Monday, June 28, 2010

High Fidelity: Top 5 Ways We Grew Up

There are several reasons why High Fidelity is still good. Some books and movies I idolized in my teens I can't stand to sit through now because I'm embarrassed by the naive, clumsy adoration I had for things that made me think about being an adult back then. Kind of like when you'd borrow the bestselling novel your mom was reading and it had non-romance novel sex in it and you were all, I can take it, I get it. And remembering that makes you want to time travel and give your young self a dope slap. You knew nothing then! Now you know how much you don't know! Okay, I've said too much.

Top 5 reasons High Fidelity is good.

1) I will say this now, without holding back, without checking IMDB: This was the last good movie John Cusack made. Try watching this movie now and think to yourself, this man went on to star in 2012. It boggles the mind. This was the John Cusack we children of the 90s know and love. We were too young to have seen his 80s movies until way after the fact. We love him in Grosse Point Blank, Being John Malkovich. Remember that? Then he made High Fidelity, a Stephen Frears-directed movie that Cusack also produced. So we know he has the wattage for greatness. And yet, 2012. Ouch.

2) Jack Black. I'm laughing out loud the second I see his face.

3) Now that I'm closer to the age that these characters are supposed to be, this movie is that much more bittersweet. The relationship stuff hurts a little bit more. The skill of the writer's sketch of young male idiocy and vanity is that much more apparent. I recognize more of the songs.

4) Joan Cusack is rock solid. I think she made a TV pilot recently that didn't catch on and knowing that just makes you want to throttle the studio execs that didn't get it.

5) I've had these kinds of feelings post-movie since I was a little kid, and it's always the sign of a good one: after you finish watching it and the credits role, the world looks a little like that movie for about a half hour. You feel like the main character inhabits you, at least until bedtime. The next day you're back to normal, but it sits with you a spell. High praise for what was essentially a pop culture rip off of a bestselling Englishman's book? Whatever. It's good.

Just checked IMDB. Yep, it was his last good movie. He went from 2012 to Hot Tub Time Machine. Poor guy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wild Strawberries: Live for Today

As a dyed-in-the-wool filmgeek, writing about a movie that's actually good -- or transcends goodness into great -- is intimidating. I don't want to sound too swept up in corny adulation, but I also don't want to get all boring and cerebral...anyway, while I mull over my angst, go sign in on Netflix and watch Wild Strawberries.

Ingmar Bergman is not lauded as a master of his medium for no reason. The serious players don't make little love stories or buddy comedies -- although they might dabble in those things for a scene or two -- but their films generally ask the big questions: What is my purpose in this life? Why do I fear death? What is the source of man's cruelty to other men? What would have happened if I chose another path in life?

These are the things we generally don't like to think about day to day, but we do end up thinking about them and get all introspective and funked up. Or is that just me?

Anyway, the reason movies that look at these topics with any clarity resonate with us is because we see ourselves in the protagonists and we feel less alone in this mysterious world. Someone else out there is a total weirdo worried about death just like you.

I've seen plenty of things reference seeing a Swedish art film as the joke about bad first dates or stoned hippies with nothing better to do. But Wild Strawberries was totally engaging, and not just because of my deep nerdery! I had to hit pause at one point when I realized a scene depicting two characters talking during a car ride had gone on for about five minutes and I was still totally engaged and interested in what they were saying. I exclaimed to the BF, "now, this is dialogue!"

The first Bergman movie I ever saw was his take on a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which I think my dad had taped off PBS when I was a kid. It really tripped me out -- that's partly just due to the wacky story of the opera -- but it had some essential Bergman elements that show up in his other movies: beautiful female leads who can turn foreboding in an instant, a sweet young couple in love, an element of fairytales and childlike wonder and the study of dreams and what they reveal about life, death and love.

In Wild Strawberries, a lonely old man who has served his community as a doctor and professor all his life realizes that his cold attitude toward his loved ones and insistence on the moral high ground has distanced him from his own family and his chance at happiness. As he interacts with a cast of good and noble characters as well as a few bad ones, he begins to change his outlook and realize the error of his ways. His dreams show him the truth and disturb his tightly held convictions.

