Thursday, December 30, 2010

Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan's mind-boggling Inception was riveting to a degree with some brilliant acting, especially from Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page. However, enough with the layers of dreams and jutting back and forth between them - confusion, confusion, confusion! Are dreams really like this??? Maybe those of psychotics or master minded criminals! Sure, we can't always understand what dreams mean, but... let's ease up a bit! What started as engaging and innovative turned into too much of a puzzlement ...  but, whatever one's feelings, Lee Smith should pick up an Oscar for his astounding editing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fighter - 2010

Not normally a film that I would rush to see - I'm not a boxing fan - is David O. Russell's sleeper hit The Fighter about real-life half brothers Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund. Christian Bale as crack-head Dicky and Melissa Leo as the mother Alice both give brilliant performances that should be recognized at Oscar time.
The story is about the difficult rise of welterweight fighter Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in Lowell, Massachusetts and the dysfunctional family that controls his life, for better and for worse.
The family are hard to bear at times, particularly the big redneck sisters who are about as tough as one will find anywhere. They give loyalty a whole new meaning; at times, I was ashamed of my Irish heritage when I looked at them and detested the way they behaved. But loyalty does win out in this film, and Bale as Dicky does a 360 degree turn around which is riveting and unforgettable. Amy Adams adds terrific support as Wahlberg's girlfriend and Russell's direction is top-notch gritty. Terrific camera work which puts us right on top of the action at every moment.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2011 Golden Globe Nominations for Film

The 68th Annual Golden Globe® Awards will air LIVE coast-to-coast on Sunday, January 16, 2011 on NBC from 5:00-8:00 p.m. (PST) /8:00-11:00 p.m. (EST) from the Beverly Hilton Hotel with host Ricky Gervais.
The 68th Annual Golden Globe® Awards will be seen in more than 160 countries and is produced by dick clark productions in association with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone, Easy A

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street 2
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Seidler, The King's Speech
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Despicable Me
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

The Concert
The Edge
I Am Love
In A Better World

Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Hans Zimmer, Inception

"Bound to You," Burlesque
"Coming Home," Country Strong
"I See the Light," Tangled
"There's A Place For Us," Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"You Haven't Seen The Last of Me," Burlesque

Friday, September 24, 2010

1995's TV Scorcher (?): Seduced and Betrayed

The Lifetime Channel has its share of trash, but none could be trashier than Seduced and Betrayed (1995) starring Susan Lucci and David Charvet. I adore Lucci, as no one can play the evil seductress better than she. And she's still going strong and still looking gorgeous. The film belongs in the garbage pail, forgive me, but whenever it is aired on Lifetime, I find myself sitting through it once more and laughing uproariously. It has to be one of the silliest pieces of crap ever filmed, but I'm human and crap can fill my cup at times, I'm not ashamed to admit. Take a peek simply for Lucci: she's delicious! And David Charvet is p r e t t y damn cute! He even managed a couple of decently acted moments. Gabrielle Carteris is another good actress, intelligent and strong, who was never offered the right part, the one that would give her a steady career. Pity!
6 and a half stars - all in Lucci's camp

1959's Ben-Hur

Every time TCM (Turner Classic Movies) airs Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston, I find myself watching it from start to finish. Every minute of its three and a half plus hours! I am truly hooked on this glorious movie. It has everything: adventure, history, spirituality, love stories and every passion imaginable including love, hatred and greed. Who can resist the chariot race? A magnificent piece of filmmaking all by itself. The film won 11 Oscars includinjg Best Picture and one for Heston as Best Actor. Heston, always so wooden on stage, is great under William Wyler's impeccable direction, as are the entire cast. 

If we must get specific, and I always do, one member of the cast was ashamedly overlooked in the Oscar race: Stephen Boyd (top photo). A beautiful man and an intensely strong actor, Boyd is the villain from hell in Ben-Hur. His performance as Messala is riveting from beginning to end, so full of love and hate, and his death scene is undeniably one of the best on film. I cringe every time he tries to draw a gasping breath from that broken body.His is a truly wonderful piece of work that should have been recognized with an Academy Award, and not even to be nominated, is inexcusable.

