoodland."  Students will get to see a story told just in pictures--what Alfred Hitchcock referred to as "pure cinema."

This film got great reviews, five stars on Rotten Tomatoes, New York Times Critics Pick... It was nominated for ten academy awards and won five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Costume Design and Best Original score.

The movie takes place in 1927, when silent films were golden, through 1929 with the coming of sound and the stock market crash, and all the way up until 1932.  A silent film star, George Valentin, (surely a play on the silent film actor name Randolph "Valentino") gives a new star, Peppy Miller, her start and then their roles reverse and George is floundering in a world of "talkies" while Peppy flourishes.  In this way it reminded me of the films "A Star is Born" (all three versions: Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand) though with a much happier ending.

Great supporting roles include a jack russell terrier, John Goodman as a studio boss, Penelope Ann Miller as George's first wife, Malcolm McDowell as the butler, and James Cromwell as George's chauffeur.

There are moments in the film that are so beautiful.  One of them for me occurs when Peppy shows up at George's doorstep in the pouring rain apologizing for her film doing well and not his.

Hopefully my students won't find the range of emotions too melodramatic and hopefully they will enjoy the dance numbers that are Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers-quality.  The best part of the film, for me, is how it portrays the ability of one person to bring another back from the brink of despair.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Not Fade Away (2012)

"Not Fade Away" is a Buddy Holly tune that the Stones also made a hit out of.  It's also now the name of a great movie about a New Jersey kid forming a band after seeing the Stones play on tv in 1964.

I love the Rolling Stones and have since I was 14 and bought their album "Hot Rocks" on my own at the mall, so that alone was enough to get me excited about seeing this movie. Another draw was that "Rolling Stone" magazine called it "a love story to rock and roll."

The movie has a very limited release so I had to drive to Southpoint Mall in Durham to see it.  It reminds me of the time when "Somewhere" by Sophia Coppola came out and it just never came to North Carolina at all and it seemed like torture. I really didn't want that to happen again and so... road trip!

It was worth the drive.  I honestly don't know if everyone would like it.  Some might say it is "slow" but that's what I like about it.  The first scene is a black and white reenactment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meeting for the first time on a train and talking about American blues records!  It's great stuff for a Stones fan.

The movie has a great soundtrack that Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band/ The Sopranos/ The Underground Garage put together.  Strangely, it doesn't include the song "Not Fade Away" though. Some of my favorite scenes are just seeing the band play a song from beginning to end which happens at a practice, at a house party, at an audition.

David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," directed.  This movie is his first feature film. He is 68.

The main character Douglas, played by John Magaro, is amazing to watch. It couldn't be just cuz he captures "Bob Dylan" hair perfectly which he does.  He had a smaller part in the indie film "Liberal Arts" as a depressed student who reads "Infinite Jest" in coffee shops.  He played a character you definitely root for, and in my case, even more so than the principal characters.

James Gandolfini as his dad has this line he keeps telling his son: "If you don't.....we're going to tangle, my friend," which I loved.  The father-son relationship is probably the most touching of all which goes beyond the father's disapproval and tough exterior.

Bella Heathcote as the love interest, Grace, is beautiful and very much looks like a sixties' model like Jean Shrimpton or Twiggy with the long thin hair and bangs and kohl eyes.  Since the movie is from Douglas's point of view, we don't really know what's in her heart and the director keeps it ambiguous.  She gives this great line to Douglas before they get together, a Stones reference, "Time is on your side."

A side story occurs with Grace's sister.  It adds some "color" to the story and that's sort of a pun because she is a painter.  It adds some pain.  I'm not sure it's really needed except it brings Grace and Douglas back together after a fight and it shows the dark side of the sixties a bit.

I'm not too crazy about the other band members.  Maybe you aren't supposed to like them because you're rooting for the main character.  But I liked the band members in say "Almost Famous" a lot more.  This movie is different than "Almost Famous" (another nostalgic rock film) which comes at rock from a journalist's perspective following a successful band whereas the main character here is in a garage-type band and has to write songs and is a bit older.

The ending is ambiguous, apparently much like the ending of "The Sopranos," and it is a bit artsy weird but I like it.  It's strange that Douglas's younger sister narrates/ bookends the movie but is not really in the embedded story very much.  It makes what happens more of a legend/myth because she idolizes Douglas a bit.

So Douglas may not make it as big as the Stones, but he keeps the rock n' roll dream alive and this movie celebrates that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- "Ordinary People" meets "Rocky Horror Picture Show?"

What's interesting here is the novelist of the book got to direct the movie adaptation.  Fun!

I read the book a long time ago and really didn't remember much so as things developed it was all surprising, one surprise after another.

Some questions that came up for me included:
Why is the main character Charlie blacking out?  (payoff is big here in the third act)
Why did his only friend die a year ago?  (never answered)
How did his aunt die?  (this is eventually explained)
Is he going to accidentally out his gay friend while he is stoned for the first time at a party? (this actually made me really nervous but this is not where the movie goes)

The three main actors: Logan Lerman (Charlie), Emma Watson (Sam), and Ezra  Miller (Patrick) I had never seen before, no not even Emma Watson in the Harry Potter movies. (I can feel hundreds of mental darts being thrown at me for that.) She was okay (to me).  Again I  can feel the mental darts of others because all the critics I read thought she was fabulous.  She was sweet.  Logan was "doe" eyed innocent just fine but nothing like Timothy Hutton who was much more jittery and real in "Ordinary People."  Ezra Miller who played the "Frankenfurter" of the group was my favorite.  He gets to be funny though and sad and angry and confused and generous.  It's a good part.  See him above in the photo as the one in the tuxedo.

Mae Whitman (from tv show "Parenthood") was great as the Buddha/punk intense girlfriend.  Nina Dobrev (from the tv show "The Vampire Diaries") played Charlie's sister.  She was pretty bland but I think it was just the part, not her acting.  She's just fine on "The Vampire Diaries."

Paul Rudd got to play Charlie's English teacher asking the class if they knew which writer came up with the term "cliffhanger"?  This movie taught me the answer to that.

Joan Cusack as the serious psychiatrist was weird for me because she's just always so funny.  And I know actors don't want to be typecast but still, weird....This would probably be not true if she had a larger role here where she helped Charlie's soul in some way like the therapist does in "Ordinary People" but that is not the case.

Melanie Lywinskey played Aunt Helen and she was ephemeral in ghost-like flashbacks.

The parents Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh are very peripheral so I don't have much to say about them.... 

One of my favorite scenes occurs when the parents are huddled over Charlie after Charlie's night out and Charlie is lying through his teeth about it.  It's a relief to me that he isn't just yelled out about it.

The time period of the movie is never stated but there are no cell phones or Facebook and the characters give each other mixed tapes so I'm guessing the nineties (though the music seemed more 80s at times and the costumes more 50s).

There is a really really long list of great quotes from this movie on IMDB--which reinforces that yes, this script was really well written and is available to read here.

Here is just one of the many gems:
Charlie: Dad, can I have 30 dollars?
Father: 20 dollars? What do you need 10 dollars for?

I agree with Charlie in the movie that "Heroes" by David Bowie (the tunnel song) is a really really good song.

Postscript: I've read the book again and it is very similar to the movie.  The whole book is a series of letters from Charlie to an unknown friend so it's like Charlie writing letters to the reader.  The sister has a larger role here as she has some drama of her own.  Charlie gets to go to the teacher's house for lunch one time.  The tunnel song is different.  They visit family in Ohio.  Otherwise, very much the same plot-wise and a very good read.