December 2010 posts
On this last week of 2010, Year of the Franco, enjoy a trip down memory lane with SML. We’ve compiled some of our favorite films and posts of the year. Remember that movie? And that festival? Oh, how we laughed/cried/rolled our eyes! Anyhoo, here they are, in alphabetical order by editor. See you in 2011, and don’t forget to shake that thing!
Ebertfest: 12th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival series
“Be Yourself” (A Woman Under the Influence)
Two Oscar Contenders Are the Bread for a Delicious Despair Sandwich (Rabbit Hole, The Fighter)
The Beat Generation in Court (Howl)
Movies Under the Stars…Great Summer Fun! (Star Trek )
We’ll Eat You Up We Love You So (Where the Wild Things Are)
While we take a well-deserved break for the next few days, please enjoy our favorite holiday movies. Add yours in the comments!
*Rebecca’s unconventional choice, The Magic Flute
*Sarah’s high camp classic, White Christmas
*Kimberly’s highbrow selection, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
We’ll be back next week to share some of our favorite posts from 2010. Cheers!
CRONOS (1993/CRITERION EDITION DVD) So after years languishing in the Saved section of my Netflix queue, Cronos finally arrived in my mailbox. The delay seems to have been caused by the development of the brand spanking new Criterion Edition, the lovely special features of which I didn’t really spend much time on. But I’m sure they’re super nice! For an older movie made on what I’m assuming was a limited budget, this edition looks very clean and clear, so bravo Criterion! Now, to the movie itself. Well. Much like my experiences with Guillermo del Toro’s catalogue so far, the movie itself is frustratingly uneven. (I’d place myself somewhere in between the IMDb commenters “This movie is a treasure!” and “OMG THIS MOVIE SUCKED.”) The story is unique and darkly creepy (see also, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone), and the first half or so had me completely engaged. But by the end, illogical plot developments and some seriously silly-looking make-up effects had distracted to me to the point of not caring about or believing in the story and characters (see also, Hellboy II: The Golden Army). To be fair, this was del Toro’s first full-length movie. IMDb tells me that he started writing the script 10 years before the movie came out, and I’m sure he didn’t have a Hellboy-sized budget to work with, so we can forgive him some of the plot cliches and rubber-face-mask effects. There are hints throughout the movie at his potential genius, including a scene involving a needle and thread in the facial area that reminded me of the unforgettable scene in Pan’s Labyrinth when the General sews up his own slashed cheek. At his very best, like in that scene, del Toro shows us things that are completely new in their brutality, creativity, and heart. And I guess that’s what I keep waiting to see more of from him. One more note: Ron Perlman, who we know better covered in red paint as Hellboy himself, is cast here as a thug trying to retrieve the Cronos device from our protagonist, Jesus (the Spanish name, not the deity). His performance is…um…not so great, but it did provide me with some unintentional (maybe not?) comic relief.
BLACK SWAN (2010/IN THEATERS) There’s been so much buzz and hype surrounding this movie, I admit I was nervous entering the theater, having seen that creepy trailer one too many times. And the movie definitely lives up to its label as a psycho-sexual thriller, with an ending that is seriously open to debate and discussion. There’s plenty of gorgeous music (naturally) and some beautiful dancing to accompany those other cringe-inducing scenes, particularly involving nail files and nail clippers—I’ll say no more–but think Brian De Palma! Not to mention just enough blood to make you shift in your seat and that famous “girl-on-girl” sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis that helped Blue Valentine get rid of its NC-17 rating. It’s no wonder that Portman is getting nominated for big acting awards—she is quite convincing as the innocent ballerina Nina, smothered by a mother (a very strong Barbara Hershey) who is living vicariously through her (big time shades of The Turning Point – remember that one?) and who is determined to be not just the white swan but more importantly the black swan that the company’s director (Vincent Cassel) is demanding—indeed really taunting her to become. Of course, the black swan equals sex—and this is essentially beaten over our heads by both Cassel and by the entry of Lily (Mila Kunis), another ballerina (from San Francisco) who both threatens and fascinates “sweet” Nina with her easy sexuality. Rounding out the portrait of the ballerina world is Winona Ryder as Beth—cast out by Cassel early in the picture for being too old a dancer— who reappears to help ratchet up the horror. What can I say? The film is already nominated for four Golden Globes (Picture, Director, Actress for Portman, Supporting for Kunis) and also four Independent Spirit Awards. It will factor into the Oscar season for sure. I was reminded completely of Polanski’s Repulsion and I think Aronofsky does a great job of depicting, as Polanski did with Catherine Deneuve in that film, the interior of a young woman’s mind as she loses her grip on reality and slides into insanity.
Grade: B+ Plenty of clichés
SPOILER ALERT: Care to read what two real-life dancers thought about the film? Check out this little article.
