Monday, February 25, 2008

NCFOM wins Oscar, or How I quote DeLillo

Today's one of those days were work (read: reading) and pleasure (read: watching) oddly collide (or coalesce? collude? come together in a plurarlity of co_ verbs?)

"The desert fits the screen. It is the screen. Low horizontal, high verticals. People talk about classic westerns. The classic thing has always been the space, the emptiness. The lines are drawn for us. All we have to do is intsert the figures, men in dusty boots, certain faces. Figures in open spaces have always been what film is all about. American film. This is the situation. People in a wilderness, a wild and barren space. The space is the desert, the movie screen, the strip of film, however you see it. What are people doing here? This is their existence. they're here to work out their existence. This space, this emptiness is what they have to confront. I've always loved American spaces. People at the end of a long lens. Swimming in space." (198)

Don DeLillo's The Names

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oscar Predictions, or How you shouldn't take my word for it...

So after a fun Oscar campaign (seriously I don't ever claim to know what people feel when they watch sports... but it must be something like this) here are my personal Oscar predix. I'm sure the results will be less exciting than my own predictions - which is why I did my own voting, A Blog Next Door's Oscars if you will (ABND):
[Eventual Winners are **-ed - I scored a measly 12/18]

Motion Picture

Atonement (review)
Juno (review)
Michael Clayton (forthcoming)
** No Country for Old Men (review)
There Will Be Blood (ABND) (review)


Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman - Juno
Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
**Ethan Coen, Joel Coen - No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood (ABND)

Actor in a Leading Role

George Clooney - Michael Clayton
**Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood (ABND)
Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones - In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen - Eastern Promises

Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie - Away from Her (ABND)
**Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney- The Savages
Ellen Page - Juno

Actor in a Supporting Role

Casey Affleck -The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
**Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men (ABND)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook - Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson - Michael Clayton

Actress in a Supporting Role

Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
Ruby Dee - American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan -Atonement (ABND)
Amy Ryan -Gone Baby Gone
**Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Away from Her
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
**No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood (ABND)

Writing, Original Screenplay

Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
Ratatouille (ABND)
The Savages

Art Direction

American Gangster
The Golden Compass
**Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood (ABND)


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
**There Will Be Blood (ABND)

Costume Design

Across the Universe
Atonement (ABND)
**Elizabeth: The Golden Age
La Vie en Rose
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Film Editing

**The Bourne Ultimatum (ABND)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


**La Vie en Rose (ABND)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Music, Original Score

3:10 to Yuma
The Kite Runner
Michael Clayton
Ratatouille (ABND)

Music, Original Song

Raise it Up - August Rush
So Close - Enchanted
Happy Working Song -Enchanted
That's How You Know -Enchanted
**Falling Slowly - Once (ABND)

Sound Editing

**The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men (ABND)
There Will Be Blood

Sound Mixing

3:10 to Yuma
**The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
Ratatouille (ABND)

Visual Effects

**The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Transformers (ABND)

Animated Feature Film

**Ratatouille (ABND)
Surf's Up

Monday, February 18, 2008

Casey Affleck, or How I'm Seeing Double

Casey 'Yes, my brother's name is Ben' Affleck had a great year in 2007. It has already been said that the double punch that was his lead in Gone, Baby Gone and his Academy-Award nominated turn in The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has now dispelled his 'younger Affleck' persona.
And yet, it seems Ed Harris and Brad Pitt are flummoxed by Casey's age:

Ed 'Love me some mousse-tache' Harris
How old are you kid?

Casey Affleck (circa Gone, Baby Gone)

Brad 'Jesse James' Pitt
How old did you say you were?

Casey Affleck (circa The Assas-longest title in the world-Ford)
20. Well I would be... but I guess that's not for another three months. So 19.

We agree Casey, you are looking good for your age. Keep up the good work!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2007 Films

Here are the films I saw (and graded) from 2007 (reviews or FYCs are linked).

