Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stockwell and Lovers

So, Dean Stockwell, circa 1960, looking like this...

...does this to you...

...and your reaction is this?


In other news, Dean Stockwell has always been gorgeous, but he was really working the sexiness in Sons and Lovers. Check him out sizing up his new, married co-worker.

An Open Letter to Justin Timberlake

Dear Justin,

The one question I'm sure you're sick of hearing when you go on the interview circuit is, of course, "When are you going to make music again?" And I know you've been very defensive as you try and build up your acting resumé. Your reaction is perfectly understandable; you have your own project to promote, so why must you keep answering the same question over and over again? But did you ever think people ask you why you have given up music for acting because you are not a very good actor?

Don't get me wrong, you're very funny when you guest host on Saturday Night Live. Hell, I still listen to "Dick in a Box." But there's a difference between being funny in a five minute comedy sketch and in a full-length film. Some people are able to do both. You, unfortunately, cannot. In your most recent outing as an actor, Bad Teacher, you play an awkward, goofy nerd who greets people with individualized hand shakes and practically cries when he talks about how much he hates slavery. In another actor's hands, this could have been a funny role. Someone like James Marsden, who specializes in playing cartoonish characters quite well, would have really gotten some laughs out of this ridiculous character. When you play him, however, he's just Justin Timberlake with a pair of glasses. And that seems to be the major problem: all of your performances are you playing Justin Timberlake. Normally I'd argue that that's not necessarily a bad thing, but let's face it, there's a vast difference between you playing you and Cary Grant playing Cary Grant in every movie. You are never outlandishly bad, but neither are you the part of the movie everyone is buzzing about. When I'm telling a friend about a movie of yours I have just seen, it's usually, "Oh, Justin Timberlake was in it, too," right after I tell them about the hot guy a couple of rows in front of me and complain about my salty popcorn.

So, to sum this all up, get some inspiration and get back in the recording studio pronto. The only reason you get cast in these movies is because you are young, pretty and famous from your music career. Once your looks and goodwill from your music goes, you're fucked. Make some new music before a whole generation goes by wondering why you were famous in the first place.

Dame James

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Two Best Music Videos of the Year

Beyoncé "Run the World (Girls)" # # # # #
Robyn "Call Your Girlfriend" # # # # #

Robyn and Beyoncé are two of the biggest divas in pop music today, yet they couldn't be more different. Robyn is the undisputed Queen of Indie Pop: relatively unknown to the general (American) public, a god among mere mortals to those who worship her work. Beyoncé, on the other hand, is a motherfucking legend, an international icon, a legitimate star whether she's peddling shit like "If I Were a Boy" or classics like "Crazy in Love." Beyoncé is all high-wattage STAR with the massive persona to match; Robyn is more low key in her approach but never comes across as any less of a star. The two are from completely different worlds, but their recent videos prove that they are of similar minds when it comes to knowing the importance of how to sell a music video.

Beyoncé has the tougher task at hand, selling a completely bananas song with an odd sample and, at times, the most insipid "inspirational" lyrics this side of "Born This Way". The song completely flopped on the charts before the video's release, so it was up to the video to recharge this stagnating campaign. And not only did the video reignite my interest in the song, it (along with a fabulously fierce performance at the Billboard Music Awards) made me appreciate and--dare I say--enjoy the song in a way I never had.

So what is it about the "Run the World (Girls)" video that makes it so special? I'd say it is a combination of off-the-wall visuals, Beyoncé's hypnotizing dance moves and a wholly unexpected editing scheme. Beyoncé has never been known for being a particularly subtle artist (not an insult, just an observation), so it should come as no surprise that the visuals in "Run the World (Girls)" are completely over the top. Whether she's riding an enormous stallion, giving the audience the middle finger, holding on the leashes of two drooling hyenas or overstuffing the frame with background dancers to the point it feels like a later Miélès short, the video is a sumptuous visual treat. The images are out there, but they never once feel gratuitous.

The dancing in "Run the World (Girls)" is flawless, not surprising since it's from the same woman who made the "Single Ladies" dance a worldwide phenomenon. What makes it stand out, however, is the video's editing. For a song with "Run the World (Girls)"'s tempo and insane beat, you would expect the editing to be hyperactive in order to keep up with the breakneck pace of the song. Instead, "Run the World (Girls)" has longer takes to show off and immortalize Beyoncé's incredible dancing. The long takes combined with the rapid beat and dancing gives the video a hypnotic, almost eerily out-of-time feeling that proves once and for all that Beyoncé runs the world.

