Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Lend yourself to others. But give yourself to yourself."

The Kids May Be All Right, But This Movie Sure as Hell Isn't

I just got back from the highly acclaimed The Kids Are All Right, a film about two lesbians (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), their two kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) and the effect meeting the kids' sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) has on the family. The film was, I believe, supposed to be a light, bittersweet romp through the ups and downs of today's modern family. All I felt by the end of the movie, however, was an immense hatred towards everything in this film. How could so much potential be squandered in something as cheap, cloying and unpolished as The Kids Are All Right ends up becoming? I blame most of the films major woes on the script, which has a lot of interesting ideas but doesn't develop them as much as I would have liked to have seen. A lot of the time, I couldn't tell if director Lisa Cholodenko was purposely leaving relationships and key ideas vague to challenge us to fill in the blanks or if they were simply left out for whatever reason. First of all, the family didn't feel at all cohesive. The film explains that Nic (Bening) gave birth to Joni (Wasikowska) while Jules (Moore) birthed Laser (Hutcherson) a couple years later and, for the most part, that bond between mother and child is heavily prevalent. So much so that the film gives no indication about the relationship between the mother and the child that they didn't birth. They all seem to live in this vacuum where this issue isn't addressed or even thought about, yet something is lacking between Nic/Laser and Julies/Joni. Cholodenko takes great pains in staging the actors during the opening dinner scene so that Nic/Joni and Jules/Laser are shown together in the same shots, so it's not as if she's oblivious that this dynamic exists.

With the introduction of Paul into the picture, the holes only grow larger and more intolerable. One of the biggest that sticks out is the relationship between Joni and Paul. Joni initially has no interest in meeting Paul and only makes contact with him to appease the curious Laser. After she meets him, however, she becomes smitten and announces that she wants to continue seeing him. What she sees in him, we never know, for all that follows are scenes between them where she gazes adoringly at him while he talks about vegetables. There is a hint that she may be sexually attracted to him, as she becomes increasingly uncomfortable with her "slutty" (I use that in quotes because I talk like her every day and I don't think she was that horrible) friend's comments about how she'd like to fuck him. But, as with a lot of the film, that possibility is never explored. Another angle that didn't feel fully developed was the dynamic between Nic and Paul. There's a major plot development that forever strains their relationship, but before that, Nic is not exactly his biggest fan. Part of that can be explained by the fact she feels like everyone in the family has turned against her and towards him, but there's another issue that is never fully explained. Paul and Jules, with their "la-di-da" attitudes toward life and work, are incredibly similar, more similar than anyone in the film is willing to admit. Does Nic see this, and is rejecting Paul her way of expressing her dissatisfaction with her relationship with Jules? This is all conjecture, but I'm grasping at straws as to what the film is aiming to say with this relationship.

The film's major turning point, an affair which suddenly erupts between Paul and Jules, is also the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of my reaction towards the film. First of all, the tone of these scenes is completely wrong and, to an extent, even grossly offensive. The Kids Are All Right is supposed to be about the love in this cohesive family unit, so why are the sex scenes between Moore and Ruffalo full of slapstick moments trying to make the audience laugh? Sure, these moments are funny, but you feel dirty afterward because all you can think about is that fact that she is fucking CHEATING on her spouse while being funny. This is not an appropriate moment for levity, especially since Nic has done nothing worthy of being cheated on. And speaking of offensive, why does Jules have to have an affair with a man when she has clearly been established as a lesbian throughout the movie? I understand that there's some psychological motivation that goes beyond sexuality, but having her cheat on her spouse with a man plays into the stereotype that a lesbian is a lesbian simply because she hasn't found the right man. Maybe the awkward slapstick was meant to imply that they weren't exactly having the best time together or that something was off about them, but I'll be damned if it didn't sound like they were having the time of their life.

The Kids Are All Right is not a terrible movie by any means--I'd rather watch it than StarStruck ever again, that's for sure--but there are simply too many flaws to blindly ignore. Another edit of the script to tighten plot holes and make the dialogue sound less forced and on-the-nose would have made this film a pleasure to sit through instead of one where I was gritting my teeth through numerous, infuriatingly clumsy mistakes. C

Thursday, July 29, 2010

General Brittany

"Excuse me, Miss Barch? Since they can't see us very well because of the terrain, we can split up and they won't know where we are. Then we can attack from three sides, drive them out to the one side they think is safe and then set an ambush to capture them all at once! Probably be a good idea to set up a secret observation post on the high ground so we can watch them without them seeing us."


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Can't Believe That Bitch Kylie Minogue Stole From Lady GaGa

We all know that along with inventing music, notes and scales, Lady GaGa also invented the dome-shaped platinum blonde wig. Jesus, why are all these old hag pop stars that no one cares about anymore ripping off our beloved GaGa? It's like they have never had an original idea in their head and must steal from the fresh-faced newcomer in order to be relevant. Aphrodite? Bitch please, Kylie Minogue looks more like Buddha than the Greek goddess of love. If GaGa were a Greek god, she'd be Zeus because she runs this motherfucker.