Top 5 Films in 2007

Waitress (A)

The Rest (In Alphabetic Order)

3:10 to Yuma (A)
Becoming Jane (C+)
Because I Said So (C-)
Evening (C+)
Fracture (B-)
Gone Baby Gone (B+)
Grindhouse (Planet Terror: B+/ Death Proof B++)
Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (A-)
I Am Legend (C+)
Lions for Lambs (C)
Michael Clayton (A)
Music and Lyrics (B-)
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (C+)
No Reservations (C)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (B-)
Premonition (C)
Shrek the Third (C+)
Stardust (B-)
Sunshine (B-)
The Bourne Ultimatum (A-)
The Number 23 (D+)
The Orphanage (B+)
The Simpsons Movie (A-)
Zodiac (A)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Away from Her's Fiona and La Vie en Rose's Edith, or How Oscar's Women scorch the screen

Sure, Oscar's Men this year are clearly not to be messed with - but what about the girls, ahem, I mean women?
I recently caught Sarah Polley's Away from Her and the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose (bringing up my Best Actress nominated films viewed to a healthy 3/5 - I've yet to catch Elizabeth: Golden Age [yawwn] and The Savages). Since I've already swooned over that Reitman-directed film and its young starlet - even if I was more enthralled with Jen rather than with Ellen, I thought I'd offer my two cents regarding the films that seem poised to take the Best Actress statuatte. Old vs New. Original vs Mimicry. Established vs Newcomer. Anglo vs French. So many ways to break down the Julie Christie vs Marion Cotillard faceoff; but why not just enjoy the fact that they have both crafted tragic women who's mind and body unravels before our eyes in a beautiful fashion?

Away from Her (Dir. Sarah 'The Sweet Hereafter' Polley)
Polley's directorial foray (based on a short story by fellow Canuck Alice Munro) follows Fiona (Christie) and her 'devoted' husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent - my only quibble with the film) as she gets diagnosed with Alzheimer's. A film that could have just as easily been a simple acting showcase for Ms Christie (and it is) is also a great exploration of marriage, memory and the intricacies of that ephemeral thing people (especially given this past week's festivities) call "love." Polley has written a tightly structured film that moves the audience along in a stream of consciousness-like rhythm - and how organic the entire film feels, privileging contiguity to causality, and visual/aural motifs over narrative linearity; and she directs it with a certainty that I personally did not expect from a Dawn of the Dead alum. Christie, being the acting legend she is, owns the screen [ed. note: remind me never to use such clichéd jargon again] - whether she's unloading 40 years worth of guilt in a car ride (with such grace and poise!) with a single sentence, blanching over not remembering the word for 'wine' or simply staring blankly into Grant's eyes and naively repeating the same old sentences that pain him and keep him at bay. To sum up: Away from Her is painfully beautiful, quintessentially Canadian (the houses! the snow! the outfits!) and if Christie grabs the golden man on Feb 24th I'll be cheering - if only because I want a repeat of her wonderful SAG speech ("And if I've forgotten anyone... it is because I'm still in character" Brilliant!) A-

La Vie en Rose (Dir. Olivier Dahan)
When I finished watching La Vie en Rose all I wanted to do was get to my laptop and fill my iTunes with Edith Piaf's music. That is, of course, as much (if not more) of a testament to Piaf's music rather than a mere commentary on the film, but one can't fault the film for greatly showcasing the songstress's theatricality so successfully so as to elicit such a response from me. Biopics (as I've stated recently) aren't really a genre I enjoy watching, but every once in a while one will come around and remind me how they can be done well. Not without its faults (its length was my biggest complaint, but I did enjoy the interesting flash-forward/backward approach over a linear narrative structure), Dahan's film is an interesting re-telling of the falling from grace of Ms Piaf - and one has to wonder why Dahan and Cotillard give us so few scenes illustrating Piaf's power and instead focus on her interesting and tragic youth and her health-addled 'old' age. As a musical and performance showcase La Vie en Rose is a wonder to watch - and seeing Ms Cotillard go from unruly Edith to drama queen La Mome is a treat (the entire NYC-Marcel part of the film was a highlight - oh the happiness, oh the sadness) only made sweeter by Piaf's songs, which underscore the entire film. B+

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ricky Mar(c Anthony)tin, or How I'm Seeing Double

Whatever Marc does Ricky can do better. (Oh, How I love random DVD-sale browsing at the Virgin Store)

The "original":
And the "copy": (And yes, in this age of Mechanical Reproduction, I think Ricky's looks better)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Academic Biopics, or How I'll take that Oscar now, Thanks!