Robyn is not a dancer in the same vein of Beyoncé. Whereas Beyoncé is a technical dancer with mad skill, Robyn dances not with technique but with heart, which she shows off to dizzying effect in her "Call Your Girlfriend" video. A good thing since Robyn is literally the entire video. There is Robyn, one set, one camera, one take and one dance. Seriously. The fact that she is able to pull this video off is a true testament to her stature as one of the best popstars on the planet.

I'm a sucker for one-woman dances, whether it's Britney on the chair or Janet moving around that warehouse. Usually I'm not one for "instant classic" praise--in all honesty, I rather despise it--but as soon as I finished "Call Your Girlfriend" the first time, I was instantly comparing it favorably to the aforementioned videos. Robyn is a master of "dancing through the heartbreak" songs, so it was nice to finally see a dance accompanying the heartbreak. From the moment the dance begins with that hard-as-nails strut roughly 30 seconds in until the final moments, Robyn is unrelenting. She doesn't quit and the camera captures everything in all its glorious detail.

Doing the entire video in one take is perhaps the only way "Call Your Girlfriend" could have been done. The pain the song is talking about is cyclical, never ending and crushing the very life of the girlfriend who needs to be called. Editing any of Robyn's interpretive dance would do a disservice to the very message the song is conveying. Robyn needs to be let out of her cage and express every emotion that needs to be expressed. The lighting in "Call Your Girlfriend," which changes between various themes throughout the video's runtime, also aids Robyn in expressing the real meaning of the song. Not only do they add a melodramatic flair to the proceedings, but it also creates an almost outer space canvas for Robyn to paint her portrait of heartbreak as large as she wants. There's no denying a lot of craft went into making "Call Your Girlfriend" but there is no way any of it would have worked out without Robyn's presence, talents and pure charisma leading the way. Snaps to her for having the balls to pull this off.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Crazy 80's Project

While watching Repo Man about a week ago, an odd, intriguing sci-fi film from Sid & Nancy director Alex Cox, I had a thought I often have when I think about cinema of the 80's: I have not seen enough from it. I'm sure I've talked about this before, but ever since I fell in love with the cinema, I have been a strict devotée of TCM. I have seen many, many, many wonderful films on that channel, so I would never say anything negative about the channel. However, the word "classic" is in the title and that means they show very little from the 80's (outside of their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon). People are surprised when I, the huge film geek that I am, haven't seen such-and-such big, widely known film from the 80's.

I've thought about this "problem" before, but this is the first time I decided to do something about it. I came up with a list of five films from each year of the 80's I'm determined to see. In an attempt to keep this interesting, I tried to come up with a mix of box office hits, popular arthouse films and cult films from a variety of different genres (even from genres I'm not normally interested in). What I tried to stay away from was the major Oscar films of the decade; most of what I have seen from the decade have been the Oscar nominees in the major categories. When I did pick an Oscar nominee, it was either an atypical, genre film (Raiders, Aliens) or something I have been curious about for years (Last Temptation).

So, what should you, as a reader, expect from this big project of mine? I'd like to say I'll review each of these films, but I realize that is a farfetched goal. Hopefully I can manage at least a paragraph about each of them, when I do get around to seeing them. I don't have a set date to finishing this project because we all know that I'd never make it. I plan on taking my time and enjoying some of the high points of the decade.

Without further ado, here is the list. What do you all think? Are there any must-see films I'm missing? 

The Shining Eerie, unsettling sense of environment lends much more grit to this horror film. A-
Friday the 13th
Fame The precursor to nearly every great high school film made afterwards. B+

Raiders of the Lost Ark Efficient filmmaking, everything lacks true passion. Sexism a joke. C+
Diva A film full of missed opportunities: bulky narrative when it should be as sleek as possible, dull lead characters, including a toned down, in-control diva (what?!). D+
Man of Iron
Raggedy Man

Veronika Voss
First Blood
Fitzcarraldo All the elements of an epic never once come together to feel like an epic. Great set pieces, though. B-
Making Love Dated gay melodrama that has neither many highs or lows. Mostly ho-hum but a few moments in the lives of these "ordinary people" ring true. C+
One From the Heart

Ballad of Narayama
Risky Business
WarGames Not as silly as expected. No real sense of terror here but it is a sleek, engaging thriller. B-
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Beverly Hills Cop
The Times of Harvey Milk A lively and engaging portrait of a man who could honestly be called a visionary hero. A-
Once Upon a Time in America

