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Entries in Hit Me With Your Best Shot (189)

Wednesday
Aug192015

HMWYBS: Angels in America (2003)

What follows is a republishing of a piece I'm proud of from our very first season of Hit Me With Your Best Shot (you can see the index of all six seasons here) when I was somehow far more concise with "Best Shot" despite feeling like I was overdoing it. I've added in notes and links for contributions from other Best Shot participants and I'd like to thank Manuel heartily before we begin for his fascinating contextual work on HBO's long history of LGBT films and series this summer and for sharing this week's HBO LGBT episode with us for our redo episode of this Great Work. Read that piece before you read this. Ready? Let's begin...

Tony Kushner's extraordinary two part stage epic Angels in America centers around two overlapping young couples in the mid 80s, struggling married Mormons, pill popping Harper and her closeted husband Joe and the gay couple Louis and Prior they become connected spiritually (Harper befriends Prior... in her dreams) and physically (Joe becomes Louis's other lover). But it's also about politics, immigration, religion, identity, and evolution and encompasses multiple other characters from Louis's outspoken gay friend Belize, to Joe's mother, to the evil lawyer Roy Cohn, the dead Communist Ethel Rosenberg, and a frequently orgasmic Angel who descends on many of the players. This masterpiece was adapted for the screen in 2003 by Oscar winner Mike Nichols. Along its journey it won 7 Tonys, The Pulitzer, and later 5 Golden Globes and 11 Emmys and here's the thing: it deserved every single prize. If you haven't seen it drop everything (seriously everything) because it is unmissable. I've seen it performed on stage three times in three different states with wildly different budgets and casts and seen the miniseries a few times too... and every single time it's a fascinating prismatic living thing, like it will always be teaching you, entertaining you, and provoking you.

Rather than limit myself to one shot I'm picking one from each of its chapter. This I can manage!

Chapter 1 "Bad News"

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Aug192015

HBO’s LGBT History: Angels in America (2003)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Gus Van Sant Palme d’Or winner, Elephant, which sparked some great conversations about the merits of that one shower scene. I’ll say this: that so many of us had such visceral reactions to his film is in itself worth celebrating. Also, from hate crimes to gender transitions to mass shootings, was HBO ahead of the curve or are we merely being shown how little has changed in this past decade?

This week we tackle Tony Kushner and Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking miniseries, Angels in America. It took Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play close to ten years to make it on screen. Beginning as a Robert Altman two-part TV movie (with rumored roles for Julia Roberts, Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert Downey Jr. and Tim Robbins), later being offered to such varied directors as PJ Hogan, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Demme, and Gus Van Sant himself, HBO eventually stepped in and handed Mike Nichols Kushner’s miniseries script. The rest, as they say, is history. And since this is such a momentous piece of television history, we’re hosting it as a Hit Me With Your Best Shot celebration. (Later tonight, you can see Nathaniel's choices and those from other participants)

First my runner-up:

Orgasm as heavenly combustion. Lesbianism as holy communion. Emma and Meryl. There are so many things to love about this image (I love Hannah Pitt’s commitment to keeping her shoes on, for example), and it’s in a way a companion piece to my all-time favorite moment in the series.

My favorite shot: (and yes, I know it's cliché)

A New York City apartment. Amidst the Reaganite politics of the United States in the late 80s, former drag queen Prior Walter, a recently diagnosed AIDS patient, has been left by his partner Louis and finds himself all alone with fevers, sores, night sweats, visions of ancestral messengers, heavenly echoes of prophecy and the coming of an Angel. So ends “The Messenger” the third episode of the HBO miniseries (ie. the end of Millennium Approaches, the first half of Kushner’s play). By the start of Perestroika, and upon retelling his encounter with the female Angel to his friend Belize, Prior can’t help but remark that: “The sexual politics of this are very confusing.” The scene as written on the page is breathtaking. In Nichols’ hands it’s heavenly.

It’s not just that this shot is beautiful, though it is what with those yellow hues, the gorgeously frayed roof, and Thompson’s pearly white Angel costume. For me, it’s one of the moments where Kushner’s own “pared down” style of Brechtian theatricality, and Nichols’ commitment to naturalism find a perfect balance. This “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” lives and dies in its tonal shifts, being both a gay melodrama (with its breakups, divorces, sex romps) and a feverish day-dream (with its angels, ghosts, sex romps). This one scene, with the Angel announcing that “The Great Work begins” is the apotheosis of both, underscoring both Prior’s loneliness and increasingly loose connection with the world around him after losing Louis, and highlighting the fantastical elements of Kushner’s script which connect the AIDS plague with issues of movement, migration, faith, and humanity. If the human race is to survive, they must stop. Stop moving. Stop wanting. Stop desiring. And perhaps more importantly, stop having sex. The allegory is both blunt and nuanced. By the end of the piece, Prior says he desires more life,

It just... It just... We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks - progress, migration, motion is... modernity. It’s animate, it’s what living things do. We desire. Even if all we desire is stillness, it’s still desire for. Even if we go faster than we should. We can’t wait.

