Thursday, July 31, 2008

Black + White Friday: Chicago


I took inspiration today from this weeks entry of "Best Pictures from the Outside In", a weekly series co-run by The Film Experience, Nick's Flick Picks and Goatdog. This week they discussed Calvacade and Chicago, which got me wondering what the latter would look like if it were actually filmed in the 1930s when it is set and if it were, ya know, black and white (that being the whole gist of this series). However, upon popping the disc into the player I realised I had made a terrible mistake. You see, I find it incredibly hard to just flick through Chicago to find screengrabs. No, I start by watching "All That Jazz" and then I must watch "When You're Good to Mama" and "Cell Block Tango" and then definitely "Roxie" and... well, needless the say, this entry took a bit longer to compile that it normally does.


Well I had to choose this image. Black and white is all about shadows and I love this one from the opening "All That Jazz" number.


Perhaps a bit risque for the 1930s, no? I love that Catherine Zeta-Jones is still smack bang in the centre, even though it's an ensemble musical sequence.


As they say, "she's the spittin' image" of an old MGM movie star, and I actually think Renee Zellweger looks better in black and white in this movie. It helps distract from her shiny skin and way-too-lithe frame. Alas, it is moments like this that make me lean on the side of "she gives a great performance!" than on the side of "she can't sing! etc".


Now it looks like some sort of surreal Lynchian experience. Which makes me think about what it would be like if David Lynch directed a full on out-and-out musical. We throws musical numbers into pretty much all of his films (think "Llorando" from Mulholland Drive, "In Dreams" from Blue Velvet, "The Locomotion" from INLAND EMPIRE, the many Julee Cruise moments from Twin Peaks, etc) so what if he took the next step and just made a musical. I think I'd officially die.


Is it just me or does Renee looks freakishly like Marilyn Monroe in this shot? I guess considering, at times, she's doing a bit of a Monroe act that it fits, however it is only this scene in the movie that I think the comparison actually works.


Yeah, from a purely visual point of view "Roxie" is my favourite musical number in the film. I love the visuals (obviously, I've taken three shots from it alone) and the setups and I think it's Zellweger's best work in the movie. Plus the song is pretty catchy to boot, no? This one shot feels like something out of a Lloyd Bacon (42nd Street, Footlight Parade) though and that's why I took it.


Wow, that red neon sort of looks crap, doesn't it? Nevertheless, I still really like the shot. Reminds me of the videoclip for Madonna's "Vogue".


If there's one scene in particular that definitely does not benefit from black and white it is "I Can't Do It Alone". All those deep reds and blues are what make the scene pop outside of Catherine Zeta-Jones' immaculate one woman show.


I chose this shot simply because there just hasn't been enough of Zeta-Jones and she looks so good here.


One of my biggest pet peeves with movies is when there's a performance scene like this one that is supposed to be happening in real life (on Broadway in this instance) and it is not based in reality. Like when character change costumes by moving out of frame (I'm looking at you Centre Stage) or they do things that may work for the movie, but they forget that there are supposedly people sitting in the audience watching it and they'd have no clue what the hell is going on (I'm looking at you Staying Alive). I do, however, thoroughly believe that this finale - even if it is oddly short, where's the rest? - would "thrill!" the audience watching it. I think they made the right decision to end the movie this way, and as an extra bonus for this series it looks great in black and white.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Week on Australian Screens

Cinema Releases for the Week 31/07/08

And When Did You Last See Your Father? - I DON'T LIKE THIS TITLE!!! Stars Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth.

The Bank Job - Confession: Until earlier this year I always read Jason Statham's name as "Jason Stratham". I had been saying "Jason Stratham" for yeeeaaars. How odd, right? The Bank Job is a film from New Zealand director Roger Donaldson who scored a huge hit a few years back with The World's Fastest Indian. Looks good, but I think I'll have to skip it. Let's, however, look at Jason Statham.


Yes, I think that'll do.

The Square - An Aussie crime flick from director Nash Edgerton, written and co-starring his brother Joel Edgerton. It's getting good reviews. Stars David Roberts, Claire van der Boom and Anthony Hayes (who had his directorial debut Ten Empty out just a few weeks back).

Wanted - I've had it in for this movie from day one and I don't really know why. I'll pass, I think.

DVD Releases for the Week 31/07/08

I Know Who Killed Me - omgomgomgineedtoseethisomg! No, seriously, I have to because every time I see this I just die of laughter. I think it's the hilariously fake hand that Lindsay Lohan sports.

