Posts by Rebecca Lenzini «
THE GREAT GATSBY (2013/IN THEATERS) Ever since Strictly Ballroom, I have been madly in love with Baz Luhrmann. So I admit that I have been completely excited about his version of The Great Gatsby since it first made headlines in 2011. And as the announcements came–Gatsby to be filmed in 3D! Leo as Gatsby! Carey Mulligan as Daisy!—I just got more excited. So all those negative reviews by “leading critics” did not deter me a bit. I was in line for the first available 3D showing last Friday and have already returned to see the movie again (BTW: it plays even better the second time around). Of course it goes without saying that the production is over the top (remember Moulin Rouge?) and the camera movement can be initially very distracting, but once the storyline kicks in–when DiCaprio as Gatsby makes his big appearance– the movie takes off and sucks you in right to the end. Luhrmann, who co-wrote the screenplay with Craig Pearce (his frequent collaborator), endeavors to bring us the “essence” of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of self invention and hopeless longing in a period of amazing excess—the roaring 20s. Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin has done an incredible job with the sets and costumes—they are dazzling. I hope she is rewarded with an Oscar nod. And the mix of hip-hop music along with classical favorites (Rhapsody in Blue, for example) really worked for me. As for the acting, DiCaprio truly holds the film in his gorgeous blue eyes, while Tobey Maguire is just fine as insider/outsider narrator Nick Carraway. Carey Mulligan, showcasing non-stop gorgeous costumes and headpieces, shows Daisy Buchanan for what she is—intrigued, but more than willing to take the easy way out. Other cast members are good as well, particularly newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. While some have complained that the glitz overwhelms the characters, I didn’t feel this at all. But perhaps that’s just my ongoing love affair with Mr. Luhrmann. I say…see it and reach your own conclusion.
BTW: Luhrmann talked more about his ten year effort to make this film at Cannes just today. Catch the press conference here.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012/IN THEATERS) Derek Cianfrance, the writer/director of this film as well as 2010’s Blue Valentine, teams up a second time with Ryan Gosling to bring us a three-part tale of fathers and sons set in Schenectady, New York (of note, the title of the movie is based on the Mohawk translation of Schenectady—who knew?). The film opens with a lengthy tracking shot featuring Gosling as main character Luke Glanton, shot from behind, blond haired and covered in tattoos, heading to his “event” at a traveling carnival where he performs daring motorcycle tricks as part of a trio of other young riders. Luke is clearly good at this—he’s the star– and life seems pretty good. He even receives a short visit from Romina (Eva Mendes), an attractive woman he had known on his last time though town. She doesn’t tell him at first, but he soon learns that he has a young son named Jason, thanks to their hook-up a year earlier. Stunned by this news and by the sight of the baby, Luke quits his job and declares to Romina that he will be part of her life and will do his duty as a father, despite the fact that she already has another relationship with a solid, good man. Looking for work, Luke teams up with a mechanic named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, fabulous in the role) who loans him a trailer and talks up the idea of robbing banks together. The two decide to go for it and soon Luke is using his motorcycle riding skills to outrun the cops, saving up the stolen money to give to Jason. But ultimately it can’t last and as the film crosses to its second storyline, we meet Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a new cop whose path crosses with Luke’s during a desperate and ultimately failed escape from the final robbery. Avery is an educated young man, with a law degree and a father who is a prominent judge. He has chosen to be a cop, despite the concern of his young and pretty wife (Rose Byrne) who worries about his safety. Ironically, he also has a young son the same age as Jason. The second part of the movie focuses almost exclusively on Avery as he reaches a decision to either be part of the police corruption he encounters (embodied by Ray Liotta as a bad cop named Deluca) or to rise above it. Avery is no dummy and he seizes the opportunities presented to him. We then move 15 years forward to find that Avery, now divorced, is running for District Attorney. He still lives in Schenectady; his son, AJ, is moving in with him because he’s too much to handle for his poor mother. In a chance encounter at the local high school, AJ meets Jason and the third leg of the story begins. AJ (Emory Cohen) is a troubled kid with a real NYC-style swagger. Jason (Dane DeHaan) is a quiet loner who rides his BMX bike, gets into trouble frequently, and longs to know more about his real father. By the end of the film, he’ll know plenty and so will we.
