27 February 2007
  My Oscar Fave
I know I do not post on here often, but I wanted to share my favorite moment of the Oscars:

When Melissa Etheridge won her Oscar -AND- kissed her wife before accepting! I really respect Melissa Etheridge for being out and proud in an industry with so many closet cases and former closet cases (cough, Rosie O'Doughnuts, cough). She and her wife were glowing and happy and it was great to see it.

I am also very happy to see "An Inconvenient Truth" getting a lot of positive buzz (I know Luke and I may not see eye-to-eye on this). I also with that it would prod Al Gore into running again in 2008. If we had leadership that gave a shit about the environment instead of blowing up every country in the middle east, maybe we would have a beautiful place for our descendants to live. But that's getting political, and this is not the time nor is it the place for that . . . ;)
25 February 2007
  who will win (and who should win) tonight

so who's excited for the big game tonight? although i know i am inevitably going to be disappointed as i watch jennifer hudson ramble on inarticulately about how this award has inducted her into some sort of community or whatever i am still looking forward to the proceedings (and holding out hope that some surprises will creep up and keep the night interesting and **me hoping** hudson-free). here are my choices and final predix:

supporting actor:
will win. . . eddie murphy has been getting most of the buzz lately for his turn as a heroine-addicted motown singer in dreamgirls, but i am going to go out on a limb and say i think he will go home empty-handed tonight. too many people don't like him personally. i am picking alan arkin as the heroine addicted grandpa in little miss sunshine.
should win. . . well, of the five nominees, i will be rooting for jackie earl haley from little children. not only did he gave a crazy-scary performance, but he is a cool comeback story as well, and i am happy for him. still, the person who should win the best supporting actor oscar won't go home with it tonight: jack nicholson in the departed.
my five. . . jackie earl haley, djimon honsou, eddie murphy, jack nicholson and michael sheen (the queen).

supporting actress:
will win. . . as much as i hope it doesn't happen jennifer hudson is definitely going to win this just because people are looking forward to her weepy acceptance speech. although i didn't necessarily dislike her in dreamgirls, she didn't do a whole lot of acting. plus i am not really a fan of her personally, especially some negative things she has said about the gays.
should win. . . adriana barraza. she gives the single best performance of the year. period. watching babel again yesterday, i was even more touched by the emotional plea she offers the border patrol agent at the end of the film. i hate to tell academy members how to do their job but THIS is acting!
my five. . . adriana barraza, rinko kikuchi, cate blanchett (notes on a scandal), meryl streep (the devil wears prada) and catherine o'hara (for your consideration).

will win. . . i am torn about this one and not very well informed, since i have only seen two of the five films that have nominated actors. most people are predicting forrest whitaker who plays idi amin in the last king of scotland (which i haven't seen). but i wouldn't at all be surprised if peter o'toole wins for venus (which i also haven't seen), since this will probably be his last chance for a non-honorary award. still, my pick is whitaker.
should win. . . with the above-stated caveat in mind, i think leonardo dicaprio should win this category. the question is for which film? i think his acting is superior in blood diamond as opposed to his smaller role in the departed. but with two great performances this year, i definitely think the award should go to leo.
my five. . . leonardo dicaprio (blood diamond), leonardo dicaprio (the departed), will smith, patrick wilson (little children) and matt damon (the good shepherd).

will win. . . helen mirren has won every single precursor award to the oscars. not a single one of the other nominees has beat her thus far. so it would be absolutely crazy if she didn't win tonight. still, this is probably the acting category with the best collection of performances, and it is a hard pick for me.
should win. . . mirren is dead on in her portrayal of queen elizabeth, no doubt. but, for me, it just isn't as exciting a performance as some of the other nominees. my pick is kate winslet for little children. besides being one of my favorite actresses as well as the fact that she keeps losing these things, she is just great in this movie. for someone who has had so many memorable roles in her short career, it is amazing how she just melts into this character and makes you forget about all of the other ones. it is a nuanced and, most importantly, exciting performance.
my five. . . kate winslet, helen mirren, dame judi, ellen page (hard candy) and ivana baquero (pan's labyrinth).

will win. . . this one is scorsese's to lose, although i don't think anyone would be necessarily surprised if he did lose it. honestly, i think that if and when scorsese wins the oscar for the departed, it isn't as much for this movie as it is for his entire body of work. and, if this is the case, he certainly deserves it.
should win. . . like the supporting actor category, i don't think the person who truly deserves to win this is one of the nominated five. of the five possibilities tonight, i go back and forth between gonzález-iñárritu and clint eastwood, and i would be satisfied if either one was crowned winner. however, the director who i think really deserves to win is alfonso cuáron, filmmaker behind children of men.
my five. . . alfonso cuáron, clint eastwood, alejandro gonzález-iñárritu, martin scorsese and guillermo del toro (pan's labyrinth).

will win. . . it's weird that, this year, best picture seems to be the only category that noone is able or willing to predict. i guess that part of this is fallout from last year's crash upset as well as the dreamgirls nomination upset. the only one of the five nominated films that definitely won't win is the queen. i am picking babel to win. it has a huge cast, people in the industry seem to like it, and it won the golden globe.
should win. . . my pick for best pic hasn't changed all oscar season. i loved babel. there really isn't a single bad thing i can say about it, and i have tried to think of something. this is a hard year to pick a favorite, but i have settled on this movie as mine. HOWEVER, just seeing letters from iwo jima last night for the first time, it was fucking AMAZING. i think that if more people in the academy actually saw it, it could be crowned winner tonight, and it would definitely deserve it.
my five. . . babel, letters from iwo jima, blood diamond, little children and pan's labyrinth.

