30 March 2011
  review: jane eyre

jane eyre is an ambitious book to adapt to the screen, so it's interesting to note that, according to imdb, it has been adapted no less than 20 times. the book itself is something like 600 pages long and is broken down into five or six large sections demarcated by the title character's travels in life. because of that, bronte's book lends itself particularly well to a miniseries, a collection of films or even a four or five hour gone-with-the-wind-esque epic work. however, it is clearly a difficult task to cram all of the events and characters from such an ambitious literary work into a simple, sleek two hour drama.

watching the latest jane eyre adaption, i imagine that director cary fukunaga and especially screenwriter moira buffini are tremendous admirers of the victorian novel. this is especially evident in the attention that was paid to not excising any major character, setting or storyline from the novel in this film. however, it seems to me that maybe this could have been a better film if it had been written and directed by people who weren't too attached to the source material.

the bulk of the problems i had with jane eyre appear immediately as the film begins and are most evident throughout the first third of the two hour run time. for some reason fukunaga chose to begin the film somewhere in the middle of the novel's storyline as jane arrives at the home of the rivers family. then it jumps back and forth between this scene, jane's pained childhood at home with her aunt and her time at lowood school. in the novel, these represent the first three major sections of text, representing the first three stops on jane's journeys, and this is maybe a quarter to a third of the novel. however, in the film, fukunaga crams these events into maybe 15 or 20 minutes. this entire section of the film is overly complicated, confusing (perhaps especially to viewers who read the book and trying to follow it on screen), and strangely evocative of a "last week on jane eyre. . ." tv series intro.

after jane arrives at thornfield and her storyline with mr. rochester begins, the film immediately straightens itself out and morphs into a more linear, easily discernible narrative. after the film arrives at this point, i could follow what was going on and began to really enjoy what the director was putting out. michael fassbender absolutely embodied mr. rochester, and i couldn't imagine anyone performing the role better than him. and i quite liked mia wasikowska as the tortured, melancholic and overly pale victorian heroine. all in all this was a movie with a lot of good qualities and one that i enjoyed despite its numerous flaws.

still, i would argue that this could have been a much better movie if the filmmakers had been willing to take a chance and tinker with the source material a little bit. given how much better the movie got once jane arrived at thornfield, why couldn't fukunaga just cut the earlier material out and make the entire film revolve solely around the relationship between jane and mr. rochester? this would have yielded a much better, much less cluttered narrative. yeah, maybe some hardcore bronte-philes would have been irritated by the revision, but at least the film would have been able to mark itself off as unique from the twenty earlier adaptations of the book (and the three or four others that are bound to be made in the next decade).
28 March 2011
  thank you darren aronofsky.
let's get one thing clear. i couldn't care less how much natalie portman danced the lead role in black swan and how much was danced by her body double. she didn't win any awards because of her dancing. (honestly, there isn't really even that much dancing in this film if you think about it). that being said, i can't stand the idea that there could be a looming asterisk over her best acting oscar. enter mr. aronofsky who released the following clearly researched and irrefutable statement on portman's dancing:

“Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.

And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”

and now we can officially put this minor drama to rest.
25 March 2011
  30 years of glbt cinema

yesterday sasha stone at awardsdaily posted a very extensive poll asking readers to rate their favorite examples of glbt cinema over the past thirty years. stone was able to come up with no less than 170 films for readers to choose from. no surprise which film came in first, brokeback mountain, nor is it really a surprise that the top 25 is more or less full of more mainstream oscars-ey fare mostly released in the past 10 or 12 years. given that the glbt films that i admire are largely more indie-leaning i had to resist the urge to get angry that awardsdaily readers couldn't come up with any better examples of queer cinema than black swan (#6), american beauty (#7) and the talented mr. ripley (#9). there's nothing wrong with any of these films. in fact, each one is among my favorites. still, i wouldn't characterize any of them as prime examples of "glbt cinema."

after considering the poll a little further, however, i guess it makes sense that there isn't a lot of what i would call truly queer filmmaking and storytelling or, for that matter, films with provocative queer characters on the list. the truth of the matter is: most queer films kinda suck. for a variety of reasons there just haven't been a lot of really good queer films in the past thirty years. sure there have been plenty of decent movies with gay characters and even prominent gay storylines, but very few of them actually work to plumb sexualities or challenge the dominating heteronormativity of hollywood filmmaking. and the few examples of work that i actually do admire as queer cinema is often pretty obscure, as it's hard to find a mainstream audience for movies that work to challenge the viewers' understanding of their own sexual being. so if filmgoers really do need to turn to marginally gay films like philadelphia or chasing amy to fill a "best-of" list for the genre, i suppose they can't be blamed. what needs to be blamed is an industry that really hasn't yet begun to engage with sexuality (or gender for that matter) in the same ways that it has long dealt with race and class.