Rants on The Turning Point

When The Turning Point (Herbert Ross, 1977) debuted in the late 70's, the film was probably received as a very timely film for its story involving two women with regrets, one who gave up her career as a world-class ballerina for a family and another who did just the opposite. By 1977, more women than ever before were entering the work force and had to deal with practical issues about how to balance work and family commitments. The Turning Point, although not exactly coming at it from an entirely relatable perspective, attempts to tackle this issue through the Sirkian melodrama, a specific style of melodrama that deals with larger, societal issues through the dynamics of a family or small group of people. The film tries, but ultimately it doesn't dig deep enough at the issues it raises for it to be successful as a Sirkian melodrama. The Turning Point wildly skips over major plot points that would be extremely critical for the film to be successful. For example, at one point, Shirley MacLaine, as the woman who gave up her career, is seen having drinks with a male friend from her past. There are hints that she may cheat on her husband as a way of rekindling her youth and going back to the time when she was the happiest. Just when you think she's about to go through it, the scene ends without either of the characters bringing up the subject of going to bed with each other. It's a strange, abrupt ending, especially considering the film doesn't openly mention the scene again and only hints at it more than 15 minutes later, long after the short scene is forgotten. When it is hinted at, in a scene where MacLaine doesn't come home one night and later when MacLaine's daughter Leslie Browne confronts her about this affair, the accusations come suddenly and without warning. Why is the film attempting to downplay MacLaine's affair? If this was a true Sirk film, the affair would have been broadcasted directly so that the film would be allowed to comment on the consequences this action has on both her family and society in general. By sweeping it under the rug as the film does, The Turning Point makes the decision that it's not really interested in the character's actions and their consequences.

Then again, director Herbert Ross doesn't exactly seem interested in much of what's going on in The Turning Point. Perhaps best known then and now for helming the film adaptations of many of Neil Simon's most popular plays during the 70's, Ross feels like the last director you would ask to direct a melodrama devoid of any "snappy" Simonisms and involving numerous ballet sequences. And, for the most part, Ross does feel like the wrong guy for the job. Not only does the melodrama flop, but the look of the film, especially during the ballet scenes, is ugly and uninspiring. I'm not suggesting that The Turning Point be as outlandishly, breathtakingly gorgeous as something as the highly stylized The Red Shoes, or that any ballet film should be forced to compare to that Technicolor classic, but I would have hoped that Ross had at least taken a chance and done something, anything, to make the ballet scenes worthwhile. All shot at a long distance, on a dour, dank stage with very little visual flourish, these scenes are dreadfully dull and do next to nothing to bring out the emotion the dancers are supposed to be portraying. Even if they are supposed to be stage routines, there is a way, as evidenced by Kate Bush's sublime 'Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)' video, to make ballet sequences in a confined space as artistic and fascinating as The Red Shoes.

Part of the reason I suspect Ross didn't go for something more fanciful is the fact that, for the most part, he's trying to keep The Turning Point fairly straight-forward visually and thematically. He's isn't aiming for "prestige" direction like many directors in his position would have, which is something to be eternally grateful for. Ross is perfectly content capturing the interactions between MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as her formal rival in their natural surroundings without any bells and whistles. He realizes they are the star of this show and stands back and allows them to act up a storm. Surprisingly, given all I knew about the movie was its numerous Oscar nominations and the infamous moment where Bancroft throws a drink in MacLaine's face, the two dueling ladies are rather restrained in the acting department. This is both a credit to their talents and a detriment to the overall film. They both realize that they don't have to "Grand Dame" the whole movie, when many lesser actresses would have gone straight for hysterics. On the other hand, their subtlety doesn't exactly make The Turning Point the most interesting movie to sit through. Both of their characters are extremely one-note ideas about feminism in the 70's rather than vivid, living, breathing people. Bancroft and MacLaine really needed to add something, anything, to make their characters come across as real humans in order for any of the melodrama to come off. How are you supposed to generate feelings and emotions for the characters when you don't particularly give a damn about either of them? This is why the campy catfight towards the end is perhaps the best remembered part of the movie today. It's not particularly glamorous or in-depth, but it's the one time in the movie Bancroft and MacLaine are allowed to simply let loose beyond simplistic "Oh, I wish I was a mother" and "Golly gee, why did I give up ballet?" characterizations. The film recognizes that this catfight is horribly out of place with the rest of the movie and eventually acknowledges how completely silly the fight ultimately becomes--by the end, MacLaine and Bancroft are literally moving around in a circle, smacking each other on the ass--but this moment of catharsis is perhaps necessary to save this film for complete direness. As for the MacLaine vs. Bancroft showdown, I'm going to have to narrowly call it in favor of the former Mrs. Robinson. Neither are particularly stunning, although they're hardly embarrassments, but my main tipping point for Bancroft is the fact that I believe her as a ballerina while I don't for MacLaine. Yes, I realize that MacLaine has given it up for nearly 20 years and isn't going to be in as rigorous shape as Bancroft, but something about her doesn't click. I can see her as a hooker, a bitch and an overbearing mother, but not as a ballerina. Not ever, ever, ever.