other categories:
original screenplay. . . if little miss sunshine doesn't win best pic (which i don't think it will, despite the buzz) it will probably win here. my pic here would be babel.
adapted screenplay. . . little children, little children, little children! this is such an intelligently written film, the best of the year. but, the departed will definitely win. (i am confounded).
score. . . nobody has mentioned it all awards season, but i was really impressed by the score to pirates of the caribbean: dmc. it might have been my favorite all year. i predict that the score to babel will win the category. of the five, my choice would be the queen.
song. . . my pic would be melissa etheridge's "i need to wake up," from an incovenient truth it is really the only song of the five that i like, so it isn't a hard choice. the fugnasty song "listen" from dreamgirls will win this though. (once again, i am confounded).
cinematography. . . in 20 years i think that one of the things that this year will be remembered for at the movies is the camerawork behind children of men. nothing would upset me more than this movie not winning the cinematography category tonight.
costumes and makeup. . . the costume category is going to be a pretty contentious one i think. marie antoinette, the devil wears prada and dreamgirls are all deserving. my prediction and personal fave would be marie antoinette. makeup should be more open and shut: pan's labyrinth.
documentary. . . an inconvenient truth will win this category. even though i haven't seen the other nominees, i am dubious as to whether truth really deserves the award. even though i enjoyed the movie, my pic would be any of the other five.
24 February 2007
  you like eating red carpet, tough guy? say you like eating red carpet

good morning! Menonfilm is going mobile today while we attend the best picture movie marathon at potomac mills in woodbridge, va. I can promise joan rivers will NOT be making an appearance on our blog today :-)

We are live on location in potomac mills. We just saw Babel (johns pick so far for best picture). Luke is enjoying his free popcorn and collectable pass. This is a really cool idea and i hope they do it again next year! We are getting ready to play movie trivia during our fifteen minute break. The AMC employee is way super over excited about this.

Luke thinks it is because she gets to use the cool wireless microphone :)
23 February 2007
  my top 10 of 2006

it is so much harder to choose the ten best movies this year then it was in 2005. really there were only two or three movies that came out last year that i think really deserve any mention, but there are at least 15 movies that came out this year that i really enjoyed. nevertheless, i narrowed it down to my ten faves and here they are:

10. strangers with candy. . . forget little miss sunshine. i really think this was the best comedy of 2006. i was so glad that one of my all time favorite tvs shows got resurrected this year (and especially that almost all of the actors from the show returned). amy sedaris is without a doubt one of the funniest women alive. watch any of her letterman appearances on youtube (like this one) and you will be on the floor. for anyone who loved the show, this movie couldn't have disappointed you. if you saw this movie and didn't like it then i don't want to be your friend anymore.

9. i'm going to tell you a secret. . . i suppose most people wouldn't give this movie a second thought, but i thought it was really entertaining and, at times, insightful. madonna's second documentary has little in common with her first, truth or dare, but that is actually good. it paints a picture of madonna's personality that fans haven't seen before. i actually think that you don't have to be a madonnaphile to enjoy igttyas though. anyone who likes music documentaries would probably be interested in the filmmaking here. the opening sequence of madonna dancing to the beast within mix of "justify my love" alone is enough reason to see this film.

8. notes on a scandal. . . cate blanchett is certainly the actress of the year 2006. she seems to have been in just about everything. but watching her beat up dame judi dench in notes on a scandal was probably her high point for me. scandal is one of those movies that really rises above its plot. the story is simple. but it is written so creatively, and its two lead actresses are so captivating that i was actually surprised by what should have been predictable events. this year has really proven that the best movies being made nowadays are not being made in hollywood. i can just imagine what a u.s.-american filmmaker would have done to this story (and it's not pretty).

7. little children. . . director todd field is my discovery of the year. after watching little children, field's second film, i went out and bought his first, in the bedroom. i can't believe i missed this when it came out 2001. field tells stories about suburban u.s. ennui better than anyone else. i think that little children was really the best written film of 2006. it is smart, creative, nuanced and thought-provoking. it didn't hurt him either that he got two of my favorite actresses, kate winslet and jennifer connelly, to play the lead female roles (alongside patrick wilson, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors as well). if you like todd solondz or lars von trier or other directors making movies about the fractured "american dream," then i think you will really this.

6. a prairie home companion. . . the more i watch this movie the more i like it. i fell in love with garrison keillor on the radio during the summers i spent in new hampshire as an undergrad. this movie really captured the comic spirit of the show, but mixed it with something much more profound. this film really has very little plot, but, more or less, i think i would characterize it as a non-dark comedy about death (if that is possible). it sort of defies genre. it chronicles the ways different cast members of the radio program "a prairie home companion" deal with the death of a castmate as well as the demise of their program. it is touching and sad, but filled with these hysterical moments that make the sadness bearable. the irony of this being robert altman's last film is dumbfounding.

5. blood diamond. . . if cate blanchett is the actress of 2006, then leo dicaprio probably deserves the actor title. i think the academy got it right by nominating him for this role rather than his turn in the departed though. it is maybe the best performance he has ever given. but it isn't just dicaprio that makes this film great. it is a terrific story, not just about civil war and the illegal diamond trade, but about journalism, international politics, academia, race, class, gender, language. . . it goes on and on. i think students in the social sciences should really watch this before doing any sort of field work. it shows how complicated the role is of the u.s. intellectual overseas, and it does it without providing any clooney-esque easy answers.

4. babel. . . gonzález-iñárritu leads a pack of great mexican filmmakers this year. (and even though i agree with him that the mexican film industry has been sharing great works with the rest of the world for generations, i am glad that, 2006 has finally brough mexican films to national prominence in the u.s.) babel follows in the tradition of gonzález-iñárritu's other works amores perros and 21 grams. in some ways, i think babel could actually be watched as a sort of sequel to these movies. it builds on themes he has worked with previously, but he approaches them in new and exciting ways. this movie is really gripping and i can't wait to see what he does next.