Clue One of the finest comedic ensembles ever assembled. Raise what should have been lame cash-in on "brand" into a genuinely hilarious film. B+
Back to the Future
The Official Story

Top Gun
Aliens Brilliant sense of environment. True edge-of-your-seat excitement. Weaver is a motherfucking badass. A-
The Fly
The Sacrifice

The Last of England
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Babette's Feast
Hollywood Shuffle Striking observations about race in Hollywood. Couldn't it have pushed a little harder? B
Withnail & I Comedic British Miserablism. Certainly has its merits but not for me. B-

The Last Temptation of Christ
Hairspray Every bit as joyous as its musical adaptation with the added benefit of Waters' sly racial commentary and the glorious Divine. B+
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Grave of the Fireflies Haunting, paralyzing, tense, melodramatic, but never soft or overly sentimental. An exemplary look at the cost of war. *Breaks down in tears again* A

When Harry Met Sally... The reinvention of the romantic comedy. Ryan & Crystal are the perfect romcom couple. Who'd have guessed? A-
Heathers Brings style and substance to high school comedy subgenre. Has a very unique voice that is sometimes completely stumbled over by actors. B+
Jésus de Montréal

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rants on Les Amours Imaginaires

There is an old episode of Will & Grace where Will and Grace meet and fall for the same guy in their apartment building. The problem? Thanks to the mixed messages he sends, neither of them can tell if he's gay or straight. One minute he's getting up close and personal with Will, showing him how to properly hold a golf club, and the next he's openly flirting with Grace. When the two of them admit to him they don't know his sexuality, he leaves in a huff, never revealing if he was into Will or Grace.

Why am I bringing this up? French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan's second film, Les Amours Imaginaires, takes that episode's basic plotline and infuses it with the arthouse style of early Godard and Wong Kar-wai. If we're being honest, though, Dolan comes across more as an imitator in the vein of Christophe Honoré rather than as someone who completely understands the styles he is mining. He clearly has excellent taste, but he hasn't figured out yet how to pay tribute to his favorite directors while simultaneously developing his own style. As it stands right now, Dolan's "style," if you can call it that, is all hollow pastiche, a superficial front for a complete lack of substance. The most irritating thing about Dolan's aesthetic is that he often uses stylistic devices for no reason other than because it looks cool. The constant, repetitive slow motion is bad enough, but the use of strobe lights during a party in someone's apartment set me over the edge. I'm sure these moments are meant to set the hearts a-flutterin' of those pretentious douchebag hipsters this movie is aimed at so that they can collectively lose their shit at just how great of an artist Dolan is and the interesting, beautiful visual choices he makes that are so much better than any crap you'd see in "regular" cinemas. Please, I saw more coherent camerawork in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never in 2D than Dolan manages in Les Amours Imaginaires.

The Will and Grace of this movie are Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri). Within the first ten minutes of the film, after an agonizing "talking heads"-style interviews with other pretentious douchebag hipster moaning about the perils of love at 20, Francis and Marie both fall head over heels in love with blonde adonis Nicolas. Lord knows why because the first time we hear Nicolas speak, he drones on an on about something to do with seismographs and studying literature at university in the most blasé, faux-intellectual way possible. Nicolas comes off as a pretty bore, but Francis and Marie fall in love anyways. And they spend the next 90 minutes thinking about him, pining for him, fantasizing about him while having sex with other men and competing for his affections. They both spend so much time and energy crushing on Nicolas it makes you wonder what these characters do outside of their obsession for him. Do they go to school? Do they have jobs? Are they "artists"? Who the fuck knows? None of these characters bare any resemblance to any human being I've ever encountered.

In Les Amours Imaginaires, love is an idea, an intellectual phenomenon that is discussed like philosophy instead of felt like an emotion. It's an interesting idea in theory but about as fascinating as watching paint dry on the screen. Francis and Marie are more interested in the idea of being in love with someone as "fascinating" as Nicolas than they are by actually being in love with him. They hardly know the guy yet they are ready to cry themselves to sleep when he doesn't look their way at a café. This overexaggeration of emotion is another problem with the film. Dolan has no sense of humor about anyone or anything in this film. Every single emotion is deadly serious and shouldn't be taken lightly. This is probably a personal preference, but how dull are films, outside of your typical Holocaust movie, that take themselves as seriously as Dolan does here?

The last scene of the film, which in a surprisingly humorous way shows what immature brats Francis and Marie are, is enough of a corker to make you want to re-evaluate the rest of the film. But then you think back on all the obnoxious slow motion shots and shallow imagery and you realize that the only grade this film deserves is a D, as in dump, as in "I want to take a dump on this pile of celluloid called a film."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who's That Boy?