Seeing as Hollywood is obsessed with biopics - seriously! (please don't ask me why, I have yet to see the appeal of them as a genre: now, if we want to talk about them as Oscar-bait for successful A-listers to practice the act of mimicry and steal the golden man from far worthier and less forgettable performances ... *cough Reese vs Felicity cough Hoffman vs Ledger cough Foxx vs everyone else cough*) AND I had time to play around this weekend, I figured a post on biopics was a must.
So I was wondering (and this wondering I owe in part to my professors this past week who unwittingly, I'm sure, have had me consider) what an 'Academic' biopic would look like. I mean, yes we've had our share of musical biopics (tragic La Vie en Rose, indie I'm Not There, feisty Walk the Line); of literary biopics (wandering Iris, sad and not biting enough Sylvia, campy Infamous and its darker counterpart Capote); of royal biopics (Blanchettian Elizabeth, O'Toole's Lion in the Winter) ... I could go on, of course. But where are the biopics that Grad Students can watch and revel at the ways their favourite one-liner from that obscure theory text by the writer will make its way into the plot in an unexpected (albeit totally contrived) way, or rejoice at a theory text title can serve metonymically for the theorist's life?

If I was, say, Scott Rudin - I'd be lining up the following movies ASAP - I mean, if the MLA Convention 2008 in NYC is not a prime venue for a late Fall release where a movie can get Awards buzz... I don't know what is:
György Lukács
Dir. Paul Greengrass
With Matt Damon

Think: an international pseudo-espionage film set against the backdrop of the changing political landscape of 1930s Europe: tells the story a man disenchanted with the world, finding Communism, and fleeing to the USSR. Would Matt be up for that?

Tentative Title: Lukacs! The movie.
Tagline: You think you know...
Biopic Cliches: History/Personal Life collapse, Political drama

Roland Barthes
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
With Daniel Craig

I think this should be the kind of 'getting under his skin' biopic, digging up dirt and presenting it in a way that mirror's Barthes own style. Maybe a vignette biopic a la Haynes, each beginning with either a photo or a book and a respective quote. You say pretentious, I say readerly.
Now if only Daniel would pick up my calls...

Tentative Title: R/B
Tagline: Fragments. Life. Pleasure.
Biopic Cliches: Early & Untimely Death, Illness, Gay

Walter Benjamin
Dir. Steven Spielberg
With Eric Bana
I know what you're thinking: do we need yet another WWI-themed Spielberg movie? All I have to say to that is... No, but if there was to be one, I think this movie - which would tell Benjamin's lifestory through flashbacks that afflict him in his last days attempting to run away from the Nazi regime - would have to be it.

Tentative Title: The Arcades, The Untold Walter Benjamin Story.
Tagline: In search for his lost time...
Biopic Cliches: Mysterious Death, Suicide Attempts, Tragic Love Life

Friedrich Nietzsche
Dir. Michel Gondry
With Robert Downey Jr

I say slap a moustache on Robbie Dee's face, exploit his cantankerous inner-Ubermensch and surround him with a Gondryan world where Nietzschean metaphors come to life as vividly as on the page. It's basically a story about a brilliant but tortured soul. Think A Beautiful Mind on German anti-Schopenhauerian Crack!

Tentative Title: The Will to Power, Friedrich Nietzsche, The Film
Tagline: He was beyond good and evil...
Biopic cliches: Illness, Loveless life, Madness

Yes. I am a theoretically-minded Grad Student (read: a big geek)
Sue me.
Now... what Academic biopics can we slate for 2009?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Daily Show & Colbert Report Mock Debate, or How I Support the Writers

With the WGA Strike coming to an end (*fingers crossed*) in the next couple of days, we can start to look "fondly" on these dark hours, and this Colbert/Daily Show clip is a moment of sheer brilliance that captured what the 'issues' were all about.
If you haven't already seen it already, you should.