3. manderlay. . . okay, okay, i know that this movie is maybe, technically, actually a 2005 movie (that's where it came out every place else in the world other than the u.s.), but since i saw it this year i am classifying it under 2006. manderlay is the latest film in lars von trier's "u.s.a.: land of opportunities" trilogy that began in 2003 with dogville. it is, as usual for von trier, provocative and controversial. i stand by my argument that even though he is danish, lars von trier makes the most insightful movies about the u.s. you will watch this movie and think, that is true, that is true, that is true. he communicates things in a way that you have never thought of it before. manderlay left me feeling a little ashamed but at least a little more informed as well.

2. hard candy. . . i put this movie on over christmas break and i do not lie that i watched the entire thing standing up. i couldn't sit down, i was so shocked and energized. i ended up watching it three times in one week. the bulk of hard candy is simply two actors, patrick wilson and the AMAZING ellen page debating about relationships between teenagers and adults. at times the viewer feels sympathy for both characters in this story, but, in the end, the movie doesn't really provide any winners. the movie just sort of leaves you feeling that the new millenium is an era of sexual sickness, and nobody is escaping it. (just a word of caution, this movie gave me some of the worst nightmares i have ever had. but watch it anyway!)

1. the da vinci code. . . was there any doubt? the code has quickly joined john and i's high rotation viewing list alongside twister, showgirls, drop dead gorgeous and erin brockovich. this is a rare eminently viewable, immensely entertaining movie that is also an intelligent, well crafted film. ron howard managed to do what very few filmmakers have: he took a book and he improved upon it on screen. i just don't understand why critics dissed this movie. it was unfair. other than tom hanks' questionable leading performance i don't have much to criticize about it. people called it shallow? the greatest coverup in human history?1? people called it boring? a story about events that could change the face of the earth?!? i could watch this over and over again (and i have). it is the best movie of the year.
21 February 2007
  it's a small (violent) world after all

i don't really know what to make of it, but it seems that every year one major theme emerges that is central to the majority of awards-nominated films. two years ago there was a whole crop of films dealing with gender and health (e.g. the aviator, million dollar baby, finding neverland, hotel rwanda, vera drake and kinsey). last year, i wrote this post about all of the films that came out focusing on the national and worldwide problems caused by the u.s. (e.g. syriana, good night and good luck, munich, memoirs of a geisha, etc).

this year, the prominence of hispanic (and especially mexican) filmmakers and actors is one thing that has united quite a few films. alfonso cuarón is nominated for his second screenplay oscar for children of men. he will be competing against fellow mexican guillermo del toro who wrote pan's labyrinth. alejandro gonzález iñárritu made the best pic-nominated babel. also, spain's almodovar released this year his latest volver. the film's lead actress penelope cruz is nominated for best actress. *yea spanish speakers!*

still, it seems to me that there is another theme that has been especially popular among the filmmakers of '06. there have been an abundance of films focusing on violence across the globe. in general, awards-nominated films this year have been, i think, more violent than usual. this year has definitely been one to remember for those (like me) who love dark, depressing movies about death, war and depraved sexuality. *hurrah* here are some movies you might want to check out if you're into world travel and also really bloody violent scenes.

blood diamond. . . this was like the first movie i saw this oscar season back in november, which is totally appropriate since it is maybe the most violent of the pack. it deals with a 1990s revolution in sierra leone and the enslavement of children for use as soldiers by the guerrilla leaders. i will never shop for engagement rings the same way again!

the departed. . . this movie had the most per capita deaths of any i saw this year. i am still trying to figure out how they are going to make a sequel out of a film in which every single character is killed but one. there are beatings, stabbings, shootings, arm breakings and a whole panoply of violent outbreaks. and, in between deaths, you get to have a nice filmic tour of the ghettos of boston. (i'm thinking road trip!)

children of men. . . the apocalypse isn't looking very pretty. in 2027, the only place on earth that isn't in total chaos is britain, and that isn't looking too stable either. this movie involves two of the coolest shoot-em-up scenes ever. cuáron uses a single camera, single shot method (never done before, mind you) to film various battles between a group of terrorists and the film's protagonist. the violence in this movie is totally horrific, but you can't take your eyes away.

notes on a scandal. . . also in britain, cate blanchett and dame judi dench tearing at eachother's faces and slamming eachother into walls. so cool.

pan's labyrinth. . . i read an article recently that a lot of parents have been taking their young children to see this movie thinking it was a fantasy flick like the lion, the witch and the wardrobe. in the first few minutes of this film about the spanish civil war, captain vidal shoots one man and then bludgeons another to death with the butt of his revolver. the rest of the film doesn't get a lot more fun. if your kids like movies about the torturing and killing of women and children then this is definitely for them. otherwise, stick with the santa clause 8 or whatever.

letters from iwo jima and flags of our fathers. . . dueling historical epics about the wwii battle at iwo jima.

hard candy and little children. . . (both starring patrick wilson, mind you). each of these movies, both taking place in suburbs, deals with sexual depravity and, believe it or not, each culminates in a castration. patrick wilson, this year it might be time for a romantic comedy opposite renee zellweger. just thinking.

babel. . . this film deals with violence on three continents. in the desert between california and mexico, adriana barraza and gael try to save two small children as the evade/search for la migra. in morocco, brad pitt strives to save cate blanchett who lies in a pool of blood for two and a half hours. in japan, rinko kikuchi tries to deal with the suicide of her mother while, perhaps, contemplating her own death. and the whole movie centers around a gun.

then there is the da vinci code, the queen, the last king of scotland, and the 9/11 movies. all violent. all international.

