July 2012 posts
Kimberly: Sarah! Is there a better way to celebrate a Serious Movie Lover’s birthday than boozing/pizzaing it up, then going to St. Louis’s stickiest theater to see the latest addition to the dance battle canon? I think we both know the answer, and it involves “woos” and raising the roof. Step Up Revolution is the fourth iteration of the “hot guy of indeterminate age with twinkletoes meets girl, they salsa and develop feelings, outside forces intervene, they dance it out” series, and it did not disappoint. We’ve gone south to Miami, where all the dresses are microminis and the boys wear beach sneakers. There we meet Sean, who leads a crew of dancypants (“The Mob”) who flash mob (I know—stay with me, though) around the city and upload performance videos to YouTube. As is common practice on the internets, YouTube is giving $100,000 to the makers of the video that gets the most “clicks.” So those feets better move fancy! Read more »
OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONIES (NBC/JULY 27, 2012) ”A complete assault on the senses.” That’s how Britain’s Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, described Oscar award winning director Danny Boyle‘s wild and crazy tribute to the British Isles and its history. Presented in classic over-the-top form last night in London, Boyle offered a brilliant combination of live action, giant sets along with creative film and digital pieces, all to loud drumming and constant motion. It’s his signature style in films—frenetic, hand-held action with loads of cross-cutting—but how shocking that he could bring that style so successfully to an Olympics opening! Kudos are pouring in. My favorite bits were the following–with YouTube links wherever possible:
• The clip of the real Queen Elizabeth escorted by James Bond/Daniel Craig to a waiting helicopter and parachuting in for the games (of note, she allowed two of her precious Corgies to be featured in the scene!). My British friends say this was their favorite part of the ceremony and the world seems to agree whole-heartedly. Watch the YouTube of it here.
• Rowan Atkinson in a bravura single finger piano performance with the London Symphony Orchestra playing “Chariots of Fire” and then more hilariously appearing in the famous running on the beach scene from the film with disastrous results for the runners! Catch the YouTube here.
• That fantastic fireworks display marking the end of the Opening Ceremonies (well, almost the end…we did still have Paul McCartney on tap afterwards, mind you, with his rendition of “Hey Jude” providing everyone a giant sing-along).
• The brilliant “Lord of the Rings” style transformation of the “green and peaceful” early England into the dark and smelly industrialized nation it became, while the announcers reminded us that Britain indeed brought the industrial revolution to the world. Of note, we were also told that the stadium was filled with “bad sulphur smells” during this sequence—wow!
• The forging of the first Olympic ring (joined by the other four) during that very same industrialized sequence. Gorgeous.
• The various children’s choirs, including those in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and especially those singing for the blind and hearing impaired. So touching. And a special shout-out to the young soloist who sang “Jerusalem.” Moving.
Least favorite bits:
• The lengthy (20 minute!) tribute to the National Health Service using rolling hospital beds which were trampolines and featuring dancing nurses, followed by the introduction of famous “villains” including a 100 foot tall Voldemort.
• The similarly lengthy mobile-phone/instant messaging/twitter inspired love story with its tribute to rock music over four decades—this seemed to go on forever.
Worst part–by far:
• NBC’s constant interruptions to “cut to commercials,” particularly irritating as we were watching the torch FINALLY entering the stadium.
On the whole: a wonderful show which reminded us of all of Britain’s various contributions to the world and of their unique blend of humor and pageantry. Congratulations to Danny Boyle and the legion of individuals behind this spectacle. Now…on to the games themselves!
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012/IN THEATERS) Even before the horrific events in Aurora, Colorado last Friday at midnight, I had already been worried by the previews and general chatter on the net surrounding TDKR. I am a big fan of the previous two films in the series—Batman Begins and The Dark Knight—and have seen each of those movies more times than I’m willing to admit. Still, for this one, the villain Bane looked massive and truly horrible, and the idea that Batman’s back would be broken in the film felt like something I would not like to see. But you have to give it up to Christopher Nolan and also Christian Bale, who have finished their masterful trilogy in fine form. This movie brings the story full circle, returning to many of the critical elements from Batman Begins, including multiple story ties to Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neason appears in a brief cameo). As it turns out, Bane (well played by Tom Hardy behind that intimidating mask) is part of the League of Shadows though he has been expelled–the reason for his expulsion will be revealed by the end of the movie. Despite this or perhaps because of it, he is determined to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s goal of destroying Gotham as part of the League’s mission to attack modern corruption. Eight years have passed since the ending of The Dark Knight in which Batman silently agreed to take the fall for Harvey Dent. Dent is now a hero of the city that has enacted tough laws against crime and criminals in his name. Gary Oldman is back as Police Commissioner Jim Gordon who perpetuates the Dent lie but is bothered by his duplicity. Bruce Wayne (a truly masterful Bale) has become a recluse, holed up in his mansion with only Alfred (Michael Caine, perfect as always) for company. He uses a cane and walks with a noticeable limp, souvenirs of his crime-fighting life as Batman. Morgan Freeman is also back as Lucius Fox, heading up Wayne Enterprises which is no longer the profit-making machine of its past. Director Christopher Nolan who co-wrote this screenplay with his brother Jonathan (as they did for the previous films) gives us three new characters this time, the best two being Joseph Gordon Levitt as Detective John Blake, an orphan who identifies with Bruce Wayne, and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a slinky cat burglar with seemingly no morals remaining.