Both Bancroft and MacLaine received Oscar nominations for their work here, as did professional ballerinas Leslie Browne and Mikail Baryshnikov in two of the strangest, most atypical nominations in Oscar history. By nominating these two, Oscar ignored its own unofficial rule that acting is all about, and only about, line readings and facial expressions. Browne and Baryshnikov have quite a few lines but they are most definitely not the most natural actors in the world and one would hope that this isn't what caught voters' eyes in 1977. Rather, I'm guessing that it's their admittedly fantastic dancing that landed them on the ballot. Normally I would have no problem with Oscar expanding their horizons and honoring work which explores character through movement rather than speech, but I can't quite get on board with these nominations. The problem with the dancing in The Turning Point is that the majority of the sequences are performance pieces where the characters are portraying other characters in famous ballets not involved in the story. So, instead of using dance as a way of expressing their own characters within the film, Browne and Baryshnikov dance (wonderfully) to already famous ballets on stage that have nothing to do with their characters on the outside world. To put it another way, it would be as if Jennifer Hudson, who many assumed won her Oscar for singing rather than acting, had, instead of performing 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going' or 'I Am Changing', spent most of her on-screen time performing numbers from Porgy and Bess during some unrelated stage show. There's no doubt her singing would have been flawless, as is Browne and Baryshnikov's dancing, but it wouldn't add anything of substance to the film. Baryshnikov, whose accent is so thick at times you have absolutely no clue what he is saying, has nothing to fall back on without his dancing. Browne is admittedly no Bancroft or MacLaine, but she is, at certain times, an unreadable cipher. The majority of the time she's oddly vacant, as if she's white knuckling the acting scenes until she get to another ballet sequence, but, at other times, she is chillingly cold and frightening. There were times when her face was as scarily unreadable as if she was an extra in a Cronenberg horror film. I'm not sure how this fits in with Browne's character on the whole, but that seems to be par for the course in The Turning Point, a film full of odd, underdeveloped, potentially interesting asides that don't seem to fit in with the majority of the dull film. If someone had figured out a way to incorporate these oddities, people may actually remember The Turning Point today. C-

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Britney's Videography: 'Lucky'

Britney Spears 'Lucky' # # # # #
When Britney released Blackout amid two years of non-stop coverage of her life slowly slipping out of control, critics and fans alike were surprised at just how personal and self-aware she had suddenly become. It was, indeed, a revelation, but if we had been paying attention much earlier, we would have noticed that Britney was beginning to get personal with her video for 'Lucky.' Coming between the twin masterpieces that are 'Oops!...I Did It Again' and 'Stronger,' 'Lucky' isn't exactly highly regarded among her numerous singles and probably for good reason. Subtlety has never particularly been Britney's strong suit, but 'Lucky' is so on-the-nose and obvious that the whole thing becomes laughable. The video doesn't start off much better as we are introduced to Britney in a dual role as both Lucky, the star, and the narrator who eventually enters the world of Lucky to provide further commentary on her existence that the song doesn't cover. With the curtains that contain the drama/comedy masks and a billboard for Lucky's latest movie called Top of the World, the 'Lucky' video is blatantly obvious about what this song is about. But as Britney the Narrator enters Lucky's world, we start to wonder whether or not 'Lucky' is a commentary on Britney's own chaotic life at the time. In a span of 18 months, she had gone from former Mickey Mouse Club star to International Popstar and we all know that she's not exactly the greatest at coping with drastic amounts of scrutiny. So who's to say that 'Lucky' isn't about Britney herself? By entering Lucky's world in the video and, in one moment, reaching out to try and comfort her, Britney's attempting to find the solace and comfort that those around her are failing to give her. It's a quiet moment of self-actualization for Britney, but it does wonders to make this video actually mean something. The video isn't high art but it's a decent enough placeholder between Brit's two most memorable videos of her career.

Previous installments: ...Baby One More Time | Sometimes | (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) | From the Bottom of My Broken Heart | Born To Make You Happy | Oops!...I Did It Again

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This Quote About Inception is So Bloody True

Courtesy of Joe Reid at Low Resolution:

"Incidentally, Tom Hardy's is the one character we get to know exactly the right amount given his role in the movie; we get just enough to know he's a competent forger, a bit cocky, and in possession of a scorching sexual chemistry with Joseph Gordon-Levitt."

I don't know if I'll get around to talking about Inception--great ideas, love Nolan's balls, imperfect execution--but I just had to share this since I was thinking the EXACT SAME THING during their brief moments together. They were going at it like Sonny and Chad in their prime and we all know how they ended up, right? (Answer: They hooked up). I wish Nolan would have let them continue their banter when they entered the dream world--Lord knows the film could have used a touch more comedic relief during that part--but I guess that will make us appreciate their brief interludes together all the more.

It certainly is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

Andy Garfield, Male Model Extraordinaire

Andy Garfield, hot off the heels of the announcement that he'll be the new Spider Man in the Marc Webb series reboot, is now the star of this new shoot from fashion label Band of Outsiders (LOVE that name, but, then again, I'm such a Godard nerd). I know I'm no fashion expert nor am I a good judge of what makes a photo great, but I must say that this playful, silly shoot is my favorite type. As much as I enjoy a shoot where nearly naked models pose wearing skimpy underwear--if even that--the best ones are where hot models are fully dressed and doing silly poses. Don't believe me? Here's Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Anyways, enjoy how much fun Andy is having here.

Here are tons more photos from the shoot.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Advice from Tony Leung

"You've lost a lot of weight, you know. You were so chubby before. Now look at yourself. You're so skinny. Have more confidence in yourself."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

The other day I watched Walk, Don't Run on TCM without knowing much about it besides it was a remake of The More the Merrier and it starred Cary Grant and Samantha Eggar, who I've become infinitely curious about since I saw The Collector awhile back. As I was watching it, I realized that it also starred Jim Hutton, father of Academy Award-winner Timothy Hutton of Ordinary People fame (I really can't escape that movie lately, can I?). Having never seen a photo of him, much less a movie, I was absolutely stunned when he walked on screen the first time.

