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Friday
Oct102014

Tim's Toons: the Best of Isao Takahata

Tim here. The Tale of Princess Kaguya , which could well compete for the animated Oscar this year, opens next week. But at that point I will be deep down in the pits of film festival madness (the Chicago International Film Festival starts today). So I want to talk about this now, lest I forget.

And that is the last thing I’d ever want to do, since Kaguya’s director, Isao Takahata, is (was?), along with Hayao Miyazaki, one of the twin gods of Studio Ghibli, though a director whose work was never as widely-known in the English-speaking world as his colleague’s. They're smaller in scale and less fantastic; one of his absolute best Ghibli-era works has never been released in the States, because the rights lie with Disney and one scene involves a discussion of menstruation, and we can’t have filthiness like that in our animation here, now can we!

He is, regardless of the difficulty in seeing his films, an unequivocal genius who deserves more attention for the wide range of styles he's explored in his films, and the graceful humanity of the stories he's told within those styles. Thus I have put together this little primer to celebrate the 78-year-old's newest film, and the career that led up to it.

[His three best films after the jump]

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Oct102014

HTGAWM: "Smile, Or Go To Jail"

We're three episodes in to How To Get Away With Murder and three episodes is where I draw the line if a show isn't working for me. Time is too precious: one season of a network series is time enough for ten or eleven movies, you know? You could basically catch up with the entire Best Picture lineup from 1939 in that time, something surely all of America is eager to do if someone would only suggest it to them as an alternative to watching another season of CSI: Wherever*. For love of Viola Davis I'm giving this series one more episode to win me over instead. Also because ABC has promised that my jaw will drop with "the last nine words" from Viola's mouth on episode 4. If their prophesy is true, we'll see. But I shall state it simply: after three episodes I can safely say that I think the show is bad. Trashy fun? Eh, Kind of. But more like Trash that thinks it Hot Shit.

On episode three we begin again with that hyper-caffeinated bonfire / murder coverup in the future so basically you never know which episode you're watching until like 5 minutes in. But even after that opening five, deja vu prevails since the show is so formulaic: 1. Annalise takes a case; 2. Her students help solve it with interstitials of them doing sneaky things; 3. The legalese is explained with cutaways to Viola's lectures in class; 4. We learn the client is guilty; 5. Viola wins, or, minor derivation in episode three: Viola doesn't lose; 6. Roll Promo for next episode!

Biggest Pet Peeve Runner Up: Professor Annalise Keating only ever calls on the 5 students who have series regular gigs despite hundreds of hands going up in her lecture hall. Come on showrunners, be good samaritans - give one of those extras their SAG card with a line, you know? This is highly unrealistic classroom behavior. I absolutely cannot buy that her classrooms arebig draws (we hear that she brings in the students for the university big time) when she doesn't remotely seem interested in teaching or involving her students unless they work for her for free when they leave the classroom like indentured servants and drop all their other coursework and abstain from social lives except when it comes to sex scenes which can be used to prevent people from grabbing remotes and switching channels.

Biggest Pet Peeve Winner (by which I mean we all lose)
For a show aiming to showcase Viola Davis she's often crowded out what with all the subplots and her students doing basically everything for her.

Gay Guy vs. Prom Queen shared a penis: pass it on.

This particular episode? If I must. Viola defends Ugly Betty's sister who went politically radical decades ago and bombed a building. Ugly Betty's sister skips bail so Viola's courtroom time abruptly ends. Meanwhile: Wes convinces Annalise to defend his neighbor across the hall instead of the quarterback that the university has asked her to defend in the murder mystery that the first season is built on. Who Killed Lila WhatsHerFace? Who cares! On the sex scene front, Viola is again rebuffed by her muscle stud cop boyfriend (who lies to her about her husband's alibi bur dor what reason? Surely to cause unmotivated hysterical drama later in the season) so Prom Queen gets this episode's big sex scene with her heretofore unseen fiancee who, as it turns out, once slept with Gay Guy Not Matt Not Wes when he was 16 at boarding school. Prom Queen absolutely freaks out because no straight guy in the history of the universe has ever fooled around with another student at an all male boarding school when he was a horny teenager. Say it with me: "SCANDAL!"