During a day leading up to a ceremony in which he will be awarded an honorary doctorate, he recalls bittersweet memories of his childhood summers spent at a lakeside house in the forest. He remembers lost love and heartbreak. He visits his 96-year-old mother. He talks with his daughter-in-law about family and love. The two of them pick up three young hitchhikers headed to Italy.

Bergman's movies are typically fables in the style of medieval passion plays disguised as modern tales about Swedish family life. As in Fanny and Alexander (*love*), aunts, uncles and cousin spill out of every corner in Strawberries. As in many Bergman movies, sound is sparsely used, and includes wind and thunder sounds. Sidenote: more movies should capitalize on subtle thunder sounds.

Man's interaction with nature is a highlight. There's cruelty, sexual desire, regret, hope and ultimately, redemption. So satisfying. Are you watching it yet?? Go watch it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Incoming: RED

This looks fun. I've always liked Bruce Willis. And Helen Mirren with automatic weapons? Hell yes! John Malkovich in a catapult? Well, just see for yourself:

And isn't it funny how cute it is when something is so obviously marketed to appeal to Baby Boomers? I mean, the LSD joke and retirees as action heroes... it's cute.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Everyone Says I Love You: Not

"I never read any books when I was younger, never had intellectual interests, flunked out of college in my freshman year with low marks. To this day, I much prefer watching a basketball game or baseball game to reading. I don't have any profound thoughts on anything." — Woody Allen.

Well, you can say that again, Woody.

Woody Allen has been making the same movie for 20 years. I think it all comes from an obsession with blondes and if he could just get over it, he'd move on to a better topic.

I remember when Everyone Says I Love You came out and the world was all abuzz with how Woody Allen had made a musical with actors who couldn't sing and it was lame. I also remember my parents renting it and I must have sneaked out of my bedroom to listen to part of it because the part about "blowing between her shoulder blades" has been locked in my head since then.

Can we just say that the idea of Woody Allen wooing Julia Roberts is gross? I mean, that's what Woody Allen has been all about -- shagging Sharon Stone, ogling Scarlett Johannson, drooling over whatever actress he decides to fixate on.

Side note: if you listen to the interview he did on Fresh Air, you'll hear what an egotistical butthead he sounds like.

I saw elements of lots of Allen trademarks in ESILY. The ensemble cast, the New York City worship, the fascination with women yet total lack of interest in their motivations and real character traits, the insistence on casting himself... sometimes these things work and sometimes they don't. A few other things hardcore failed about this movie. Julia Roberts SERIOUSLY CAN'T SING. Edward Norton SO CAN'T DANCE. So why try to pull it off and capture it on film? I found no answer to this question.

Next, the movie focuses on a mega-privileged wealthy family, the engagement of one daughter and the flings of another on her travels to Europe. Basically nothing happens, but it's framed as crazy hijinks, and then the narrator at the end LITERALLY says, we better make this a musical comedy or nobody will believe it! Well, I've got news for you buster. The song and dance did nothing for the believability. So what was Allen trying to accomplish? I really have no clue.

Maybe while the rest of us drunk dial and make misguided phone calls, others drunk direct and make horrible movies about nothing.

Sigh. I liked Bullets Over Broadway. I enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And watching Annie Hall really affects me. So I go ahead and watch Woody Allen movies knowing that the flops will make me hate him.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats: Boomers Are Existential

Original art by the BF.

Had some funny moments. Kevin Spacey is so clearly evil, I can't imagine why anyone ever casts him as a sympathetic character. This movie was made, I believe, to tell about the stranger parts of a true story and to dress Jeff Bridges in a toga and have him jump off the roof of a house. A noble endeavor, no doubt, but I was ... underwhelmed.

When I watch a comedy, I want to laugh out loud frequently. If this was also supposed to intrigue us about outside-the-box military practices and get us to question them, it wasn't really serious enough to carry that off. It should have either been a documentary or a total farce. Then the disclaimer that "more of this is true than you would believe" would have had even more impact.