Marion Cotillard also appears as Miranda Tate, a rich executive who is tapped to lead Wayne Enterprises in its development of the world’s only clean energy nuclear product. The plot takes a number of twists and turns (and surely you’ve read the Spoilers by now) but what really worked for me in the film were the performances of the main characters and of course, the action. The film is dark and the crazy lightness that Heath Ledger’s Joker brought to TDK is totally missing. It’s also long but it’s hard to see where Nolan could have made any cuts. Is TDK better? Perhaps. There have been complaints about the storytelling (as muddled) or the confusing timelines (the film does jump around a bit), but I think it is a fitting end and perfect for the trilogy. Kudos to all concerned.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012/IN THEATERS) Some movies are hard to describe–this is definitely one of them. Winner of four awards at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and a 2nd award for cinematography), I was expecting to see something magical on screen. And the movie is that and more, although disturbing at the same time. Critics and viewers alike are raving over the performance and voice-over narration of young Quvenzhané Wallis who plays Hushpuppy, a young resident of “The Bathtub,” a fictitious area of the Louisiana bayou cut off from normal society and all its support systems. Hushpuppy’s mother is long gone (“she swam away”) so the young girl is largely fending for herself and dealing with her demanding and often drunk father Wink (played by Dwight Henry, a bakery owner in real life) who really does love her but is also fighting a losing battle against a deadly blood disease. Is there a plot? Not really. We travel in Hushpuppy’s world, narrated by her view of people, places and nature. We experience a giant storm of Katrina size and see its aftermath. We watch her struggling to live up to her father’s expectations as he teaches her how to survive without him. Her narration and the cinematography create the magic in this film IMHO. I was reminded by the end of “The Whale Rider,” which also told the story of a young girl living up to her grandfather’s expectations. The movie has a dreamlike quality, heightened by the hand-held, often unfocused camera work and saturated colors, and the presence of aurochs, ancient creatures that play an important role in the film. I admit I was more than mildly appalled by the sheer squalor surrounding the main characters and all the residents of the Bathtub, and also by many of the interactions between Hushpupppy and her father. I tried to remind myself constantly that this movie should be seen as a fairy-tale or a tone poem. It is a first-time effort from filmmaker and writer Benh Zeitlin. We’ll definitely want to see what comes next.
Grade: Impossible to assign
SINGING IN THE RAIN (DVD) Did you realize it has been 60 years since the release of Singing in the Rain? Wow! This wonderful musical was first released in 1952…..the year I was born (true confessions). Turner Classics celebrated the event with a special big screen presentation in select theaters on July 12th. From what I’ve read, the shows were sold out and audiences were more than pleased with the quality of the re-mastered flick. If you missed this event (as I did), don’t worry. Just grab that DVD that’s in your collection and enjoy! My friends and I did and we’ve been singing (and smiling) every since!
SAVAGES (2012/IN THEATERS) Oliver Stone’s latest is getting a seriously mixed reaction from critics and fans but I confess I enjoyed it—in fact, much more than I had expected. I have never been a huge fan of Mr. Stone, apart from The Doors—he seems to miss as much as he hits, but I loved the cinematography in this film and the overall storyline. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Don Winslow and both he and Stone created the screenplay, along with Shane Salerno. I understand that many viewers who loved the book felt the movie fell short of its sharp writing, but having never read it, I have no way to judge. What did work for me was the acting. Let’s start with Salma Hayak who is just plain fabulous as the tough matron of a Mexican drug cartel who has taken over after her husband and sons were killed. Hayak sports a severe Cleopatra style haircut to match her “don’t mess with me” style and it works like, shall we say, gangbusters! Also great are Benicio del Toro as her henchman Lado and John Travolta as the double-dealing U.S. DEA Agent Dennis. The centerpiece of the film is a trio of young, pretty things: Taylor Kitsch (hoping for a third time charm after John Carter and Battleship) as Chon, a two-tour survivor of the war in Afghanistan; his long time friend Ben, played by Aaron Johnson (John Lennon in Nowhere Boy) who has a double major in business and botany, and their shared love interest, O (for Ophelia) played by real life California girl Blake Lively. Chon and Ben have developed a very successful small business growing and selling marijuana that boasts the highest quality to be found anywhere. They have a sweet life in their lovely oceanfront home in Laguna Beach and Ben has even “gone Bono” and begun to foster numerous eco-friendly and life-improving projects in Africa and beyond. However the good life comes to an end– and fast–when the two young entrepreneurs fail to cut a deal with Hayak, resulting in the kidnapping just hours later of their beloved O. The rest of the movie deals with their (bloody) efforts to get her back and our closer look at the methods of Lado and his group. It makes for good entertainment IMHO. Guess I’ll go looking for the book now!