if little miss sunshine happens to win the best pic award on sunday, i honestly think it will have little to do with the film itself, but will rather reflect academy voters being tired of all the violence and throwing their support at the only funny, lighthearted flick in the bunch. (but wouldn't it be sad for a year that has birthed so many awesome, disturbing, blood-soaked movies to be remembered for one silly flick in which the most memorable scene is a girl dancing in a leotard. no. no. no.)
18 February 2007
  it's oscar week y'all
i really like movies. going to the movies is probably my fave pasttime. i do it at least a couple times a week usually. but, at the same time, i only like good movies. it is very difficult for me to sit through a 90 minute movie in which ben stiller and jack black fight ninja robots while their girlfriends try to teach them a valuable lesson about sex and love by exchanging their lubricant with chili oil or some crap like that. and seeing as how, nine out of ten movies that are released in any given year fall under this general genre, sometimes it is hard to find good movies to go see.

i have really been enjoying going to the movies over the past two or three months, because there have been so many things in the theaters that i really wanted to see. actually, there were at least 5 or 6 movies this winter that i have been dying to go see that i just couldn't find time to get out for (e.g. marie antoinette, science of sleep, for your consideration, shortbus, the last king of scotland, running with scissors, flags of our fathers). but i have managed to get out and see probably a couple dozen movies this winter, and i really haven't had a bad time yet. 2006 in general, i think was just a great year at the movies.

anyways, this is why oscar week is a little bit bittersweet for me this year. on one hand, i am looking forward to this upcoming weekend. john and i are going to the amc oscar movies marathon all day on saturday which i am sure will be super fun. and i am excited to watch the ceremony on sunday. but this week also marks the end of good movies and the beginning of the spring (and then *shudder* summer movie seasons) when i will once again have to scour moviefone to find something at least not totally reprehensible to go catch at the theater. oh well, at least i have all the oscar-nominated movie dvds that have started coming out over the past couple weeks. (and, of course, showgirls).

in any case, i am looking forward to writing posts this week on the oscar nominees, my top 10 list for this year, and more reviews of nominated films and stuff. so keep reading and let me know what you liked this year too.
17 February 2007

gael, brad pitt, cate blanchett-- all in a movie by guillermo gonzález iñárritu. . . there was no way i was not going to like this movie. gael garcía bernal is my favorite actor of all time. cate blanchett is quickly becoming one of my fave contemporary actresses. and gonzález iñárritu is the director of one of my favorite movies ever, amores perros. so it was no surprise to me how much i enjoyed babel. but what did surprise me is that what made me this movie awesome was just as much the supporting performances as it was gonzález iñárritu's script and directing and the leading performances by blanchett and pitt.

babel, like gonzález iñárritu's other movies is difficult to summarize, since he favors the tryptich sort of storyline. in babel there are four stories that overlap. the film opens with a moroccan family who buys a gun for hunting. two young boys in the family, horsing around with the weapon, accidentally shoot a tour bus, wounding a u.s.-american tourist played by cate blanchett. meanwhile, in one parallel storyline, a mexican-american nanny takes two children she is caring for south of the border to her son's wedding (with predicatably tragic results). and in a second parallel storyline, a deaf japanese schoolgirl is having a really terrible day, struggling to communicate with various boys that she meets and reaching out to them mostly through sexual overtures.

at first, babel seems a confusing barage of plot points, apparently disconnected from one another. however, if you have seen gonzález iñárritu's other films, you know that this ostensible disconnect will be erased in the end. as babel progresses, the viewer begins to see how each of these characters' lives is connected with the others, people who (largely) they have never met. in amores perros what connected all of the characters was a dog; in babel what finally connects them is the gun that is exchanged in the opening scene.

as anyone can probably deem from its title, babel is a film about problems with communication. however, unlike the mythic tower of babel, what breaks down communication here is everything BUT language barriers. the u.s. tourists in morocco have little difficulty communicating with the arabic-speaking people they come in contact with on their "vacation" but they cannot get through to their fellow english-speaking tourists at all. the mexican-american family can't talk to the border patrol agents they meet on their return to the states, even though they speak perfect english. and the deaf japanese girl communicates freely with people she meets throughout her day, though she is never able to express her true feelings to anyone. the final motto, in a few words, is that communication is much more than words.

of course, the script is amazing. it couldn't not be. and blanchett, pitt, and gael are all great (although gael's role is inexplicably small and abrupt). but what really amazed me in this film was not any of this, but rather the fantastic supporting performances by oscar-nominated adriana barraza and rinko kikuchi. kikuchi, as the deaf japanese girl, gives this fantastically haunted, bizzarely sexual v. asexual performance that leaves you in the end with your jaw on the floor. i haven't been that mystified by a character since scarlett johannsen in lost in translation. but, for my money, the single best on screen performance of 2006 (period) was barraza as the tortured mexican-american nanny. she will give you nightmares. john and i debated about what scene we liked most from babel, but they were both centered around barraza. she has a small role in amores perros as well, and i was glad to see her get some more screentime this time around. she is fantastically talented.

all i have to say is that people talk about jennifer hudson as this year's a star is born moment, but i see her quickly disappearing. adriana barraza is the real newborn star of 2006. as latin american cinema appears to really be in the middle of a tremendous surge in popularity worldwide, i hope i see a lot more of her. and, even though it won't happen, if there is any justice we'll see her on the oscar podium next sunday as well.
14 February 2007
  blood diamond

in my opinion, blood diamond has been the most surprisingly overlooked films by critics this awards season. leo dicaprio and djimon hounsou got acting noms from the oscars, but the film itself never generated much best picture buzz. still, i think without a doubt that this was among the year's best films. it has a very well written and nuanced screenplay, amazing direction from edward zwick (the same director who made legends of the fall) and three great performances from leo, djimon, and jennifer connelly. all in all it was a surprising, provocative film about a subject few of us probably know anything about.