They look exactly alike and not just in that "we share the same DNA" way. There were moments where it looked Timothy Hutton had gone back in time and dressed up in adorable 1960's suits just to be in this movie. It was freaky. I literally could not get over it during the whole movie. Jim would come on screen and I'd be like "Wait, why is Conrad Jarrett in this movie?" I guess that's the price you pay for being an Ordinary People fanatic.

As for the rest of the film, there isn't much to say really. I was never really a huge fan of The More the Merrier; it has a bloody good first half but stalls out somewhere towards the middle with horrible melodrama and a lengthy scene where Jean Arthur would not fucking stop crying. Walk, Don't Run, on the other hand, never even gets off the ground. I like Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton but they are definitely no Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea. Eggar, in particular, doesn't have an ounce of comedic timing in her body. The morning routine scene where Eggar is supposed to describe in too great of detail how the bathroom shall be divvied up in the morning falls completely flat, whereas in the original Jean Arthur had me howling with laughter. It should have been a sure thing for Eggar, but she completely mangles it. The film has a couple of good bits towards the middle, Cary Grant is always a treat and the ending is nowhere near as irritating as the original, but, overall, Walk, Don't Run fails to live up even to the modest triumphs of The More the Merrier. C-

River Viiperi is a Tyra Fan, Obviously

The more work I see from new "it" model River Viiperi, the more I think that someone's been following the advice Tyra Banks always gives the girls on America's Next Top Model. Case in point:

Work with the clothes, not against them.

Try something new. Go against what you'd expect.

Use props wisely.

Make a "beautiful ugly" face.

This isn't entirely accurate since Tyra hasn't one talked about herself or her career as a supermodel, but I think you catch my drift.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Random Top 10: Should-Be Criterions

A couple of days ago, Barnes & Noble announced their regular Criterion 50% Off Sale, sending a legion of cinema nerds into a buying frenzy. I'm pacing myself throughout the sale, buying only a couple at a time so I don't go into massive debt. Today I picked up A Christmas Tale and Chungking Express, expanding my Criterion family from four to six:

My first born, and, not surprisingly, my favorite. This is the first thing I would grab if my house was on fire.

The rest of my children.

Anyways, with this sale going on, everyone is in a Criterion frenzy, so what better time than to start talking suggestions for future releases? I know that Criterion has been hit hard by the recession, forced to release a large amount of "mainstream" foreign arthouse flicks just to get by. But once things start to turn around, and they don't have to worry so much about trying to maintain a proper cashflow, here are some films I really hope they can get their hands on and give the Criterion treatment.

10. David Fincher Music Videos
Criterion is known for releasing unusual "speciality" collections--most notably two collections of avant garde works by Stan Brakhage--so why not music videos, an artform in its own right, this go-around? During his height in the late 80's/early 90's, David Fincher was the indisputable master of the artform. With Madonna's 'Vogue' and 'Express Yourself,' George Michael's 'Freedom' and Paula Abdul's 'Cold Hearted Snake' under his belt, among many other masterpiece I'm sure, this collection would be fascinating to say the least.

09. Saratoga Trunk
I've already said my piece about the film, now if only everyone could see it besides the occasional showing on TCM. This is the sort of divisive film Criterion should be taking a chance on every once in awhile.

08. [Safe]

I don't know if this me being oblivious or what, but I simply can't find a DVD of this to see. And watching Julianne Moore suffer under some harsh auteur's guiding hand is always a pleasure.

07. King Vidor Silents
The most consistently interesting director working at any of the studios during the silent era was, without a doubt, King Vidor. He wasn't exactly an artistic visionary, but no one could craft a smart, entertaining crowd pleaser like he could. My dream collection would contain three of his masterpieces currently unavailable anywhere on DVD: the epic WWI romance The Big Parade, the "experimental" look at the life of one ordinary couple The Crowd and his playful jab at the movie industry of the silent era Show People. All three of these are exceptional, underseen films that would vastly benefit from a Criterion release (as opposed to an eventual release somewhere down the road, if ever, from MGM that will receive absolutely no fanfare).

06. The Green Room
Truffaut already has a massive amount of his filmography available through Criterion, but this title has alluded release in America and it's the one film of his I haven't seen I'm most curious about. The plot--a journalist is so obsessed with his long dead wife he dedicates a room in his house as a shrine to her--sounds so completely atypical from anything Truffaut ever did. A great curiosity indeed.

05. Family Diary

While Criterion makes most of their money off releasing films by BergmanGodardFelliniTruffaut, this also affords them the opportunity to highlight smaller, more idiosyncratic directors. Case in point: Valerio Zurlini, who made this positively fascinating melodrama with Criterion favorite Marcello Mastroianni and Jacques Perrin. The plot isn't exactly earth shattering, but I think it's one of the finest studies of sibling relationships I've ever seen.

04. The Servant
This male version of Persona with even more homoeroticism is sadly out of print on DVD. And the world needs more Dirk Bogarde being über gay and über creepy.

03. Buster Keaton Collection
With Criterion releasing their own collection of Charlie Chaplin's film, just a few years after another fine set was released with a multitude of extras, I think it's fitting that they soon honor the other king of silent comedy with his own collection. A Buster Keaton collection is perhaps even more urgent since the only box set with all his films isn't very good. The prints are scratchy and in obvious need of restoration and there are no extras to speak of. I would love for a whole disc of documentaries about his legacy and interviews with him talking about his work (if they even exist).