I need your help, dear readers. About a week ago, I found this very good looking model on someone's Tumblr (I followed a couple of links so I can't remember where I saw it originally). The problem is I have no Goddamn clue who he is. The original poster didn't put the model's name on the post and no one else who reblogged the picture added it. So, I beg of you, if you even have a guess as to what his name is, please let me know. He could be my future husband for all we know, so I need to get my stalking introducing on.

So the Tony Awards Happened Sunday Night

Believe it or not, I'm actually not too big on Broadway and modern musical theatre. I find it hard to care about shows I'll never get to see starring actors whose only exposure outside of the theatre appears to be Law & Order: SVU. So how did I find myself watching the three-hour live telecast of the Tony Awards on Sunday night if I don't know anything about Broadway? Randomly, for very different reasons, I had recently found myself listening to and loving the cast recordings for The Book of Mormon, the night's big winner and brain child of South Park creators (and my heroes) Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Catch Me If You Can, starring the sexiest man in musical theatre, Aaron Tveit. I loved these cast recordings so much, and because I had nothing else better to do, I decided to turn on the ceremony. Well color me surprised, the Tony Awards telecast turned out to be one of the quickest, wittiest, sprightliest awards ceremonies of the past couple years. Neil Patrick Harris proved to be an amazing host; his opening musical number and his duet with Hugh Jackman were easily two of the night's highlights. While most people focused on the nominated shows, I, obviously, was focused on the hot singing and dancing men.

The first is, obviously, the amazing Aaron Tveit. How one man can be so gorgeous and talented is beyond me. And he looks absolutely smashing in a pilot's uniform. You can only imagine the amount of bad sexual puns--"I want him to fly me", "Prepare for landing on me", etc.--that ran through my mind during his performance. I just love him so much. The second man is Andrew Rannells, star and Tony-nominee for his performance in The Book of Mormon. You already know I have a thing for hot Mormons, so Rannells was an absolute delight in the looks department (He can covert me any day, etc.). And he's quite talented in the vocal department as well. Check out his performance from last night's show, singing "I Believe." And then watch Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz perform a medley of songs from Catch Me If You Can. I would have been more devastated that we only got about one minute of Tveit singing if it hadn't been for the fact that Butz sings my favorite song from the entire show, "Don't Break the Rules."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2010 Diva Cup Awards: Best Supporting Actress

 Amy Adams
The Fighter
Ever since her breakthrough in Junebug, Adams has spent the last half decade typecast as wide-eyed innocents confronted by jaded people and situations which require her to rethink her naivety. With The Fighter, the normally perky Adams plays a hardened, seen-it-all bartender who falls for Mark Wahlberg's boxer. Quite a 180, but Adams is talented enough to make it work without raising any eyebrows. Ultimately, she's the supportive girlfriend, the one who urges her man to carry on with his work when he has given up and nearly all hope is lost. Adams resists the easy conventions of the role, playing up the ambiguity of her motivations in helping Wahlberg's Micky. Bale's and Leo's characters are, as the traditional narrative goes, the baddies of this piece, urging Micky to continue fighting for all the wrong reasons (to relive his former glory and to pay her bills). Adams would normally be the unequivocal voice of reason, but after awhile, it appears that she has her own motivations--getting even with Micky's family, for one, and trying to alienate Micky's affections--in motivating Micky. She's not a bad guy by any means, but the dark shadings to her character are a nice change of pace.

Marion Cotillard
Speaking of stock in trades, Cotillard has recently taken a liking to "woman scorned" roles. I wasn't as taken with her work in Nine as many others were, mainly because the film was an absolute mess. Inception, with its icy coldness and clinical, cerebral approach to its sci-fi narrative, needed an emotional center to make the whole film worthwhile. Cotillard provides that missing heartbeat and then some as Mal, the woman of Cobb's (DiCaprio) nightmares. She starts off as a vague, looming threat to our protagonist's main mission, but over time, Cotillard reveals Mal's motives for haunting Cobb. There are two things about about Cotillard's performance that ultimately fascinate me. First of all, I love the way she uses Mal's sexuality as a threat against anyone who tries to invade her and Cobb's world. When Ellen Page's character makes her way to the lowest level of Cobb's subconscious, against his wishes, Mal is there to fight her off. She saunters over to her in a tight-fighting dress, showing off all her curves and getting right in Page's face. It's a new and interesting way to play a basic scene. Secondly, her final scene, when Cobb finally reveals to her the truth about their past, is an unexpectedly emotional wallop. Cotillard brings clarity to a moment many actresses would have played for simple melodrama. How does she do it? I don't know, but I was considerably more invested in her emotional journey than the actual inception taking place in Inception.

