Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Teen Angst

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and posting something about them.

Teen angst, this week's topic for Thursday Movie Picks, may look different for everyone, but it pretty much feels the same. Feelings so big that you can barely express them to anyone, let alone yourself. And that's the common thread with my picks - they are all deeply, DEEPLY felt in all aspects of their production.

Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Has there been a better-filmed vision of teen angst than this one? James Dean's Jim Stark is what everyone remembers the film for (pretty tough to remember anything else in the movie when it practically opens with him drunkenly blaring "Ride of the Valkyries" and later slaying the line "YOU'RE TEARING ME APART!"), but Sal Mineo's Plato and especially Natalie Wood's Judy are even better visions of what it was like to be a misunderstood teenager in the 1950s, where suburban conformity and outward appearances meant everything. Nicholas Ray's florid direction sets the tone, and the entire cast responds in kind, performing on a near-operatic level that is totally appropriate given the emotions on display. There's a reason this one still resonates with teens now, 60 years(!!) later.

Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994) Based on the true story of two 1950s New Zealand girls who killed one of their mothers, Heavenly Creatures is a knockout of a film, one that came early in the careers of director Jackson and stars Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, and that is very nearly the best work any of them have ever done. Like Rebel, this one puts its homosexual subtext only just barely beneath the surface, as it explores the close, nearly obsessive bond that forms between Pauline and Juliet, including the fantasy world they create... and what happens when their parents decide they are becoming too close. It's a stunning vision, with a completely unique tone that Jackson, along with his fantastic cast, perfectly balances on a knife's edge.

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) Has there ever been a character that looks more like contemporary teen angst than Jake Gyllenhaal's Donnie? Dark hair combed forward, with a haunted, far-away look in his eyes, this is turn-of-the-millennium teen angst incarnate. Kelly's film incorporates aspects of sci-fi and horror to give teen angst a physical presence in the form of Donnie's visions of an apocalyptic event and a man in a bunny suit. Donnie Darko is a weird, strange, unforgettable trip of a film.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Sororities/Fraternities/Secret Societies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I wasn't in a fraternity in college. I thought about it, certainly. There's definitely something appealing about being part of a "brotherhood" and obviously the parties are a huge plus. But when it came down to it, for me, my people weren't in a frat. So I decided not to rush. And I don't regret it at all, even though I probably would have had a great time had I ended up joining.

But either way, movies about fraternities are usually lots of fun, and I will always have those!

The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, 2008) I don't care what anyone else says, this movie is HILARIOUS. Mostly thanks to Anna Faris, who is sublime perfection as an airhead Playboy bunny who gets kicked out of the Playboy mansion and ends up becoming "House Mother" to a sorority of outcasts in danger of getting shut down. Of course, the supporting cast, including Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, and Rumer Willis, is also pretty damn good. I have such fun whenever I watch this movie, even if it isn't "good".

Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001) Our heroine, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), manages to make it into Harvard Law School ("What, like it's hard?") in order to chase after the dreamy beau who dumped her for not being "serious" enough, but soon finds out that if she works hard, she might actually succeed at this whole law thing, too. In the process, she upends people's expectations of her, including her own. Not much of the movie outside of the first ten minutes or so takes place at a sorority, but Elle's status as a Delta Nu sister is important - people judge her because of it, and she uses the network of sisterhood the sorority established to get ahead without abusing it. Enough cannot be said about Witherspoon's performance as Elle, which is one of the great "dumb blondes" in movie history - Elle may be superficial and silly, but the way Witherspoon plays her, she never feels like a caricature. Bonus points for memorable support from Jennifer Coolidge (the kindly, stupid manicurist Elle becomes friends with), Holland Taylor (the hard-as-nails law professor who pushes Elle to greater things), and Selma Blair (bringing many different shades to her performance as the bitch who "stole" Elle's beau).