The Prince & Me 2: Royal Wedding - Why anybody thought the original Prince & Me needed a sequel is beyond me, but what is most perplexing is that it took two years and a half for it to receive a direct-to-DVD release here in Australia.

The Spiderwick Chronicles - I'm mildly allergic to Freddie Highmore and lame fantasy movies, so I won't be seeing this one even if it is directed by Mark Waters (Freaky Friday, House of Yes and Mean Girls).

The Curious Case of Darren Aronofsky

What to make of a director like Darren Aronofsky? He first came to prominence with the techno-thriller of sorts Pi and then did a stylistic 180 with Requiem for a Dream. Just two years ago we got the arthouse science fiction of The Fountain (featuring the best work Hugh Jackman has ever done, by the way) and now? Well... ummm... er... I'm confused.

Apparently he has a movie screening at the Venice Film Festival soon called The Wrestler starring - wait for this cast - Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. It's a movie with, seemingly, the exact same plot as Rocky Balboa, just with wrestling instead of boxing. Also with this film he has seperated from regular collaborators Clint Mansell (music) and Matthew Libatique (cinematography) and , oh no, there's not even a role for Ellen Burstyn! Colour me confused.

However, the news of The Wrestler came as much more of a surprise to me than word that he has been hired to direct the latest sequel to, of all movies, Robocop. Has the haze around Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot made people forget that Aronofsky was originally supposed to be making Batman: Year One, a far more radical upheaval of the franchise, apparently, that never came to pass.

I wonder what other weird (and wonderful) things Darren will get up to. He really is one of the most fascinating directors out there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

UMA 2007: Part III

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST


Death at a Funeral
Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Graves, Andy Nyman, Ewan Bremner, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Jane Usher, Peter Dinklage, Kris Marshall, Peter Vaughn, Thomas Wheatley and Peter Egan
The performances by themselves aren't exactly awards-worthy (except for, perhaps, Tudyk) but they all work so well together. They made this British comedy what it was.


Death Proof
Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Vanessa Fertilo, Jordan Ladd and Rose McGowen
Perfectly accustoming themselves to the aesthetic of the film. Despite the devide of the film, they all felt like they were in the same film and were actually all friends.


Hairspray
Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elijah Kelly, Zac Efron, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Queen Latifah, Allison Janney, Taylor Parks and Paul Dooley
Much like Death Proof above, everybody in the cast felt like they were on the same crazy wavelength and the interactions between the cast benefited the movie greatly.


Juno
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Allison Janney and Olivia Thirlby
Some of the more exterior characters (Rainn Wilson, I'm looking at you) don't work at all, but the major cast members work their arses off and feel like family.


This is England
Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Joe Gilgun, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, George Newton, Kriss Dosanjh and Jo Hartley
Each and every one of them commits, making the film feel like it was actually made in 1983.

Honourable Mentions: Atonement (McAvoy, Knightley, Ronan, Garai, Redgrave, etc), Gone Baby Gone (Affleck, Monaghan, Freeman, Harris, Ryan, Madigan, etc), The Darjeeling Limited (Wilson, Brody, Schwartzmann, Murray, Huston, etc), A Mighty Heart (Jolie, Khan, Punjabi, etc), No Country for Old Men (Brolin, Bardem, Jones, Macdonald, Harrelson, etc).



GOLD
This is England
SILVER
Hairspray
BRONZE
Juno


BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED/CAMEO ROLE


Bruce Campbell
"Maître d’"
Spider-Man 3
Providing Spider-Man 3 with one of it's only working bits of comedy, Campbell provides great in-joke.



Tom Hanks
"Himself"
The Simpsons Movie
Okay, maybe I'm cheating, but his voice cameo is just one the many hilarious moments here. "The US Government has lost its credibility, so it's borrowing some of mine"


Gene Jones
"Gas Station Proprietor"
No Country for Old Men
Blows Javier Bardem off the screen in his one scene (funnily enough, the one scene awards shows used over and over again for Bardem), which is not easy.


Max von Sydow
"Papinou"
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
In just two brief scenes acting legend Sydow gets the tear ducts working on overdrive as the father of a disabled man.



David Willis
"Abel Sunday"
There Will be Blood
I couldn't tell that this was only Willis' fifth acting performance in nearly 30 years, but it was and that makes it more impressive.

