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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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Saturday
Nov292014

Manuel's Thanks

Editor's Note: I asked Team Experience to tell us what they're thankful for this year during the holiday weekend. Here's Amir in the cinematic spirit.

Manuel here. This year I'm thankful...

 

For cinematic girls, be they Gone or Wild
For is & Hers performances, be they in quirky suicide dramedies (The Skeleton Twins), Detroit-set vampire films (Only Lovers Left Alive), or fragmented grief studies (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them).  
For Queer triumphs, be they cross-cultural (Lilting), poignantly local (Love is Strange), or deliciously dangerous (Stranger by the Lake). 
For Oscar-winning actresses on stage, be they doing Genet (Cate Blanchett in The Maids) or Sondheim (Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd).

 

For "Lone female" roles in Hollywood hits elevated by their performers, be they comedic (Rose Byrne in Neighbors) or action-packed (Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow
For witty nonfiction books by funny ladies, be they by harried working moms (Yes Please) or cripplingly anxious oversharers (Not That Kind of Girl)
For successful second acts by known commodities, be they stage-bound (Roundabout's Cabaret) or small-screen obsessed (The Comeback).

 

For Angry Julia, be she furrowing her brow along to Larry Kramer's words (in The Normal Heart) or losing an Emmy shortly thereafter. 
For funny ladies on the small screen, be they vice-presidents (Veep), convicted gals (Orange is the New Black), or eponymous protagonists (Jane the Virgin). 
For Hedwig's return to Broadway, be he played by a Broadway supernova (Neil Patrick Harris) or one in the making (Andrew Rannells).  
For Meryl Streep, be she terrorizing Blunt or making unconscionable demands (The Devil Wears Prada Into the Woods)

 

- Manuel


Related: Nathaniel gives thanksJose gives thanks, Amir gives thanks.

Saturday
Nov292014

The Animated Feature contenders: Penguins of Madagascar

Tim here. I’m going to spend most of the remaining weeks of 2014 taking a look at some of the 20 films submitted to for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. These will mainly be the little underdogs that don’t really have a chance for a nomination, but deserve our attention as lovers of movies anyway.

But first, a different kind of film that doesn’t have a chance at receiving any Oscar buzz: this week’s new Penguins of Madagascar, the 30th release by DreamWorks Animation, and the last wide-release animated feature of the year. If I may confess my sins to all of you, I was actually looking forward to this, kind of: the penguins of the Madagascar film trilogy have been reliable stand-outs for as long as the franchise has existed: a wacky military squadron comprised of an ebullient Skipper (Tom McGrath), no-nonsense Kowalski (Chris Miller), wide-eyed moron Private (Christopher Knights), and demented, dangerous Rico (Conrad Vernon), executing fearless action film maneuvers with no sense of sanity or reason, and giving the gaping chasm of mediocrity of the first two Madagascar pictures precious comic energy for a few minutes at a stretch.

The thing about the penguins, though, is that they were brilliantly used as little shots of free-floating absurdity, random gag machines delighting in cartoon physics and psychology, not so much breaking the rules as ignoring their existence outright. That’s fine for comic relief, especially in a film whose idle state is so dreary as the first two Madagascars. But those little vacations from reality only work when we don’t actually need to care about the penguins beyond knowing that they are surreal and goofy. Putting them front and center over a long running time and a sustained character arc places a demand on the characters that’s totally unsustainable. These aren’t characters, they’re agents of chaos, and they can’t be used like characters.

Yet the three writers and two directors of Penguins of Madagascar go right on ahead and try to fit them into the normal beats of an American kid-focused animated film, down to the sad bit about the character who just wants to be understood for his idiosyncratic ways (“be yourself, love yourself” is a good lesson for children, of course, but it’s one of the dominate themes of, seriously, like every single DreamWorks film). The characters’ one-note personalities, and the limited number of gags that can be spun out of them, turns shrill and noisome over 90 minutes. There’s a plot behind this, but it barely matters: a James Bondian sort of deal with a penguin-hating octopus (voiced with unexpected brio by John Malkovich) on one side, a team of Arctic animal spies lied by a wolf played by Benedict Cumberbatch on the other. And in between, the four penguins whose history with the octopus spurred his rage act with all the insensible fearlessness their braggadocio can support.

It’s manic as all hell, which isn’t really the problem: it’s the routine sameness of it that drags the film down. One setpiece follows approximately the same beats as all the others, and the penguins are designed too specifically to be inflexible, unchanging characters to remain interesting over the course of everything that happens. Even their expressions barely change: the animators don’t even get to play around much with exaggerated gestures or faces. And while any ten-minute slice of the film has some level of playful, unexpected comedy, all of the slices resemble each other to the point where watching eight of them in a row is soporific.