The movie is ambitious in its story telling and it’s long—2 hours and 20 minutes—but I found it good, on the whole. As other reviewers have noted, the third piece of the trilogy is easily the weakest—in part because the character of AJ is so darned unattractive and the young actor playing him is just not that good (maybe you remember Emory Cohen as Debra Messing’s son in the first season of Smash?). But his counterpart, Dane DeHaan is very good and incidentally, so are the others, including Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes. Cianfrance clearly has a way with actors. For me, it’s Gosling who sets the bar so high—he carries the entire first act brilliantly, blending his Drive character (strong and silent) with his Blue Valentine personae (confused, well-meaning, naïve). As Jason examines a photo of his father late in the film, we are reminded of just how charismatic Luke was and is. Another great performance from Gosling and one that makes this film almost work.
ON THE ROAD (2012/IN THEATERS) I have been waiting for this film for well over a year—and let me say, it was worth the wait. Based on the landmark 1957 “beat generation” novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac, about his days on the road with crazy Neal Cassady, it is said that Kerouac himself wrote to Marlon Brando asking him to make a film of the novel with the two of them as the leads and a camera strapped on the engine of a car. While that idea never panned out, in 1979 Francis Ford Coppola did buy the rights to the book. He worked over the years to bring it to life and among several attempts, tried to cast Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt as Kerouac and Cassady. Ultimately Coppola approached Brazilian director Walter Salles after seeing his fabulous work in “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which was also based on a road novel by the young Che Guevara. Salles brought in his screenwriter Jose Rivera and the rest of his team from the earlier work and finally filming began in August 2010 in Montreal, Quebec. Before they were done, Salles and company had filmed in dozens of locations, ranging from San Francisco to Arizona to Louisiana and even to Argentina (when it became too dangerous to shoot in Mexico) bringing the book to gorgeous cinematic life. A strong ensemble cast completes the work, with Sam Riley as Sal Paradise (the Kerouac role) and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) carrying the film and doing a bang-up job of it. Also featured are Kristen Stewart as Marylou, Dean’s 16 year old bride and wild child who is frequently with the two leads (and naked, as the tabloids have already noted); Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg in real life), giving a poignant portrayal of being gay and sensitive in the late 40s and early 50s; Kirsten Dunst as Camille, who plays the long-suffering second wife of Dean (Carolyn Cassady in real life); Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), eccentric but brilliant in his short time on screen; and Amy Adams as Old Bull’s wild woman Jane, shaking the lizards out of a tree in their Louisiana abode. Also appearing are Elisabeth Moss as Galatea Dunkel, left with Old Bull and Jane, and as she says “married for gas money,” as well as brief but wonderful appearances by Terence Howard and Steve Buscemi. Like “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the cinematography of the film is brilliant and allows you to share in that feeling of being on the road. Rhythms of jazz underline the film and there’s plenty of booze, drugs, and sex, in keeping with the book. Also plenty of writing and thinking and talking about the true meaning of life–which is what intrigues young Sal in the first place. I think if you’re a fan of the book, you will not be disappointed by this film. And if you have yet to read it, just hang on for the ride!
TAOS SHORTZ FILM FEST 2013 (March 7-10, 2013, Taos Community Auditory, Taos, New Mexico) Over 88 juried global short films were screened over the course of four days and ten sessions this past week in beautiful Taos, New Mexico. Organized by Anna Cosentine, a serious movie lover for sure!—this year marked the 6th for the Taos Shortz Film Fest. Cosentine shared the credit at Sunday’s Awards Ceremony with Duprelon Tizdale who served as Program Director this year. I was able to catch three of the ten sessions, including Session 1 which was devoted to local Taoseno filmmakers—a terrific and packed event. Awards were given in six categories: Dramatic Fiction, Comedy, Documentary, Animation, Experimental and the Zia Award for the Best New Mexican Film from NM’s own filmmakers. To top it all off, the Peoples’ Choice Award was the cherry on the cake —given this year to a hilarious short entitled “First Date” which is now showing at SXSW in Austin. If you get the chance, be sure to catch it!