Van Wilder (Walt Becker, 2002) Van Wilder doesn't belong to a fraternity, but he doesn't have to. As a seventh-year senior, he throws all the best parties on campus anyway. Unfortunately, the fraternities on campus don't take too kindly to this, and when a frat president's girlfriend's interest in Van seems to grow into something besides professional curiosity (she's a journalist writing a story on Van for the school newspaper), a war begins between the frat and Van. Look. This isn't anyone's idea of a good movie. It certainly isn't mine. But, in its way, if you can get on Ryan Reynolds's smug-but-beautiful douchebag-with-a-heart-of-gold level, it's kind of stupidly enjoyable. Kind of.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sunshine Blogger Award

In an incredibly sweet gesture, the lovely Sati over at the awe-inspiring Cinematic Corner nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am humbled and honored, and sorry that it has taken me so long to accept this award. But accept it I do, so here's what I have to do:

As given, every award has a set of tiny rules for accepting it, here are the ones for Sunshine: 

1. Post the award on your blog
2. Thank the person who nominated you
3. Answer the 11 questions they set you
4. Pick another 11 bloggers (and let them know they are nominated!)
5. Set them 11 questions

Herewith, Sati's questions and my answers.

1. Who would play you in a movie based on your life?
Well, whoever it is would have to be able to tap dance, so.... Chris Evans? Sure, he's WAY better looking than me, but I have NO PROBLEM with that.

2. What is your favorite movie ending of all time?
Oh God. This is impossible. What to choose? "Well, nobody's perfect"? "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"? "So long, partner"? Honestly, though? I kinda think I'd have to go with Summertime, which I wrote about here. It's just so fucking beautiful. (NOTE: I reserve the right to change this tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And....)

3. Who is your favorite cinematic Batman?
I have no opinion. I firmly believe we have gotten the exact right Batman for the times in which each movie was made. If you're forcing me to choose, then I'm going to have to go with the first one I saw, Val Kilmer (who I think is quite underrated as Batman).

4. What is the funniest movie you've ever seen? 
When I saw Armando Ianucci's In The Loop in the theater, the people sitting in front of me actually got up and moved in the first five minutes because I was laughing so loud, so I'm guessing that's probably the one.

5. Your sexiest movie character ever choice?
This is going to sound so wrong, and it may just be the actor, but Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in American Psycho has always made me feel all the tingles. Until he tries to feed that cat to the ATM, anyway...

6.  What do you like most about our movie blogosphere?
Everyone is so lovely and vocal and willing to have conversations instead of bickering back and forth like trolls.

7. What is your favorite movie blog?
It is now and forever will be The Film Experience. Nathaniel runs an incredible site and is also just the nicest person ever, and the rest of the team there are all great people and writers, too (full disclosure: I also contribute there on occasion, but only because I love reading it so much and Nathaniel indulges me every once in a while).

8. Will Sati survive Blade Runner 2?

9. What is your most anticipated movie at the moment?
So, we were asked about this for a Film Experience Team List recently, and while it was specific to Fall festival debuts, my answer wouldn't change when the pool is expanded: La La Land. Damien Chazelle directing an original musical starring the Hepburn and Tracy of the modern age, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling? I was in the tank for this from the moment it was announced, but then we got that teaser. And that OTHER teaser. And the reviews out of its premiere. And I CANNOT FUCKING WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER.

10. What is the most underseen movie you love?
Andrzej Zulawski's L'important c'est d'aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love). Absolutely astonishing film featuring Romy Schneider in one of the all-time great feats of actressing. The opening scene alone is just stunning, and grabbed me instantly. The film never let me go.

11.What movie character do you identify with?
OOF, this is a tough one. Honestly? A lot of times, it's Ben Braddock in The Graduate (the first half of it, anyway) - just feeling a little bit adrift in life not knowing what to do with myself. But most of the time, it's good ol' Bilbo Baggins, caught between the pull of the sweet safety of home/family and the burning desire for adventure. With the love of food staying constant.


My nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award!