It’s not devoid of good humor and even real wit. Werner Herzog vocally cameos as a deranged Germany documentary filmmaker in a parody of his Encounters at the End of the World, and it comes close to the “anything goes” feel that made the penguins enjoyable to begin with; and there are just enough gags that seem to have been inserted into the film largely because nobody could come up with a reason not to put the penguins in lederhosen, or to have them infiltrate Fort Knox. It’s not insufferable, but it’s awfully tiring, and the packed house of deadly quiet children and parents I saw the film with would seem to back me up that whatever this film is good for, it’s not providing more than the most generically passable entertainment.

Oscar chances: Oh, no. No, no, no. DreamWorks needs to put it all on How to Train Your Dragon 2 and pray.

Friday
Nov282014

Amir's Thank Yous

Editor's Note: I asked Team Experience to tell us what they're thankful for this year during the holiday weekend. Here's Amir in the cinematic spirit.

Amir here. As a quick browse through the comments sections on my box office columns can attest, many readers of this website think that I'm the Grinch. It's hard to blame them but the truth is that, if we move away from the dross that Hollywood offers in thousands of theaters, I enjoy quite a healthy relationship with contemporary cinema. Here, for a change of mood, is a positive, complaint-free post.

I'm thankful...

For, first and foremost, TIFF as an organization in Toronto, especially their year-around programming of older films and for the festival that doesn’t just bring great cinema to the city, but great people, too. (If not for this festival, how else could I attract Nathaniel and Nick to town for shared screenings and dinner?) The experience of having all my favourite fellow writers here at home for a few days is what I cherish most about cinema every year.

For courageous filmmakers, this year more than ever, for films like The Look of Silence, Closed Curtain, Citizenfour and Silvered Water: Syria Self Portrait; and for our modern auteurs raising the bar for themselves even further with great works like The Immigrant, Under the Skin and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

For Jake Gyllenhaal challenging himself with interesting roles (and, let’s be honest, thankful that we get to look at him) and Marion Cotillard who delivers masterworks with such frequency that we forget how complicated her performances really are (and, let’s be honest, thankful that we get to look at her).

For the discoveries of Gugu MBatha-Raw and Adam Bakri. And Jenny Slate crossing the border to films with a remarkable debut and for Elisabeth Moss reproving her brilliance on the big screen this time.

For Xavier Dolan finally directing his first good film – oh, look, there I go again, being cynical – and for smart, intelligent films like The Strange Little Cat and A Most Wanted Man.

For, most of all, Nathaniel for keeping me around here and for Team Experience for making compiling all our polls really fun. And you too, readers! If you’ve made it this far, know that I’m really grateful that you’re reading!  

-Amir

 

Related: Nathaniel gives thanks, Jose gives thanks 

Friday
Nov282014

Jose Gives Thanks.

Editor's Note: I asked Team Experience to tell us what they're thankful for this year during the holiday weekend. Here's Jose in the cinematic spirit.

Jose here. This year I’m thankful...

For Hardy with puppies. And Godard with Roxy.
For Keira, Kristen and Kirsten.
For snakes made out of clouds.  
For cruising in French lakes (even with killers on the loose)
For movies about toys that didn’t treat me like a kid.
For Marion x 2. For Joaquin Phoenix x 2. For Chastain x 4 (she doesn't make it seem like bragging either!) 

For Dan Stevens’ abs and killer acting chops (pun intended).
For Shia in the buff.
For Carrie Coon and Jenny Slate (can they play sisters some day?).
For Swedish films about skiing that reminded me how much I love Mike Nichols.
For Broadway actors in movies (I'm looking at you Jefferson Mays in Inherent Vice).
For Edward Norton's tan

For Anne in outer space.
For Nolan growing the balls to acknowledge he makes movies from the heart, not the mind.
For Daft Punk in Eden.
For Snowden in a robe. And Tilda in the snow.
For Emma Watson's U.N. speech and Daniel Radcliffe in Horns.

For TV that makes me forget bad movies and IMAX reminding me how I could never quit the movies (even the bad ones).
For Meryl's daughter, Grace.
For singing Emma Stone
For Colin Farrell's eyebrows, Elizabeth Moss' face, Rosamund Pike’s voice. And Ben Affleck's butt in Gone. xo 

-Jose

 

 

Related: Nathaniel gives thanks

Thursday
Nov272014

Interview: Is Laura Dern Still "Wild" At Heart?

Happy Thanksgiving! What better gift for you on this weekend of celebrating abundance than an interview with one of the most gifted actors in the world. Laura Dern has been shocking and stirring moviegoers with finely carved and often daringly dramatic or weirdly comic performances for the past thirty years.