Partial List of Winners:
People’s Choice First Date / USA
Animation Abuelas (Grandmothers) / UK
Dramatic Fiction Abgestemplt (Punched) / Austria-Germany
Documentary Unravel (UK/ India)
Experimental Solo Piano NYC (USA)
A personal favorite which had its US Premiere: Ash (Comedy Fiction) / Singapore
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012/ DVD) Ever heard of a musician named Rodriguez? Me neither until I watched this wonderful 90-minute documentary from Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul who apparently has a calling for producing films about musicians. Who knew? This one begins in South Africa with fans of a U.S. singer/songwriter/guitarist named Sixto Rodriguez, a mysterious performer from Detroit who put out two albums in the early 70s. Both were critical hits but neither made the charts. In fact, both of them bombed big-time and Rodriguez “disappeared” like so many others before and after him. Come to find out, bootleg copies of those albums, especially the first one entitled “Cold Fact,” found their way to South Africa and became rallying cries for the young white “hippies” who were ready to over-throw Apartheid. Of course, all those young fans in South Africa assumed that Rodriguez was a huge rock star, equal to Bob Dylan, the Stones and others. Eventually they heard wild stories about the singer dying—setting himself on fire—shooting himself on stage following the rejection of his latest songs.
Finally, in the late 1990s, two Cape Town fans–Stephen ‘Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholmew Strydom–decided to find out what really happened to their hero. This documentary follows their efforts and cleverly makes us pursue the trail along with them, sharing in their discoveries that turned out to be nothing short of fabulous. Even if you find the start of the film a little hard to follow, don’t worry. You’ll be rewarded as you stick with this tale—maybe you already know the ending. I won’t spoil it here. But let’s just say….Mr. Rodriguez might just be performing in your town soon!
P.S. Here’s a Wikipedia fun fact for you film fans. “Initially using 8 mm film to record some scarce, stylized shots for the movie, director Bendjelloul ran out of money for more film to record the final few shots. He resorted to filming the remaining stylized shots on his smartphone using an iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to complete the film.” Cool….
OSCAR WEEK PLANNING–- It’s that time again and we are excited. Although this year’s list of nominated Best Pictures presented quite a challenge for menu planning, our fearless SML contributor and follower Be has come up with courses the fit the occasion.
Check them out! And let us know your plans in the Comments section. Happy viewing and eating this Sunday. Be sure to catch our continuing Oscar themed posts all this week and next Monday.
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Fried catfish tidbits with bathtub gin martinis
Warm salad of pigeon breasts “smothered” in a light bacon and shallot sauce
Life of Pi:
Vegaterian Indian potato pie served with “mock” tiger sauce
(Actual restaurant name in Ohio) Django western tacos with negra refritos
(As in “argonaut,” a band of heros sailing with Jason in quest of the golden fleece) Iranian lamb kabobs
Silver Linings Playbook:
Crazy, mixed up cake with silver dragees on top
Lincoln log rolls of cream cheese mixed with southern peaches and pecan nuts
Zero Dark Thirty:
Thirty pieces of zero-calorie dark chocolate
If all this food is making you miserable, stop eating, lose weight and you’ll sing the praise of oatmeal and gruel.