Honourable Mentions Michael K Williams was menacing in Gone Baby Gone and I got a big hoot out of Martin Henderson, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy in Hot Fuzz.

GOLD
Max von Sydow in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
SILVER
Tom Hanks in The Simpsons Movie
BRONZE
Gene Jones in No Country for Old Men


BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED/CAMEO ROLE


Fanny Ardant
"Fanny Forestier"
Paris je t'aime (segment: "Pigalle")
Feels like a full length movie performance condensed down to five minutes. I wanted more more more!


Margot Martindale
"Carol"
Paris je t'aime (segment: "14ème Arrondissement")
Heartbreaking turn by this character actor is the opposite of Ardant above. Feels like it is perfectly tuned to the short run time of the segment. She gives just enough.


Vanessa Redgrave
Briony Tallis (older)
Atonement
Brings the film's conclusion to fruition with her subtle take on Briony. Feels like she understand all of Briony's 70 years in her brief coda.


Kristen Wiig
"Jill"
Knocked Up
I don't know who she is, but she was hilarious as the sardonic agent friend of Katherine Heigl's character.




Grace Zabriskie
"Visitor #1"
INLAND EMPIRE
jqfj09pksf&*mfozxj02Q@amazing



Honourable Mentions: Maïa Simon provided the best five minutes of The Witnesses, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore added spark to their moments in I'm Not There, Anjelica Huston was deadpan in The Darjeeling Limited, Caroline Sihol's short take on Marlene Dietrich was fun to watch, Mary Steenburgen's "Visitor #2" in INLAND EMPIRE was more bizarre oddity. Dariya Lesnikova in The Italian ~ Toni Lamond in Razzle Dazzle ~ Charlene Yi in Knocked Up ~ Clea DuVall in Zodiac


GOLD
Margot Martindale in Paris je t'aime
SILVER
Grace Zabriskie in INLAND EMPIRE
BRONZE
Fanny Ardant in Paris je t'aime


BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE


Nikki Blonsky
"Tracy Turnblad"
Hairspray
Shows a natural spirit and joyousness on screen in the role that has made others famous. Even if she doesn't become a moviestar, I hope she gets something.


Sam Riley
"Ian Curtis"
Control
Coming out of nowhere to blow away even the most veteran of actors in this biopic role that will make him a star, no doubt.



Saoirse Ronan
"Briony Tallis"
Atonement
While the serious child routine will frustrate people, I hope she doesn't go down the Abigail Breslin/Dakota Fanning route any time soon with cutesy teen movies and romcoms.


Maia Thomas
"Lavinia Smart"
Noise
Currently she has nothing else on her resume, but I hope she does something very soon because I thought she had a really interesting feel on the camera.


Tang Wei
"Wong Chia Chi"
Lust, Caution
Yet another newcomer without another credit on her CV. What's up with that? Especially after the textured and powerful performance Wei gave.

Honourable Mentions: Assorted members of the This is England cast, Emma Booth and Khan Chittenden were welcome arrivals in Clubland, I look forward to seeing more of Veronica Sywak from The Jammed, Georgia Groome was mighty impressive in London to Brighton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was like a '80s nerdy sidekick personified in Superbad, Irene Chen impressed me with The Home Song Stories, Jim Sturgess has already built on his strong debut of Across the Universe and Matthew Zeremes was impressive in the otherwise quite barren Burke & Wills.


GOLD
Sam Riley in Control
SILVER
Tang Wei in Lust, Caution
BRONZE
Maia Thomas in Noise


BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTION


Ben Affleck
Gone Baby Gone
Impressive command behind the camera, showing his true calling may be there. Will wait to see if she can create such a sense of place outside of his natural Boston.



Andrea Arnold
Red Road
Creates on the most frightening and devastating worlds within Red Road, can't wait to see where Arnold goes next after this and her Oscar-winning short Wasp



Peter Carstairs
September
September doesn't look or sound remotely like the work of a first-time director, so I can only imagine what sort of stuff he will be capable of in the future.



Sarah Polley
Away from Her
Who saw this coming from the mousy little Canadian arthouse actress? When you're able to direct the likes of JULIE CHRISTIE to a near Oscar win on your first try you're doing something right!


Matthew Saville
Noise
Where to go from here? It'll be hard to top this fine thriller debut, but I'm excited nonetheless considering the range he's demonstrated in his short films too.