02. The Mother and the Whore
According to legend, this post-New Wave film contains Jean-Pierre Léaud's best performance. Enough said, yes?

01. Face to Face
According to legend, this little seen Bergman contains the greatest performance from Liv Ullmann as a psychologist who goes gloriously off the deep end. And considering this is the same woman who brought us Persona, Scenes from a Marriage and Autumn Sonata, this must be one hell of a feat. Depriving us Ullmann devotees of this (supposed) treasure is a crime against humanity. We want Liv and we want her now!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Britney's Videography: 'Oops!...I Did It Again'

Britney Spears 'Oops!...I Did It Again' # # # # #
After two lackluster videos in a row, Britney roared back full force with 'Oops!...I Did It Again,' the first single off her second album of the same name and the first video to launch the brand new Britney. The story that sets up the video--an (inexplicably hot) astronaut lands on Mars and runs into Britney--may seem a bit silly and gratuitous, but it actually makes an interesting statement about Britney's new persona. By discovering her on Mars, the video presents Britney as this out-of-this-world alien lifeform too puzzling and different from anything you would find on Earth. Now, 'Oops!' doesn't imply that she's out-of-this-world in the sense that David Bowie, Grace Jones and Roisin Murphy are; rather, the video merely comments on the fact that Britney isn't like other female popstars, especially the multitudes that had emerged after her initial popularity. Female popstars will come and go but Britney is in a completely different league from them, both musically and image-wise. And before we go any further, we must discuss the real star of 'Oops!...I Did It Again.' It's not Britney, the song nor is it the irresistible, iconic choreography. As I'm sure you're well aware, the real star of the video is the Red Leather Jumpsuit (so infamous it is now a proper noun). After Julia Roberts received massive critical love (and an Oscar) for Erin Brockovich, every romcom queen hoped that someday they would have their own Erin Brockovich Moment, a chance to prove that there was talent behind their star persona. After 'Oops!', every female popstar waits, often times in vain, for their Red Leather Jumpsuit Moment, an outfit so iconic it becomes a part of the popstar's persona. B has achieved it with her 'Single Ladies' Black Leotard and GaGa is consistently trying to find hers, although one universal piece of iconography has failed to emerge. The Red Leather Jumpsuit was obviously no accident. From the way the video reveals it, first in a pan upwards, stopping before we even see Britney's face and then in a second shot as Britney descends from the ceiling like the megadiva she is, we are immediately clued into the fact that someone understood that the Red Leather Jumpsuit was going to be huge. And was it ever. Over time, the Red Leather Jumpsuit has become the single most iconic thing from Britney's videography. Ask any self-respecting gay man between the ages of 17 and 28 and they will be able to tell you how much they love the Red Leather Jumpsuit. Very few artists find something as everlasting as this image yet Britney had managed, after the Catholic schoolgirl uniform in '...Baby One More Time', to find two in just over a year.

Previous installments: ...Baby One More Time | Sometimes | (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) | From the Bottom of My Broken Heart | Born To Make You Happy

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ordinary People Reimagined 30 Years in Either Direction

In case you're unaware, I have what you may call a sick and unhealthy obsession with the 1980 film Ordinary People. I have seen it more times than any person ever should, and every time I do, I'm an emotional mess for days afterwards. Recently, I even wrote an in-depth piece about how truly groundbreaking the film is, namely in its handling of an unusual mother/son dynamic typically ignored by Hollywood and cinema in general. Due to the film's uniqueness in that respect and its low-key stature despite winning the Best Picture Oscar (because Raging Bull should have won, blah blah get over it), one of my biggest fears is that someone will remake this wonderful film and completely ruin everything great about it. The idea of some hack director getting it into his head that just because the film is set in the early 80s everything in it is outdated and needs to be revamped for today's audiences is the stuff nightmares are made of. Plus, how in the hell do you top this amazing cast?

A very difficult task, indeed. And because I have no life and enjoy thinking about things like this, I often wondered just what the perfect Ordinary People cast would be in 2010 should someone stupidly try to remake it. It's a harder task than you would think given how difficult and precise these characters are. Here's what I came up with:

Andrew Garfield as Conrad
Robert Downey, Jr. as Cal
Nicole Kidman as Beth

If you've seen Boy A, then you understand why Andrew Garfield is perhaps the only choice for Conrad in this remake. Especially for a male actor of his age, he has the uncanny ability to play emotional vulnerability in a way that's usually only expected of females. Conrad is one of the few roles of this nature that relies almost entirely on this ability. Besides, can you imagine any other young male actor in the role? I love Zac Efron but, based on what we've seen so far from him, who knows if he could pull it off. Taylor Lautner? Haha, no. Robert Pattinson would probably be the mainstream alternative, given how they tried to make him James Dean in Remember Me, but I remain unconvinced he has the talent to make it work.

Our very own Ice Queen Nicole Kidman would be the perfect choice to play Beth, a woman whose emotional frigidness actually destroys her. Even if this is Kidman's stock in trade, there's another reason I would pick her. For most of the movie Beth has to hide her lack of emotion by retreating behind a mask of happiness and gaiety. She appears to be warm and loving with all of those around her (minus Conrad, natch), so that is how she is able to deceive her family for so long. I keep picturing that faux warmness Kidman portrayed in The Golden Compass and that's honestly what has me convinced she'd be perfect for the part.