P.S. Watch for a nice turn from Emile Hirsch in a small role. I loved him in Into the Wild and Milk. Here’s hoping his career picks up again sometime soon.
TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012/IN THEATERS) Originally titled Nero Fiddled, then Bop Decameron, Woody Allen’s ode to the eternal city is less successful than his recent tributes to Paris (Midnight in Paris) and Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). This time he gives us four completely separate stories that never link up but do at least arrive at endings that will leave you smiling as you exit the theater. Roberto Benigni stars in one of the stories as Leopold Pisonello, an “everyman” who is suddenly famous—and hounded by the paparazzi in true Italian-style. In a lovely and very Woody Allen-ish philosophical discussion, his limo driver observes that, given the choice, fame is better than being ordinary, even if one has done nothing to deserve it. Jesse Eisenberg plays Jack, a young architecture student living in Rome with his very pleasant girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) who falls in love with her friend–an out-of-work actress (Ellen Page) playing the intellectual/sexual/nervous seductress role often seen in Allen’s films. Sitting in the background during these scenes and commenting throughout is Alec Baldwin, a successful architect who is reliving his years in Rome through Jack. The “Play It Again Sam” style advice scenes are fine, but nowhere near as good as the originals where Bogart himself gave a young Woody Allen love advice. And Ellen Page seems a strange choice for a “seductress”—too short perhaps? Judy Davis and Allen himself play a married U.S. couple heading to Rome to meet their daughter’s fiancé and his family. Allen is in fine form IMHO as a retired producer of weirdly staged operas who becomes obsessed with featuring the father of the Italian family (played by real-life opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) in a production of Rigoletto. The big hitch: the father can only sing in the shower–leading to some slapstick scenes reminiscent of early Allen (especially 1972’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…” and the episode featuring the woman who could only achieve an orgasm in public).
Finally we have the story of a young Italian couple from the country who are in Rome to meet the successful relatives and start their city life, only to get separated and experience interesting encounters—his involving Penelope Cruz as a hired prostitute and hers with a famous actor. There’s plenty of fun in the film for sure and the audience in my theater laughed out loud at several points. But I will have to say that at times the movie really lagged, feeling a bit flat or forced. Oh well. As Allen himself said recently at the LA Film Festival, “I probably had more fun making this movie than you will have viewing it.” Who cares? We love you Woody and we’ll see everything you bring us. Strongly recommended it to all Woody Allen fans. Enjoy!
MAGIC MIKE (2012/In Theaters) So a certain fellow Serious Movie Lover and I found ourselves in a theater full of ladies the other night. There was booze in our soda pop and electricity in the air. We were not disappointed. Magic Mike is hysterical. One hundred and ten minutes of jaw dropping spectacle. Nudity of all types and combinations, drugs, language, sparkly sequined thongs, grinding, gyrating, homo-eroticism, shiny torsos, and countless delightful costume-y hats. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the titular Mike (a surprisingly charming Channing Tatum), a male stripper with higher aspirations who loves a good time, and his protege, The Kid (an unsurprisingly bland Alex Pettyfer, or perhaps you know him as Number Four? No? Just us, then). I won’t spoil the finer details — love story, yada yada, morality tale, blah blah blah. The real reason to see this movie is the gloriously greasy performance by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the ring leader of our stripper pals. Dallas is the ultimate realization of the untrustworthy-but-oddly-charismatic-sleazeball persona McConaughey introduced us to in Dazed and Confused. He is a wonder to behold. Tatum really is great too, putting his Step Up moves to good use and showing an appealing sense of humor. The rest of the strippers do pretty well and look respectfully chiseled and shiny. Cody Horn, as The Kid’s protective sister, is impressively terrible, mistaking squinting blankly for “portraying emotion.” But it doesn’t matter. Her role evaporated from my brain the minute I walked out of the theater. We say, go see this and don’t expect anything more than a raucous good time. You will not be sorry.
Grade: A (for Aaaaw yeah)
PS — Here’s an interesting read from The New York Times about McConaughey’s shift from rom-com crap to more interesting roles of late.