if you saw the trailer, like me you probably have only a vague idea about what the film is about. blood diamond is just one of those complicated, multi-themed movies that is really difficult to represent in a two-minute preview. in a lot of ways this movie echoes last year's the constant gardener. both films deal with the simultaneous oppressions of african peoples, both from u.s.-europeans and from one other. however, whereas gardener manifested itself in a more understated, mysterious tone, zwick chose in blood diamond to instead focus on more dramatic scenes and images. the result: a much more captivating movie.

ostensibly this is a movie about the african diamond trade. it is set (mostly) in sierra leone in the 90s where there is a violent civil war taking place. guerrillas have taken over diamond mines and now employ prisoners of war as slaves. leo plays a south african diamond smuggler in sierra leone picking up diamonds from these warriors in order to sell them to a british jeweler. he happens to overhear that an escaped slave (djimon hounsou), now in prison, found a large diamond, he rescues him from jail in order that he direct him to this hidden gem.

however, this story is only the skeleton of the film. from the beginning of the movie where leo and djimon hounsou meet and then become involved with connelly, a u.s.-american reporter, it seems that the film's true villain is leo, the smuggler, and connelly is poised to become the foreign heroine, come to africa to save the poor slave and broadcast the plight of the people of sierra leone to the world. this is not what materializes in the course of blood diamond.

i love complicated movies, movies where heroes become antiheroes and visa versa. i like movies that make you think, that work with cliches and bend them and make you challenge what you are seeing and what you believe. this is why blood diamond was just an awesome movie.

as a cultural studies phd student, i have to deal daily with conflicts about how to study people in latin america and elsewhere outside of the u.s., canada and europe, without "othering" them as, for example, "the third world." things that are easy value judgements for a lot of people are completely nebulous to me in a lot of ways. and when it comes to rescuing poor africans, i have a hard time articulating my feelings. blood diamond really surprised me, because it echoes this same sense of the impossibility of communication. it is pure cultural studies.

when i went to see this movie i thought it was going to be a film about evil warlords and diamond smugglers saved by outsiders with a nation's best interests at heart. but early on, it becomes cloudy as to which person, the reporter or the smuggler really is in support of the people of sierra leone and who is simply pursuing selfish motives. the easy answer is that both of them come out as simultaneously selfish and philanthropic. but even this paradox is too easy for summarizing this movie.

blood diamond doesn't provide easy answers. it doesn't tie up all the loose ends in the conclusion. i don't think anyone has ever really articulated the problematic role of journalists in africa as blood diamond does. on the one hand, jennifer connelly genuinely wants to help the people of sierra leone. but on the other hand, she doesn't really know them. she isn't african. so it is impossible for her to know what is best for these people. she eventually finds out that what the u.s. wants for africa is not necessarily fitting to the reality of the people who live there.

amazingly i think that a lot of movies that have come out this year suprised me with their complicated nuances. thank gawd there wasn't a repeat of last year's preachy father-knows-best leftist cliche fare (i.e. syriana, munich, good night and good luck, etc. the only movie i can think of this year that was shockingly one dimensional like this was dreamgirls.) still blood diamond was probably the best film this year in terms of defying cliches. it was a great political film, but, more than that, it was a terrific portrait of the relationship between the world's developed and underdeveloped nations. one of my favorites of 2006.
09 February 2007

i went to see dreamgirls with every intention of enthusiastically detesting it. i saw it back in december when it had just come out and they were selling it like the next sound of music or something and it was going to sweep the oscars and i just knew i was going to hate it. and i was excited. i like hating things. it is fun. i mean it stars jamie foxx, one of the most annoying celebrity whores in hollywood, beyonce knowles, a woman whose ego eclipses any music she might produce no matter how good, jennifer hudson, american idol reject and master of the art of scream-singing, and eddie murphy, quite possibly the most detestable actor working today, loathsome threefold for his horrid factory-produced "comedies," his mystifying arrogance, and his severe misogynism. plus i had never been that much of a fan of the musical to begin with, other than its star jennifer holliday and SHE was barred from participating in any way with the movie and spoke out publicly against it. so this was definitely a movie custom built for me to hate.

but i didn't. it definitely wasn't the best movie i have seen all year, and it certainly shouldn't have been considered for a best picture oscar, but it was a fun, thoughtless, easy to watch, chick flick. i can definitely see watching this movie over and over again. it is mindlessly happy. for a movie which deals with drug deaths, poverty and industry malfeasance as its major themes, bill condon made a movie that doesn't focus on any of that, just happy songs, pretty costumes, beautifully made up women and inexplicably happy endings. this is a good movie and belongs up there with a league of their own, center stage, save the last dance, and similar cheerful femme-pics.

here is what is good about the movie: first of all, for the above stated reasons, it is a fun movie to watch. the art direction, costuming and makeup are very pretty. the songs, albeit mostly mindnumbing, are performed rousingly in a way that sort of makes you want to get up and shout hallelujah! condon was smart in some ways to focus more on the best performers in dreamgirls, rather than the biggest roles. eddie murphy is excellent as the sleezy jimmy early. and jennifer hudson gives a strong turn in her backup singer role as well. both of these performances should have been supporting, but they were made central in order to eclipse the weaknesses of jamie foxx and especially beyonce, who shows that she has a nice voice, but is simply not an actress. beyonce really only had a dozen or so lines in the whole movie and sings only one song (a weak, forgettable one), so you don't focus much on her weakness. murphy, hudson, and anika noni rose, the secondary characters thankfully take the central roles,

here is what is bad about the movie: this character choice is the only thing that condon does well as a director. as far as i am concerned, direction, except for the truly outstanding or unique (e.g. lars von trier) is something i rarely notice unless it is bad. this was the case with dreamgirls. condon's direction, i feel, was simply terrible. as a matter of fact, in a lot of ways, this movie represents the sheer absence of direction. condon made this movie like one might film a high school christmas pageant. shot one: jennifer hudson singing a song on stage. then, some interstitial banter between beyonce and jamie foxx in an office. shot two: eddie murphy singing a song on stage. then, more interstitial banter. the entire movie is like this. i really think that anyone could have done a better job. it is the most uncreative and dull direction of an otherwise could-be exciting story. this is where i think the movie failed critically and why it couldn't be a contender in major oscar races.