HOUSE OF CARDS (2012/NETFLIX STREAMING) In the mood for some political intrigue? Have a current NetFlix streaming membership? Then you’re in luck, because last Friday, NetFlix released all 13 episodes of Season One of the U.S. version of a crackerjack BBC miniseries entitled “House of Cards.” NetFlix members are free to watch all 13 episodes in a sitting (so called “binge watching”) or to watch any number of episodes, in any order, as much as desired. Developed by Beau Willimon, the screenwriter for “Ides of March” and also for the first two episodes of this series, and with David Fincher as Executive Producer (and Director for Episodes 1 and 2 also), this series is top notch. Start with the casting: Kevin Spacey is spot-on as Francis (Frank) Underwood, long serving member of the House of Representatives from the state of South Carolina and the House Majority Whip. Frank has labored long and hard in the House (for 22 years he tells us) and has been promised the position of Secretary of State as a reward for helping the current Democratic President regain election (does any of this sound familiar?), when suddenly Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey), the President’s Chief of Staff, tells him he’s being passed over for the position. What?? Why? Well…the line is, “we need you more in the House to help us pass our important Education Bill.” Needless to say, Frank is mad—mad as hell, actually—and he starts the ball rolling on an elaborate plot to undermine his own Executive Branch. Joining Frank in his Machiavellian quest is his wife Claire (Robin Wright) who is every bit as scheming as Frank himself. Claire runs an NGO in D.C. dedicated to clean water and together these two play the game beautifully. Add to the duo Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), Frank’s super effective and completely amoral Assistant; Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a young reporter for the Washington Herald who is eager to rise the ranks and willing to leak anything to the reading public; and Rep. Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), a Philly boy with a bad past who’s easy for Frank to manipulate, and you’ve got a really great core to the story. There are loads of extra characters and plenty of plot but the series moves right along and the production values are top notch. While some of the episodes do drag, let me say this…. I had intentions of watching only one or two episodes when I turned the series on this past Saturday and the next thing I knew, I was at Episode 6 and moving forward. Of course, NetFlix makes this easy to do since they automatically boot the next episode as the credits are rolling on the last one. Clever and great viewing for any cold winter’s day, night or weekend. Enjoy and just remember, Season Two starts filming this Spring.
AMOUR (2012/IN THEATERS) “Bittersweet”—that’s the best word to describe this loving and realistic portrait of a Parisian married couple in their 80s, whose cultured life is coming to an end. Anne and Georges (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintignant, both in their 80s in real life) live in their well worn but elegant apartment–a home filled with books and paintings, lovely carpets and simple furniture. They ride the subway home from a concert where Anne’s former student, now a famous classical pianist, has mesmerized an audience. Life appears to be a comfortable duet. Yet the next morning, everything changes. Anne freezes at the table, after presenting Georges with his traditional soft-boiled egg. She is gone for several minutes but returns, though unable to pour her tea. When we see Anne again, she is home from the hospital but is paralyzed on her right side, “bad luck” after a fairly routine medical procedure. Responding to her urgent and stern request, Georges promises she will never visit a hospital again. And so it begins. For anyone who has cared for an elderly parent, friend or relative, this movie will look so familiar. It doesn’t matter that this is France—it could be anywhere. The rest of the film is a day-to-day look at the continuing slide in physical capacity for one person plus the devotion and challenges of the caretaker. Georges and Anne are clearly devoted to one another. Though they have a daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), she lives overseas and has her own challenges. Her father tells her she is no help and this is true. She is outside the routine and habit that these two have built over many years. It is difficult to explain just how powerful this film is—it moves slowly, befitting the subject. And while my friend and I came ready with tons of Kleenex, we didn’t need them. The end is inevitable and both face it as they must, still with love for one another. Up for 5 Oscars– Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay—this film is already the winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It was written and directed by Michael Haneke who also gave us The White Ribbon, Cache, The Piano Teacher and many more. French audiences are thrilled to see two of their favorite actors back on screen and so magnificent. Maybe you remember Jean Louis Trintignant in “A Man and A Woman”—so handsome. I remember Emmanuelle Riva well from “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” Beautiful and sad, even then. Amour is just what it’s title says–a portrait of love. Be sure to see it.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012/IN THEATERS) Up for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Original Screenplay, it is still shocking to think that Kathryn Bigelow was left off the Oscar Best Director nominee list. Of course, the common assumption is that she is being punished by liberal Hollywood for including realistic (and very uncomfortable) scenes of Americans using torture in her picture. Depiction is not endorsement, says Bigelow, most recently in her LA Times Op Ed. Why not focus your disapproval on our government that even now allows some level of “enhanced interrogation” in the continuing war on terrorism. Bigelow stands by her film, scripted by former journalist Mark Boal who also wrote the screenplay for their previous Oscar winning partnership on “The Hurt Locker.” Of note, the two had originally been working on a film about the search for Bin Laden, centering on the December 2001 failed Tora Bora effort and in fact, were about to begin filming when news broke that he had been killed in Pakistan. They quickly redirected their focus and created a film as intense as anything you will see in the theater and completely absorbing. The 157 minute movie basically breaks into three parts, all anchored by the character of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a tough as nails CIA analyst who just won’t take no for an answer. It’s the opening portion that introduces the audience to torture and to Maya, who looks slim and frail but quickly reveals her steely self.
