Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Yes, the return of Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal- a perfect cause for celebration. After a year long absence from the big screen (which is frankly too long), Jake is back with another impressive performance in an equally great film to add to his resume.
Zodiac, in a nutshell, is about San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) who, over the course of many years, becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the identity of the Zodiac serial killer who may or may not have killed six victims and threatened much more during the 60’s and 70’s. Reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) starts reporting the case, but eventually succumbs to alcohol and drugs and loses his job. Inspector Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Inspector Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) work on the case as soon as it hits San Francisco, but after awhile it starts to consume their lives prompting Armstrong to quit after a few years and Toschi to become bitter about never finding the killer.
Going into the film, I thought about two things: I sure hope this two and a half hour film doesn’t suck because that could be deadly on my ass and If they never solved the Zodiac killings, how are they going to end this film? Well, in response to the first thought, the film never feels like it is two and a half hours. It moves by at such a quick pace and everything is laid out with such intelligence and finesse that at the end you almost wish there was more. As for the second thought, Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt wrap everything up into a tidy little conclusion that doesn’t officially solve the case, but still makes it feel like an ending.
The performances from the cast are truly a marvel to see. Robert Downey, Jr., as breezy and hilarious as ever, gives another fantastic performance in a role that has him drudge up old demons- making his demise even more authentic and pathetic at the same time. Mark Ruffalo is given a stereotypical part (hard-boiled cop doing whatever it takes to catch his man) and runs with it, showing us something we rarely see- a look at an officer who doesn’t solve the case and isn’t made out to be a hero at the end.
And then there’s Jake Gyllenhaal as eternal “Eagle scout” (he points that out in one part of the film) Robert Graysmith. In what could have been a throw-away performance, Gyllenhaal makes Graysmith a real character in the drama of the Zodiac killings. It is in him and his social awkwardness that we, initially, get some comic relief in the film as in when he first goes to the bar with Avery, who is enjoying some kind of hard liquor, and starts drinking an Aqua Velva (with an umbrella!) and proceeds to tell him that once you drink one, you’ll never want anything else. But it is afterwards when that awkwardness becomes fear (I’ll never forget the way he says a line as simple as “It’s locked” when he gets trapped in a creepy man’s house) and obsession (His spilling coffee onto the files and then telling his wife that he doesn’t want his kids to see him the way he is right now) that he truly becomes a character. Jake Gyllenhaal is the only actor I can imagine who could have played this role and nailed both the comedic timing and dramatic pathos brilliantly (All I could think of while watching this film was why he doesn't do that many comedies because he would be great if he found the right one). It’s a shame that this is the type of performance that Oscar ignores come awards season time (it will be dismissed as a genre performance in a genre picture, the performance isn’t baity at all and he might get lost among Downey, Ruffalo, Edwards and Brian Cox), because Gyllenhaal definitely deserves a second nomination.
Overall, Zodiac is a fantastic film with great performances, an interesting and intelligent script and visuals like nothing other (snaps for cinematographer Harris Savides). It’s a film that can stand on it’s own with a single viewing and still last up against repeated viewings. I personally can not wait for the DVD release so I can watch and enjoy this film again.
My Rating: **** 1/2
Monday, March 26, 2007
While it is definitely a personal song, it’s not in the psycho-mom-Kim’s-a-bitch style that we’re accustomed to hearing. Instead, it was written for the semi-autobiographical character of Rabbit that Eminem played in 8 Mile. In relating to the struggles of Rabbit in “Lose Yourself,” we actually catch a glimpse of what it must have been like for Eminem to grow up as poor white trash in Detroit.
No song that I can think of captures the feelings of failure and desperation as expertly or innovatively as Eminem does in this song. We feel it in everything from his lyrics to his tightly controlled delivery and flow. Rabbit/Eminem knows he is a good rapper and can come up with great rhymes, but his nerves seem to get the best of him. They are so bad that “there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.” When this shot passes him by, he is upset that he missed what could be his only opportunity to make it out of the shitty life he can’t escape. This sense of desperation builds over the second verse and by the third, it has all but spilled over. The rhymes keep coming faster and faster as Eminem’s voice get harsher, accentuating downbeats and almost maniacally rushing all the words together so that we feel the tension rising in Rabbit as he gets on stage to rap again.
If you have ever doubted that a rapper can emote feelings in the same manner that Jennifer Hudson or Judy Garland can, seriously listen to this song and tell me it’s not a performance unto itself. “Lose Yourself” is the epitome of what rap can be, and what it should be, and if we had more of this type of song instead of fucking “Laffy Taffy Girl” or whatever shit is on the radio, rap would get a much better name.
