Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2011!

It’s that time of year again – the Oscars are Sunday so I’ve got to make my annual predictions. If you’ve followed this blog in previous years you’ll know I’m no expert – I usually do okay with the major categories, but come up short in my picks for the smaller awards.

Still here’s what I got:

1. BEST PICTURE: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Yes, many are saying THE KING’S SPEECH will win this, having won many previous awards, and boasting the most nominations, but I am so feeling the Facebook film to go home with the gold.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: David Fincher for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Yep, likewise.

3. BEST ACTOR: Colin Firth for THE KING’S SPEECH. I’d prefer James Franco for 127 HOURS but Firth seems like a shoe-in for his stammer-perfect part as George VI.


4. BEST ACTRESS:

Natalie Portman for BLACK SWAN.

Seeing the young Portman again recently at a revival screening of THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) reminded me how far she’s come – I expect this to confirm that.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Christian Bale for THE FIGHTER.

None of the other actors nominated have that unhinged intensity that Bale brought to his role as a boxer gone to seed – or crack.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hailee Steinfeld for TRUE GRIT. Seems about time for such a young actress to win this – also seems time because Steinfeld was so good holding her own up to Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in this instant Western classic.

And the rest:

7. ART DIRECTION: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for TRUE GRIT

9. COSTUME DESIGN: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. Go Banksy!

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: KILLING IN THE NAME

12. FILM EDITING: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

13. MAKEUP: THE WOLFMAN (Rick Baker, Dave Elsey)

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: INCEPTION

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexander Desplat for THE KING’S SPEECH

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “If I Rise” (A. R. Rahman, Dido) from 127 HOURS

17. ANIMATED SHORT: THE GRUFFALO

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE CONFESSION

19. SOUND EDITING: INCEPTION

20. SOUND MIXING: INCEPTION

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: THE KING’S SPEECH

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: TOY STORY 3

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: INCEDIES

We’ll see how many I get wrong on Sunday night.

More later…

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THE FIGHTER: The Film Babble Blog Review

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale play Boston boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund in this strong drama based on true events.

Set in the early ’90s, the film begins documentary style as HBO is filming Bale for a film about his comeback. We see archival video of the real Eklund in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Wahlberg is following in his half brother’s footsteps, being trained by him for an upcoming fight. Their tough talking mother Melissa Leo manages Wahlberg and also has 7 daughters who act as a sort of trashy teased Greek chorus on the sidelines.

A very skinny Bale (well, maybe not as thin as in THE MACHINIST) is unhinged and bug-eyed, yet utterly believable and not over the top in his portrayal. He spends most of his time in a crackhouse when he should be at the gym with Wahlberg.

Wahlberg meets Amy Adams as a bartender and asks her out, but he stands her up because he’s embarrassed about losing his latest bout. She confronts him on this and almost immediately they are dating.

Wahlberg is offered a chance to be paid for training year round in Las Vegas for a chance at the title, but his loyalty to his mother and brother gets in the way.

Adams believes he should take the opportunity and this makes her unpopular with Wahlberg’s family – especially the 7 sisters who gang up on Adams, but they find that the petite redhead has a bit of the fight in her too.

Trying to hold on Wahlberg, Bale goes to the dark seedy side of addiction and creepy criminal behavior. We find out that the HBO documentary about Bale is actually about crack not his improbable comeback.

Bale lands in prison while Wahlberg signs on for new management. Wahlberg starts winning fights, but he’s aware that it’s Bale’s training that ultimately gets him there.

With it’s blue collar background and salt of the earth archetypes, THE FIGHTER doesn’t break any new ground and its narrative rambles at times, but it has solid performances and a great grasp on the genre’s well worn conventions.

In his third film with director O. Russell, Wahlberg shows off the years of work he’s put into the part and delivers some of his most layered acting. Bale may steal every scene he’s in (it’s nearly impossible to look elsewhere when he’s on the screen), but Wahlberg more than holds his own as do Adams and Leo.

The fight scenes are shot digitally so that they resemble how boxing appears on television through bright lighting and resolution lines – an effect that enhances the realism nicely.

O. Russell has had trouble when thinking outside the box in previous work (I HEART HUCKABEES was an overreaching unfunny mess), but here his indulgences are reigned in – seems here he neatly thinks inside the box (or in the ring) and it pays off.

More later…

PUBLIC ENEMIES: The Film Babble Blog Review

“John Dillinger was shot dead behind that theater (points at the Biograph Theater) in a hail of FBI gunfire. You know who tipped him off? His fuckin’ girlfriend! (shrugs) He just wanted to go to the movies.”
– Rob Gordon (John Cusack) from HIGH FIDELTY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2000)

PUBLIC ENEMIES
(Dir. Michael Mann, 2009)

At a recent revival showing of THE UNTOUCHABLES (part of a Robert De Niro double feature) the first shots showing the legs of Armani suited men storming up marble stairs made me think they accidentally started THE UNTOUCHABLES a few reels too soon. Of course, what I was actually seeing was the trailer for a new fangled ‘30’s gangster movie with Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as his FBI chief pursuer. On first glance it looked remarkably like Brian De Palma’s Capone era classic. Upon closer inspection, well, the looks linger but this tale is told from the bad guys point of view.