* Please do not tell me this is not true in the comments, he says weeping.

Friday
Oct102014

135 Days 'til Oscar: Remember the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion?

Occasionally while typing about the Oscars I accidentally type in the Shrine or the Kodak and especially "The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion" when I mean The Dolby Theater. It's an honest mistake since the Oscars are a bonafide institution and one tends to associate locations with events. The Dolby Theater, the "permanent" home now for Oscar (whatever permanent means considering things such as contracts, name changes, and rights battles for broadcast and whatnot) was once the Kodak Theater and for the last dozen years that's where the Oscars have been held. But until the new millenium, I associated the event with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That music hall hosted the Oscars the longest from Oliver! (1968) through Shakespeare in Love (1998) though it should be noted that the Shrine auditorium stepped in as substitute for six years during that three decade stretch. 

I've never actually been to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion but for a young movie mad boy in the suburbs of Detroit in the Eighties, 135 North Grand Avenue was the most important address in the world, way cooler than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I still think of it as way more glamorous than the Dolby... but maybe that's because I've been to the Dolby and though it looks great on TV it's inside a shopping mall. Perhaps that's appropriate for a golden idol that's really only gold-plated

Previously on our countdown that's really just begun...
138 Days - Average Best Picture Length
170 Days - Best Actor Trivia 
182 Days - What did Pickford & Fairbanks start?! 

 

Thursday
Oct092014

Everything You Wanted To Know About the Foreign Film Race*... (*but were afraid to ask Pt.1)

Tonight The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released the official list of Best Foreign Language Film Submissions that have qualified for the big show. There are 83 competitors this year, breaking the record by 7 films and in January 11% of those (aka 9 films... I think it really should be 12 each year) will move on to the "finals" from which 5 nominees will be chosen. In a long overdue adjustment to the category the names of the winning film's director will be placed on the statue alongside the country. Previously it was just the country which is silly because nobody would claim that Pedro Almodovar, Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini didn't win this category, you know?

The Film Experience's Official Submission Charts, the most comprehensive collection of the nominees on the web, are fully updated with posters, official charts, running times and more.

Pt. 1 Afghanistan through Ethiopia - 25 submissions
Pt. 2 Finland through Nepal -30 submissions
Pt. 3 Peru through Venezuela -28 submissions

READY TO DIG A LITTLE FURTHER? Let's break those 83 films down further and see what we're really looking at this year. Which countries are submitting for the first time? Which popular countries are STILL waiting for their first win? Are there familiar stars in the mix? Read on to find out... 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct092014

Westeros Comes to Hollywood: Casting News for Game of Thrones Actors

Margaret here to talk about Hollywood casting directors' collective infatuation with the actors on Game of Thrones. HBO's fantasy epic is a ratings juggernaut and has been Emmy-nominated a hundred times over. Its enormous cast (more series regulars than any other show on television) is getting a lot of attention, and many of them are landing high-profile movie roles. The prestige cable effect, so often noted for its ability to bring movie stars to TV, seems to be working in the other direction for Game of Thrones

Let's check in on the upcoming projects from our Westerosi friends: 

Carice van Houten

GoT Role: Melisandre, spooky red-headed priestess
Recently Booked: the Jesse Owens biopic Race. The Dutch actress will play legendary German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

 

Aidan Gillen
GoT Role: Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, slippery schemer.
Recently Booked: Recently greenlit sequel The Maze Runner Chapter II: The Scorch Trials. It's reported that he'll be playing the villain, Janson. 

Gwendoline Christie
GoT Role: Brienne of Tarth, lady warrior
Recently Booked: Star Wars: Episode VII. Her role is top-secret, but the movie is about as high-profile as they come. Her combat experience and 6'3" frame are likely to feature. She's also booked a small part in the final Hunger Games film, as a military commander.

More Westerosi movie news after the jump..

