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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd


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London: "The Awakening", A Conversation

Editor's Note: As a special treat for our London Film Festival coverage, I asked our correspondents Craig and David to share conversations about the movies that they happen to see together. Today, The Awakening, a new British horror movie. One of them likes it a bit more than the other, but they agree that Imelda Staunton's delicious supporting turn keeps you fully awake...

I know this place and I don't hold with any ghostly nonsense."
-Imelda Staunton as "Maud Hill" in The Awakening.

Craig: A 1920s lady ghostbuster? Spooky mansions? Antique trip-wire traps and knitted-character dollhouse terror? And a twitchy Imelda Staunton as a housekeeper in period garb, topped with some fusty-dusty wig work?? I was fine and dandy with this one despite its flaws. It follows a somewhat shopworn, well-haunted pattern of housebound horrors quite fashionable in recent years (The Orphanage, The Others etc). Director Nick Murphy makes a few attempts at reminding us that The Haunting and The Innocents were key influences, too. It has one or two ripe, scoff-worthy moments but, on balance, it does contain some sneaky jumps and nocturnal bumps that – from the jittered reaction in the press screening – nobody could say they predicted. It has at its centre a solid enough feisty turn from a well-cast Rebecca Hall, too. This is scary movie territory that I’m gleefully at home with, so perhaps I can acknowledge its successes more readily than its few failings? It contains both, but I was never bored.

David: Aye, it's a fair enough yarn, but I can't really join you in the enthusiastic corner. There are a few jumps, but none of the sustained tension and ghostly atmospherics of a film like The Others. Bizarrely, the film charges up the haunted terror quickly, and it blows like a fuse halfway through, on a narrative passage that is effectively filmed but lacking in much power, since it's come around so soon. Afterwards, the characters are suddenly laying on wild emotional extremes, putting more weight on the relationships of the few lingering characters than seems comprehensible, as if we've been excluded from something. Naturally, we have; but pulling off a twist ending like these films usually do, requires a level of general believability beforehand, with just a sense of something being off.

The period details are exquisite - I have no idea how realistic - and all the equipment Hall's character carefully sets up is quite the kick. What I don't think it comes close to pulling off is the tortured soldier sideline, and not just because Dominic West continues being unfortunately stiff and awkward in every role on this side of the pond. And I have to cry wolf on Rebecca Hall, too, I'm afraid. For me, there was no steel there, no conviction, just a weak and crumbling voice and a pale figure. When her façade broke, I saw little difference. The major thing convincing me that this was a confident, modern woman was the fact that she wore trousers.

Sherlock Holmesian women and loopy hysteric performances after the jump...

Click to read more ...


NYFF: " The Descendants"

Michael C from Serious Film here with the closing night film of the New York Film Festival.

It is at times like this when I feel a pang of envy for those people out there who are oblivious to the world of obsessive cinephiles like myself.

These are the people who saw and loved Sideways in 2004 and went merrily on with their lives, unaware that there were folks like me waiting through an excruciating seven-year hiatus for Alexander Payne to settle on his next project. Film lovers like myself saw Sideways as the culmination of an incredible eight-year run of movies that positioned him to be this generation's answer to Billy Wilder, and who was basically alone out there making comedies for adults with intelligence, heart and wit in such strong measure.

So it is not exactly fair that The Descendants has to live up to that incredible weight of expectations. Taken on its own it is a fine piece of work. It is flawlessly acted, makes great use of location, and gathers a genuine emotional impact as it reaches its final scenes. But taken as a step in Payne's career this can't help but feel like a minor work. A solid double after a streak of home runs.

"You really don't get it, do you Dad?"The film hits a false note right at the beginning frontloading the story with a cumbersome voiceover narration it doesn't need. We are told Clooney plays Matt King, lifelong Hawaiian, husband, father of two daughters and trustee of twenty-five inherited acres of undeveloped Hawaiian paradise worth untold millions. As the film opens Matt is nearing a deal to finally cash in on all that land when a boating accident lands his wife in a coma from which she is unlikely to wake. Clooney is forced to try to make order of his messy personal life as he spreads the sad news to family and friends.

One thing that made Payne's previous work so memorable is that he creates lead characters so well drawn they have since come to completely define their type. Is it possible to think of ruthless ambition without thinking of Tracy Flick frantically jutting her hand in the air? Is there a more vivid portrait of flailing middle-aged desperation than Jack chasing Miles down the side of a hill, wine bottle in hand? Clooney's Matt King never pops in this way. He mostly seems like a pretty nice guy. Not husband or father of the year, but doing his best. He becomes focused on the revelation of his wife's infidelities, but since we never get a strong sense on their marriage pre-coma this doesn't have a lot of dramatic juice to it. Similarly, after a rocky start with his daughters he settles into being a decent parent. Clooney gives a characteristically strong performance, wringing as much as he can from the part, but the character simply doesn't go to any particularly surprising places. It's a very good performance, but it is exactly the very good performance we are expecting.