Favourite Part:
Content producers produce content. Studios distribute that content. Now, when you impose a Hegelian dialect upon the current labour situation what you wind up with is, say, a floating signifier representing a contract, in which the contract is a sort of 'panopticon' and by 'panopticon' I mean Foucault's conception of the 'panopticon' of course, not Bentham's idea... I guess what I'm trying to say is: "I went to Cambridge."

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Smurfs, or How Everything I Know I Learnt From Animation

The Smurfs ie 'Los Pitufos' (1981-1990)
With the upcoming "Smurfs" trilogy (anyone else wondering how dated they'll come out?) I figured I should look back on my childhood...

[This one goes to a certain someone who kept me wondering about this show enough to make a post about it]

Top Ten Things I Learnt by watching The Smurfs:
1. Communism works. (What, like you never wondered about the socialist tendencies of a group of self-sufficient blue men who follow a red-hatted leader?)
2. All you really need are men. (I mean women have their place... I'll get back to you once I figure out what was Smurfette's role...)
3. Glasses = Clever. (Back me up here Brainy Smurf!)
4. I was already vain, but I learnt it was okay to be vain. (Can I carry around a mirror with me wherever I go? Sigh...)
5. In a utopic blue-people world (which one can't help but read allegorically, 'duh!) specialization is paramount to communal living. (If I were a smurf, I'd probably carry around a book... or a DVD... or a comic book... or a mirror... damn! Harder than I thought!)
6. Women were innately created evil (and apparently awful looking too) - Don't believe me?
6a. Blond > Black hair.
6b. Seduction is required of successfully adaptable females.
7. Any gobbledigook word I use-ify for white condimentary smurf/ahem/salt can become a cultural Belgian staple. (What you didn't know that's how the schtroumpf's began?)
8. Old people can be useful (I wanna see any contemporary shows teaching that one to kids these days!)
9. Again: Black is connotative of Evil. As are ugly tall(er) people. (And no it doesn't stop me from wearing black jackets, but I do stay away from people who look like Gargamel)
10. Cats are evil, while dogs are cool. (And yeah, I went there)

Check out past "Everything I Know..."
Pixar Edition
Lilo & Sticth

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Happening, or How to Create an M. Night Shyamalan Trailer in 5 simple Steps

Create your very own M. Night Shyamalan Trailer!
Just follow these 5 Simple Steps:

1. Use Eerie Music.
And no, if your music composer is not named James Newton Howard, it ain't eerie enough!
2. Cut to black, constantly.
Don't be thrifty - (Ab)Use them cuts!
3. Make it cryptic
This you can do in one of two ways (yes these are the ONLY ways!): Either through ominous voiceover (Samuel L is good at this one) or random flashing credits (an M. Night Shyamalan credit ain't good enough if it ain't being distorted by some random force).
4. Start with Normal ...
You can pretty much pick anything from NYC on a beautiful morning, a nice meal in a remote country village, a doctor's consult, a traffic jam, a lovely pool on a summer's day. Anything, really.
5. ... and then make it Creepy.
Follow it with a quick turn of events (people kill themselves whaaa? kid sees dead people huh? lady came from where the eff? mischa barton pre-OC: no way! abigail breslin pre-yellow bus: get out! bryce dallas howard in a movie: say it ain't so!)

Oh and yeah, end with the design title of the movie on which you need to have spent more time thinking about how to make it cool (maybe add something like 'A Bedtime Story Told By...' or have one of the letters in it mirror, I don't know... whatever your movie is about) than in fleshing out the painfully contrived plot you want to hint at but don't want to give away in your intentionally misleading trailer. Can't forget that.