“I’m John Dillinger. I rob banks.” Depp smoothly parlays his M.O. to a new romantic prospect – a coat check girl played by Marion Cotillard (fresh from her Oscar winning turn as Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE). “Why did you tell me that?” She asks, intrigued, but she’ll soon learn that Depp’s Dillinger is forthright about everything. Despite being a bank robber on the run from the feds with his picture in the papers and 30 feet high in the newsreels, he comes off as a ‘man about town’, always on the make with the movie star glow that Depp couldn’t shake off if he tried. So why is he so hard to catch? The only argument the film seems to offer is that it’s because he is just as elusively slippery as a Warner Brothers cartoon character from the same period. When he is caught it is not for long as we are witness to more than one prison breakout sequence.

Over a decade ago, Mann made one of the definitive epic crime dramas – HEAT, but this sadly can’t hold a candle to that masterpiece. While HEAT bristled with tension, PUBLIC ENEMIES goes through the motions with gunfights lacking in electricity and multiple dialogue driven scenes that just sit there. Depp is confident and slick, Bale is determined and humorless; yet beyond that there’s not much to their personas.

Bale is one of the most engaging actors working today but since BATMAN BEGINS it seems like he’s being inserted right and left into potential blockbusters like some kind of celebrity product placement; he’s a cowboy, a Vietnam soldier, he’s Dylan, he’s the new John Connor, he was even almost President George W. Bush in W.! Bale’s character is solid, as is Depp’s, but there are no surprises present in their sparring standoffs.

Still, PUBLIC ENEMIES is a sturdy well made movie with a number of striking set-pieces, so this isn’t a complete pan. A major saving grace is its great supporting cast including Billy Crudup (almost unrecognizable as J. Edgar Hoover), Stephen Dorff, James Russo, Lili Taylor, and Channing Tatum as Baby Face Nelson. That there’s no fault from any member of the supporting players shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Also there are a few definite sparks between Coittard and Depp which helps since it’s a fairly unfleshed out romance.

Like Capone’s fate in THE UNTOUCHABLES, and for that matter many other movies based on true crime, we know how this will end for Dillinger but at 2 hours and 20 minutes this takes its sweet time getting there. However, once you get to the climax it’s the most stirring part of the film. As Cusack noted in the quote at the top of this review, Dillinger was killed after taking in a movie at the historic Biograph Theater. Mann deftly illustrates, in the only section in which the glacial pace works, the odd peace Dillinger carried himself with. We see shots from the last film he saw – MANHATTAN MELODRAMA with images of Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy pouring off the screen. In the shadows deals are being made and fates are being sealed, but as Depp and the audience, both on screen and off, are being bathed in the white light coming from the projector, art and life are sitting comfortably side by side taking a break from mocking one another. It won’t last long though…

More later…

The Pre-Summer Season Soldiers On With TERMINATOR SALVATION

TERMINATOR SALVATION (Dir. McG, 2009)

Warning: This review contains Spoilers!


You want to know how to begin what proposes to be an “event” motion picture? You first see the edges of ginormous letters that form the film’s title shrouded in black or standing in space (or both). They are either shining metallic silver or beaming black like they are made out of the same alien substance as the monolith from 2001. They are so huge they at first can not be contained by the silver screen. They look as if as if they will collide but they glide into place as we pull back to see them in their entirety. They, with the booming bass section on the score, announce that this is a big blaring blast of a movie that demands your attention up front. That’s how you begin an “event” motion picture and that, like every other piece of the franchise blockbuster formula,
TERMINATOR SALVATION makes good on.


As the fourth entry in THE TERMINATOR series,
SALVATION doesn’t intend to surprise or re-write any former history, it just intends to be a solid entertaining action film and on that level it succeeds enormously. It opens in 2003 with an odd appearance by Helena Bonham Carter as a doctor representative for a large corporation trying to persuade a death row inmate (Sam Worthington) to donate his body to what, of course, is an ominous project. From there we jump forward 15 years (surprisingly that’s the only time jumping we do – the rest is set in 2018) with Christian Bale as the intensely determined John Connor leading the resistance in the massive war against the machines across the definitively apocalyptic terrain. There’s no reason to recount any more of the plot – it’s a series of bombastic set pieces with tons of physical violence, devastating destruction, and ginormous explosion after explosion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As one of the most capable actors working today, Bale is as ferocious in the iconic part (he’s the fourth actor to take on John Connor) as he was in his infamous on-set rant. Worthington, possibly the real protagonist of the piece, is stoical and restrained with the right tone as he jumps from cyborg fight to cyborg fight. Many genuinely scary (or at least extremely jarring) moments abound with no wasted scenes or unfocused direction. The former TERMINATOR movies are referenced in a non-offensive manner – Linda Hamilton’s picture and voice on the tapes that Bale reviews for clues, the now set in cinematic stone “I’ll be back” line, and (I warned you about Spoilers!) the face of Arnold Swartzeneger via CGI on one of the Terminators in factory production.