“Washington says she’s a killer,” says one of her new cohorts in Afghanistan. Working with a seasoned analyst named Dan (Australian Jason Clarke), Maya soon becomes a major force on the Bin Laden team. Joining her at the table is Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), another woman who has been working hard to find the needle in the haystack….and that’s what this movie really depicts so well. My favorite part is right in the middle of the film, when a ground crew uses a cell phone signal to track the courier who will eventually lead them to Bin Laden himself. As the CIA ground team drives literally in circles trying to spot someone they have never even seen, the camera pulls back to reveal the chaos of the marketplace. It’s an effective reminder of just how difficult this task was and how impressive the ultimate CIA effort was. The final part of the film is equally effective, re-enacting the raid on the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was located and killed. The Seal Team 6 guys are portrayed as focused but still human and the use of night vision green makes it all seem real. It’s hard to think of any way that this film could be better—I highly recommend it. Kudos to Bigelow and Boal—they are every bit as tough as their heroine Maya.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012/IN THEATERS) Based on a true story, this film presents the harrowing experience of one family who happened to be vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit. While the real life family is Spanish, in the film they are British and enjoying a Christmas beach holiday. The tsunami, as you may remember, hit with literally no warning on December 26th (Boxing Day) when the Thai beaches were overflowing with European tourists, many of whom died. The event is depicted in an incredibly realistic fashion…and it is truly horrifying. As the movie opens, we meet Maria (Naomi Watts) and her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor), who are flying in with their three boys: Lucas (Tom Holland), the oldest at 10 years; Thomas (Samuel Joslin), the middle child, a bit of a whiner, is 7 1/2; and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), the youngest, is 5. We see the family as they arrive at their beachfront hotel, which looks lovely and boasts a nice swimming pool. Christmas arrives, presents are opened and everything is going great until tragedy strikes—and it strikes so quickly and so devastatingly. If you’ve seen the preview, you’ll remember the wave hitting as the family is enjoying their morning in the pool. The impact is unreal…with water destroying everything in its path. When we finally see Maria again, she is holding onto a palm tree for dear life. Amazingly she sees Lucas floating by and begins to yell for him and to swim toward him. The two eventually manage to pull themselves out of the waters, though by this time, Maria has been stabbed deeply in both her leg and chest by a sharp plant and is bleeding, while both are beat up by the debris that swirled in the tsunami waters. Luckily a group of local individuals transport them to the nearest hospital—which is itself a chaotic scene of injured and lost individuals.
Meanwhile, Henry has found the two youngest boys and is desperately searching for Lucas and Maria—we feel his growing panic. The bulk of the film actually deals with the miracle of uniting all five members of this family and of the increasingly desperate condition of Maria—an incredible story and the telling of it is extremely well done. Kudos to Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) and to Sergio Sanchez, who created the screenplay which is based on Maria Belon’s story — thankfully she survived to tell her tale. Naomi Watt’s strong and realistic portrayal of Maria has been nominated for a serious trifecta: an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award. Good for her, I say, and well deserved. But my personal favorite actor in the movie is young Tom Holland (Lucas) who has already been nominated for a number of “break through” awards. Let’s watch for more from this talented young man.