Honourable Mentions: Anton Corbijn used his music video experience to great use with Control, Sean Ellis is a name I'll keep an eye out for after Cashback, Scott Frank did a lot with so little on The Lookout, Paul Andrew Williams did bleak well on London to Brighton and Mark Lee guided The Bet with panache.


GOLD
Matthew Saville for Noise
SILVER
Sarah Polley for Away from Her
BRONZE
Peter Carstairs for September


...more awards to come...

NaS is a Hero


NaS
Untitled
A-

I have been racking my brains trying to come up with a reason why the new single by Nas featuring the becoming ubiquitous Keri Hilson, "Hero", has not been a huge big hit. It's not only an amazing track, but it's better than almost any "urban" track that has come down the pipeline in 2008, and it's certainly better than anything Timbaland has thrown out after five minutes in a studio. I would say it's also his most obviously mainstream song since his 1999 Aaliyah collaboration, "You Won't See Me Tonight", another excellent song that somehow slipped through the cracks for reasons I can't quite understand. You can view the video clip below.

His new album, Untitled, was a surprise though on the heals of 2006 release Hip-Hop is Dead. I should come to expect a new album by Nas to be good, he's routinely one of the only hip-hop artists that continues to do great work that could be considered great today, but also back in the late '80s and early '90s when the genre was really beginning to spark. He originally tried to have the album titled after one of the album's cut's - that'd be Ni**er - but even though he wasn't able to be that bold, that hasn't stopped Untitled from being an exceptionally strong album and he hasn't had to compromise lyrically.

It’s musically striking with the contrast of piano on "Queens Get the Money", smooth urban jazz on "You Can’t Stop Us Now" and more tradition hip-hop beats spread throughout. As is always the case with Nas though, it is in his lyrics where he really shines, and he doesn't back down. As long as race is an issue within (I assume) any aspect of the world then he will always have plenty of fodder for his work. He's confrontational and abrupt on songs such as "Fried Chicken" and Barack Obama gets multiple shout outs, most notably on album closer "Black President", which uses a marching band soundscape, with not as predictably as you could think given how frequent that has become.

Untitled is quite an achievement for Nas and for music in general. It is the sort of hip-hop record that restores my faith in the genre. Nas is an artist and as long as he continues making albums like this then hip-hop, proper hip-hop, is not dead.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This Week at the Stale Popcorn-o-Plex

I got tagged by the estimable Ja over at My New Plaid Pants to do "The Twelve Movie Meme", originally created by Lazy Eye Theatre. Ja's six nights of double features were a wonderous motley crew of surrealism, family films, film-noir, slasher flicks and musicals. I take ages coming up with great mix CD tracklists so I've decided to really give this meme some thought, even though it was only meant to be a little bit of fun. And, let's face it, everybody wants to be able to program their own mini-film festival, don't they?

I hope the programming at your local Stale Popcorn-o-Plex features something to your fancy. You should totally see all these movies! And if you haven't maybe you could actually watch them as a double bill like I've put them. I'd actually be intrigued to see how well they play together.

NIGHT #1
Scream 2 (1996, dir. Craven)
Dead End-Drive In (1986, dir. Trenchard-Smith)

Because I figure the first night of my series of double features has to be a little bit meta. So, to fit, I am starting with Wes Craven's slasher sequel to his genre reviver Scream, in the form of Scream 2. It's a movie I have watched nearly 200 times (no joke) and still love with the burning fire of a thousand suns, although I routinely flip flop about which, Scream or Scream 2 I like that minute fraction more so if you asked me tomorrow I'd probably choose to program the original and not the sequel. I am following that with Brian Trenchard-Smith's ozploitation classic Dead End Drive-In. It's set at a drive-in, folks! It totally fits the groove of this whole idea, plus it's a kick arse movie to boot. I actually had these the other way around, but I realised I was silly in not making the very first selection a movie in which PEOPLE GET BRUTALLY MURDERED IN A CINEMA! I think that sets a nice theme for the next six days, don't you?

NIGHT #2
I'm the One That I Want (2000, dir. Lionel Coleman)
Hoop Dreams (1994, dir. Steve James)

Now for a change of pace. I decided to give Margaret Cho's brilliant stand-up film I'm the One that I Want some appreciation, considering it doesn't get anywhere near enough of it. It really is one of the best films of the decade so far. And I followed that up with Steve James' epic (it's 170 minutes) documentary about the rise of two African American wannabe NBA players as they battle the public and private school system, racism, family issues and the hardships of growing up in an impoverished area. They're both astounding films for what they tried to do and how well they succeed. You'll be beaming when Cho discusses how she got herself out a network television hellhole, and you'll be crying as the mother of a basketball hopeful graduates top of her class.