here is what i can't decide is good or bad about the movie: the story itself is the biography of the supremes. the three singers are taken over by an unscrupulous manager who squeezes the talented, but difficult to work with and overweight lead out and replaces her with the pretty, dim, moldable one. he also manages to impregnate the fat one and leave her; she ends up on welfare. meanwhile, of the two original members left, one- her married boyfriend dies of a heroine overdose and two-marries the unscrupulous manager only to divorce him at the height of her fame. he ends up being extorted because of his illegal practices. the end? no. after all of this happens, the story suddenly and unexpectedly ends happily. i won't spoil the details, but this conclusion is so utterly implausible that you either need to applaud it for cheering you up before walking out of the theater or condemn it as sheerly ridiculous. i can't decide which.

this is a mediocre musical that was probably made superior on screen. however, this superiority was achieved by costumers, make up artists and, to a lesser degree, singers--not from writers, directors, or actors. bill condon obviously watched chicago as a textbook for making this movie. and even though chicago wasn't a great film itself, dreamgirls here appears in many ways a weak, motown copy of it. this was definitely a fun flick to watch and if eddie murphy wins an oscar for his supporting role, i won't be happy for him personally, but he maybe earned it professionally. as for jennifer hudson, if there was an oscar for emotive singer, she would take the prize, but honestly there isn't a whole lot of acting here.

and as a final note, this is NOT A GAY MOVIE. i am so sick of gay people claiming dreamgirls as their own. the director isn't gay, none of the performers is gay (in fact, both murphy and hudson have both openly displayed animosity towards us). and not a single character is gay. just because this is a lavish broadway musical does not, in my opinion, place it as a gay cultural object. i think that gay people wear their hearts on their sleeves a little too often, and they should hold out a little bit before the starting stamping the gay housekeeping seal of approval on things.
08 February 2007
  r.i.p. anna nicole smith

anna nicole smith is a person who has been real difficult to stand up for lately, but i always held out hope that she would get her act together. never did i expect that her life would end as tragically as it has over the past year.

john and i have followed anna's career every step of the way, always sticking up for her, one scandal after another. she was truly a style icon. it is kind of ironic that someone who emulated the look of marilyn monroe ended up being a model look herself for countless men and women fifty years after monroe's death.

anna may have best been known as a model for companies like playboy and guess, but she was also an important public figure, especially in the gay and lesbian communities. she has always been a great friend of gay people, which was especially important in the 90s when there were only a handful of celebrities willing to be associated with us. i think that in 20 years drag queens in west hollywood will still be doing anna nicole tribute shows.

i can't say that i admired every decision anna nicole smith made in her career, nor do i respect the way that she died, but in a lot of ways i did admire her and i am truly sad that she is gone. she was a great entertainer. and even though she may have been made fun of relentlessly by just about everyone, especially in recent months, she did have fans, and she will be missed.
07 February 2007
  oscar movies marathon
hey i just saw this event mentioned on imdb and it looks like it will be a lot of fun! some amc theaters are showing all five best picture nominated films the day before the oscars. it is like a movie marathon deal. it costs thirty dollars and comes with a large popcorn and soda (free refills!) anyways, john is taking the day off so we can go. check out the link to see if they are having it near you if you're interested. how much fun does it sound watching good movies and gorging yourself on popcorn all saturday afternoon. i am wearing pajamas:)

amc theaters oscar showcase
05 February 2007
  the pursuit of happyness

with all of the attention abigail breslin is getting for her brief performance in little miss sunshine, i wonder why jaden smith hasn't gotten the same consideration for his roll in the pursuit of happyness. like breslin, his roll in the film is admittedly a small supporting one. but he is at least as cute as she is and actually does a little more acting than she does. it is no surprise to anyone that i am not a member of the cult of sunshine, and i think breslin's nomination was pretty ludicrous. if there is a young actor in hollywood that has shown potential this year, in my book it is smith.

in general, this is a movie that is all about the performances of its stars. the story is at best predictable. i have seen this same movie made at least a half dozen times on lifetime and the hallmark hall of fame. what really makes this movie special is its great cast: thandie newton, will smith and his son. will smith shows here that he is a potentially brilliant actor. he is able to take a roll that is steeped in cliche and actually give depth and meaning to it. and surprisingly he does this by showing weakness. i expected smith to walk into this roll as some sort of superhero, but by showing his humanness, he really broke out of the mold of the rags to riches genre.

the story here is well known. will smith is a medical equipment salesman in san francisco, trying unsuccessfully if tenaciously to unload a piece of equipment that noone really needs. almost on a whim smith decides that he needs to take a new path, and he applies for an internship at a stock brokerage. thandie newton, his wife gets fed up and moves to new york, leaving her husband to take care of their son by himself. although the internship is unpaid, smith decides to accept it anyway. the journey is predictably tragic. i won't spoil the ending, but i am sure you can figure it out for yourself.

surprisingly, i wasn't put off much by the predictability of this urban fable. it was the unpredictability of the characters themselves that kept me interested. in short, it is a mediocre script that is saved by its performers. thandie newton, for example, takes the moment where she abandons her family and, instead of appearing heartless, actually made me feel sympathetic to her. will smith, instead of seeming selfless in his quest to provide for his family against all odds, creates these lapses of sheer selfishness that give real depth to his character. i mean, there are moments like this throughout the film.