Kimberly Elise
For Colored Girls
By now, Tyler Perry is well known for providing good, meaty roles in films for African-American actresses often ignored by mainstream Hollywood. For Colored Girls is Perry's most epic undertaking in this regard, as he adapted the famous choreopoem by Ntozake Shange with spectacular roles for 10 African-American women. One of these roles, a tired working mother who is balancing a demanding job with a demanding boss, raising her children and keeping her PTSD-effected husband from going off the deep end, went to Kimberly Elise and she absolutely nailed it. Given the above description of her character's life, Elise doesn't make her a victim of her circumstances. She doesn't wallow in self-pity about her tough life. She deals with it, whether that's doing something as ordinary as taking care of her children or putting on a brave, supportive (although she's secretly doubting him) face for her husband when he tells her he wants to change his ways. Elise wears her melancholy as if it's an ill-fitting bra; it annoys her all day, every day but it's something that must be tolerated. I do say, brilliant choices all around.

Mila Kunis
Black Swan
Like Black Swan's constant dualities between dark/light and good/evil, Kunis' persona is built on a struggle between her striking good looks and her varied talents as a comedienne. Her work on That 70's Show and Family Guy makes her look like an odd choice for a major role in a psychosexual ballerina thriller, but her comedic skills are precisely the reason her casting is such a triumph. Kunis' realness and the down-to-earth vibe she exudes are a stark contrast to the rest of the film and, ultimately, become Black Swan's lifeforce. I've seen Black Swan twice now and on the second time, after the initial mystery surrounding the film's "is she or isn't she insane?" narrative became stale and repetitive, Kunis' performance as the enigmatic Lily is the only remaining unresolved mystery. Lily's openness and levity becomes far more offputting than Barbara Hershey's calculated coldness simply because we have no idea where she is coming from. Is she just a friendly girl reaching out to a lonely, confused comrade or is she intent on stealing Nina's role and is only playing nice to get on her good side? We never know the truth and the film is all the better for it. Kunis is smart to not play into Black Swan's above mentioned dualities because by remaining a friendly cypher, she becomes a much darker and more imposing figure.

Thandie Newton
For Colored Girls
Between scores and scores of forgettable films, every half a decade or so, Thandie Newton reminds us why she is one of the most potent, alive and freshest actors around. She plays Tangie, a young woman who sleeps with random men as an outlet for her anger towards her super-religious mother (Whoopi Goldberg). Tangie is loud, angry and aggressive, automatically making her role baity and "look at me" attention grabbing. Sure, Newton does chew an awful lot of scenery, out shouting Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson and Whoopi Goldberg on separate occasions. Underneath the loudness, however, Newton does fine work underscoring the hurt girl underneath. During a highly charged argument with her mother, it becomes clear that Tangie sleeps around as a way of punishing her unforgiving mother. Newton does fine work in this scene because she understands and shows that emotional abuse takes all forms and affects people in different ways. She openly hates her mother and everything she stands for yet she continues to seek her approval. Newton could have let the bigness of the role carry but she does a lot of heavy lifting to give the role more depth.

And the Diva Cup Goes to: Mila Kunis, Black Swan

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vanessa Hudgens is Stealing All the Men

First she dated Zac for what felt like ten million years. Then she started "hanging out" with her new co-star Josh Hutcherson. Now she was spotted backstage with former co-star Aaron Tveit after a performance of his show Catch Me If You Can. Enough is enough. We need to keep this unfortunate harpy away from all the hot men. Who's next, Vanessa? Are you gonna pull a Victoria Justice and pretend you are dating Nicky Hoult? I hear Michael Fassbender is into younger women. But, oh no, what's to stop her from only preying on the straight guys? She may be concocting a rumor as we speak that she has turned poor ole Joe McElderry straight. His singles flopped harder than Floptina's and he got dropped by his record label; hasn't he suffered enough?! Drastic measures need to be taken to stop this madwoman from ruining these men. Mothers, lock up your hot sons--no need to worry about the ugly ones--and protect them from this horrible, horrible succubus known as Vanessa Hudgens. If ever we needed Obama to unite this country on one issue, this is it. Yes we can stop Vanessa. Yes we can.