I will say this: the wacky parts were great - I just would have liked to have seen them go wackier. Also, please cast American actors to play Americans. Ewan McGregor's Michigan accent ... lame...

My major realization while watching this: George Clooney is our generation's Clark Gable. Not only does he look like Gable, but he has the eyebrow action, the cool delivery, the wiley glee and the devilish suaveness. I hope someone will cast him and Bridges together in something cooler than this someday soon. I'm looking at you, Joel and Ethan Coen.

Incoming: The Green Hornet

Anyone else planning their movie theater attendance through January? Just me? Okay. Let's have a look at the trailer:

Pros: Seth Rogen goes from dumbass to hero without stupid Judd Apatow in charge, black masks, cool cars, Michel Gondry directing. Although I'm wondering how he'll work in any of his usual handmade effects or twee twirly things peeking around corners -- I'll miss that. And... Christoph Waltz!!!

Cons: Trailers always lie, don't trust them; Asian sidekick referred to as "human Swiss Army knife;" Seth Rogen as an action hero...could be epic or could be...cringeworthy.

Could go either way: Cameron Diaz as the secretary (please movie deities, let her have some punches and kicks of her own), cheesy action movie punchlines -- although I usually end up laughing at those, no matter how corny. "Yippee kay ay, M@#$%^&*."

No matter what, a fun action movie is one of my favorite ways to cure the New Year's blues. So come 2011, all of this might make for one big Pro.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Young Victoria: Young Pretty Things

Why am I such a sucker for period pieces? It is so cliche. But I can't help it. Something about pretty costumes, candlelight and English accents just sweeps me away. Sadly, not all of them can get by on these elements alone.

The Young Victoria has some nice stuff in it. Aside from the candlelight, etc., Emily Blunt's performance is pretty great. She gets across a nice mix of stubborn independence and spunk paired with vulnerability and human tenderness. She is feisty and fun in this, and it's nice to watch her react believably to events as they occur.

Prince Albert is played by Rupert Friend, Keira Knightley's real-life boyfriend. Not only do I quite enjoy his name, but his hair in this was really nice, very period. And I liked the part where he was being coached to court Victoria and he spurts out all this stuff at her when they first meet and his brother's all, dude, what's your problem?

Anyway, I was hoping we would get a taste of some of the actual issues Victoria dealt with during her reign. But this movie was not really about that or anything else really except how she becomes queen at an early age, falls in love and lives happily ever after. They showed one assassination attempt, in which Albert took a bullet for her, so that was interesting, but it was really only about more mushy love stuff. Because then he just recovers from the wound and the movie ends.

There was some stuff about her ascension to the throne and how she refused a regency while she was too young to rule as queen. But the little bit of politics they did touch on was too murky to really hold my interest.

Not a thing about Ireland, India or any of the other colonies, her travels or any of that. I mean, it was just about her early life. But without any of the business of being queen stuff, it was a little flimsy. But still, very, very pretty.

The BF moaned and groaned throughout.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music Video Review: Alejandro

As part of my solicitation for my dear readers to challenge me to review anything, I'm hereby setting out to review and interpret Lady Gaga's music video for her hit single "Alejandro," as requested by Charlie. As much as Gaga adores her little monsters, I adore my darling readers; so although a music video might be construed as being outside my realm of expertise, to that I say, I'm classically trained to rock your freakin' socks off. Apologies to the D.

I love Lada Gaga - how can you not? There are a lot of haters out there saying she's copying Madonna, she's copying Ace of Base, she has a penis, she flipped the bird at a baseball game... well to those people I look them straight in the eye and I say, cool it.

I love that she shows up to places dressed like a crazed Kabuki nightmare, way more than Marilyn Manson ever could, and with more conviction and attitude than an opera star. I love that she speaks out about gay rights. I love that she was sad when her grandpa was sick, and I love that when I first started hearing about her last year when she was carrying tea cups and saucers around, my first reaction was WTF?

The Alejandro video has a lot going on thematically. Let me just first say that whenever this song comes on the radio, I absolutely cannot stop myself from singing along with the line, "she's not broken, she's just a baybay."