Is this movie, which counts as both a sequel and a prequel (but then what franchise entry doesn’t these days?), really necessary? Well, my first thought is no. James Cameron’s first 2 TERMINATOR movies really had all these themes and the patented style of relentless action covered. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES seemed like just an excuse for one more go around before “Ah-nold” took command of California, and I don’t even know how the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fits in to all of this. However, perhaps there is a need for a finely tuned franchise like this to keep going. As dark and desperate as it gets, we know the humans will survive against the machines and we like to see that over and over on the big screen with the best effects possible, booming sound, and folks of all ages gasping around us. Most likely I’ll be back for that next time too.

More later…

THE DARK KNIGHT – The Film Babble Blog Review

THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)

As the best of the movie franchise re-boots over the last decade, BATMAN BEGINS differentiated itself from the rest of the pack by taking the whole Batman thing so damn seriously. It was gritty yet precise and had a roster of amazing actors (well except for Katie Holmes) who brought a gravitas to a comic book legend which made it into glorious epic cinema. The long awaited follow-up, made even more anticipated by the untimely death of Heath Ledger, is even grander with an operatic majesty that even the best superhero movies have never even gotten close to attempting. Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and with the sharp focus of a heat-seeking missile proves himself, yet again as one of the most solid actors working today. Also returning is the laconically witty Michael Caine as butler Alfred, a haggardly effective Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Luscious Fox who provides Batman with a new line of crime-fighting toys. It has been called an upgrade for Katie Holmes to be replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaall in the role of Rachel Dawes and I definitely agree. Aaron Eckhart is also a new addition as Harvey Dent, a noble D.A. that Batman believes is the real saviour of Gotham City despite that he’s dating the caped crusader’s true love (Gyllenhaal).

As suspected, and fortold by nearly everybody on the internets, Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker and appears to have a had a great time with the part. Ledger has a frenetic energy and unique tone to his version of the classic character that takes over every scene he’s in; sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny in a sick twisted way, but always intense and compelling completely justifying the “too soon” talk of a posthumous Oscar. I’ll avoid any further story description; there are so many powerful surprising plot-points that it would be a shame to spoil but the action sequences are all top notch and despite its length it never lags. To label or consider this film just a superhero movie seems an incredible injustice for it’s more aptly a crime epic that definitely is in the league of Martin Scorsese’s and Michael Mann’s forays into that territory. One of the most satisfying and electrifying movies of the year if not the decade, THE DARK KNIGHT doesn’t just live up to its hype – it blows it away again and again.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2007

I’ve hesitated making a list of the best of what has been an exceptionally good year because there are still many potential candidates that I haven’t seen yet – THE SAVAGES, GONE BABY GONE, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES…, PERSOPOLIS, and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY among them. I should be able to see those all fairly soon but then, come on, there will always be 2007 films that I haven’t seen out there. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Brothers frighteningly faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel is undoubtedly an immediate classic. I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions but there’s no way this goes home with nothing from the pathetic press conference that the Academy Awards ceremony is threatening to be. With incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins and great performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and especially as evil incarnate – Javier Bardem. Read my original review here.

2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

An uncharacteristic film for PTA and another based on a literary work (Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”) this is a mesmerizing masterpiece with a showstopping performance by Daniel Day Lewis as an evil Oil baron. That this and the Coen Bros. are meeting in the same desert area where both films were shot (the West Texas town of Marfa) for a Best Picture Oscar showdown makes it sadder that for this competition there may be no show. My original review here.

3. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes)

It was wonderful that Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe and got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Jude Quinn – one of 6 personifications of Bob Dylan (the others being Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin), because she was the one that really nailed it. Roger Ebert wrote that Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was “possibly the year’s most divisive film” but I think this divided movie goers to a greater extreme. I heard some of the most angered comments I’ve ever heard about a movie in my theater’s lobby and there were many screenings that had multiple walk-outs. To me though these folk were crazy with the same moronic heckling mentality of those who booed when Bob went electric back in ’65-’66. This is a movie as far ahead of its time as its subject: the Fellini, Godard, Altman, Pekinpah, and Pennebaker visual riffing throughout will take decades to fully absorb as well the context of the classic music presented – cue “Positively 4th Street”. Read more in my original review here.

4. ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher)

An unjustly overlooked new-fangled stylized, though with old-school ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN tactics, serial killer period piece procedural – which I know makes it sound either too scary or too boring (or both), but damnit this is a knock-out of a movie. Fincher utilizes every bit of info available about the original late 60’s to 70’s case about the Zodiac killer through his baffling coded killings to the sporadic nature of his possible identity, through the incompetent technology of the time and the mislaid evidence because of separate investigations. So fascinating, it will take a few more viewings to fully appreciate how fascinating it is – and I haven’t even seen the Director’s Cut! With passionate performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr., Chloë Sevigny and Mark Ruffalo. Read my original review here.

5. 3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold)

In this remake of the 1957 film based on the Elmore Leonard short story set in the 1880’s, Christian Bale is a down on his luck handicapped farmer who takes on the job of transporting evil yet poetic outlaw Russell Crowe across dangerous terrain to the scheduled train of the title. An amazing sense of pacing plus the ace performances of the principals help this transcend the “revitalizing the Western” brand it’s been stupidly stamped with. A stately yet grandly entertaining movie with an extremely satisfying ending. Read my original review here.

6. AWAY FROM HER (Dir. Sarah Polly)

Julie Christie is going to be hard to beat for Best Actress this year because her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s is as heartbreaking as it gets. Gordon Pinsent is understated and affecting as her estranged husband – lost to her mentally and helpless as she is institutionalized. He’s sadly confined to the sidelines as she falls in love with a fellow patient played by Michael Murphy. My review (based on the DVD) is here.

7. RATATOUILLE (Dir. Brad Byrd)

Flawless animation enhanced by an ace script with embellishment by star Patton Oswalt (he voices the rat) makes this story about a Parisian rodent that happens to be a master chef as tasty a dish as one could salivate for in the proud Pixar present. My original review – of course it’s right here.

8. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (Dir. Sydney Lumet)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers who plot to rob the jewelry store owned by their parents. Tragedy ensues – some hilarity too but it’s of the cringe-variety. Read my review here.

9. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman)

Some may think that it’s funny that in this year of worthy candidates that my choice of this big screen version of one of the 20 year old TV cartoon family’s adventures, but as Homer says “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!” This is definitely here because of personal bias but isn’t that what these lists are all about? Original review – here.

10. MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy)

A surprisingly non glossy legal thriller with a downbeat but nuanced George Clooney. Didn’t really pack ’em in but got respectable business and critical notices. Despite enjoying and obviously thinking it’s one of the year’s best, I was surprised it got a Best Picture Nomination – I really thought INTO THE WILD would get it. Since this is the superior picture I’m happy to be wrong. Also nice to see Tom Wilkinson getting a nomination for his intense turn as Clooney’s deranged but righteous key witness. My review? Oh yeah, it’s here.

Spillover:

The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title (except for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE which links to its IMDb entry) for my original review.

NO END IN SIGHT (Dir. Charles Ferguson)
HOT FUZZ
(Dir. Edgar Wright)
ATONEMENT
(Dir. Joe Wright)
BREACH
(Dir. Billy Ray)
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
(Dir. Julie Taymor)
SiCKO
(Dir. Michael Moore)
THE HOAX
(Dir. Lasse Hallström)
2 DAYS IN PARIS
(Dir. Julie Delphy)
AMERICAN GANGSTER
(Dir. Ridley Scott)
SUPERBAD
(Dir. Greg Mattola)

So that’s it for now – I may revise this at some point but I’m thinking it would be better to let it stand.
This post is dedicated to Heath Ledger (April 4th, 1979 – January 22nd, 2008). He, of course, was one of the Bobs (pictured above) in my #3 Film of the year and I enjoyed his performances in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and MONSTER’S BALL (those are the only ones of his I’ve seen so far). As I write this many pundits on cable are pontificating on the cause of his death exaggerating every tiny detail of what should be his private life. I prefer to just look at the work he left behind. His role as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel THE DARK KNIGHT is surely going to be the most anticipated role of 2008.

R.I.P.

More later…

Just Some More New Release DVDs – No Big Whoop

Yep, some more recent DVD viewings are now blog-worthy:

RESCUE DAWN (Dir. Werner Herzog, 2006)

“Inspired by true events in the life of Dieter Dengler” so says the credits at the beginning. After some basic-training back story, this film wastes no time – on his first tour of duty in 1966 Vietam Dengler’s (the yet again reliable Christian Bale) shot down over Laos within the first 10 minutes; 15 minutes in he is captured by the enemy. He refuses to sign a war criminal document and is dragged, literally, to a Viet Cong camp to be held captive. That’s what the bulk of this story is about – his and a few other fellow inmates (including the dead on and almost dead looking Steven Zahn and Jeremy Davies) tortuous imprisonment where there thoughts of escape are discouraged as futile from every angle. Dengler doesn’t think so and plots to overcome all obstacles. Obviously this story wouldn’t be told if he didn’t do just that – so no accusations of spoilers please. With its gripping storyline and clarity of vision RESCUE DAWN has a lot going for it but is bogged down with unconvincing dialogue and Herzog’s choice of fast fades that make this choppy where it should be fluid. “The quick have their sleepwalkers, and so do the dead” Bale says early on in his captivity and it falls flat – really not provoking much of a reaction. Perhaps because this film seems to sleepwalk all too quickly into oblivion.