Actually, pretty much everyone I would nominate has already been nominated (and most have accepted), so that makes this kinda hard. BUT, there is one person who always brings the sunshine when he posts who as far as I can tell has NOT been nominated for this award, so PLEASE JOIN ME in bestowing this honor on Drew (or Fisti, whichever your prefer) over at A Fistful of Films. We all love you, Drew, and while we all know "real life" has to come first, that doesn't stop us from missing you and your posts something awful. Thanks for the light you have always brought to this little corner of the blogosphere. I don't think there's anyone more deserving.

You questions, should you choose to accept them (and anyone else please feel free to answer in the comments, too!), are....

1. What always cheers you up when you're feeling down?
2. When you go to the movies, do you get something from the concession stand? If so, what?
3. Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus?
4. Who is your favorite actress who never won an Oscar?
5. Which performance of theirs is your favorite?
6. What is the first movie that made you love movies?
7. Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
8. Who is your favorite Muppet?
9. Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune?
10. How should we all feel about the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven? Because I am REALLY unsure.
11. What was the last movie you saw more than once in theaters, and why?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - College Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a bit about them - it's fun! Promise.


Sorry, guys, I'm just back from a long weekend in the woods off the grid and I had such an amazing experience that I'm not quite ready to come back to the land of the living yet. So we're gonna do this quick and dirty style.

Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) Fat Amy is a legend, and even now none of us are ready for that jelly. Best college movie in YEARS.

The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002) I love every second of this angry, energetic, playful mess of a movie. It's a blast of fresh air every time I watch it, despite Bret Easton Ellis's nihilism. My college experience was nothing like this, but this movie still FEELS like college to me.

Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997) How this movie ended up being even half as good as it is given the production history (the script was one of the first victims of an internet leak, prompting instant, on-set rewrites and multiple versions), I'll never know. But it's pretty damn great. Maybe even as great as the original Scream, only one of the greatest horror films ever made. Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott is now in college, and the movie about the events of the first film has prompted a string of copycat killings. Can she and her friends survive? It's a horror movie sequel. What do you think?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - World War II

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a bit about them! 
A rather big topic for this week's Thursday Movie Picks: Oscar's favorite war, World War II.

I'm generally not a huge fan of war movies, to be honest. But there are some really good ones made with WWII as backdrop, so here we go!

Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1950) The horrors of war, as seen through a child's perspective. This uniquely moving film tells the story of a young girl (Brigitte Fossey, in an incredible performance) whose parents are killed in a air raid while she saves the family dog. When the dog dies as well, she meets a young boy in the countryside, and the two of them start a cemetery for animals, and steal crosses from church cemeteries. Alternately darkly funny and poignant, Forbidden Games is a classic that everyone should see.

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998) The most beautiful war film ever made. Taking the Battle of Guadalcanal and refracting it through a diverse (ridiculously starry) cast of men of different backgrounds and beliefs, Malick confronts the terrible psychological cost of war in a way that only he can. The result is the best war film of 1998 (I SAID IT), and possibly ever.

Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) World War II as only Quentin Tarantino could film it, Inglorious Basterds is ridiculously entertaining, and not just in a revenge fantasy way. Each scene is so marvelously constructed (the bar! the movie theater!), and each one is better than the next. Fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, and Mélanie Laurent anchor the film, it's Christoph Waltz, as renowned "Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa that steals the show, in a flat-out brilliant Oscar-winning performance. It may be too violent for some, but I love every second of this, and agree with the famous last line: "This may just be my [read: Tarantino's] masterpiece."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Splash

Written (for the last time?!? GOD I hope not!) for the series hosted by Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience.

1984 is the year I was born. So naturally, I'm not particularly well-versed in the films that came out around that time. It's nothing against those films, it's just that at the time I was far more interested in eating and pooping and didn't know what movies were. For a long time, though, I just sort of assumed that Amadeus was the greatest film ever made ONLY because it won Best Picture for 1984. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint one bit when I finally saw it years later.