Ben-Hur has magnificent cinematography, art direction, music et al. I am forever moved in the final scenes when Martha Scott and Cathy O'Donnell are cleansed of leprosy and they are reunited with Heston once more. Sentimentality - hell! Families lived for each other in that period of time. What a terrific work of cinematic art!
10 stars

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leading Ladies: Short Independent Film - 2010

Renowned theatre actress Suanne Spoke costars with Judy Kain in K. C. Marsh's sensitive short film Leading Ladies. Marsh directs his own script.

The short (approximately 13 minutes) drama concerns two sisters, one estranged, who attend the last days of their dying father, a famous cinematographer. Cissy (Kain) has spent the last few years caring for the sick man, whereas Maureen (Spoke) "flew the coop". The film begins when Maureen returns home. The intimate conversation between the two women concerns their rocky relationship with the abusive,"vigorous" father, who obviously cared more about his work and needs than about their welfare throughout their young lives.

Cissy has resigned herself to being his caretaker, looking forward to his demise, whereas Maureen puts off the moment when she must go in and see her father for the first time in years - not knowing whether he will remember her, and afraid of where her own negative reactions may lead. Cissy tells her that he has often mistaken her for Maureen, so he has not forgotten, at least her name. A minor consolation.

The plot is somewhat suggestive of Marvin's Room, where two sisters are reunited reluctantly with a sick father in the next room, but there is much less complication in Leading Ladies. The plot concerns itself solely with the relationship of each daughter to the father, as there is no real strain between the siblings. Each admires the other: Maureen praises Cissy for staying and Cissy, Maureen for getting out.

The dialogue is totally real and centered, as are the two siblings. The father's voice is heard once from his bedroom, obviously in need of attention to which Cissy responds, leaving Maureen to mull over old family photos. Spoke and Kain are both excellent and Marsh's direction of them extremely close-up, personal and absorbing. The set decor of the house is neat and clean, as is most of the conversation between the women. Maureen speaks briefly about her sexual life where she addresses dismissing an actor from her bed when she received Cissy's call about the father's worsening condition. The chief problem that exists here is that there is no conflict between the women. And since there is no friction between them, the principal focus becomes Maureen's fear of seeing the father. So the overall dramatic tension is slight, and thus there exists a lack of vitality. Not actor energy, but spark, which must fuel this quiet piece. With increased encouragement from Cissy Maureen finally agrees to go up to her father's room and slowly climbs the stairs. End of film. Where does it go from there? How do the sisters play out the final moments? And what about their mother? No mention is ever made of her. Perhaps the father was a single parent.

For a while it struck me that the two leading ladies were possibly playing a scene as actresses, and that there was a bigger picture, or film within a film, but nothing ever materialized to suggest that concept.

It is wise that Marsh has kept the plot simple, as this is a short, but some other element is needed to infuse and heighten the dramatic impact. And even if ends are not neatly tied up, that's OK too.

RECOMMENDED: The film's best feature is its deeply sensitive and quiet mood, which both actresses and director sustain smoothly from beginning to end. It is definitely also worth a view for the rich detail of Spoke's and Kain's depictions of Maureen and Cissy. Middle-aged people who have taken care of a dying parent will relate.

Rating: 3 and a half stars out of 5.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Look Back at What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

melodrama, thriller

The poster also included five points or "things you should know about this motion picture before buying a ticket":
If you're long-standing fans of Miss Davis and Miss Crawford, we warn you this is quite unlike anything they've ever done.
You are urged to see it from the beginning.
Be prepared for the macabre and the terrifying.
We ask your pledge to keep the shocking climax a secret.
When the tension begins to build, remember it's just a movie.
I remember seeing this movie as a junior in high school when it first premiered in 1962. It was my first Bette Davis experience, and her freakish makeup, wig and costume scared the bejesus out of me. A ten foot Godzilla monster couldn't have frightened me more. Davis created her very own look for Baby Jane Hudson, so it is to her credit that Jane has become the cult classic that it is. Robert Aldrich drew brilliant work from both Davis and Crawford, and as much as Crawford complained about the director and his harsh tactics, she is awfully good in the part of Blanche, and should also have been nominated Best Actress along with Davis.
Despite the apparent feuds between the two - I understand the set had a Coke machine on one side and a Pepsi on the other - they were true professionals and in a poster of them sitting discussing the script in matching directors chairs, they appear like two schoolgirls, giggling and having a blast. Whatever, their chemistry on screen was sensational, and I just love to curl up with a big box of buttered popcorn, Junior Mints and a large diet Pepsi and devour that film with my galpal Diva Dona. "Jane, you wouldn't treat me this way if I weren't in this chair." "Butcha' are, Blanche, ya' are in that chair!" The two of us know every line and can go at it for hours, no days!