I can't bring myself to embed Shyamalan's new trailer, but if you want to see these 5 steps in action, it's over here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I Definitely, Maybe Met Your Mother, or How I'm Seeing Double

Now, we all know Canuck Ryan Reynolds can claim sitcom fame (remember Two Guys, a Girl and Pizza Place? Also starring the very own Captain Mal? No... well I do). But did he really have to dig up a(n albeit amazing) CBS sitcom premise for his new movie?
Will Hayes, a 30-something Manhattan dad is in the midst of a divorce when his 10 year old daughter, Maya, starts to question him about his life before marriage. Maya wants to know absolutely everything about how her parents met and fell in love. Will's story begins in 1992, as a young, starry-eyed aspiring politician who moves to New York from Wisconsin in order to work on the Clinton campaign. They not only have similar political aspirations, they share the same type of girl problems, too. Will hopelessly attempts a "PG" version of his story for his daughter ad changes the names so Maya has to guess who he finally married. (From imdb)

Now regardless of the problems I immediately saw in this horribly premise/plot (what kind of 10 year old has never asked about her mom? what kind of dad makes family history an evening gameshow? what kind of producer hires Ryan Reynolds?), the first thing that came to mind were those twentysomething New Yorkers that Bob Saget narrates the story for.
Shame on you Ryan (and can please, someone tell Abigail Breslin that she needs to stop making these types of movies? Yes, I endured the dull and flavourless No Reservations but that at least had Aaron Eckhart...) but I need not suffer through any more of her antics anytime soon unless they involve Steve as a homo, Paul as a Nietzschean mute, Toni as the mom, Alan as the cooky grandpa and Greg on the wheel of that yellow bus.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mad Men, or How I had to see what this Golden Globe-Winning Series was about

Mad Men (AMC)

There's nothing that I enjoy more than good television (I mean other than writing thoughtful and thought-provoking academic papers on white dead guys, yeah, nothing tops that...)
And in a world filled with American Idol, American Gladiators, and other reality TV (which I have never been a fan of) it is always refreshing to find creative stories, with good scripts showcasing great acting. That's exactly what I found watching the first episode of Mad Men, the recently minted Best Drama by the HFPA in that horrid "press conference" I endured on CNN a couple of weeks ago.
Now, Mad Men has a lot going for it: a great leading man in Jon Hamm (how had he eluded my radar with his guest-starring roles in Charmed, Providence and Gilmore Girls?), impeccable production that so realistically recreates 1960s Manhattan (yes I'm talking both at the level of costuming and art direction as I am about the chain-smoking, chauvinistic attitudes and that oh-so nuanced closet-case) and a story that speaks to both the America of an era where Jews weren't hired on the boss's watch, psychoanalysis was a feared European fad, short skirts were encouraged secretary attire and also to the America of today.
Mad Men (titled after those Manhattan Advertising Men) follows Hamm's Don Draper, the golden boy of the Sterling Cooper Advertising agency. He has the life that all the men in the office aspire to: a great job, a beautiful wife and kids, and of course, a gorgeous lover. But slowly, the pilot reveals that under all that cigarette smoke, Don is not as happy, fulfilled or satisfied as one may think. Clichéd? Maybe, but what really makes Mad Men stand out is the verisimilitude in which it establishes its characters. You may be watching the show in your HD TV in 2007 but the show feels as though it lives and breathes in 1960s America. At one point during a pitch meeting Draper - rejecting the now common psychoanalysis that drives contemporary advertising (focusing on our death drive and our rush to feel dangerous and otherwise not ourselves) gives the following speech, which speaks to the two Americas reflected on screen:

"Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK."

And with that Sopranos scribe and producer Matthew Weiner gives us the quintessential American world that his new show depicts. Happiness - in Draper's world, is not found in his family, his job, his wife's love or his lover's bed, but in the ephemeral moment of... well, capitalism? That seems like a much too pedestrian look on life, and I think Weiner and Hamm (with his brooding face and imposing figure) want to show the flipside of that very formulation. If happiness is only found in a reassurance which exists in billboards, and love is a figment of the advertising imagination of people like Draper created in order to sell Nylons, then what does a white middle-class married American feel when he falls asleep next to a woman whose anxiety numbs her hands, or a newlywed who pursues the new secretary, or an art director who relishes the image of a man in a campaign and not of that of a bikini-clad woman? Needless to say, I can't wait to catch up with Mad Men's entire first season to find out what Weiner and his team cook up as potential answers.