*Charlie Wilson's War
Lions For Lambs
There Will Be Blood
(alternate: The Kite Runner)
Right now, the political minded Charlie Wilson's War looks like the safest bet to win, but really any of these could have a chance of winning if they are as great as they sound.
Adrien Brody, Manolete
John Cusack, Grace is Gone
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
*Joaquin Phoenix, Reservation Road
Denzel Washington, American Gangster
(alternate: Michael Douglas, King of California)
Since Phoenix hasn't won an Oscar yet and his role sounds baity enough (grieving father), I'd give him the edge early in the race but look out for Cusack, never nominated before, as a grieving husband who loses his wife in the Iraq War.
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Scarlett Johansson, The Other Boleyn Girl
*Catherine Keener, An American Crime
Julianne Moore, Savage Grace
Uma Thurman, In Bloom
(alternates: Cate Blanchett, The Golden Age and Nicole Kidman, Margot at the Wedding)
I hope that the Best Actress category turns out as fabulous as it sounds with so many potentially great performances coming. Look out for the double duo of Keener and Moore as two psychopathic killing mommies and Thurman as a school shooting survivor who still deals with survivor's guilt 20 years later.
Best Supporting Actor
Philip Bosco, The Savages
*Albert Finney, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Clive Owen, The Golden Age
Alan Rickman, Sweeney Todd
Mark Ruffalo, Reservation Road
(alternates: Heath Ledger, I'm Not There and Jake Gyllenhaal, Rendition)
Albert Finney is one of Oscar's perennial losers (not as bad as Peter O'Toole, however) and could potentially receive that ellusive prize with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. But watch for Ruffalo as the man who accidentally kills Joaquin Phoenix's son in Reservation Road which could spoil Finney's win.
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
*Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding
Natalie Portman, The Other Boleyn Girl
Vanessa Redgrave, Evening
Evan Rachel Wood, In Bloom
(alternate: Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray)
Jennifer Jason Leigh is one of those amazing actresses who have never been nominated for an Oscar. Expect considerable buzz for her performance in Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding.
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Marc Forster, The Kite Runner
Terry George, Reservation Road
*Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson's War
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
(alternate: Robert Redford, Lions For Lambs)
Mike Nichols hasn't won since 1967 (for The Graduate) so expect the Academy to want to reward him with a second one for the political Charlie Wilson's War.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
For my inaugural edition of "Underappreciated Performances," I wanted to pick a great performance from a film that flew under the radar when it was released and deserves to be discovered. What immediately came to mind was British actor-turned-director Stephen Fry's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, renamed Bright Young Things. While not on par with films such as Kill Bill Volume 1, City of God and 21 Grams (all released in 2003, the same year as Bright Young Things), the film is so deliciously venomous and has such an insanely talented cast (Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing, Dan Akroyd, Jim Broadbent, Emily Mortimer, James McAvoy, Michael Sheen and Fenella Woolgar) that it all goes down rather easily and entertainingly.
But the main reason I keep coming back to Bright Young Things is the central performance by Stephen Campbell Moore (in his first film, no less) as earnest, happy-go-lucky writer Adam Fenwick-Symes. In comparison with the other characters, he is definitely less eccentric, with fewer quirks and funny lines to say, but he is the heart and soul of the film. Without Moore's Adam there to bounce off of, the "bright young things" would be too dizzy and chaotic to be taken seriously. With Adam, they turn things down a notch and move at a slower tempo (if not completely normal).
His insight into these "bright young things" is rather amazing, given how well they hide their true feelings from the world. Adam is the one who saw through Miles' facade while having their party in the mental institution and forced him to remove his glasses and show the world his pain. He also knows that Nina wants to be comfortable in life and doesn't want to have to worry about money, so that's why he struggles so hard to get the money to marry her.
Moore is not good looking in the typical alpha-male, Hollywood movie star sort of way. Instead, he has to rely on characterization to make us fall in love with him (and understand why Nina is in love with him as well). One of my favorite scenes involves Moore's Adam dancing around Nina's apartment in heaven because her father has just given him the money he needs to marry her. For that one brief moment we see Adam in pure bliss and nothing is going to bring him down. So what if his book has been seized by customs and he has no job to support himself on? The money is just enough to marry his beloved on and that's all that matters to him. It is oh-so-simple, but yet it speaks volumes about Adam.