But we're not here to talk about Amadeus. Oh, no. We are here to talk about that OTHER classic from 1984, Ron Howard's fish out of water tale Splash, starring the supremely unlikely couple of Darryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. I had seen bits and pieces of Splash over the years, but this was my first time seeing it all the way through. I have to admit, my reaction to it has somewhat soured knowing that the film was originally written as the story of a mermaid trying to adjust to life in Manhattan, but no one greenlit the script until they flipped it around and made the man she falls in love with the main character. Now, by all means, the original idea might have been the worse movie, but especially in today's cultural climate, I can't help but being a bit annoyed by it... OF COURSE the story originally had a female lead and OF COURSE no one would make it until they changed it to a male lead. AND, to make matters worse/more interesting, the recently announced remake starring Channing Tatum (of all people) in the Darryl Hannah role is said to be based off of one of the earlier versions of the script, meaning that once again the main character is going to be male.

Sorry for the tangent. I just really had to get that off my chest.

Because really, Splash is a perfectly fine film, one that plays just as well today as I'm sure it did back when it was initially released. Sure, Hannah is a little stiff, but that's partly the character, and she really shines in the gorgeous underwater close-ups Howard and DP Don Peterman (aka the guy who shot my beloved Flashdance) give her:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Against the Crowd Blogathon

It's that time of year again, folks! Time for Dell On Films's Against the Crowd Blogathon - this year co-hosted by KG (of KG's Movie Rants). In case this is your first time hearing about it (this is the THIRD ANNUAL blogathon), the rules as laid out by Dell are like so:

1. Pick one movie that "everyone" loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that "everyone" hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on Tell us why you love it.

I had a hard time finding movies for the second part of this last year, and this year, I had a hard time finding movies for the first part. Go figure. Anyway, I wanted to come up with something a BIT more universally beloved that I hated, but discussion of this movie happened to come up recently thanks to Thursday Movie Picks and, well, let's just say I had something to get off my chest...

I HATE David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Sorry 'bout it.

But also, #SorryNotSorry.

I can at the very least concede that formally, on the level of pure technique, this is hardly a terrible movie. In fact, the cinematography in particular has a lot going for it, as does the score. But at the basic levels of construction and character, Fincher and his team make a couple of absolutely terrible decisions that the film simply cannot recover from. The first is also arguably the best part of the movie:

Fantastic, right? OF COURSE IT IS. David Fincher got his start making music videos, so it shouldn't be a shock that he can make a fantastic opening credits sequence that can stand completely apart from the movie it introduces (a trick he also pulled on Se7en). But that's actually a huge problem for the movie that follows. As anyone who's read the Steig Larsson novel will tell you, the first hundred or so pages are a SLOG, an endurance test of slowly advancing plot and character development before we even get to the mystery at the center of the narrative. So putting a sequence with this much energy right at the front of the film sets an impossible bar that the film by its very nature can't even begin to climb over until it's a third of the way through - and it's a LONG movie - and even then, won't really reach until the climax. It's a lie, a promise of things that aren't going to come, and amazing as it is, it's an awful choice.

The second thing, and I fully expect to get some pushback for this (and PLEASE DO, as long as you can refrain from nastiness), is the film's treatment of Lisbeth Salander and Rooney Mara's portrayal of her.

By the time Fincher started making The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the entire Millennium Trilogy had become a publishing sensation, and the original Swedish film had become as big of a hit as any movie with subtitles is allowed to become these days. Lisbeth Salander, the reclusive genius computer hacker at the center of Larsson's novels, had already become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in her own right. And so Fincher does what Hollywood does best: He cast a relative unknown in the role and gave her entrance in the film one hell of a big build-up, following her from behind as she walks into her office building while her boss talks her up on the soundtrack, and then shoots her entire first dialogue scene from far away, so she's completely isolated one side of the frame. Great sequence, right?