Robert Downey, Jr. may seem like a strange choice, particularly to those people who only know him from his recent resurrection as the biggest star in Hollywood due to star turns in stuff like Tropic Thunder and Iron Man. But before then, he was also a consistently reliable dramatic actor in stuff like Less Than Zero and Chaplin. Playing Cal in Ordinary People would allow him to reconcile these two aspects of his career into one performance.

And because I really have no life, I was recently thinking what the 1950s version of Ordinary People would look like. This recently turned into a long and particularly nerdy Twitter conversation with J.D. and Glenn (the latter of which suggested I turn this into a post, which is funny because I was already planning one halfway through the conversation) that yielded a lot of interesting suggestions. Here is what I ended up going with:

James Dean as Conrad
James Stewart as Cal
Olivia de Havilland as Beth

James Dean, the little prince of post-War tortured teenage emotions, may seem like an obvious choice to play the emotionally damaged Conrad, but sometimes the obvious choice is the right one. I recently re-watched East of Eden and was surprised at just how vulnerable and emotionally needy he was in that film, even more so than in Rebel Without a Cause. Just imagining him in all of his James Dean glory, mumbling and stumbling through those early scenes in an emotional stupor gives me goosebumps. Sal Mineo (who has his own unique take on the emotionally tortured teen) and Dennis Hopper (who played a slightly similar role in Giant) are both other possibilities but Dean is obviously my top pick.

Casting the 1950s version of Beth proved to be a little more difficult. I originally had Bette Davis in mind, because, hello, she's my queen but something didn't quite sound right. Then Olivia de Havilland popped into my head and everything clicked. Much like Mary Tyler Moore in the original, Olivia was perhaps better known for having a warmer persona than Beth has. She wasn't exactly a comedienne like Mary but she was definitely more of an "everyday" girl than Bette. By the 1950s, Olivia had also been experimenting with the ice cold aspect of her persona, most notably in that final act of The Heiress. Her take on Beth would have been fascinating to watch and a nice change of pace from her usual work.

James Stewart could really be interchanged with someone like Henry Fonda as they both have the nice guy personas which would have been interesting to see trying to mediate between de Havilland and Dean. I ended up going with Stewart only because at one point he and de Havilland were heavily involved romantically. You all know how much I love to watch art mimicking and reflecting on real life so watching them as their marriage deteriorates might have given a glimpse into what they were like together.

Now it's your turn. If you had the chance to recast Ordinary People 30 years either way, who would you go with?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Daria's Secondary Characters

As a graduation present to myself, I bought the Daria box set containing every episode ever made that was recently released. I positively adored this show when I was a kid and it's obvious that some of Daria's sarcasm rubbed off on me during my formative years. I've been slowly working through the massive amount of discs (8!) and finally finished the other day. The show is just as amazing as I remember, if not more so. As a way to commemorate my getting through five seasons of amazingness, I thought I would pay tribute to some of my favorite characters on the show. Instead of picking the usual suspects, however, I wanted to highlight some of the secondary characters on the show. We all know that Daria and Jane are the bomb, but what about these ones? They may not be as "important" but they have my love.

Ms. Li
"Lay off the Ultra Cola? Can't lay off the Ultra Cola! Gotta drink, drink cola. I told you to drink up, damnit! I know, call the elementary schools! They're always looking for a cheap field trip. Tell them to get their kids over here right away for soda, soda, soda! I can't just sit here, I've got to move some product, damnit! Attention students, everyone out in the hallway for soda, NOW! Must drink soda, soda from machines, everyone gather around the pretty machines. Open up, you lousy damn machine! Give up the soda in your bowels! Soda, soda, must have soda!"


"I can't take it anymore. I'm sick of doing all the work while you just sit there. I tried my best, and even if it wasn't as good as Sandy or Quinn, a chain is only as strong as its weakest round thingie. And you refuse to lift one friggin' finger! I'm through running the Fashion Club all by myself while you starrrrre in the mirrrrorrrrr and taaaaaaaalk about yourselllllllllf. And I-I-I quit!"

Mr. DeMartino
"In fact, almost the entire football team, despite repeated cranial trauma and a chronic inability to solve the maze on a cereal box, got 100."

And now let's pay tribute to a character I may love more than Daria (gasp, I know!)...

"By the way, Daria, I just want you to know that it's realllllly brave of you to get those contact lenses and admit you care about the way you look, even just a little. Because knowing that a braaaaain can be worried about her looks makes me feel, um, I don't know, not so shallow or something. Like we're not that different; just human or whatever."

Love. She is amazing, squeaky high-pitched voice and all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Oh it gets dark, it gets lonely/On the other side from you"

For one reason or another, I haven't been able to escape Wuthering Heights these past couple weeks. I've never read the book (philistine, I know) and my only exposure to it has been through the "classic" 1939 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon which is on my imaginary list of the most overrated films of all time. For one reason or another, I had remained completely ignorant of the umpteenth film version of the Emily Brontë novel currently in production. As soon as I heard that Andrea Arnold was directing, however, my attitude instantly went from "Ugh, really?" to "Holy shit, gimme!" I've already gone on and on about how spectacular Fish Tank was in my mid-year review, but after watching her 2007 film Red Road recently, I'm fully convinced that she is one of the most interesting up-and-coming directors around. Her preference for socially and emotionally isolated female protagonists is certainly a refreshing perspective given the male-dominated industry. I'm definitely intrigued by what she might come up with in this version. From what I gather about the book, she seems like a perfect fit. And even if it doesn't completely work, it simply has to be better than the '39 version, right?