A Look Back at The Yearling (1946)

family drama
A classic film based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's best-selling novel of the same name, The Yearling won a juvenile Oscar for its star Claude Jarman, Jr. and nominations for director Clarence Brown, Best Actor Gregory Peck and Best Actress Jane Wyman.
I challenge anyone, young or old, not to cry in the final scenes. I recently caught it in the wee hours of a weekday morning on TCM (Turner Classic Movies)-my favorite cable channel!
What great performances - especially from Jarman and Wyman, who made herself look totally that prairie mom. I've always loved her work, and this is one of her finest!
The care and detail of the novel is cautiously preserved by director Brown, and the movie's cinematography is simply beautiful. It was a location shoot - not usual for the 40s - which helped to create a truly authentic and memorable film.

review - Avatar

(released theatrically December 18, 2009; now on DVD & Blu-ray - in both regular and 3-D formats)
sci-fi, fantasy, adventure

What makes a filmmaker brilliant is his ability to take a familiar theme or story and make it come to life in a brand new or engagingly different form. James Cameron, renowned director of Titanic and The Terminator series, has achieved further greatness with Avatar.

Avatar tells the story of a magical place called Pandora. The people who inhabit Pandora are called the Navi. The Navi bear a striking resemblance to a tribe of American primitive Indians and live in a world unlike any other, with trees, plants and minerals that hold curative powers. One paraplegiac soldier, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), in a wheelchair, is given the opportunity to convert his body into a Navi-like creature. The complicated process involves going to sleep within a machine that looks like a coffin. When he sleeps, he dreams and through dreaming he becomes an avatar, a creature with Navi physicality but retaining his own human mind and spirit. He will live amongst the splendor of Pandora, learning to adapt to the ways and culture of the Navi. He accepts, unwillingly at first, and finds an unparalleled existence of beauty and, more importantly, a chance to become more than the complete being that we once was. In fact, he will be a kind of superhero with the physical agility of a bird and possessing the mental and emotional potential for unequalled greatness. The sky's the limit. However, when he ascertains that the army to whom he owes allegiance are studying Pandora in order to dominate the Navi culture, forcing them to leave their beloved homeland, he joins a rebel faction determined to save Pandora from destruction.

Cameron has achieved cinematic wonder with the exotic appearance of Pandora, and the Navi that are digitally created using real actors. The creatures are of enormous size with distinctly enhanced limbs and facial features with blue skin. The actors actually walked through the movements which were later digitally enhanced. The result is unlike anything you have seen or are likely to see on the big screen. It's amazing. The performances are all uniformly excellent with kudos especially to Stephen Lang as the evil hardnosed Colonel Miles Quaritch and Sigourney Weaver as a tough yet tender officer in charge, Dr. Grace Augustine. The cast also includes Wes Studi and CCH Pounder. Worthington as Sully proves a formidable screen presence.

The movie is best viewed with 3-D glasses. The Pandora sequences where the creatures soar through the air leap out at you and hold you spellbound. Indeed, the whole experience is a uniquely emotional ride, and at the core there is a love story between Sully and one of the beautiful young Navi females Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). As in Titanic, you will get so caught up in the love story that the devastating tragedy about to enfold the characters will keep you on the edge of your seat. James Horner’s musical score, reminiscent of his award-winning Titanic, adds greatly to the emotional richness of the love story. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s work is consistently breathtaking.

There have been many, many other films depicting aggressive acts of war against minority nations, to be sure, but none quite like Avatar. What is the secret? It’s Cameron-esque magic. Go see for yourself!
On a scale of one to ten, a 10+