HAIRSPRAY (Dir. Adam Shankman, 2007)

It would be hard to dump on this one. Though I have friends who are big fans of the original John Waters 1988 movie and its soundtrack, then the 2002 Tony winning Broadway musical adaptation and its cast recording, I didn’t understand why a new film version (with its soundtrack) was necessary – I mean wasn’t this pretty much covered? But this movie is so damn cheery – earnest and smiling right at you without a cynical frame on any of its reels that questioning or dismissing it makes one feel like a Blue Meanie. The most enjoyable of the cast is Nikki Blonsky (who fits into Rikki Lake’s shoes perfectly) as Tracy Turnblad. Blonsky is a triple threat who she out-sings, out-dances, and yes, out-acts everybody here. As the perky beyond belief Tracy she causes a stir on a local Baltimore American Bandstand type show in 1962 when she exclaims that “everyday should be Negro day” (the show only had one day a month that black kids were allowed to dance on the air). With her angsty-acting friends (Zac Efron, Ellijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes) behind her, they plot to take over the program to sing the praises of progress and integration.

The supposed trump card here is – taking over the part from the legendary Divine – John Travolta in drag (including a fairly realistic looking fat-suit) but he and husband Christopher Walken as Tracy’s parents never rise above the level of SNL sketch caricatures. Travolta, who looks ridiculous and has an awful weirdly accented voice, is never believable as a woman but his shenanigans somehow breeze by. Queen Latifah fares better with some of the most sincere soulful singing here on some of the best songs though like the movie itself most of the set-piece musical numbers go on too long. In a movie where just about every older face is familiar (Michelle Phieffer as the villainous TV producer, and in incidental roles – Paul Dooley, Jerry Stiller and Allison Janey) it’s really the youngsters show – especially Blonsky and Kelley. If you love musical romps you’ll love it. Me, I have a mild aversion to romps but I have to admit that HAIRSPRAY is adequately amusing.

CIVIC DUTY (Dir. Jeff Renfroe, 2006)

Peter Krause, best known for playing Nate on Six Feet Under (HBO 2000-2005), is a downsized accountant who thinks a new neighbor (Khaled Abol Naga), whom he refers to as “that Muslim guy”, is a terrorist plotting destruction from his tiny apartment. Effectively crisp and creepy first half but the second half desolves into a worn out scenario – i.e. a hostage situation. Krause is a lot like his former character Nate – only more of an asshole; likewise Richard Schiff as a unsympathetic FBI agent is playing only a slight variation on his cynical Toby Ziegler part from The West Wing. What could have been a sharp cinematic study of post 9/11 paranoia is just another regular guy goes crazy and alienates all of society plot. I’m sure somebody has said this before but I liked this movie better the first time – when it was called ARLINGTON ROAD.

Now, this is more of my kind of romp:

HELP! (Dir. Richard Lester, 1965)

Superintendent (Patrick Cargill): “So this is the famous Beatles?”
John (John Lennon): “So this is the famous Scotland Yard, ay?”
Superintendent: “How long do you think you’ll last?”
John: “Can’t say fairer than that. Great Train Robbery, ay? How’s that going?”

A seminal film I saw many times in my youth reissued yet again – this time in a 2 disc DVD edition in fancier packaging than before * and it’s nice to have. Though the extras are inessential – the 30 min. documentary is fine but who’s going to watch a featurette about the film’s restoration process more than once? The movie does look better than I’ve ever seen it – sharper with much more vivid color. Colour (British spelling) was pretty much its only original gimmick – The Beatles now in full colour! Their first feature, black and white of course, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is widely regarded as a classic, one of the best rock ‘n roll movies ever, blah blah blah while HELP! has been almost lovingly dismissed. I’ll say this – A HARD DAY’S NIGHT may be the better film but HELP! is a lot more fun. It captures the group right before they discarded their cuddly mop-top image and became another entity all together and it makes a strong case for their oft overlooked mid-period music as well.

* It is available also in a collector’s edition with book of the screenplay, lobby card reproductions, and a poster that all retails at $134.99!

The plot? Oh yeah, some ancient mystic religion hunts down laconic but wacky drummer Ringo Starr and his mates because he happens to be wearing their sacrificial ring. They hunt him across the globe with locations in Austria and the Bahamas (simply because the Beatles wanted to go there so it was written in). Along the way they play (or more accurately lipsynch to) a bevy of great songs – the title track, the Dylan influenced “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, “Ticket To Ride”, and George Harrison’s unjustly underrated “I Need You” among them.