Sky-high expectations aside there is a lot to recommend about The Descendants, the great cast first and foremost. Shailene Woodley is every bit Clooney's equal in the role of the eldest, rebellious King daughter. I would not be surprised to hear her name among the year's supporting actresses nominees. And in brief supporting turns Robert Forster and Judy Greer nail their scenes in a big way, creating the film's strongest moments. Memo to Hollywood casting agents who didn't get it the first time Tarantino sent it in 1998: Put Robert Forster in everything.

Clooney & Screen Daughters

Even the great Billy Wilder was capable of following up the back-to-back masterpieces of Some Like it Hot and The Apartment with a turkey like Irma la Douce. The Descendants is not a mistep anywhere near that egregious. It is a good, occasionally very good, drama with some well-earned laughs and emotional payoffs that stick well enough that you forgive the film's shortcomings. Yet, nothing in the film excited me as much as the knowledge that Payne is already working on his next directorial effort, due in 2012.

Previously on NYFF
The Artist finds another mega-fan in Nathaniel.
The Skin I Live In burrows under Michael's.
Goodbye First Love whispers its pain to Kurt.
Party of Shame Nathaniel drops Fassbender's magic name.
Hugo is under construction but Nathaniel likes the blueprint.
My Week With Marilyn entertains Nathaniel only when its On Set With Marilyn. 

...and many more!


Linking Out

The Wrap delivers the lightning-fast raves and the deafening silence for Tin Tin and J Edgar respectively.
Vanity Fair remembers super agent Sue Mendes (RIP)
i09 on a news item about modern research on The Black Death that will make Contagion even scarier!
In Contention Will Super 8 and Tin Tin win Sound Editing nominations? 
L.A.M.B. held a little movie of the month / blogathon about Bronson (2008) starring Tom Hardy. That's a good movie to check back in on given what's become of both Hardy & its director Nicolas Winding Refn. You'd certainly never see Drive's (2011) exquisite control coming in this earlier picture... though you can easily see Refn's oversized personality reflected therein. 

Finally, I'd like to say congratulations to Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek) who finally came out this weekend. Quinto has been one of those 'everybody knows' celebrities for quite a while and I have to admit that when he starred in the recent revival of Angels in America last year (which I thought he was quite good in) and especially when he did his own "it gets better" video, I was getting uncomfortable. It seemed strange to star in such a defining gay work and to chase it with an "it's totally okay to be gay!" message of tolerance while staying closeted.  But... that's all past tense now. Good on him for doing the right thing. I especially like this bit on his official site: a gay life without publicly acknowledging it - is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.

Damn straight! I mean... er.... yes, well, carry on. Well done Zachary! Live long and prosper.



NYFF: "The Artist" Is A Work of Art

The orchestra swells immediately. The retro credits practically shout the glory of the talent "MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS!", JEAN DUJARDIN!" "BERENICE BEJO!" (exclamation points ours -ed.) but the first telling words on the screen in The Artist are actually wittily posted on a sign, urging everyone to keep their mouths shut. 

Please Be Silent Behind The Screen."

George Valentin shows off at his big premiere

We are at the premiere of A Russian Affair, the latest from silent film star George Valentin (Cannes Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin) as he paces behind the screen waiting for the film to end. You can feel the tension as he waits for the audience reaction. The score drops out completely and we hear... nothing (Tension!). Then comes the audience's thunderous applause (Relief!) ... but we still hear nothing. This punchline in the absence of sound gives The Artist its first huge and knowing release of laughter. We can't hear the applause but we sure can see it in the joyous smile spreading across the star's face. That smile is already mirrored and multiplied by anyone watching this new gem.

George meets PeppyThe push and pull between what we expect to hear or see, and what comes instead is one of the great and consistent punchline joys of this silent film about silent films. Again and again the writer/director and his excellent cast (led with infectious verve by the Oscar-worthy Dujardin) will surprise and move us. Sometimes the magic comes through an unexpected camera movement or destination and sometimes through the physicality of the actors themselves and often by both at once. The laughs even come through sound -- though never in conventional ways; The Artist is, from start to finish, an exuberantly inventive homage to the movies such as they were and such as they are.