even though i wasn't ecstatic about happyness, it definitely had plenty of cute moments and some pretty funny punchlines. it makes for a lighthearted sunday afternoon flick (just after steel magnolias and before fried green tomatoes). i keep thinking that if the will smith character could have been changed to a woman then this would have made a great vehicle for judith light on lifetime. still, in its current state it is worth a watch if only to see the smith boys give two great performances. plus, it always feels nice to have a good cry.
  the queen

michael sheen, playing p.m. tony blair, has this monologue at the end of the queen where he argues with his anti-monarchist wife, telling her that queen elizabeth has admirably devoted her entire life to great britain and even if she has made some mistakes along the way, she gave up 50 years to do a job that ultimately killed her own father and she did it with grace and dignity and honor. it is strange that a movie which has this as its ultimate message made me strongly oppose the british monarchy.

throughout the queen is this ongoing debate about the monarchy. on the one hand, elizabeth and her court argue that the traditions of the monarchy have sustained their empire for centuries, and nothing must change, for the breakdown of tradition may propel the breakdown of the entire kingdom. on the other hand, blair and his parliament/wife argue that the monarchy is an anachronism, keeping the island nation in the dark ages and prohibiting its citizens from fully engaging with the rest of the modern world. in the end, the film attempts to reaffirm the role of the queen, showing that she does have an important role to fulfill, one which has not yet become outmoded. however, (unfortunately?) the movie actually communicated the opposite message to me. it shows how completely out of touch with the people of her country queen elizabeth has become and how much the u.k. needs a dramatic, democratic shift in the 21st century.

the queen is the story of the relationship between queen elizabeth, tony blair, the press and the british populace in the week following the death of princess di in 1997. after diana dies in a paparrazzi-led car crash in paris, the queen takes the princess' children to her country estate at balmoral to mourn. as the entire country, led in the press by new prime minister tony blair, publicly laments the beloved princess' passing, the queen appears emotionless, making no public statement about the death, refusing to fly the flag above buckingham palace at half staff and choosing a private funeral, all in the name of tradition. the press attacks hrh and it is only with the help of blair that she manages to survive the scandal.

although the movie really strives to show that there is a point to the traditions the queen rigidly adheres to, for some reason i wasn't persuaded. the whole thing seemed, in the end, pointless. on the one hand, i admire elizabeth for sticking to her convictions in spite of absolutely vitriolic treatment by the press, on the other hand, i think that those convictions were arbitrary and nonsensical. would it really have hurt the british empire if she had simply agreed to fly the palace flag at half staff? blair, i think, would argue *yes.* any deviation from the tradition that had sustained the nation could have detrimental affects.

for me, all i saw was a decadent woman and her bourgeoise family going off to the country to sip tea and cocktails and bitch about how unfairly they were being treated for five days while the population of their country was collectively reeling from tragedy. rather than leading her country through their grief, she chose to ignore and belittle their emotions, holding her own LACK of emotions as a paradigm of englishness to which all great britons should strive. at no point in the queen did i think that this woman was doing anything of benefit for her country. she was just feeding off of it. mrs. blair was right all along.

however, none of this was my biggest problem with the story. as an admirer of princess di, both the philanthropist and the celebrity, i was completely shocked at how anti-diana this movie was. considering that this is the first dramatic movie ever made about the princess, in some ways i think it is almost socially irresponsible to treat her so badly. the queen shows diana as a two-faced traitor who traded obedience to her nation for international celebrity. elizabeth hated diana, not because the queen was jealous or intolerant, but because the princess was insidious and damaging to the monarchy. in the end of the movie, i came to feel: maybe great britain could use more modern thinking people-oriented leaders like diana and less traditionalist, elitist leaders like the queen.

all this being said, frear's film is without a doubt a good one. helen mirren's acclaim is well deserved, even though the role isn't really my cup of tea. i mean, she seems to do a dead on (although not caricatur-ey) portrayal of queen elizabeth, but, as one would expect in a role like this, she doesn't really show much range or depth. all in all, i found it a brilliant but boring performance, if that is possible. the film itself often infuriated me, but it was certainly well done. i guess it showed me that i don't necessarily have to agree with a work of art's message in order to appreciate it. not my favorite film to come out this year, but certainly worthy of the acclaim it has garnered over the past few months.

the high point of the queen, for me, was michael sheen in the role of tony blair. whereas mirren gives kind of a one note performance in the lead female role, sheen offers a brilliantly nuanced, deep, complicated performance in the lead male role. this is more my kind of acting. it is maybe, in my estimation, the greatest male performance given this year, and his scenes are by far the most captivating.
03 February 2007
  the departed

despite what many film critics have been espousing lately, i think that 2006 was really a great year at the movies. especially following last year's almost complete dearth of anything watchable (save crash, of course) i really thought this year had a tremendous crop of great movies and few bad ones. but that being said, i don't think i have ever left a movie feeling that i needed to take a shower as many times as i have over the past few months. notes on a scandal, little children, children of men, hard candy, blood diamond, manderlay. . . all dark, disturbing, depressing flicks with themes such as the apocalypse, enslavement, genocide, sexual depravity and not one but TWO castrations.

the departed is another film that fits this bill. i think that the theme of this movie could best be described as the human manifestations of true evil. every man in this macho, muscley, testosterone-drunk scorsese film has his own demons, and throughout the course of the story, they clash with one another, unleashing their individual evils upon one another until, in the end, only one person is left standing. (the rest lie, undoubtedly, in hell).

the story is labyrinthine and, in the hands of a less talented director and cast, could easily have slid into the realm of indecipherability (like last year's syriana). but i didn't have this problem here. scorsese actually employs a neat degree of dramatic irony throughout, so that even when the viewer is confused about an event, she can take comfort in the fact that she is more apprised than the characters she is viewing. in the end, a certain degree of confusion on the part of the viewer is essential to the mystery of the film. and all the loose ends are tied up surprisingly nicely in the final scenes.