of course there is a growing list of glbt films, some even prominent-if-plucked-from-obscurity-by-the-awards-gods, and it seems that now we can expect that at least one gay character is going to be considered for an oscar nomination each year. the problem is that i find the vast majority of glbt cinema falls into two problematic categories.

on the one hand we have the inauthentic films. in my mind, the worst offender in this regard is brokeback mountain, a film about two purportedly gay cowboys whom i never once for a moment believed to be gay. to a somewhat lesser extent i felt the same way about this year's the kids are all right. milk is one more case of a film with gay characters that never really showed a glimpse of what it's like to be gay. the problem as i see it is that it isn't enough to simply insert glbt characters into a script to make a queer film; to do that one actually needs to toy with the conceptions of filmmaking and storytelling themselves. in brokeback mountain i see two men who sleep together, but that is the extent of the gay content in this film. and the truth is that there is more to being gay than sleeping with members of the same sex and getting persecuted for it.

great queer film actually thinks queer. that is, there is a deeper effort by the filmmakers behind these superior works to challenge conventional depictions of sexualities including conventional depictions of homosexualities. probably my favorite glbt movie is the british coming of age/coming out story beautiful thing. in beautiful thing, director hettie macdonald assembles an almost nonsensical cast of characters, through each one of them attempting to illustrate the nonconformity of the everyday that is characteristic of living in an urban working class british neighborhood. in this setting, main character jamie doesn't struggle with coming out of the closet or with getting people to challenge their prejudices but rather with illuminating the quotidian strangeness around him and illustrating that his difference fits into the larger pattern of difference in his neighborhood. in the end, beautiful thing, always sort of lyrical and unexpectedly (for its content) happy, culminates in an unapologetically joyous movie-musical-type ending. what macdonald was able to do here was queer the very conception of the "coming out" movie. the typical scenes of tortured personal anguish are, if not gone entirely, transformed in a way that shows the variability of the experience itself. everything about the film from its chronology, to its soundtrack to the characterization of the mother character is unexpectedly fresh and provocative. this is one example of a film that, to me, is purely and authentically representative of gay experience.

whereas i take issue with the vast majority of mainstream glbt films for their inauthentic depictions of what it feels like to be gay, i also take issue with the vast majority of more subcultural glbt films directed at a largely gay-identified audience for another reason entirely: their inability to escape queer stereotypes. in movies about gay men in particular all characters are either sex-obsessed hot young gay men, sex-obsessed aging men lusting after hot young gay men, and the sassy effeminate friends of hot young gay men. granted there are a lot of movies that fall into this category that i enjoy (trick, the broken hearts club), but i would hardly call them great glbt films (they're more like guilty pleasures). the bigger problem for me emerges when movies like last year's a single man garners some measure of prestige. a single man, albeit beautifully crafted and well acted, operates entirely off a stereotype that is neither unexamined in glbt cinema nor in need of revisiting. all we get from this movie is one more example of old gay men who can't age gracefully and can't help admiring the sweaty nubile young adult bodies around them. a single man, which i was really looking forward to last year, particularly disappointed me, because here was an open opportunity to do a really smart and engaging character study of a queer character, and what we got was another tired stereotype. it just dumbfounds me how every year there are so many deeply memorable new movie characters of every variety, but when it comes to gay characters they have to fit into a few very narrow molds.

where are the great gay characters in film? strangely, i think that if you are looking for really well drawn examples of queer characters in film you need to avoid movies on the glbt-interest shelf and dig a little deeper through the mostly supporting screen roles in not-necessarily gay themed movies. that being said, my favorite gay character in film is kevin spacey's depiction of jim williams in eastwood's vastly underrated midnight in the garden of good and evil. i think i like this character in a lot of ways because, like every character in this film, he defies any sort of compartmentalization. jim williams shows me that gay characters on screen can be interesting. the film largely centers on issues concerning jim's sexuality, yet this movie never once even remotely ventures into "gay-movie"(tm) territory. it is just a movie about a deeply troubled, deeply complicated man. and his sexuality contributes to these complications. midnight in the garden of good and evil isn't a movie about a gay man; it's a movie about a man who is many things, one of which is gay. i wish more filmmakers would just allow gay characters to develop organically in the way eastwood does with jim williams. instead, the vast majority of gay characters will always and only ever be gay characters.