Laura Dern as "Bobbi" in Wild

Born into showbiz (her parents are Oscar-nominees Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd) she grew up onscreen and around film sets. Her breakthrough came early at the age of eighteen. Her first hit as a blind girl in Mask was shortly followed by a revelatory performance as a young girl treading into dangerous sexual waters with an older stranger in Smooth Talk. The very next year she worked with David Lynch on Blue Velvet beginning a long collaborative and rather genius director/muse duet. Nearly thirty years later she's still delivering buzzy performances. On paper her new character Bobbi in Wild, an incongruously positive dying mother who we meet in wisps of memories as Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) attempts a soul searching hike on the PCT, seems far removed from the reckless spirits that made Dern such a fascinating screen presence. But that's not the way Dern sees it, describing this woman as "wild" and "a pioneer". 

When we sat down to talk in Los Angeles it had been the third time I'd seen her in the past year, since she was such a regular presence on the Oscar circuit last season for her father's nomination. "You were practically his campaign manager," I say, fondly remembering her indefatigable enthusiasm for his work as we settle in sharing memories of a Nebraska reception a year back.

"I mean... I'll always be." she says, beaming, ever the devoted daughter now promoting her own film that happens to be about a deep parent-child connection.  The back-to-back award campaigns seem like a good place to start...

NATHANIEL: Did all that time with your father last year make you hungry for an Oscar yourself?

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Nov272014

Podcast Xtra: Best Actress. The Runners Up?

We just delivered a podcast on Interstellar and The Imitation Game yesterday. But because we love you here's a brief "extra" conversation on the Best Actress race for your Thanksgiving weekend.

While most pundits think Reese & Juli & Felicity are locked up, there's more disagreement about the fourth and fifth Best Actress slots. We chat Hilary, Amy, Marion, Gugu, Shailene, Scarlett et al.

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments! 

Who gets the fifth slot?

Wednesday
Nov262014

Nathaniel's Thanks, Given.

The world is a tough place and the movies are our collective great escape. For your host here at TFE there's an awful lot to be thankful for. So as I prepare to stuff my face tomorrow with my best friends I will be especially thankful...

For the orange tabby in Gone Girl
For Julianne Moore getting her groove back on yoga mats and at beach houses
For Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Kent's vivid reminders that women can and do direct movies and we need those fresh voices.
For David Fincher's consistency at turning mainstream audiences on while never pandering

For Shia Labeouf because every film decade needs its defining crazy
For the blooming of Keira Knightley, from an always memorable but uneven actress, to a completely confident movie star, relaxed, nuanced and magnetic in two fine performances
For that shot of the paratroopers in Godzilla
For Finn Wittrock's arrival, sympathetic (Masters of Sex) then terrorizing (Freakshow) outcast beauty
For every single march scene in Selma
For "the world is round, people!

This scene, people. This scene. It's everything.

For Melanie Lynskey onscreen (Instant-watch Happy Christmas now - it's delightful!) and off
For memorable physicality: Chastain's scolding fingers, Krysten Ritter's Big (Side)Eyes, Luke Pasqualino's battering-ram run, Ralph Fiennes cartoon dashes, and Billy Magnussen's horseback riding (or, rather, his mounting and dismounting)
For the single best crop of LGBT films in one calendar year that we've had in ages and ages (Love is Strange, Pride, The Way He Looks, Stranger by the LakeThe Circle, and so on)
For everything that happens in the elevator in Captain America: Winter Soldier
For "Bob's Burgers"... particularly Tina Belcher. I'm late to the party but that show makes me laugh harder than any show since 30 Rock. 

For Jonathan Glazer's return to the movie camera after 10 long years away - his gaze still deliciously alien
For that pop-up Babadook book I just ordered (my advanced thanks)
For the singing voices of almost the full cast of Into the Woods - but especially Streep & Kendrick
For a film year so good I'm already struggling (before screenings are even complete) with too many options for the Film Bitch Awards rosters. I could go on and on... but...

Finally, I'm hugely thankful to my Film Experience team (who delight me so frequently) and to all of you, the readers. Especially if you donate monthly, visit frequently, share articles, and otherwise really engage with what we do here. You help keep the fires burning as we try year in and year out -- against bigger odds than you'd think -- to approach each film year and awards season from  lightly different angles than you'll see elsewhere and with more genuine all-eras all-genres movie love.

Abundance to you all! xoxo,

Nathaniel

P.S. What are you thankful for this holiday weekend? Onscreen and off. 

 

Wednesday
Nov262014

'And for all these reasons, I have decided to scalp you...

...and burn your village to the ground.'

(Great Moments in Screen Bitchery #906: Christina Ricci in Addams Family Values)