Now. We are in Spain. The fascists are sleeping. Someone is dead. The army of dancers with disturbing bowl haircuts is assembling for Cyborg Blade Runner Gaga's review. I love that although she's being all dark and creepy, you can tell she's bopping to the beat while she lip syncs.

Then she simulates dominatrix sex with many members of the dancer army. She is waayy too busy for Alejandro at this point. That dude has got to leave her alone, no matter what feelings he still has.

Then Gaga has some very Cabaret moments in her halter top and sparkly pants. And apparently we're only allowed one bottle blond Italian Catholic girl from New York in all of pop music history because people are losing their shit about how Gaga reminds them of Madonna. It makes me wonder if the Backstreet Boys had been black if people would have compared them to the Jackson 5.

Moving on.

My other favorite thing about Gaga is she is one of the rare female artists who uses her sexuality in a way that is blatantly not appealing to the hetero male gaze. In the Alejandro video, she basically has an arrow pointing at her vadge that says yeah, I have one, what about it? It's not for you! It's for my army of muscly gay boys! And my boobs are equipped with AK-47s!

My last bit of interpretation on this thing is I read somewhere that the director told the media that the part at the end where Red Latex Nun Gaga is lying in bed and her face melts away means that she has accepted her fate and merging with heaven or something like that. It's a cool visual.

Anyway, a lot of people -- mainly my main source of culture review, Jezebel -- have called this video boring. I think it was just meant to be a wacky dark backdrop to what is essentially a little throwaway pop song. I did love the "Telephone" video more, mostly because Beyonce driving the Pussy Wagon is too, too rich for words, and the two of them were so great together in it.

Moral of the story?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Video from the Twilight Convention

Just thought you'd want to hear the screams as Rob, Kristen and Taylor take the stage.

Groanworthy Remakes of 2010

Further hammering home my assertion that there are no good storytellers writing movies these days (not counting Brad Bird at Pixar), I read yesterday they're planning a remake of Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. I really won't be surprised if they announce they're making Office Space 2, Transformers 7 and a movie based on Starbucks soon.

I really think all the good writers are doing TV. This is not big news to any of us who love our TV shows. We're addicted in part because the stories and characters are GREAT.

Anyway, here's a slightly old list of remakes in the works - you can read it and see how many of them actually got made... it's really sad.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Into the Belly of the Beast: The Twilight Convention

PURELY FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES, I attended the Twilight Convention in L.A. on Saturday celebrating the upcoming release at the end of this month of the third movie in the series, Eclipse. It was a full day of teen idol worship. I'm not really a "Twihard." I would classify myself more as a Twilightly. I don't have a Team Edward t-shirt (or as I found out on Saturday, a full-size cutout of any of the characters, a lunchbox, socks, posters, a jewelry box, an umbrella, or journals -- it's no wonder this series recently won an award for merchandiser of the year). But I have read the books, scrambled through each of them to get to the end, and I'm scheduled to see all three of the movies in one sitting the night the third one comes out. That's six hours of Twilight. Why? Why has your friend Liz -- connoisseur of fine foods and intellectual matter, a liberal, east coast-educated elite, if you will -- fallen prey to this phenomenon?

Here are my thoughts. We in this era are starved for storytelling. So starved in fact, that a first-time novelist's bumbling romantic epic about vampires and werewolves captured the imaginations of women and girls (and some really adorable boys) nationwide. Think about it: we haven't seen a great story in the mainstream since Indiana Jones. That's right, I'm saying it now. We are so hungry for something with even a faint whiff of a plot line that we fall hook, line and sinker for something as "low art" as Twilight. It doesn't hurt that they picked cute actors for it. But even before the movies came out, huge online communities were springing up surrounding this mythology.

And now I'm basically writing every article that cynical middle-aged male journalists have written asking, "what's up with this sparkly vampire nonsense and the womenfolk these days?"

It was quite fun to see young actors like Bryce Dallas Howard live and in-person. And it was fun to see the press kit clips of Eclipse and get all excited to see the next movie.