Watching it again I remembered why I loved it so much as a kid – it displayed a fantasy version of the Beatles’ lives in which they all lived together in a groovy connected townhouse flat that had grass as carpet in one section and a neat bed compartment sunken floor that John slept in, it has moments of comic surrealism like when Paul McCartney is shrunken to cigarette size (“The Adventures Of Paul On The Floor” the subtitle calls it), and has a silly James Bond spoofing plot that doesn’t matter at all. If you haven’t seen HELP! it’s one to put in your Netflix queue or on your Amazon wish list – if you have seen it before you should really re-discover it now because of how splendid this new remaster looks and how funny it still is. Or you could wait a few years ’til the next reissue or whatever the new format’s version of it will be.

Post Note: Another bonus that this new DVD set has is an essay in its booklet by Martin Scorsese. He writes “Everyone was experimenting around this time. Antonioni with BLOWUP, Truffaut with FAHRENHEIT 451, Fellini and Godard with every movie – and HELP! was just as exciting.” I would’ve never thought to put Richard Lester’s work on HELP! in that class but if Marty says it is – it is.

More later…

Dylan Mythology Dissected Magnificently

“It has chaos, clocks, watermelons…you know what I’m sayin’…it’s everything.”
– Jude (CATE BLANCHETT)

I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) It’s funny that the upcoming WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (the Judd Apatow written and produced comic mock epic with John C. Reilly as the lead) proposes to set fire to the tried and true clichés of modern music bio-pics because after the exciting experimental experience that is I’M NOT THERE those worn methods are already ashes. As most reading this know well by now Bob Dylan is portrayed by 6 different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) who embody the man in different distinct eras and incarnations. Each has a different name, a different attitude, and of course, a different aesthetic. It may seem weird or even a bit pretentious in concept to cast a young black kid as a box-car hopping tall-tale telling pre-fame Dylan or an Australian Academy Award winning woman to play his Bobness at the height of his amphetamine-fueled rock star glory but the way it’s played out here is mindboggling in its magnificence.

The finger-pointing protesting period provides the always up to the task Christian Bale with the Bob with most conscience through separate eras one – political and one intensely religious. Gere’s Billy The Kid hiding from society persona seems to be the Dylan who is the most free – or at least pretending to be. Seemingly drawn from a tapestry woven from words spoken in every Dylan interview, every song in Dylan’s catalogue being official or bootleg, and every single photograph or footage of the real man, some of the most affecting moments are the quietest. When Gere’s Billy-variation-on-Bob surveys the vast unpopulated wilderness beneath him from a high mountain trail a notion of what Greil Marcus called the “Invisible Republic” can be sensed. That however is the musing of a Dylanologist like myself – someone who can’t quote Bob chapter and verse may find that and other sequences slow and hard to decipher. Man, I pity those people.

Cate Blanchet as Jude has the most amusing and electric (yep, I went there) material and her presence in the black and white as-if-filmed-by-Fellini mid-60’s montages never falters. As many have remarked she may look and act the most like Dylan – at that particular time that is. She has obviously studied DON’T LOOK BACK so she has every mannerism perfected -right down to the handling of a cigarette and the frantic on-stage flailing of arms. Blanchett’s Jude is the most hostile and cornered of all the Dylans. If you’ve seen NO DIRECTION HOME or have at least heard the leering lyrical equivalent to acid being thrown into a former lover’s face ditty “Positively 4th Street” – you may have an inkling why.Ben Whishaw as Arthur is the Bob with the least impact and screen-time. He simply recites carefully chosen media-taunting cryptic one liners from the public record. While the quotes are good – he’s my vote for the weakest link here. Ledger’s section (or sections as the structure gets broken up quite frequently) in which he plays an actor playing Bob (or actually Jack – Christian Bale’s character) has a lot of merit with its discomforting domestic bliss breakdown and break-up intertwined with a Vietnam war time-frame but it’s not as well visualized and vital as Blanchett’s or even Gere’s portions. Marcus Carl Franklin’s bits are achingly sweet and for the youngest player here – his assured poise transcends any thought of gimmick casting. Other than the Dylans, the supporting cast is splendid – David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, Julianne Moore wonderfully mimics Joan Baez, and Bruce Greenword beautifully personifies the over-educated but still clueless interviewer / interrogator Mr. Jones from Dylan’s classic “Ballad Of A Thin Man”.

Filled with mostly Bob originals and a number of great sharp covers, the soundtrack * is spectacular but that’s far from surprising. What is surprising is how this perverse take on the bio-pic formula works so damn well and how hypnotic its effect is. One shouldn’t go see it to make sense of the myths or to put into any concrete cinematic context the life of Bob Dylan (director/writer Todd Haynes knew going in that that’s impossible) but if one views it like a piece of modern art – where you have to squint to make certain parts focus and you have to open your eyes wide to see how distorted the details really are – they are certain to get more than just mere glimpses at greatness.