WISHFUL DRINKING (2010/HBO) Talk about making lemonade out of lemons! Carrie Fisher’s stand-up routine about her wild and crazy life first appeared in 2006 and has recently been performed as far away as Australia. The famous child of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher has made a career out of her real-life mental problems— with Postcards From the Edge as perhaps her best work. Wishful Drinking was written up as a very funny (IMHO) book which appeared in 2008. Now HBO is running its version of the complete show for viewers like us. The set is very clever—made to look like Carrie’s house, complete with comfy chair and sofa, plus lots of pillows, throw covers, etc., it features a background screen which allows her to add all kinds of visuals—loads of photos, films, etc. all the way from her childhood (and her hilarious chart of both her mother’s but especially her father’s various marriages), through her own marriage to Paul Simon, and then onto the next marriage which resulted in her husband discovering he was gay (a talent she possesses, according to Fisher) and with a huge segment devoted to, of course, Star Wars. She also has props which come down from above—one of the most striking is the Princess Leia full-sized blow-up sex doll ☺ Pretty darn funny. Fisher says her favorite of the Leia paraphenalia is being a Pez dispenser—a high honor indeed! And naturally she makes fun of her fabulous and famous Leia side-buns hair-style (her quote: “how to make someone with a fat face look fatter.”) The show is truly very funny but as Fisher wanders barefooted across the stage in an oversized black shirt and leggings and throws up photos of herself in her early 20s, beautiful and slim, I was struck by a sense of real sadness. She has indeed tried to make the best of her bi-polar life and can even makes jokes about her shock treatments, her weight and her amazingly bad luck with men, but honestly, who wants her life? No one.
Nice interview here with more background on the show and the death of Eddie Fisher this year.
THE TOURIST (2010/IN THEATERS) OK…so The Tourist is not To Catch a Thief and Johnny Depp is no Cary Grant. Still, the movie is more fun than most reviewers are alleging. I agree that the plot is “muddled” (Ebert) and we could wish for more wit and sophistication (a la Hitchcock) in the screenplay, but why the huge outpouring of critical hatred for this movie (a very low 20% on Rotten Tomatoes)? Perhaps everyone’s hopes were set unrealistically high—after all, the director is Florian Henckel von Donnesmarck whose The Lives of Others is not only an Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film but a true masterpiece. And of course, his fellow screenwriters for The Tourist were Julian Fellowes who penned Gosford Park and Christopher McQuarrie who created The Usual Suspects. Wow…a serious pedigree for sure. Add to that Angelina Jolie looking incredibly well-groomed and sexy, and Johnny Depp looking….well, maybe we’ve hit on the problem. Read more »
Does it seem like the Oscar contenders are coming out particularly late this year? Maybe the studios have caught on that the Academy’s attention span is like that of a gnat (Winter’s who? Tilda what?). Though I am, for those most part, avoiding these last-minute releases until the AMC Best Picture Showcase in Jan/Feb, I am powerless against the siren song of 1) seeing something before everyone else (dork cache!), 2) seeing something for free. Thanks, SLIFF and Gofobo.com! Read more »
FAIR GAME (2010/IN THEATERS) This movie is Hollywood’s version of the Valerie Plame incident—the what? Valerie who? Remember way back to 2003 when Ms. Plame, a CIA operative married to Joe Wilson, a former ambassador, was “outed” by the Bush administration as retaliation against her husband’s New York Times Op Ed which called into question one of the pieces of evidence cited as proof that Sadam had WMD—Weapons of Mass Destruction—and we needed to go to war in Iraq. Naomi Watts plays Ms. Plame and bears a striking resemblance to the real person, as we see her in the closing credits. Sean Penn plays the feisty husband Joe Wilson who refuses to give in to the forces of Fox News and the White House as they try to discredit his Op Ed and his attempt to tell the American people the truth about the run-up to the Iraq war. Read more »
WAITING FOR ‘SUPERMAN’ (2010/ IN THEATERS) I am late to see this excellent documentary, a sure Oscar contender, which hit theaters in late September. It’s still running and if you get a change to catch it, your time will be well spent. Directed and co-written by David Guggenheim (of An Inconvenient Truth fame), the film presents a series of sobering and fairly depressing statistics and portraits of the U.S. public school system. Among the statistics are the number of so-called “dropout factories”— thousands of high schools across the country who consistently fail and whose graduates end up in our tax-supported prisons. The film points out that the average prisoner requires $33,000 a year in support and contributes nothing to our society—no work, no taxes – and rightfully compares the result of investing that money into these individuals at an early age by giving them successful schooling and preparing them for productive jobs and careers. The film focuses on five individual students, each of whom are trying to get into successful charter schools in their respective states. They are dependent on a lottery (by law) because the schools are public, not private, and therefore cannot be selective. Noting that 4 of 5 charter schools are in fact no more successful than their counterparts, the film focuses on two examples of schools who prove beyond a doubt that any child can succeed, no matter their income level or socio-economic status. One of the success stories is KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Schools, an experiment which was expected to fail but in fact now runs almost 100 schools across the country catering to minorities and disadvantaged children. Read more »
We stole this idea from Slate because we think it’s fun. Sue us. (Please don’t sue us.) Without any advance reordering to save face, we present to you the first five entries in Sarah’s Netflix queue, along with some brief commentary. Judge if you must. We’re not afraid of you.
1. Cronos (1993). This is the first feature-length directorial effort from Guillermo del Toro. I’ll let Netflix’s plot summary do my, um, summarizing: “After an ancient device attaches itself to his body, aging antiques dealer Jesus (Federico Luppi) struggles to cope with an insatiable thirst for human blood, a menacing brute (Ron Perlman) dead set on retrieving the mechanism and the gradual realization that he cannot die.” Is that exciting, or what? That’s pretty exciting. I’ve had this in the “Saved” section of my queue since Pan’s Labyrinth was in theaters, and it’s finally available on DVD. Not sure what the wait was, but I’ll certainly report back on the results.
2. Vengeance (2009). A French-Hong Kong collaboration directed by Hong Kong legend Johnnie To, I know very little about this one other than that it’s a revenge thriller involving the mafia and hit men that takes place in Hong Kong but with a heavily French cast. The star is Johnny Hallyday, who again I know nothing about, but look at how awesomely grizzly he is! All very intriguing, yes? Yes. Read more »