this is ostensibly a movie about cops and robbers. the twist is deciphering who belongs to which group. in the end, the division between the gangsters trolling the streets of boston and the police trying to infiltrate them is so muddled that it becomes almost arbitrary. jack nicholson is the head of the irish mafia in boston. police detectives mark wahlberg and martin sheen recruit newbie cop leo dicaprio to join nicholson's gang and spy on him. however, things become complicated for leo and the police force, when they realize that nicholson has a spy of his own in the department, matt damon, who is leaking info to him. the result is a simultaneous struggle on both the mafia's and the cops' sides to identify their personal "rat" before the other.

even though i don't particularly enjoy mob movies, i did enjoy the departed. maybe more than in any movie i have seen this year, i watched this on the edge of my seat, nervously involved in the action. scorsese shows here that he is worthy of his arguable title of the greatest u.s.-american director. he crafts a layered, complicated, thought provoking movie that in the hands of someone else could have been a simple shoot-em-up. all of the actors give such incredible performances here that it is really disquieting the cast managed to wrangle only a single acting nod from the academy for mark wahlberg for best supporting. as a sometimes reluctant jack nicholson-phile myself, i was particularly struck by his charmingly evil portrayal of mob boss frank costello (think gangs of new york's butcher meets the grinch). i really think if just one cast member was to be nominated it should have been him.

however, even though i found this movie enertaining, i had a large problem with several underlying messages it communicated, which make it difficult to rank the departed along my more favorite scorsese flicks like gangs and casino.

this is a movie about manly men, men who hold their liquor, pick up women without trying, break bones without wincing, men who live for guns, and drugs and sex and power. so, in the end, despite all of the evil things that every single character in this movie does, i couldn't help but think that, in some ways, these characters were still being put on the screen as an ideal type. of course, politically and morally these are bad men. but they are still paradigms of masculinity. this is what little boys should strive to become.

the problem for me is the voluminous amount of casual misogyny, racism and heterosexism that proliferate throughout the departed in every scene, in every context, from every character. there are more c***s, f*****s and n*****s in this movie than in any other i have ever seen. of course, one could make the argument that these are characters in a text and scorsese created them according to a type, not necessarily an ideal one. however, this is a movie that shows one what it means to be truly manly. and this identity seems to entail a hatred or at least disrespect of women, gays and people of color. the message that this movie communicates is at best mixed and at worst hateful.

in order for scorsese to have made this a truly brilliant movie, i would have liked for him to have provided some foil against this archetype of bigoted machismo to show that the language and attitudes of the men in this movie are wrong and can be avoided. what scorsese seems to show in his directing here is that these words and feelings are inevitable in such a hyper-masculine setting. i don't think he understands or even contemplates the true power of his movie to propagate the sorts of attitudes that his characters espouse. so even though he is just presenting a type, not necessarily an ideal one, he is indeliberately contributing to the atmosphere of hatred he is depicting. his fault here was to not provide any sort of critique internal to the story of this atmosphere.
02 February 2007
  a rage post
bridge to terabithia, the movie. . .

picking your favorite book is kinda like picking your favorite film. i mean there are so many different genres to choose from, it is an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. but the bridge to terabithia is definitely near the top of my list. this book probably influenced my life more than just anything else i have ever read. the amazing thing is that i know i am not alone. this book had a tremendous impact on many people my age. in a lot of ways it is sort of the catcher in the rye or tropic of cancer of my generation. everyone has read it, and it has had a tremendous impact on so many of us.

so when i first heard that they were *finally* making a movie based on this text, i was really excited. coming right on the heels of another great book to movie adaptation (the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe) i had high expectations. that is, until i saw this trailer:

what in the hell is this?!? here is a list of things that happen in this trailer that actually happened in the book:

1. jesse and leslie raced.

2. they swung across a creek on a rope.

that's it. i don't know how they managed to make an entire film about a book in which nothing that happens in the book happens in the film. of course, this is a trailer, and i know the filmmakers could be focusing on one particular element of the movie here. but, this is of no importance to me. here is the real issue, and the real source of my rage today. . .

why in the FUCK does every single movie directed at families and children have to involve war, implements of killing and generally fantastically depressingly unrealistic discussions of life and death. jesse aarons is a literary character who really inspired me to be a creative person. he is a character who helped me tremendously to survive the real life trials and tribulations of growing up in the country with a blue collar family who don't really understand you. he is a character that informed my earliest understandings of love and loss.


jesus christ! this is a tremendously real story, quite possibly the best story ever written about the real lives of rural midwestern adolescents. this is NOT a chronicle of narnia. and it is most certainly NOT a book about warfare. it is a book about dealing with your problems in a real way. and now they have made a movie in which children deal with their problems by donning battle attire and going off to fight with swords and arrows and general vitriol.

i am disgusted by this trailer.

this represents everything that is wrong with our u.s.-american society today. and i don't think a movie has as yet been made that so wickedly displays the effect of bush-era world and domestic policy on the national psyche as this one. a poignant, informed, stark tale is transformed into an epic of bloodshed. jesse aarons' complicated world in which he strives diligently to make the best decisions is, on screen, a land in which there is a simplistic, omnipotently ordained right and wrong, good and evil. this is what it is like to live in the u.s.a. in the new millenium.

fucking depressing.

i don't know whether to be angry with katherine paterson, the books author or with disney. but i certainly will not be watching this movie. and i urge everyone else to avoid it as well. if you haven't read the book (doubtful, i know) then read that instead of seeing the movie. don't give into our society's insatiable thirst for war.

there is no simple right and wrong. there is no good or evil. the world is more complicated than this. the book, the bridge to terabithia taught me that. and it enrages me that some capricious filmmaker chose to ignore this central message.

it would have been such an important thing for a movie to say, especially in 2007.
Luke and John talk about movies

January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / August 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / January 2010 / March 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / July 2011 / November 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / February 2013 / March 2014 / February 2015 /

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