Possibly even more exciting/intriguing than Andrea Arnold in the director's chair, however, is her choice for Cathy: 18-year-old actress Kaya Scodelario. The actress, best known for playing the omnipresent Effy Stonem on the UK TV series Skins, is perhaps a surprising choice given that Gemma Arterton, who seems on the brink of mega stardom this year, was originally cast before Arnold took over. But if you've seen Scodelario on Skins, particularly in the first or second series, you know that even at her young age, she definitely has the chops to pull it off. I recently re-watched her Skins debut in the series one episode where she, without uttering a single word the entire episode, goes out to party with her loud mouth best friend and ends up getting drugged by someone out for revenge on her brother Tony (Nicholas Hoult). I was impressed the first time, so much so that she instantly jumped to the top tier of my fave Skins characters. On this go-around, I was able to look past the audacity of the show to give this wordless protagonist an entire episode and realized what an incredibly gifted actress she is. Working only with your face is incredibly difficult and something very few actors have the luxury of experimenting with now that the silent era has been over for 80+ years. Scodelario is more than up to the challenge and manages to become this completely watchable and fascinating enigma in the middle of all these scarily intense scenes of Disturbed Teens Gone Wild. Scodelario doesn't simply let the contrivances do all the work for her. She's constantly "in" the moment and makes the most of her presence. As soon as the episode is over, you feel like you need to know more about this character, the biggest question mark being, obviously, "Why doesn't she speak?" Scodelario has the talent to play Cathy, but with Arnold guiding her, I'm positively foaming at the mouth to see what she can do.

I managed to escape Wuthering Heights for a bit until a couple of days ago when I watched this 1946 film called Devotion. The film is a typical love triangle melodrama, very common in those days, with perhaps the only difference being that it involves both Emily and Charlotte Brontë as two points in the triangle. I was interested in the film mainly for Olivia de Havilland as Charlotte, but she proved to be, like the film itself, nothing special. The real story, however, was Ida Lupino as the eternally moody and tragic Emily. I've seen quite a few films about famous authors, particularly from this time period in Hollywood, but none of them are as interesting as Lupino's work in Devotion. She uses Wuthering Heights, Emily's only novel, as a way of character development, embodying the dark, Gothic mood of the novel in ways that the '39 adaptation only dreams of. All her life, Emily has been preoccupied with this dark, mysterious house on the dreary moors she loves so dearly. She decides to write about this house, adding a tragic romanticism to match the darkness that surrounds it, much to Charlotte's confusion. When Charlotte admits that she doesn't really understand Wuthering Heights as Emily begins writing it, in a way it's her way of admitting that she doesn't really understand Emily. Emily realizes this and accepts it, for she knows that her ideas about love and relationships are beyond Charlotte's interests and capabilities. Lupino does some smart, fascinating work in a completely thankless role in Devotion, proving that she, completely understanding the work, would have made a great Cathy in a production of Wuthering Heights. Thanks Merle Oberon for fucking that up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

"My wife [Jennie Garth] is having a cougar crush right now. And I think I had a man cougar crush for a minute, too."

Peter Facinelli on Sterling Knight at the Twilight Saga: Eclipse premiere. The more this man opens his mouth, the more I like him. (Via)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rants on Scenes from a Marriage

The idea of reviewing an Ingmar Bergman film, especially considering my last post involved a memoir from a girl who at the time of publication couldn't even drive a car, seems a little daunting to say the least. But considering I spent five hours watching the TV version of his Scenes from a Marriage, I figured I owed it to myself to write up a couple thoughts about it.

In the simplest terms possible, Scenes from a Marriage follows the disintegration of the marriage between Marianne (Swedish acting goddess Liv Ullmann, in one of her most famous performances) and Johan (Erland Josephson). For years, they have pretended that their marriage has been a happy one. In reality, however, they've simply swept their problems under the rug, as the title of the second episode implies, and subconsciously avoided discussing their real feelings toward each other. Marianne, in particular, has deluded herself so much that when her husband tells her that he's leaving her for another woman, she is caught completely off-guard. Apart from each other, they begin a journey of self-discovery which leads to drastically different results. Marianne realizes that she has a problem standing up for herself and putting others' feelings ahead of her own. Johan, on the other hand, realizes how utterly miserable he is without Marianne and admits that he made a mistake leaving her. After their separation and even through subsequent marriages, the two of them continue to analyze what went wrong in their relationship.

The plot doesn't sound too different from a typical American divorce drama circa 1982 but Bergman's execution completely sets apart. As per usual, the visuals from famed Sven Nykvist are emotionally cold and distant, appropriately highlighting the relationship between Marianne and Johan. What is particularly unusual about the camerawork, however, is its remarkable simplicity. Bergman wasn't particularly famous for a moving camera, but he had an eye for crafting haunting images using lights and shadows. I still find myself frightened by that image of Liv Ullmann in Cries and Whispers where she stares straight into the camera while a shadow covers half of her face. With Scenes from a Marriage, the camera is often non-existent, peering at the Marianne and Johan like an uncomfortable third-party. This often gives the film the feeling that it's more of a rough cut of a film than a fully realized one. The camera often lingers on the same shot of Marianne and Johan, deep in conversation about some aspect of their marriage, for far too long. When you expect the film to make a cut and move on, the camera is still trying to capture something else. The art direction is also rather uncomfortable, eerily similar to the sets in Godard's La Chinoise (a surprising comparison since Bergman thought Godard was a "fucking bore"). This makes sense because, like that Godard film, Scenes from a Marriage is not necessarily interested in making a statement visually. The lack of distracting camerawork and art direction is on purpose so we can focus on what is being said by the characters. This is a film about words and faces and reactions and, holy hell, do we get a lot of that. At times, Scenes from a Marriage comes across as too harsh and too personal, to the point where you have to tune out to keep your sanity. But a lot of what is said is powerful stuff and apparently needed to be brought out in the open as, according to Bergman, the divorce rate skyrocketed after this debuted on TV. This film touched a lot of people, which is both incredibly hard to do and surprising considering Bergman's cerebral filmmaking. If anything, Scenes from a Marriage showed just how complicated and twisted the relationship between formerly married couples can be. Unexpectedly, this film validated the complex relationship between Dorothy and Stan on The Golden Girls; finally I understood why even after all the hurt they had gone through with each other, they never could completely break free. B