i don't know how sasha stone went about collecting her list of 170 gay films to include in her ambitious poll. and i admit that this was a very nice attempt to gather a list of titles that might not have been previously available. however, in the end i argue that if you are seeking out the absolute best in queer cinema, you might be advised to look past any movie that is apt to slap a sticker on the dvd cover identifying it as a "glbt" film. the truly best queer films are those that in no way identify themselves as queer but which strive to make the viewer consider her or his heteronormative conceptions of society, filmmaking and/or their own sexualities. when watching kelly reichardt's haunting wendy and lucy, robert rodriguez' uber-violent from dusk till dawn or arthur penn's classic bonnie and clyde, your first reaction might not be to classify any of these as glbt films. ostensibly at least there aren't any gay characters in any of them. however, i would characterize each of these films as examples of great queer cinema, as they each strive to queer conventionality and illuminate certain seemingly inalienable aspects of the human condition as mutable, temporary or somehow questionable. that is what really great glbt movies accomplish: they make the viewer question. in the end, that might be the only qualification necessary to make a film a glbt film. forget the requisite drag queen.
24 March 2011
  2011 oscar predictions: year in advance

i've never attempted to do such a thing as a) it's a particularly ridiculous thing to do; b) we don't even know for sure what's going to be released this year (how many people were predicting tree of life to be an awards contender in march of last year?); and c) i am pretty much prediction-ed out at this time of year. still, a lot of the first predictions for 2011 have started trickling out lately, and i suppose it will be pretty fun to look back on this post in a year and see if i got anywhere close. so, that being said, and please take this with a gigantic grain of salt, this is what i could see happening next february:

supporting actor:
the nominees- vincent cassell (dangerous method), daniel craig (girl with the dragon tattoo), paul dano (meek's cutoff), john c. reilly (we need to talk about kevin) and christopher plummer (the girl with the dragon tattoo)
the winner- daniel craig. i'm not sure if he will be going lead or supporting for this, but i think it will be in his best interest to go supporting. i could see christopher plummer winning in this category as well if he is any good (in dragon tattoo or his other film, beginners).

supporting actress:
the nominees- jessica chastain (tree of life), viola davis (the help), vanessa redgrave (coriolanus), saorsie ronan (hanna) and octavia spencer (the help)
the winner- jessica chastain. i don't know if she has even been in a movie up until this point, but she has a couple high profile roles this year, and everyone is expecting her to be a scene stealer (in tree of life, particularly). i think she is going to be in a tough race against vanessa redgrave, however, who already has solid rave reviews for her role in coriolanus.

the nominees- george clooney (the descendants), ralph fiennes (coriolanus), jeremy irvine (war horse), viggo mortensen (dangerous method), brad pitt (tree of life)
the winner- brad pitt. i think academy voters are likely to see him as "due" and if this movie actually turns out to be good and if he is any good in it at all, i think this is going to be his statue to lose. of course, there is definitely the possibility that either george clooney or viggo mortensen gives a performance that is just so sensational that it can't be denied.

the nominees- glenn close (albert nobbs), rooney mara (girl with the dragon tattoo), freida pinto (miral), meryl streep (the iron lady) and tilda swinton (we need to talk about kevin)
the winner- meryl streep. after losing her much deserved oscar last year to sandra bullock, i think that the next time she is nominated she will win in an absolute landslide. she is waaay overdue for another one, and she is bound to give a fantastic turn as margaret thatcher. that being said- i expect this movie to kind of suck, so you never know. glenn close could be hot on her heels, but something tells me her star has dimmed now that she is a tv actress. she would need to be amazing.

the nominees- david cronenberg (dangerous method), david fincher (girl with the dragon tattoo), terrence malick (tree of life), julian schnabel (miral) and steven spielberg (war horse)
the winner- spielberg. i definitely have this early sinking feeling that the director race is really going to irritate me this year. there is bound to be some amazing direction on the horizon, but i can see this coming down to a spielberg/fincher race, and i am definitely not a fan of either one. spielberg's been absent for a couple years, and i can see the academy falling over themselves to give him another one.