Even later on in the film, after he has "sold" Nina to Ginger and been turned jaded by World War II, Moore's Adam retains his warmth for when he really needs it. The final scene between him and Nina is one of the most touching and romantic, without being overly sentimental, I have seen in recent memory.
Emily Mortimer went on after this film to play Jonathon Rhys-Meyer's neglected wife in Match Point, while both James McAvoy and Michael Sheen received considerable, if ultimately futile, Oscar buzz for The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, respectively. With his castmates doing such fantastic work, where is Moore's attention? He appeared in both the West End production and film version of The History Boys, but he still hasn't quite broken through to the American public quite yet. I don't know what's taking the audience so long, because Stephen Campbell Moore should have been a big star four years ago.
Monday, March 19, 2007
If you remember back to last week (I know it’s hard, but just try), I mentioned in my first edition of Rap Song Monday that in competition with Missy Elliott’s “Work It” as my favorite rap/hip-hop song were two other songs. Well, coming this week is the second of those (with the third following next week) and that song is Eve and Gwen Stefani’s triumphant teaming on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.”
Even before this song came out, I was (surprisingly) a fan of Eve’s. I had heard both her previous singles (“Love is Blind” and “Who’s That Girl?”) on TRL back in the day and loved them- and still do to this day. They were so different from what I was listening to at the time (Britney Spears, Dream, O Town, etc.) and really helped me to appreciate rap/hip-hop music.
And then came “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.”
I remember seeing the music video long before they started playing the song on the radio and was in awe of how fabulous it was. There is that iconic image of Eve and Gwen on that 4-wheeler riding down the street during the beginning of the video (and I am so pissed I can’t find a picture of it…damn Google Image search) that basically defines the whole attitude of the song- two women fighting their way through a male-dominated society and not giving a shit about the criticism being hurled at them. I love when they crash the party and seeing the horrified looks on the faces of the crusty white bitches as Gwen walks by in, basically, a bra and you can almost see their thought bubbles go “Oh my God, black people!” Eve, in her short, red-haired glory, never looked as great and natural and Gwen Stefani (a couple years before her “Hollaback Girl” success) radiates sex appeal and charisma. Just take a gander at this photo from when Gwen pushes some dopey white bitch away from the mike and sings the chorus:
After “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” Eve tried to cash in again on this winning formula and did “Gangsta Lovin’” with Alicia Keys and even collaborated with Gwen again on “Rich Girl,” but neither of them can really stand up to the awesomeness that radiates from “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” I really wish that Eve would come back from UPN/CW sitcom hell and make another CD to restore her to her former glory. Maybe she will get lucky again and make another song just as hot as “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”
DOROTHY: Stan. Ciao. [Exits the room]
Sunday, March 18, 2007
So, tonight I went to go see the stage production of "Chicago" at the major theatre on campus. Needless to say, I have been super excited for this show ever since I heard about it last summer. I am an enormous fan of Rob Marshall's film version and have memorized every song on the soundtrack for the film. I'm glad to announce that I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. It's totally different from the movies (as should be expected from a stage-to-screen transfer) but it still offered something special that makes it a must see.
First, the play takes place on one singular set with the band right on stage interacting with the performers. Here is a picture of what the stage looked like (except the one I was saw was a lot less sophisticated than this):
I thought this was an intriguing way of staging the play and even if it took away from the spectacle, it allowed us to use our imaginations and instead get lost in the music and choreography. Even more than the movie, which goes from song to song rather quickly for a movie musical, the songs keep coming one right after the other with very little dialogue in between (until the Second Act anyways). And it also helps to have interesting Roxies and Velmas to keep us entertained and the two actresses who played them were well equipped. I even liked the man who played Amos, who doesn't come off near as annoying as when John C. Reilly played him in the film version.
Another great part was after the song "When Velma Takes the Stand," Velma is told to leave after Roxie interrupts her conversation with Billy Flynn. Before she goes, however, she tells the band to "play my exit music" and in one of the greatest diva moments in history, Velma does a reprisal dance as the hunky boys around her belt once more "When Velma takes the stand!" and she is carried off the stage in a chair as the music swells around her. How fabulous is that?! I now have to get my own exit music and a little routine with tons of feathers, glitter and spandex. Can someone make this happen?
I think the ending to Chicago is one of the best in history and it wasn't until I saw it again tonight that I realized how similar it feels to the ending of Dreamgirls when Effie White tells Curtis that "Effie is gonna win" and walks off stage/camera. Both Effie and Velma/Roxie have been through so much that when they finally get what they want it's a delicious moment for the audience.