The sequence is ENTIRELY WRONG for the character, and it sets the stage for what is essentially an act of character assassination. In the books, Lisbeth has issues - a full subscription's worth - but she's also a strong, independent woman. She may get abused by some men in her life, but she is never EVER a victim. She is smart, resourceful, and when she is wronged, she takes her time planning her vengeance... but she's NOT a superwoman. She's not larger than life. She simply IS. As set up by Fincher and as played by Mara, though, Lisbeth becomes an all-caps CHARACTER. Not quite to the point of "look at this freaky girl! Isn't she a FREAK? But a LOVABLE ONE?" but pretty damn close. And in the film (and novel)'s most gut-wrenching scene, Lisbeth's rape at the hands of her guardian, Fincher makes no mistake that his camera views her as the ultimate victim (who later becomes a variation on the "woman scorned"), and Mara responds in kind. It's not a bad performance, but it's an utter betrayal of the character Larsson wrote in the book, lacking the subtle dimensions of the page and, it must be said, the Swedish film and its star-making performance by Noomi Rapace.

Look, I'm all for adaptations of books and plays and even other movies ACTUALLY ADAPTING the source material, but at a certain point it becomes a different piece entirely, and Fincher's film is one of the worst offenders of this that I've seen. It's dumbing down a character that the audience already knows and loves in a really base, insulting way, and I honestly thought that David Fincher would have known better.

So, in short, after that energetic blast of an opening, the film is a (well-shot and scored) slog, and its central performance is completely misjudged.

Neither of which are problems that plague my second choice of movie for this project...

I LOVE Jerome Sable's Stage Fright

Yes, I do! And not even in a guilty pleasure way.

Look, I fully acknowledge that a musical comedy/slasher flick hybrid is going to have some tonal issues to overcome right from the get-go, but... well... this movie tackles them pretty much as well as they could ever be tackled, by setting itself up as a spoof.

And yeah, that's pretty much the easiest way to deflect any criticism of your bad movie (to set it up as making fun of bad movies), but Stage Fright is just so winning, thanks to an incredibly game cast (including Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver) and REALLY clever songs:

I mean, COME ON. That's HILARIOUS. And really sweet and sincere at the same time.

As you might have guessed, Stage Fright takes place at a summer musical theater camp, where sweet young ingenue Camilla Swanson works in the kitchen with her brother Buddy. The main production at camp this year is The Haunting of the Opera, a Phantom of the Opera knock-off musical made legendary by the grisly murder of its star (Driver) on opening night, by an assailant who wore the mask of the play's main villain, the Opera Ghost, and has never been performed again.

And as you might have guessed, our heroine just so happens to be that star's daughter, ten years after her mother's murder, and as you might have guessed, she auditions for the play and (as you might have guessed) gets cast in her mother's role, much to the chagrin of the camp's owner (Meat Loaf), who, as you might have guessed, was her mother's lover. AND, as you might have guessed, this new production gets a haunting of its own - by a killer who hates musicals and sings exclusively "heavy metal" songs.

The film had me right off the bat with its opening title card: "The following is based on true events. While the names have been changed to respect the victims and their families, the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred." Perfect. Just a subtle enough hint of the tone of what's to come after the more straight horror opening. And from there, all the film's disparate elements are brought together REALLY well in set-piece after set-piece, blending together horror, comedy, and good-to-great songs almost perfectly. It is a loving throwback to 80s slasher flicks and to movie musicals, playing to the conventions of both in (amazingly) groaningly obvious ways... BUT THAT'S THE POINT.

No, Stage Fright isn't GREAT cinema. And no, it may not even be GOOD cinema. But it's made with a clear love for two genres that couldn't be farther apart and manages to bring them together far better than it has any right to. Add in some winning performances (and some perfectly teen-in-an-80s-slasher-flick BAD performances), and you have a really enjoyable movie that will leave you recommending it to all the friends who have the exact same taste in movies as you do.