The most entertaining panel of actors was definitely the "Wolf Pack" actors: Julia Jones, Alex Meraz and Chaske Spencer. As a sub-population in the movie biz, Native American actors have learned to laugh at how they all get cast in the same stuff together as the stock Indians. Chaske was mentioning how Gil Birmingham, another Twilight actor, has played his dad a couple times. So Twilight has been a cool way to get Native Americans in mainstream movies -- Chaske also mentioned his non-profit supporting community action, particularly on reservations -- Be the Shift -- and I was happy to imagine all the Twilight Moms writing checks after the convention. I hope they did.

Right after the Wolf Pack, we were scheduled to the first-in-history appearance of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner together in one place during a convention. First, they were 45 minutes late. Second, they acted like nervous 12-year-olds the whole time. Literally, at one point Kristen was giggling and distracting Taylor so much during the Q&A that he picked up his chair and turned his back to her so he could finish answering a question.

I get it, I get it. You're all trying to appear like you're not sellouts for appearing in the biggest goofball cheesefest since Titanic. But you're trying so hard you come off as even more egotistical and stupid than the young stars who are well-versed in public speaking and selling themselves. It kind of disgusted me how uncomfortable they acted, like they were just too damn cool for school. You would think they would at least be practiced in answering all the stupid "what was your favorite book" questions. Or at least gracious enough to speak politely to the poor tweens screaming their heads off for them, some of whom had shelled out about $300 bucks to be there all weekend. I mean, as the Wolf Pack said, without you fans, we wouldn't have jobs. Right on, wolfy brothers. Maybe I am Team Jacob after all.

But I still love them. Ugh.

Anyway, here's the photographic evidence:

The Cullen Family panel, with Peter Facinelli doing his "compassion hand."

Bella's truck.

These were $25 each.

The Twilight impersonators from The Hillywood parody site.

Chaske Spencer.

The Big Three. With Kristen hiding behind her hair the whole time.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reviewlettes: Legally Blonde, Whip It

The BF's interpretation of a Legally Blonde/Whip It mash-up illustration. I believe that's Elle with some pink skates.

Last time I was in the presence of cable, Legally Blonde was on and of course I had to watch it. This is a movie I find charming, non-offensive despite its schlocky leanings, and comforting in the way reading People magazine in the airport is comforting.

The subtle good part about Legally Blonde is its feminism. And to those who think feminism is a dirty word, you're living in the 80s. Get over it, Rush Limbaugh.

Ok, back to my point. The moral of the story in LB is to not judge blondes by their blondness. In other words, not all girls in pink are bimbos. And even if they are, so what. Are you some kind of genius? I didn't think so. I just love it in the movie when the list of law firm internship recipients is posted and Reese Witherspoon, having found her name on it, parts the crowd and shouts in all earnestness, "I got it! ME!"

On a side note, back in the 80s when it was still mildly funny to make blonde jokes, I never heard the end of them. And I was only a kid. Can you imagine that? Making bimbo jokes to an 8 year old because she has blonde hair. No wonder I learned to hate my thighs. Moving on...

Jennifer Coolidge is a comic genius. We all know this. Luke Wilson was once the hot junior law firm partner. I think it's fine that all he does now is AT&T cell phone service ads on TV. After you've contributed Bottle Rocket and Richie Tennenbaum to the world, you can quit while you're ahead, as far as I'm concerned. But it's nice to remember his hunky days.

This movie is also about sisterhood. And not just because the main character is in a sorority. She eventually makes friends with the snobby girl who stole her boyfriend and they laugh together over what a blowhard meathead he is. She also helps her manicurist get her dog back from her no-good ex. And she takes the advice of the female professor who urges Reese not to let some butthead get her down and ruin her chance at success.

But Legally Blonde doesn't make all men out to be dopes. Not only is there Luke Wilson wallowing in his pleasing turtleneckedness, but there's the hottie UPS man who greets the salon ladies, telling them, "I've got a package." And the nerdly fellow law student who helps Reese get books from a high shelf in the library. They're out there, ladies, and worth fighting for.