And now for the not-so-good parts: I wasn't particularly impressed by the "I Can't Do It Alone" and "We Both Reached for the Gun" sequences, but I was comparing to the marvelous staging in the film and you just can't do those things on the stage, so it wasn't really their fault. I also didn't like Tom Wopat as Billy Flynn. He lacked the charisma that Richard Gere had in the film and seemed really awkward up on stage. But offstage, Tom Wopat had a hilarious D-List moment worthy of Kathy Griffin's reality show.
That's Tom Wopat above. Apparently he played Luke Duke on The Dukes of Hazard back in the day. Anyways, after the show, my friend Sammi went over to buy a program and there was Tom Wopat himself standing right next to the table of souvenirs selling some shitty CD of his. And the hilarious thing was that no one was talking to him. More people were in line to get Chicago t-shirts and shot glasses than to talk to Tom Wopat. I couldn't even look in his direction because it was so depressing/hilarious. At least Kathy Griffin has her loyal legion of gays.
Okay, now flash forward ten minutes later and I am standing outside in the butt-fucking cold with my other friend Laura as Sammi and a friend of hers stands out by the stage door waiting for the actors to come out. They get a couple of random chorus girl/men's autographs ("Ooh, I loved you as the third from the left during the Cell Block Tango," Laura jokes) when this man dressed in cognito with a baseball cap and sunglasses (I think anyways) bursts through the door and walks on the grass, avoiding Sammi and her friend. Suddenly, Sammi thinks she realizes who it was and shouts "TOM!" to get his attention and he turns back around. Her and her friend go running over to him to get his autograph while Laura and I are so embarassed/ashamed that we hide between the dumpsters. After I think about it for a second, I realize how hilarious it is that Tom fucking Wolpat has the audacity to avoid fans and dress incognito when he can't even get people to speak to him after the show.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
(I don't want to be a thief so I will mention that the last picture I found at the Film Experience Blog: http://filmexperience.blogspot.com/)
Monday, March 12, 2007
Missy Elliott is probably my favorite rapper, male or female. She really makes an effort to be original in everything that she does from her beats and lyrics to her fashion and stunning music videos. I mean, who else could deliver a line like “I’m a bad mamma jamma goddammit motherfucker, you ain’t gotta like me” and have it seem like something revelatory (I personally live by that phrase)? And she doesn’t try to be political like Kanye, deeply personal like Eminem or overly sexual like Lil’ Kim (and most female rappers for that matter). Missy sticks to her hot club bangers that are totally different and great to move to.
Out of all of Missy’s impressive tracks, “Work It,” for me, stands above all. Maybe it’s the memories of all the discussions my friend Kayla and I had when the song came out and how we marveled at its ingeniousness and hilarity (The whole getting your “hair did” was a favorite of ours). Or maybe it’s the 11th grade English paper I wrote about its use of poetry techniques (“I’ll make you hot as Las Vegas weather” is a simile) and the B+ I got on it (Reading the paper again, I don’t know how I wasn’t sent to the principal because the thing is pretty distasteful and somewhat vulgar).
Perhaps the ultimate reason why I love “Work It” is Missy’s inventive rhymes and lines. Whether she’s rapping about Kunta Kinte (“Kunta Kinte, enslave a game, no suh/Picture black saying oh yessa massa”), getting a date drunk (“Let’s get drunk, it’s gonna bring us closer/Don’t I look like a Halle Berry poster?”) or shaving “down there” (“Call before you come, I need to shave my cho-cha”), Missy is clearly having fun and not taking herself too seriously. Like Groucho Marx’s character in Duck Soup, every line works and offers something hilarious, insightful or, at the very least, is integral to the song.
It also doesn’t hurt that Timbaland is producing the track and he turns out one of his hottest beats EVER. Holy shit, plus there’s that music video? It is one of the few music videos I have seen that have actually enhanced the song and made it even greater (Who would think that was possible?).