The story is both charmingly dated, and blissfully universal, which is to say contemporary; technology and tastes will always evolve and change and disrupt the status quo. George Valentin has the world at his (happy) feet in 1927 when the movie begins but by the time the 1929 title card arrives, he's already a dinosaur. He just didn't feel the asteroid's impact and hasn't yet felt the chill. Valentin laughs off his co-star's (Missi Pyle doing an intentional riff on Lina Lamont) sound test even though his director (John Goodman) warns him...

That's the future."

The future arrives, as it always does, through doors opened by the past. In 1927 Valentin gives a leg up to a complete nobody Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo madly winking and, well, peppy, filmed at 20 frames a second) by giving her a big fannish paparazzi moment. She makes the most of this flashbulb spotlight and lands a part in his next film A German Affair . In one of the film's funniest sequences, which sneakily lays dramatic foundation for the second act, we see them do several takes of an inconsequential dancing scene together. I won't spoil the many joys of the unfolding plot but let it suffice to say that it fondly recalls all rise and fall and pick yourself back up showbiz narratives particularly A Star is Born as Peppy's star rises (she's the new "it girl" in talkies) just as Valentin's falls. 

The future is coming

Though the film organically veers towards the sentimental in its second half, it has built such comic goodwill and affection that you don't mind laughing less as George's decline takes the film toward its heaviest dramatic moments. The Artist even risks the maudlin as Valentin keeps uncovering new rock bottoms but there's a beautiful simplicity in its heartbreak imagery. In one scene the once great star stands in front of a projector in his lonely home berating himself for being "stupid and proud"; he's now just a shadow on a smallish screen. Hazanivicious, to his credit, never stops blissfully and obviously cribbing from the best of Old Hollywood like Orson Welles, A Star is Born, Sunset Blvd., and Asta. Regarding the latter, The Artist's not so secret weapon iis its star dog "Uggy" -- a constant companion to Valentin -- who could be a direct descendant from that famous screwball comedy terrier. Best of all, Hazanavicius never settles for just one mood, usually gifting the images and scenes with multiple feelings. To cite but one example, there's a shot that highlights Valentin's disintegrating marraige to Doris (Penelope Anne Miller) which shows you three Valentin's: on the wall hangs a deified Valentin in oil portraiture, standing in front of him is Valentin the actual man realizing his wife is leaving him while holding a defaced photo of his movie star self in his hands (his wife has been scribbling on his headshot). Isn't that the archetypal private life of a celebrity actor in a nutshell?

The Artist in concept could have been a mere spoof, or a pleasant but insubstantial comic homage but Hazanavicius and his gifted team never settle, always reaching for bigger laughs, and delivering unexpected and immensely clever mise en scène. The actors are magicians, themselves. Despite the constant literal winking, as befits the era, they never figuratively wink at the material, which would take you outside of it. It's a movie of sincere and not ironic pleasure.

A retroactive time-travelling note to all selection committees of "future" film festivals in 2011: Always schedule The Artist as your Closing Night movie. It's an impossible act to follow and it'll send your audiences off with hearts soaring. They're return with pleasure the following year eager to see what you've programmed for them. When the movie opens in theaters they'll be returning, too. A

Jean DuJardin and "Uggy", a match made in heaven.

Re: the Oscars
The Artist is the best kind of Oscar contender in that it never once feels like it was built to hook the Academy, but it will surely prove irresistibly delicious bait nonetheless. Expect nominations across the board for what will surely be one of our Best Picture contenders. It's the only film this season aside from Martin Scorsese's Hugo that's so deeply infatuated with the history of the movies themselves, the very thing that the Academy was built to chronicle.


London Film Fest: "360" and "Shame"

Dave here with my first report from the London Film Festival, which Craig introduced you to on Thursday. We'll start with the Opening Night Gala.

Jude Law and Rachel Weisz as unfaithful marrieds.

Fernando Meirelles' 360 seems a fitting selection to open a film festival, sold as a "dynamic and moving roundelay" that takes us across the spectrum of people on the globe. But this is globalization for the West; just forget, for two hours, that Asia and Africa and Australia exist and that people might have sex there too. Peter Morgan's script works like a daisy chain, flimsily linking together a collection of character shells who spread out across Europe and America, reverberating off one another. Mirka (Lucia Siposova) ventures into prostitution to the disapproval of her sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova); Michael (Jude Law) is her first client, whose wife Rose (Rachel Weisz) is having an affair with Rui (Juliano Cazarre), whose girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) has uncovered his lies and sets off back to Brazil, meeting John (Anthony Hopkins) on the plane...You get the idea.