By the way, I feel like I should mention Liv Ullmann's performance here. As you may be aware, she was notoriously declared ineligible at the 1974 Oscars since the film had aired on TV beforehand which prompted this newspaper ad from all of Hollywood's then-reigning females thespians to have her included for consideration. Pretty ballsy, huh? And, judging by her performance, those ladies were on to something. While I didn't love her as much as I did in my personal favorite performance of hers, Autumn Sonata, she's damned excellent. She has the uncanniest ability to portray five emotions at once using only her eyes and slight shifts in her face. And she does this all in the most unshowiest way possible. If she was in her heyday now, there is no way she would ever be nominated for an Oscar, let alone two in a five year span. I've never seen anything like it. She is a one-of-a-kind talent and I'm dying to see more of her work.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

7 Things About Miley Cyrus' Autobiography Miles to Go

01. Miles to Go only covers four years in the life of Miley: from the time she first auditioned for Hannah Montana at 12 to the time of the book's publication at 16. Given that microscopic period of time, the book is 260 goddamn pages! Granted, the type is enormous and I'm pretty sure it's triple-spaced, but still. I couldn't even fill 50 pages about those four years. And it's not like much happened to her. Sure, she's the Queen of Disney, but she devotes most of the book to her homespun wisdom about being yourself, Christian values and quality family time. Bitch please. We don't want to read that. We wanna hear about all of your celebrity exploits and run-ins with tween celebrities.

02. The notes on the side are cute at first. But by page 70, they're kinda annoying.

03. I love that she openly admits to not liking Emily Osment during the course of the first two seasons of Hannah Montana. Of course, they somehow overcome their differences and are now BFFs, but the moments she describes of tension between them are some of the only genuine, unfiltered moments in the entire book.

04. Miley, gurl, there's no point giving your former boyfriend that you ended up writing '7 Things' about the nickname "Prince Charming." We all know it's Nick Jonas. And where's the dirt?! Come on, pull a Taylor Swift and give us some juicy details.

05. "During the TV series, I'd become more and more of a Method actor. In Method acting you use experiences from real life to summon emotions for your character." I literally cannot believe she had the balls to say this. According to Miley, she should be considered along with her peers like Brando, Clift and Dean. And to think that before this I considered Brenda Song as one of her acting contemporaries.

06. Very briefly, Miley mentions her friend Lesley. As in, "My best friend Lesley said, 'Oh, she's just being Miley.'" I'm such a nerd I nearly did the gay inhale.

07. I'm glad that she's so close with her family and that they tried their damnedest to live a "normal" life. But after awhile they come off not as mere mortals but as Saint Billy Ray and Tish. It's so annoying listening to her go on and on about how great they are, how they are always there for her, how they always put the family before any of the fame stuff, etc. We get it, they're better than my parents. Let's move on.

So, overall, the book is a C-. Not horrible for this type of book and definitely not as bad as you'd expect with Miley as a co-author. Also, it wasn't nearly as difficult to get through as either of the Twilight books I bothered to read. I wish she was more revealing but I also understand why she can't. Still, I can't wait for another 10 years, after she's gone completely slutty, when we get a tell-all book about our beloved tween stars. Maybe she can title it Miley: Still Not Tamed, Motherfucker.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"I've got to talk to you about something."

Chad: Is this about our date?

Sonny: Yes, I just...I think we need to call it off.

Chad: What, is this about me not telling you how things play out between Mac and Chloe?

Sonny: No, I seriously don't care about them or The Falls right now. I just...I think I rushed into something I didn't fully think through.

Chad: That hurts me, Sonny.

Sonny: I'm sorry.

Chad: How could you say you don't care about The Falls?

Sonny: Whoa, whoa, wait. What are you more upset about: the fact that I'm calling off our date or that I'm over The Falls?

[Pauses] That's a toughie.

Sonny: That's a toughie?

Chad: Well, if you date me, you date The Falls. So if you hurt one of us, you hurt us both.

Sonny: Oh my Gosh. I can't believe I was so close to going on a date with you. What was I thinking? Obviously I wasn't thinking...

Chad: Yeah, and ironically this is a drama free zone so...SECURITY!

Sonny: Let me tell you something, 24 hours ago I fell in love with a guy named Mackenzie and you, Chad, are no...

Don't say Mackenzie. DO NOT say Mackenzie.

Sonny: ...Mackenzie

Chad: That's it, she said it. Where's my security? You are no longer welcome at The Falls!

You said Falls!