Sunday, March 11, 2007
ALL RATINGS ARE OUT OF 5 STARS
Yentl (1983, dir. Barbra Streisand) Who said that the musical as a film genre died with Fosse’s Cabaret? Babs’ directorial debut is certainly something to behold and is truly one of the milestones in film musicals. Her uncompromising attitude all while bringing this project to this screen shows in every frame that is lovingly put together. Babs does a fantastic job in the lead as the Jewish girl Yentl who, after her father’s death, poses as a boy and goes off to study at a Hebrew school in which girls are forbidden. Yentl wisely avoids most of the comedic situations that could be exploited from now until kingdom come with only the wedding night scene coming to mind presently. While not a feel-good, escapist musical, Yentl has fantastic music and is further proof that Barbra is a much needed voice in American filmmaking. *****
The More the Merrier (1943, dir. George Stevens) This was the biggest disappointment of the movies I watched during Break. Set during World War II Washington, D.C. where a housing shortage cripples the city, Jean Arthur rents half of her apartment to Charles Coburn- who in turn rents half of his room to a swoon-worthy Joel McCrea. The first half of the film contains some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in a long time (Arthur describing the morning routine with Coburn, McCrea’s entrance) and looked to be Arthur’s paramount performance, but it comes to a screeching halt somewhere around the middle and becomes a terrible wartime melodrama. It got so bad I wanted to bitch slap Jean Arthur (whom I love dearly) for crying the last ten minutes straight. Jean Arthur received her only Oscar nomination for this film and Charles Coburn won his only Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and I can’t see why because they have both done better work. *** ½
Silkwood (1983, dir. Mike Nichols) Basically, it’s Norma Rae meets The China Syndrome with the ever-fabulous Meryl Streep transforming into Karen Silkwood, an uneducated nuclear plant worker who blows the whistle on the plant’s harmful practices with plutonium. Definitely watchable with fantastic performances from Streep and Cher as her lesbian roommate, but overly familiar *** ½
Witness For the Prosecution (1957, dir. Billy Wilder) This has got to be one of the finest courtroom dramas I have ever seen (up there with Inherit the Wind). Charles Laughton plays an English barrister recovering from a heart attack who takes on the case of Leonard Vole (a surprisingly solid Tyrone Power) who is accused of murdering his older lady friend for her money. His wife Christine (a fabulous Marlene Dietrich in one of her best later roles) proves to be the key witness in the case and could send him to the gallows. What I love most about Witness is that just when you think everything has been wrapped up nicely in a neat package, it is all shot to hell and one surprise comes after another. I also enjoyed the hilarious banter between off-screen couple Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (aka the Bride of Frankenstein) as his meddling nurse trying to get him to rest. **** ½
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, dir. John Cameron Mitchell) After recently viewing Mitchell’s Shortbus, I quickly went and watched Hedwig. Although not as great or transfixing as Shortbus, Hedwig certainly has many things to admire. John Cameron Mitchell’s lead performance as the East German transsexual is one of the best pieces of acting I have encountered in quite awhile. He is totally transfixing and makes the film that much better. The music was also quite amazing and fit in interestingly with what was going on in the story. The only drawback was the ending which I felt was a little too ambiguous and alienating. ****
Murder On the Orient Express (1974, dir. Sidney Lumet) I had to see this movie based solely on its A-list cast: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller and Rachel Roberts- how could you not want to see this? Unfortunately, the film is not the Altman-esque ensemble piece that I expected. Most of the actors and actresses are wasted in the tiny ass roles they are given and the only standout is Anthony Perkins’ twitchy, Norman Bates-lite performance as the dead man’s secretary. The whole thing is a contrived piece of crap that is only worth watching for the cameos (however little they satisfy). And how the hell did the fabulous Ingrid Bergman win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her insipid and just plain annoying Bible-spouting nanny who helps all the “black babies” in Africa? **
Thursday, March 1, 2007
-Since film is a major passion of mine, expect more editions of “Rants about…” Coming soon will be my thoughts on Paul Haggis’ Crash and Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck.
-Rap Song Monday: Every Monday for a certain period of time I will be discussing one of my favorite rap/hip hop songs.
-A new series called “Underappreciated Performances” which includes my thoughts and feelings about some of my favorite performances that were just under the radar. First up should be Stephen Campbell Moore in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things.
-More devotion to “The Golden Girls” including some of my favorite lines, episodes and moments.
-MUCH more devotion toward Jake Gyllenhaal, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Channing Tatum, Dame Judi Dench, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo.
-Now that Oscar season is over, I will be delving into Oscar history with Best Actor Cock Fights and Best Actress Bitch Fights. For this series, I will compare the nominees for Best Actor or Actress in a certain year and tell you who I think should have won, didn’t deserve to be nominated or should have been nominated.
What more can I say about this song? It’s already been praised to high heavens, spent seven weeks at number one (making it Timberlake’s biggest hit to date and the second biggest song of 2006 after Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”) and “bringing sexy back” has become a catchphrase big enough that Al Gore used it in public. The necessity of even doing the previous justifying is simply futile. “Sexyback” speaks for itself and the future of Justin Timberlake’s career.