Speaking of sisterhood, I just had to rent Whip It, not only because I wanted to see Drew Barrymore's directorial debut but because I am fairly certain Alia Shawkat is the next Lucille Ball and Amy Poehler combined.

The BF hated Whip It, but I think much of that harsh opinion was based on some hipster song in the soundtrack that had him groaning so much that I had to hit pause so he could leave the room. I thought it was fun. Part of my forgiving opinion may be based on my emotional response to the depiction of a friendship between two teen girls stuck in a small town. Because I'm one of the few who never saw Juno, I was able to love Ellen Page in this and her relationship with her best friend felt really familiar and genuine to me. So I loved it for that. I also had to love it for the food fight scene, for Kristin Wiig, for Drew Barrymore acting like a psycho freak and for the underdog-to-champ storyline. It also never hurts when Future Man shows up, speaking of Wilson brothers.

Yeah, the love interest dude had a repellent hipster mullet. And yeah, roller derby is kind of trendy right now. But despite those obvious haterade magnets, I really liked Whip It. It was not totally well-made or neatly executed. There was some obvious reliance on the star power of the director and her ability to attract people like Marcia Gay Harden and Jimmy Fallon to the project. But all in all, totally likeable. Totally fun empowering message - do what you love, screw the rest. And you can't judge a girl by her hotpants.

Sherlock Holmes: Bent, Not Broken

I read The Hound of the Baskervilles in eighth grade and gobbled it up. It was fast-paced, fun and dark enough without being too scary. Then, I asked for the full set of Sherlock Holmes stories for Christmas one year, and only got through about a third of it before realizing they were a bit formulaic. Still, I will always remember how I felt reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, sitting at the picnic tables behind the junior high auditorium, and gasping out loud at the dramatic parts.

And 2009's holiday season blockbuster Sherlock Holmes, while not quite so engaging, got the job done. Much like the stories, it was fun, fast-paced, a little formulaic and corny, but it respects the source material -- in this case, Arthur Conan Doyle by way of a comic book. Robert Downey Jr. ... does this man not live and breathe the picture of a perfect rascally underdog? Even with his nicely executed British accent and steam-punk John Lennon sunglasses, he looks like he just got out of rehab and may be a little out of whack, but you can't help but root for him. And after this, I think Jude Law should just go late 19th century all the time. Look at that face he's making! I think his attitude fits much better under a mustache. And props for Rachel McAdams, too. She's wry, scrappy and perfectly vulnerable under the surface without completely lacking a spine, like most of her ingenues up to this point. I always knew she had it in her.

Sometimes I think the costumers and set designers are the only people in Hollywood working very hard. From the watercolor of swallows in flight next to the front door of Holmes and Watson's lodgings to the raspberry red gown McAdams flits about in while she draws Holmes into her devilish scheme, you just want to devour what these folks have done visually. But not you, CGI guys. There has been such a bloody rash of CGI movies since flipping Lord of the Rings that we, The Audience, are beginning to have some discernment when things just look too dang CGI-y. Too much like when the giant ship whizzes by, some dude in a "Life is Good" t-shirt just hit the zoom-out button a bunch of times. I know we've come a long way since we superimposed a filmstrip of a moving road behind a fake car interior to make it look like people are driving while they talk, but please. No soup for you, CGI guys.

So anyway, like any good holiday season blockbuster, this one was written for the ending to ramp way up on action to build excitement for the sequel. And that's fine with me. I may or may not see it. Odds are I will, if Robert Downey Jr. promises to wear more vests. But if they pick someone lame for the love interest, I'll be really bummed. Rachel McAdams set the bar pretty high -- kind of like Eva Green in Casino Royale. You would hate to see them go for Anna Faris or Anne Hathaway or someone like that who just doesn't have real gumption.

Oh, before I go, I liked the music too. Nice with the hammer dulcimers and traditional Irish music and stuff. And the other background music was appropriately period and modern/actiony at the same time. Plus, when Holmes says he played a chromatic scale in an attempt to hypnotize houseflies, he demonstrates a real chromatic scale on the violin. Nice to see that the nerds found a place this production. It takes one to know one.
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