Evidently, this is a film about how globalization has connected people across the globe, a decision from one changing the life of another, six degrees of separation, etcetera etcetera. It takes a delicate hand to make a daisy chain, and Peter Morgan is entirely too thick fingered and clumsy, forcing coincidence and connection between characters he forgets to give any identity to. Oddly sprightly culturally specific music crudely emphasizes the differing nationalities. Occasional split screens hilariously exaggerate the narrative parallels. Crafty editing connections verge on the farcical. Rachel Weisz is given a bad wig, Anthony Hopkins a bad monologue, and Ben Foster a luridly filmed introduction thanks to his character's sex offender status.

more 360° and Steve McQueen's Shame after the jump

Click to read more ...


Discussables: Lousy Animated Year, The TV is All Right, The Artistic Cast

Animation Magazine suggests that if the Czech Republic's Alois Nebel (recently submitted for Oscar's foreign language film race) also enters the Animated Feature race there might be over 16 eligible films and then that category could expand to five nominees. Christ, of all years to have enough films for a 5 wide race, this is not the year! That would probably mean that Pixar's Cars 2 got a nomination and who can live with that? NOT I! Can anyone even name 2 animated films that deserve to call themselves "Best Feature" this year? If Best Picture had the same ratio of release to nominees the Best Picture shortlist would be like 150 movies long. And the foreign language film nominees would total like 20. Seriously, the Oscar rules on the animated feature category are an unholy mess! 

Whew, with that off my chest -- sorry, I h-a-t-e-d Cars 2 -- Happier things now!

Deadline I keep forgetting to mention this and I'm sure you already know but they're turning The Kids Are All Right into a TV series. On the one hand TV series thrive on character you'd like to spend lots of time with and on that front it's a total winning idea. On the other hand the movie thrived on how succinctly it captured one crucial timeframe (the summer before college which is a universal Important Time Frame for families when it happens) and plus, how the hell you gonna replace 3 of the best adult actors on the planet and 2 of the most promising teen actors on the planet?

Frankly My Dear... thinks that either Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained or Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby will have to move away from Christmas Day 2012. I dunno. Didn't Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can open right on top of one another for Christmas 2002? It worked out for both those films. Maybe the general public is okay with Leonardo DiCaprio double features.

The Lost Boy says the smartest thing we've heard said about the This Means War trailer. But maybe you should watch it before clicking over. 

Broadway Blog reminds us that "Celebrity Autobiography is back for another season in NYC. In the show famous comedic celebrities read verbatim from the bios of famous self serious celebrities. I must go.

Twitch reminds me that I really should probably see Trespass even though the review is scathing and everyone agrees that it's a terrible movie. I keep putting it off but there is the Nicole Kidman Mandatoryness of it. What to do... what to do...

THE ARTIST TEAM: star Jean DuJardin, director Michel Hazanavicious, and the cast: Bejo, Miller, Grant and Cromwell

The Hairpin talks to character actress Beth Grant (who doubts your commitment to Sparkle Motion). I don't know if you were aware but Beth Grant is in the upcoming Oscar contender The Artist. She has a teensy tiny role in the excellent black and white / silent movie but at the press conference that followed its screening this past Friday, she made no bones about her excitement, calling it the pinnacle of her career even after name-checking No Country For Old Men, Rain Man and Donnie Darko. In short, she's totally besotted with it. A feeling that's easy to come by, actually.

If you believe the theory that SAG Ensemble Nominations go to The Movie That Actors Most Wish They Could Have Been In rather than the movies with the most ensembley of acting (DuJardin and Bejo totally hog this film) than this will be one of your five SAG Ensemble Nominees come January.


"Shame" Trailer, Quad, Reviews

We aren't doing a Yes, No, Maybe So on Steve McQueen's Shame since it seems we're constantly talking about it. It's like Shame Central up in here lately what with the partygoing, the quick words, Michael's NYFF review and David's LFF review (later tonight). Maybe I should try and get one of these awesomely funny mirror quads (found on Ultra Culture) to display in my apartment?

image via ultra culture

A movie poster that makes you feel all dirty inside when you look at it? Brilliant!

I am either doing accidental free PR work for Fox Searchlight or my Fassy addiction has really gotten the best of me. Between Fassy and Gosling this year, yeeeeesh. (You'd think they were both actresses or something the way I've been carrying on!)

Oh yes. Here is the trailer. It's a beauty. But the marketing department had a lot to work with given McQueen's and cinematographer Sean Bobbit's gifts with moving (and still) pictures. 

On a scale of 1 to 10", how excited are you to see this?