best picture:
the nominees- the conspirator, coriolanus, dangerous method, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the help, hugo cabret, miral, the muppets, the tree of life, war horse
the winner- war horse. it's gonna suck. period. i realize that i sound like i'm closed minded to spielberg's upcoming "opus," and honestly i'm not. if it's a great movie, i will say that it's a great movie. but face it. it's gonna suck. and yes, i did put the muppets on my best picture list. there is bound to be a surprise, and with the pixar slot seemingly up for grabs this year, i am going out on a limb on this one. if, in a year, the muppets gets nominated for an oscar i can say that i was the first person to have predicted it.
23 March 2011
  looking forward: 2011

after a year at the movies that i consider as one of the best in recent memory, it is certainly going to be difficult for 2011 to live up to the bar that is set. this is coupled by the fact that i am particularly underwhelmed by some of the directors (spielberg, fincher) that are sure to dominate next year's awards season as well as by the nostalgic childhood theme that seems to be prevalent in this year's crop of films. somewhat strangely a great deal of this year's most prominent coming attractions are either about childhood or feature children prominently (the tree of life, hanna, hugo cabret, war horse, extremely loud and incredibly close, the adventures of tintin). and the few movies that don't seem to be about kids are biopics, which is probably my least favorite film genre (the iron lady, the dangerous method, j. edgar). that being said, there are at least a handful of films i am eagerly anticipating this year:

1. london boulevard (dir. william monahan). this is the movie i am most excited about this year, despite the fact that the few reviews it has gotten thus far are less than stellar. the trailer definitely evokes colin farrell's previous work in bruges, which i loved. and the film marks the directorial debut of departed screenwriter william monahan. throw in keira knightley, undoubtedly the best working actress under 30, and how could this fail? unfortunately there's no u.s. release date yet, but it's already been out in europe so it can't be that long til we see it here.

2. jane eyre (dir. cary fukunaga). i am a sucker for victorian lit dramas in general, and although there have already been a handful of jane eyre adaptations, i am excited for the this version which seems to really pull from some of the more gothic, even supernatural elements of the story. also, this marks the return of my beloved dame judi dench to the screen after a miserable year spent without her (she's in no less than 3! big movies coming out this year). jane eyre's already playing in new york and l.a. and should be everywhere in a couple weeks.

3. meek's cutoff (dir. kelly reichardt). i absolutely love reichardt's vastly underrated debut film wendy and lucy and couldn't be more excited about the follow up which has already gotten rave reviews on the festival circuit. i don't know if this film will be received any more prominently than reichardt's previous work but maybe the recent attention shined on star michelle williams will bring this film into this year's awards conversation (à la winter's bone). the good news is that this is an early release as well. it'll be out some time in april.

4. mildred pierce (dir. todd haynes). haynes' hotly anticipated mini-series adaptation of the oscar winning film starts this sunday. the whole project sounds so bizarre (why is todd haynes directing a tv show?) but given the fact that a few of what i consider to be the best "films" of the past decade (angels in america, grey gardens and tom hooper's john adams) all came from hbo, i guess it isn't hard at all to imagine that this will be one of 2011's best.

5. red state (dir. kevin smith). although i generally like kevin smith's work (mallrats is a personal fave), this probably wouldn't be something that would be at the top of my list to see, except for the fact that it has been getting stupendous reviews by those that have seen it so far, with many calling it smith's best work to date. that, plus the fact that i am a slasher movie slut, are definitely going to get me out to see this. coming in october.

6. j. edgar (dir. clint eastwood). i'm not entirely convinced that this is actually going to be released in 2011, but everyone is anticipating it coming out at the end of this year, and eastwood is known for making movies pretty quickly, so i am hoping to see this one by year's end. once again, i'm not a fan of biopics, but eastwood has yet to make a movie that i don't like, and i have no reason to expect that he would now. here's hoping that critics turn around on him and start putting him on the awards map again.

7. hanna (dir. joe wright). as much as i missed dame judi last year, it seems like it's been a really long time since we've seen much of cate blanchett at all. so i am psyched that she has a high profile film coming out this year. joe wright is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, and i am very excited to see what he comes up with. this one could definitely be an awards contender even though it would be an early entrant into the race with an april release date.

8. the ides of march (dir. george clooney). george clooney's previous directing attempt, good night and good luck is one of my least favorite films of all time. i find it to be pompous, self important and preachy. that being said, his follow up seems to be much more up my alley, a suspenseful political drama with a great cast. here's hoping it's more michael clayton and less syriana. out in october.