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct092014

NYFF: Maria Dances on the Mountain-tops

Straight from the final week of The New York Film Festival here's Jason on Olivier Assayas' new film Clouds of Sils Maria, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

If I was going to make a sort of Cinematic Mad Libs where I filled-in-the-blanks with all my favorite people, places, and things, which then somebody would take that list and turn that into a movie, there's a good chance that Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria would be the result. Noun-wise we have my favorite actress Juliette Binoche. Place-wise we have the Swiss Alps, my favorite place in all the world. And Thing-wise we have Rainer Werner Fassbinder's play (and movie) The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Sils Maria tosses all these ingredients into a pot and cooks up a stew that listen, I was just never not gonna like. It was made for me! And it is delicious.

Maria Enders (Binoche) is a big deal actress and international movie star - she is basically Juliette Binoche. She has flirted with the Hollywood game after rising up in serious roles, and is now trying to swing back to the interesting stuff again. At her side, insistently, is her personal assistant Val (Kristen Stewart), always juggling a couple of cellphones and a thousand appointments at once. Into their life comes a script about the love affair between a woman and her female personal assistant - Maria had played the ingenue role in her youth, but now she's going to tackle that of the older woman. The two women take to the mountains (a gorgeous expanse of Northern Switzerland, misty with metaphor and, uh, mist) to rehearse the two-parter, slipping between their roles and reality, and debating the give-or-take between what makes a movie star and what makes an actress and if they can reconcile the spaces.

It helps, of course, to have that extra level of frisson introduced that here we have a Serious Actress and International Movie Star having this on-screen debate with an International Movie Star who very much would like to be a Serious Actress (and who, by the way, is a Serious Actress - Kristen Stewart's fantastic in this) - in the Q&A following the film Assayas underlined how important it is that we always see it's Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart on screen, that the performative aspect never dissipates; I found the endless reflections of actress and person and character fascinating. And the fact that this is a talky acting piece about making a talky acting piece in between big-budget other-stuff. And the way the big-budget other-stuff swoops in and effects all that talky acting. As the third woman (a well-cast Chloe Grace Moretz) comes in, a mask of whatever-the-moment-calls-for, nothing but a mirror, we watch where the conversations land - the way the theater stage itself is over-produced and overwhelmed, a maze of clear boxes like a re-staging of Chinese Roulette by way of Playtime.

It's very much of a piece with Fassbinder's work though - while Petra von Kant is fogged up and made into this movie's own separate thing it's clear that's what everybody's riffing upon, and as with that film (and most of Fassbinder's work) it is the performance itself that is placed at the forefront. Everyone is playing their roles, hitting their marks, spinning towards their inevitables - the snake will roll in just on time, even if you're not there to see it. "Is it set on Earth?" Binoche asks a director pitching her a science-fiction movie towards the end - after all she's already been up in the clouds, dotting the snow-caps with sacrifices; it's probably time to come down now.

--

Clouds of Sils Maria played last night at NYFF and plays again tonight at 9pm.

Thursday
Oct092014

Stage Door: "You Can't Take It With You" & "From Here To Eternity"

The Best Picture winners of 1938 and 1953, which were based on hit plays and best selling novels respectively, have moved to the stage. Let's take a look...

Annaleigh Ashford dances up a comic storm in "You Can't Take It With You"

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU
For this Broadway revival of the classic 30s comedy, famously moviefied by Frank Capra back in the day, they've gone all star: James Earl Jones plays the tax-avoiding follow-your-dreams grandfather, Broadway vet and A+ comic actress Christine Nielsen (recently Tony nominated for Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike) is the easily distracted mother of a large brood, Rose Byrne her gorgeous daughter (essentially the 'Marilyn Munster' of this band of eccentrics), Fran Krantz from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods her rich would-be fiancee and Annaleigh Ashford, who has been on such a brilliant role these past couple of years with her ex-hooker lesbian receptionist on Masters of Sex and as a factory girl in Broadway's Kinky Boots, is the dance-crazed busybody.

If you've boned up on your 1930s Best Picture winners you'll know that those are the roles once inhabited by Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington (Oscar-nominated), Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and Ann Miller; tough acts to follow all.

As it turns out the theatrical and farcical antics of this family play better on stage...

Click to read more ...