* As I suspected the bulk of the covers that make up the 2 disc so-called soundtrack (previously reviewed – Film Babble Blog 11/10/07 I’M NOT THERE Soundtrack Is Where It’s At) are not featured in the movie. The amount of original Dylan recordings used could make up a nice alternate/actually accurate soundtrack – hey, now there’s an idea for a great CDR comp!

More later…

Westerns, Lovers In Paris And Media Circuses Are Doing Fine Thank You

“I feel like Dorothy – everything just turned to color.”
– Don Draper (Jon Hamm) Mad Men (AMC Original Series 2007)

Got some recent moviegoing to babble ’bout so let’s get at it :

3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold, 2007) I don’t want to spend much of this review addressing the state of the modern Western – I’ll just say that it’s a genre that will never die (see Deadwood and the upcoming THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES). Those prematurely eulogizing it are discounting the allure of that period of history – tales with a backdrop of a lawless land that stretches to infinity will always be told. The tale told in James Mangold’s (WALK THE LINE) 3:10 TO YUMA is told very well – especially for a remake. I haven’t seen the original so I can’t compare but reasonably I am very skeptical about remakes so I was pleasantly surprised at how strong a movie this was. Christian Bale plays a down on his luck rancher who takes on the daunting task of transporting a villainous fast drawing outlaw (Russell Crowe) across country. The film’s title is their destination – a scheduled train with a prison car that will supposedly take Crowe to be tried and hung.

Obstacles aplenty surround Bale and his posse (including a wonderfully grizzled Peter Fonda) – Crowe’s murderous gang close behind set on freeing him, dangerous Indian territory, and the conniving overly confident Crowe himself. As Ben Wade –you’ll know him from the trail of the dead – Crowe does a career best performance. He perfects the kind of evil man who laughs through bloody teeth when being punched in the face, quotes ominous Bible passages, and never flickers for an instant in any hostile predicament. As an actor though he’s surely met his match with Christian Bale. Adding another sharp intense performance to an incredibly impressive roster, Bale really shines and should be rewarded come Oscar time. Far more than a genre exercise or a modernized re-imagining – 3:10 TO YUMA is one of the best films of the year. So forget about all the “death of the Western” diatribes and just savor the scenery.

2 DAYS IN PARIS (Dir. Julie Delphy, 2007) Looks at a distance like another BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET love story travelogue but a closer look reveals that Delphy’s directorial debut is fairly removed from those chatfests. Of course there is considerable Richard Linklater influence in the dialogue and use of tracking shots but there is an offbeat dynamic that is all Delphy. The premise is simple – a couple (Delphy, Adam Goldberg) spend a few days in the city of love during what appears to be a rough patch in their 2 year old relationship. She’s a photographer; he’s an interior decorator though during this trip he’s the one taking pictures – a lot of pictures. They seem to run into a former lover of Delphy’s at every turn which makes the already extremely neurotic Goldberg’s heavily tatooed skin crawl. Goldberg’s Woody Allenesque asides provide the humor throughout especially in one of the best scenes – a dinner with Delphy’s real-life parents (Albert Delphy & Marie Pillet). Some funny affecting moments but maybe would’ve worked better as a short film – even at 96 minutes it feels a bit drawn out. Better yet – condense the best moments from 2 DAYS IN PARIS into a montage and it would’ve made a kick ass segment of PARIS JE T’AIME! Nah, I’m just blogging out of my ass – Delphy’s film may be only fair but as a first time effort it’s on the good end of fair.

FILM BABBLE DVD PICK OF THE MONTH
ACE IN THE HOLE * (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1951) It’s amazing that Wilder’s follow-up to the inarguable classic SUNSET BLVD. has been missing in action (never available on home video until now) and undocumented for so many years. I’ve picked up movie guides from the last decade that didn’t have a listing for it (not even in Wilder’s filmography!) and when I’ve mentioned it to my other film buff friends it got no recognition. Well, this spiffy new Criterion collection edition should change all that. Kirk Douglas stars as a wild-eyed hard drinking newspaper man who arrives in Albuquerque, New Mexico to revive his troubled career. Stopping at a trading post on the way to a rattlesnake hunt he hears of a man (Paul Benedict) trapped in a mine because of a cave collapse. He milks the story for all its worth even delaying the man’s rescue and it becomes the definition – possibly where the phrase came from – of a media circus. With Douglas at his most intensely vicious and Wilder’s gloriously cynical but insightful script – it’s so nice that this film comes back to bite us on the ass and show us how little has changed. After watching it I turned off the DVD player to see pundit after pundit espouse about the latest O.J. caper on cable. Hard to look at that pointless blather the same way again after seeing ACE IN THE HOLE. You can’t get a higher film babble recommendation than this.