9. the descendants (dir. alexander payne). george clooney is having a big year in 2011, but i think that if he gets oscar attention it is most likely to be for his performance in alexander payne's long awaited follow up to sideways. this script about an aging man trying to reconnect with his family seems made for a best actor nomination. i will be really disappointed if this doesn't end up being one of the favorite films of the year.

10. melancholia (dir. lars von trier). and then there's lars von trier and his upcoming sci-fi drama. this is going to be out in europe this summer, which means that we should be getting it here in the states sometime in. . . march of 2012? i don't know. that seems to be the record with his movies, but i am praying we get to see it sooner. this movie sounds really different from previous work that we've seen from the danish auteur, and i can't wait even to see a trailer just to get an idea of what this is going to look like. no doubt, it will be incredible.
08 March 2011
  the king's speech getting re-cut
well, despite tom hooper going on record as saying he does not support re-cutting the king's speech and the subsequent release of a "tamer" pg-13 version of the oscar winner, the studio is set to go ahead with the whole debacle anyway. this is such a shame and just goes to show that when it comes to making movies, even ones good enough to win the best picture oscar, the quality of the film is far far less important than how much money it makes.

now let's be honest. does anyone really think that a whole new crop of movie fans are going to be flocking to see this film not that it contains fewer f-words? no matter how you re-cut the film, it isn't somehow magically going to be transformed into a family friendly kid-pleaser. it is a dry adult movie. at the same time, the film is pretty tame in its original incarnation, and if i was responsible for a young adolescent or even a child who wanted to see the film, i don't think i would have any problem with her watching it.

in any case, let's hope that while they are doing this language-directed re-cut, they can also do something about all that pesky gay porn set design.
05 March 2011
  king's speech wins in worst oscars ever

alright, alright, so i was wrong.

up until the very last moment, i thought the social network was a lock. even when tom hooper won best director, i thought there was going to be an unexpected director/picture split. seeing the king's speech win best picture was a good oscar moment, not because i thought it was the best film of the year, but because it beat out an overrated competitor that most certainly wasn't even close. that being said, this nice oscar moment emerged out of the inky abyss that was the worst. oscars. ever.

what an absolute debacle. first of all we have two hosts that, despite their various talents, just shouldn't have been on that stage. james franco couldn't have seemed any more bored and unprepared. honestly, there is absolutely no excuse for the way he kept looking up at the ceiling, seemingly to say- gawd i can't believe i'm doing this and i apologize. if he were embarrassed by the material with which he was presented, then he should have said HEY i'm not doing this crap- i'll write something better. instead he seemed to show up at the last minute without any preparation whatsoever and without any intention of putting an ounce of effort into the event. i was embarrassed for him, but not because of the awful material that was written for him. rather, i was embarrassed that he agreed to work with the material at all.

on the other hand, we have anne hathaway, who clearly could have used a few of franco's slacker pills. she just seemed like she was trying way too hard. once again, you can't necessarily blame her for giving her all towards delivering absolutely dreadful material. however, i think people have generally been way too kind to her. SHE NEVER SHOULD HAVE AGREED TO DO THIS CRAP MATERIAL TO BEGIN WITH. i think it shows a lack of integrity on the part of both of these performers that they didn't stop this sinking ship before the water crested the fifth bulkhead. plus, someone needs to tell hathaway that even if people only watched the oscars for the fashion, watching her change outfits seven times is not entertainment. give it up.

still, clearly one can not place all of the blame for this year's oscar disaster on the shoulders of its two misguided-if-hopefully-well-intentioned hosts. every year i find the academy awards ceremony to be one of the worst produced, directed and written shows on television. this year was no exception. i absolutely HATED almost every aspect of this year's ceremony. from the dreadful best song performances to the completely bizarre presentation of the best picture contenders i was really dumbfounded by how horrible they managed to make this show. it's almost as if they were endeavoring to suck any ounce of potential entertainment out of three hours of tv. at least last year there were glimmers of satisfactory entertainment (thanks largely to hosts steve martin and alec baldwin) but this year it is really impossible to choose a single thing that didn't completely suck.

the oscars are never going to be watchable television (let's face it) but please dear gawd someone has to show these people a tape of the sag or bafta awards. it is possible to film a ceremony honoring the best of a year at the movies without it being a complete embarrassment. the best tip i think i could give: next year, try spending a little less money and putting a little more thought into the reason for the show- publicizing and getting some support for well done film.

that's all i'm gonna say about it. now, on to 2011.
Luke and John talk about movies

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