I also love the framing; with its wide angle, it’s almost like we’re watching a stage (bonus: note Prior’s actressexual altar in the corner!) and while Thompson’s angel (a bemused bird-like creature) crashes the scene, you can almost see the wires showing (“and maybe it’s good that they do,” Kushner’s playwright notes point out). It’s not surprising this was used as the main image in the promo materials for the miniseries (it’s even the DVD cover!) as it so embodies the duality that so defines this piece: ethereal and corporeal, the heavenly and the earthly; heck, even the gay and the straight. Yes, the Angel and Prior copulate, but it’s as queer a configuration as one could ask for (“she has eight vaginas” we’re told). Yes, the sexual politics are very confusing. For they have to be. This is a messy, sprawling piece whose ragged edges merely mirror the fragmented world it is trying to depict and, in turn, change.

 Fun Awards Fact: In 2004, Angels in America broke the record for most Emmys awarded to a single program (11 of 21 nominations), a record then held by another landmark work on minority representation: ABC’s 1977 Roots: The Saga of an American Family. That record was later broken again in 2008 by another HBO megahit: Tom Hooper’s John Addams. You’ll take solace in knowing that Hooper himself lost the Emmy to Nichols in 2004 (where the former was nominated for Prime Suspect 6) and to Jay Roach (for Recount) in 2008.

Next week: We pause again on HBO’s television output by looking at three LGBT characters from three of HBO’s most talked-about television shows: The Sopranos, The Wire and Carnivàle (You can stream episodes of each on HBO Go and Amazon Prime). Any fans of these dark dramas? 

Wednesday
Aug122015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Chicken Run" 

With Shaun the Sheep currenty struggling at the box office, it's an ideal time to give a round of thanks to Aardman animation for all their wonderfully specific aesthetic and the painstaking stop motion or stop-motion-like CGI shorts and features they've made over the years. This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot travels back to 2000, the year before Oscar added a Best Animated Feature category, to the film that surely would have won it had they started just a year earlier: Chicken Run.

This delightfully British comedy is about a tenacious 'hard boiled' leader Ginger who wants to rescue her fellow hens from their egg-making enslavery at the farm before they become roasts. Mrs Tweedy (perfectly voiced by Miranda Richardson), tired of the farm's low profits, decides to make them pies instead. Cue slapstick action, a sly morbidity, repetitive but highly effective sight gags and lots of jokes about prisoner of war films, organized labor, groupthink, and, you know, chickens.

Here are the Best Shots chosen by our informal club. Click on any of the images to read the accompanying article. My choice is at the end of the post.

CHICKEN RUN (2000)
8 shots chosen by 10 participating blogs 

I’m impressed with their smart set and costume designs that imitate the war time, including concentration camp (the chicken farm), clothing and even the gas chamber (the pie machine)...
-Chirapat

My favorite moments are the slightly darker and somber ones that really give this film its depth...
-Sorta That Guy

I always say when I judge a comedy the number one factor is- Did it make me laugh?  The answer for Chicken Run is Yes!  I laughed back in 2000 and I laughed today watching it. 
-54 Disney Reviews 

 There's a great mastery of visual grammar at work here, and directors Park and Peter Lord show a strong hand in their feature debuts.
-The Entertainment Junkie

The mixture of round, soft and mostly appealing character designs with its detailed and bleak world is jarring at first, but the mixture of the two give the film quite a striking look...." 
-Magnificent Obsession, um blog de cinema 

A very traditional movie in terms of plot mechanics, but it becomes something much more sentimental and endearing by telling this story from the perspective of a group of claymation chickens..." 
-Coco Hits NY 

The shot above is one of the many great sight gags in the film..."
-Film Actually 


More like people than the absolute dread of the Tweedies in their midst, the chickens quite quickly caught me off-guard with their stock yet recognizable personalities...
-Movie Motorbreath

The content and framing of this shot being rather conventional, save for the chickenification of it. Which is no sin, of course..."
Antagony & Ecstasy

As for my shot...

This is not it, but I have to share it because it was my heartiest laugh in 2015 (and I didn't remember it at all from 2000). A throwaway reaction shot during Ginger's planning meeting...

Now, i know our last escape attempt was a bit of a fiasco… 

The "acting" in this super brief cutaway is nothing less than perfection.

I normally select my shot before I've seen any from the contributors but I was late this week and of all the images I saved, two of the three I was struggling to choose between were Babs with her knitted noose, a great morbid sight gag, and that beautifully eery overhead shot in the oven, which is so bold design wise and unlike much else in the movie. Amusingly they happen to be the two shots that were both chosen more than once! Or perhaps it's telling considering that the film relies heavily on highly conventional, even cliché, shot types -- see Tim's article for a good description of why this is

The best shot in Chicken Run is not a single shot but the repeated motif of entire groups of chickens staring directly at the camera, blinking round eyes, dimbulb groupthink, and unified emotions, whether its awe, hope, or hysteria. But it's so much funnier in motion, so here is my choice.