* After its original poorly received release the film was re-titled THE BIG CARNIVAL and re-released. Apparently this didn’t help – the film was still deemed too dark and it failed to gain an audience. Until now…

More later…

A Slew Of Reviews…

“I don’t really care for movies; they make everything seem so close up. “
– Macon Leary THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1988)

Well Summer is officially here and it looks like its going to be an especially lame movie season – I mean except for SNAKES ON A PLANE, right? Don’t get me wrong – I’m gonna give SUPERMAN RETURNS a chance and I’m pysched like crazy about A SCANNER DARKLY but otherwise we’re wading in crap like MIAMI VICE, pointless sequels like FAST AND THE FURIOUS : TOYKO DRIFT and CLERKS II (why is Kevin Smith going back to that particular well now?!!?) – I mean last summer I thought we all learned something from fiascos like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and BEWITCHED. Aren’t you glad I linked all those titles to their IMDB webpage in case you didn’t know what movie I was talking about?

My little local hometown theater the Varsity and its sister theater the Chelsea now has a webpage :

http://www.chelseavarsity.com/

I work there part time mainly for the free movies and of course am happiest when we have movies playing that I like. Now playing at the Varsity are 2 movies I like :

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
(Dir. Davis Guggenheim) Al Gore’s well honed powerpoint global warming lecture spiffed up a bit with dazzling graphics and swift editing has amazingly become a sure-fire summer hit and a definite must see on the big screen. It is compelling and completely convincing material even living up to the movie poster’s tag-line “by far the most terrifying film you will ever see”. Funnily enough on the same poster the movie’s rating PG-13 is given for “mild thematic elements”. The only thing that sucks about this movie is the God awful Melissa Etheridge song that plays over the end credits.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (Dir. Robert Altman) Garrison Keillor’s long running old timey radio show is embroidered with Altman (MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, SHORT CUTS , THE PLAYER, GOSFORD PARK, countless other masterpieces) trademarks – an always moving camera even in simple close-up shots and everybody talking at once – that’s right overlapping dialogue city! Good performances by the likes of Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Maya Rudolph, etc. all make up for the blank spot on the screen that is Lindsay Lohan’s appearance. I never listened to the Lake Wobegon deal on the radio and was very cynical going in but this somehow worked for me.

Now some DVDS I’ve seen lately :

THE NEW WORLD
(Dir. Terrence Mallick) Mallick is a film director legend despite having only made like 4 or 5 pictures in like 40 years. This re-telling (or more accurately re-imagining) of the Pocahontas/John Smith romance circa 1607 is beautifully shot. Mallick’s camera appears to be in love with Q’Orianka Kilcher (never named outloud in the movie as Pocahontas) whose sunbathed dances make for some mighty fine visuals. As for the men in her life – Colin Ferell does his arrogant angst thing while Christian Bale puts in a nice accepting guy appeal in the third act. Looking on the message boards on the IMDb I’m aware that many many people hate this film – comments like “This film was also terribly edited, bizarrely cast, and just generally pathetic. People say they like this film in a simple attempt to feel elite.” Man! I think it is worthwhile to see. The fight scene when the Powhatan attack Jamestown has a greater realism and artfullness to it than similiar multi-party fight scenes in Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK and Oliver Stone’s Colin Ferell atrocity ALEXANDER. And it doesn’t make me feel elite to say so.

TRANSAMERICA (Dir. Duncan Tucker) A transexual road comedy! Move over Crosby and Hope! Sorry – this is earnest acted and presented just a bit too conventional for my tastes. Felicity Huffman moves respectedly away from TV work (Desperate Housewives, Frasier, West Wing, etc.) to give a finely tuned portrayal of a pre-operative transsexual who finds out he/she fathered a son (Kevin Zegers). If only this wasn’t drenched in will-they-bond /won’t-they road movie cliches – one can see the ending coming less than a third in.

“When God gives you AIDS – and God does give you AIDS, by the way – make lemonAIDS.”
– Sarah Silverman

SARAH SILVERMAN : JESUS IS MAGIC (Dir. Liam Lynch) After toiling on the sidelines the last decade (appearances on Seinfeld, SNL, Mr. Show, and notably unfunny unrepresentive movie appearances like SCHOOL OF ROCK) Sarah Silverman makes good on stealing the ARISTOCRATS from everyone in comedy to be the star attraction in this part stand-up / part musical sketch film. I really wished they stayed with the straight-on stand up performance. The other bits – unfortunately including a cringing Bob Odenkirk as manager bit – don’t work and disrupt and distract from the many funny lines like :

“The best time to have a baby is when you’re a black teenager.”

and

“I love you more than my after show monster bong hit”

That’s right – shes far from PC. Reminds me of Letterman years ago repeatedly saying “know my theory on Madonna? She loves to shock.” Silverman’s take on done-to-death stereotypes is almost too obvious at times – I mean singing a plucky “you’re gonna die soon” song to a room full of old people, come on! – but still very funny.

More later…

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