NIGHT #3
The Last Seduction (1994, dir. John Dahl)
U-Turn (1997, dir. Oliver Stone)

Night number three I went a bit crazy by choosing John Dahl's erotic thriller The Last Seduction and Oliver Stone's much-maligned and radically bonkers crime flick U-Turn. Watch as Linda Fiorentino gives one of the finest performances of the '90s in Seduction, slinking around like a snake on heat. U-Turn is a much different kettle of fish though. I don't know anybody else who is as open about liking Stone's bizarro-fest as I am, but I'd rather watch this brave and eccentric movie, which stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Jaoquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thorton and Claire Danes, than I would Platoon. It's not a great movie, for sure, but I have a crush on these sort of maligned moments of directorial insanity (see night #5 also)

NIGHT #4
The Haunting (1963, dir. Robert Wise)
The Birds (1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

I had no idea that these two scary flicks were released in 1963. That just makes their pairing even more intriguing. One is black and white, the other is colour. One is more classical, the other is modern. One gets it's immense frights from making the audience use their imagination, the other puts its terror right in front of your eyes. And so on. Both are exceptional films though and two of the scariest I have ever seen.

NIGHT #5
One From the Heart (1982, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Beat Street (1984, dir. Stan Latham)

Much like Oliver Stone's U-Turn up on night number three, I am a big fan of Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart, the quasi-musical that sent him broke and became a punchline within a day of its opening in 1982. It is, however, my favourite of Coppola's vast filmography. It's not his best film, but it's one I feel like I have a stronger connection to than any of his Oscar winning behemoths like The Godfather movies, or Apocalypse Now and The Conversation (as great as they all are). I chose the film, however, because I want to see it on the big screen. It is the first of two films to be lensed by Vittorio Storaro, and I think it's an absolutely gorgeous movie.

Beat Street on the other hand is probably the best of the 1980s music films of it's style. I see it as a much more dramatic film than teenagers got in the day, and the sort of film I wish were made more of today. Instead we get Step Up. When the characters in Beat Street deal with the death of another it feels strong and real, which is more than I can say for Channing Tatum's pecs. But the real reason to see the movie is absolutely amazing soundtrack, which features the likes of Grandmaster Melle Mel, The System, Afrika Bombaataa, Debbie D, Jazzy Jay, Tina B Treacherous 3 and Brenda K Starr. One of the best soundtracks ever, and I am entirely serious.

NIGHT #6
Dick Tracy (1990, dir. Warren Beatty)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, dir. David Lynch)

For the final night of my programming series I went for a big finish on non-reality. Warren Beatty's interpretation of Dick Tracy is brash, colourful (lensed by Vittorio Storaro again) and bold. It takes it's aesthetic and runs with it with full force like a bull in a china shop. It's one of the most visually exciting films I've ever seen (it's the first movie I ever truly remember seeing at the cinema, too) and remains one of my all-time favourites. It's like a mad experiment with primary colours and swing music. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, however, is my truly BIG finish. David Lynch's 140 minute prequel to his Twin Peaks television series, Fire Walk With Me takes the character of Laura Palmer and shows us her last seven days, as well as throwing in all sorts of wrenches into the mix (Teresa Banks, Bob, Phillip Jeffries as played by David Bowie in one of the strangest moments of cinema you'll ever experience). The reason that I chose it as the closing film though is because of the final 30 minutes. They are some of the most harrowing and disturbing cinema I've ever witnessed and when it's over - Laura looking at an angel in the Red Room - I feel emotionally and physically drained. It's the type of movie you would walk out of the cinema, see the daylight and soak it up. After six days of endless movie action, I think that's a feeling you would want to have. You want to feel satisfied like you could go without movies for a few days, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me does just that.

~

Now, I'm supposed to tag five other people with this. I don't know who's already been tagged (sometimes the blogosphere can get quite tangled up) but I'm going to choose Rants of a Diva, Brevity is... Wit, The Film Experience, Rural Juror and Tony Soprano Breaks for Animals. But, really, i bet most of them won't do it so if you're reading you can substitute yourself.