Also funnier in motion, as the farmer does a double take with his flashlight, and the real chicken, hiding under the bed making awkward chicken noises. It's a great meta joke about this entire movie; a movie painstakingly crafted by humans with anthropomorphic clay chickens as their stand-ins, with the chickens themselves play-acting animal behavior for "humans" inside of it, with their own crafted objects. It's smart but, even better, it's sublimely silly.

NEXT WEEK: ANGELS IN AMERICA (2003) - Here are the details

Wednesday
Aug052015

Best Shot - The Final Episodes of the Season

Some News!
A few weeks ago we asked your opinion on changing up Hit Me With Your Best Shot into a year round but non-weekly feature -- to better hit movies when they're available outside the summer time. After careful consideration, we're going to experiment with the current Season 6 by extending it irregularly through October. We simply can't do it during the four intense Oscar months (November-February) as much as we'd like to... time being just way too tight. But for Season 7 I think we'll try biweekly from March through October of 2016. How about that? 

NEXT UP...

ANGELS IN AMERICA (2003)
Wed Aug 19th - season finale... or is it?
Mike Nichols and a team of truly superlative actors (some giving the performances of their careers) interpreting the genius plays by Tony Kushner caused a sensation on HBO in 2003. We actually did this miniseries in the first season of HMWYBS but since almost none of you were playing back then, we're doing it again as a special edition of Manuel's ambitious HBO LGBT project. You can select any one of the episodes to focus on should you be lacking in time -- six hours is a lot -- or pick one from the whole miniseries or one from each episode.

 

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
*Monday Night Special September 7th*
Before the official kick off of fall prestige season (i.e. the Venice/Toronto/Telluride madness) let's revisit the most exciting film of Summer 2015 as an FYC for Oscar voters who don't often think "hey how about that sci-fi action franchise?" while voting. George Miller's long-in-production return to his post-apocalyptic desert world turned out better than anyone could have possibly expected, i.e. better than any of its predecessors with more adrenaline fueled scenes than 90% of what passes for "action" of late and fine performances from Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as Imperator Furiosa and Mad Max.  [Digital Copies release: August 11th | BluRay/DVD release: September 1st]

We'll do two more titles in October and call Season Six a wrap!

 

Wednesday
Jul292015

[SAFE]

[SAFE]
Written and directed by Todd Haynes. Cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy.
With Julianne Moore, Xander Berkeley, James LeGros, Beth Grant and Peter Friedman.  

Hit Me With Your Best Shot has been running for six years and we've finally braved one of the most fascinating jewels of the 1990s cinema. Todd Haynes's disturbing, sad, confounding, and highly interpretable early masterwork [SAFE]. It's the film that layed the groundwork for the cult of Julianne Moore (on the heels of her well regarded but little-seen performance in Vanya on 42nd Street). Two years later mainstream stardom with frequent eyes on the art house, hit. In 1997, a seismic year, she had her first major role in a blockbuster (Lost World: Jurassic Park), her first instant classic with accompanying Oscar nod (Boogie Nights), and fell in love with her eventual second husband, then freshmen director Bart Freundlich (Myth of Fingerprints). And by then people were starting to discover [SAFE], too. The film's reputation is such now that people forget that not many people knew about it back then. It grossed just $500,000 in theaters and mystified many critics. 

I've never forgotten this line from a Damian Cannon review back in the day

The acting is amazingly flat and inexpressive, the result of a performance by Moore which is either fantastic or abysmal. "

More after the jump including the Best Shot Choices

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jul222015

"Best Shots" and Plentiful Words on VMA Nominees

Presenting: a "very special" (ahem) edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which Nathaniel climbs on a speeding train of thought for an impromptu journey into this year's celebrated music videos. Lots and lots more after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jul212015

Last Minute BEST SHOT Schedule Change for the VMAs

For tomorrow night's Best Shot we're moving Todd Haynes [safe] back one week to Wednesday July 29th -- trust that I can't deal with it right now emotionally for reasons I will explain next week

TOMORROW NIGHT INSTEAD...

We're talking MUSIC VIDEOS since the MTV VMA nominations were just announced -- and Nicki Minaj is NOT pleased that her "Anaconda" is not in the top category. If you've always wanted to try Best Shot, this is a simple experimental episode that you can do without renting any movies! Watch each video, choose a "best shot" from each, post it and explain why (on any of your social media outlets), let us know and we'll link up tomorrow night!

THE NOMINEES FOR BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me” (Larkin Sieple)

Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” (Daniel Pearl)

Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood” (Christopher Probst)

FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks” (Justin Brown)

Alt-J – “Left Hand Free” (Mike Simpson)

 

THIS WILL BE FUN, DON'T YOU THINK? JOIN THE PART TOMORROW NIGHT BY 10 PM