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Entries in Lena Dunham (4)

Thursday
Jan302014

Sundance: 'Lilting' and 'Happy Christmas'

Our last two Sundance movies! But for the roundup/index post in the morning, this is our final bit of coverage from Sundance 2014. Let's end with two movies featuring faces and topics I'm willing to bet you'll love: Ben Whishaw in a gay culture-barrier drama and Melanie Lynskey and Anna Kendrick in a dramedy about sister-in-laws.

Chang Pei Pei & Ben Whishaw in "Lilting"

LILTING
Remember Chang Pei Pei as Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? She's just as pissed off in Lilting, but with good reason. Her only son Kai (Andrew Leung) has abandoned her by way of sudden death. This is not a Spoiler Alert: We see him in flashbacks but he's dead as the story begins. She's left grieving and alone... but for unexplained visits from her son's "best friend" (Ben Whishaw) though she can't fathom why he keeps dropping in since a) she hates him though she can't exactly say why and b) she doesn't technically know that her son was gay. Props to Pei Pei's performance that those two details are so willfully and obtusely fused together. She knows. By the very nature of its plot, particularly if you've lost someone you deeply loved way too early in life, Lilting is hugely moving; I was a wet-faced wreck. But while the film gets much thematic resonance from Chang's inability to adapt or communicate in her new homeland (she never learned the language and leaned on her son heavily), I did grow frustrated with the constant withholding. Ben keeps refusing to tell her the truth, even though he has every reason and backstory desire to do so. Lilting won the World Cinema Cinematography prize and, though its simple images have a kind of crystalline beauty, I can only assume this prize is for all the dreamy shots memorializing the peak beauty of Andrew Leung & Ben Whishaw lolling about shirtless and snug in bed. That peaceful aesthetic beauty amplifies the furiously unfathomable irreversible loss of love.

Grade: B
Distribution: Not at this point but LGBT films usually find their way eventually. It was much easier for LGBT to get traditional distribution years ago when gay people were loyal to the arthouses. (But that hasn't been the case in some time.)

The Cast of Happy Christmas © Larry Busacca/Getty Images

HAPPY CHRISTMAS
IMPORTANT NOTE: Chicago readers can see this later today at the Music Box Theater with Joe Swanberg in attendance doing a Q&A!
Happy Christmas is an intimate highly enjoyable and tighly focused dramedy about a husband and wife (Swanberg with Melanie Lynskey) with a newish baby (Jude Swanberg - too hilarious!) who are lending their basement to the husband's sister (Anna Kendrick) after her latest breakup. Leaving the theater afterwards I wondered how much better Swanberg's films might be with a little more time for second drafts or rehearsal. He keeps cranking them out and though they're all quality (I highly recommend All the Light in the Sky if you can find it) they don't quite crossover. But then I realized how uncharitable that was. Though Happy Christmas is perhaps too modest for greatness I must also quickly emphasize that it is wholly satisfying. Swanberg describes his impetus for making the movie as wanting to dramatize the process by which in-laws become siblings. That's a beautiful goal and a rare topic, too. Also rare: the opportunity to see great supporting actors like Lynskey dig into a large role and mix it up in zesty character-based comic scenes with Lena Dunham & Anna Kendrick. (Swanberg writes outlines but the actors fill in the details)

Lena Dunham & Anna Kendrick babysit Jude Swanberg in "Happy Christmas"

On a related in-house note, I wanted to give a shout out to a reader 'TB' who, in our recent post about Anna Kendrick and the Movie Musical, provocatively suggested the following:

that Anna Kendrick is emerging as the face of musicals is a fundamental sign that modern Hollywood doesn't understand what makes musicals work. She constantly positions herself as an actress above and outside her films, happily pointing to all of the places where it's not real. She's skittish around her own emotions. She has two feet FIRMLY planted in reality at all times. She's staunchly contemporary. It's not just that these are flaws, it's that these...directly work against what a musical needs to survive.

I thought that was an astute point even if I don't wholly agree that a very contemporary persona can't work within the movie musical, a more flexible genre than most will concede. But I am happy to report that there is a pretty great moment in a funny-touching scene in Happy Christmas with Lynskey wherein Kendrick totally embraces and uses this very quality described FOR her characterization, both playing it out and commenting on her own skittishness. I think she's really talented. And, as it turns out, self aware. 

Grade: B+
Distribution: Yes. It's Magnolia so a very limited release will happen eventually. No word yet on when. But if you're in Chicago,  GO SEE IT TODAY. It's fun and sweet and the ensemble is great. 

Monday
Mar182013

Likability

Hello, lovelies. Beau here, hoping you all have had a fantastic weekend. Whether that involved arguing over the season finale of Girls, shielding your eyes from Halle Berry’s hair in The Call, or just readying yourselves for the onslaught of leprechauns and green colored ale that is St. Patrick's Day, I hope it’s been an enjoyable one before heading back into the work week.

A lot has been said about Lena Dunham and Girls. I don’t have a strong desire at this point to rehash the plot details and synopses of the past episode or the entire season for that matter (though I did that for the finale of season one). But, for myself, being an avid viewer of Girls and eagerly anticipating the next step in Ms. Dunham’s career, the most discomforting element of all the criticism and controversy surrounding the show is that there is particular attention being paid to the characters "likability".

This concern isn’t strictly limited to Dunham or Girls. The "unlikable!" charge has been levied at multiple television programs and films these past couple of years, as though whether or not you liked the primary set of characters, or the supporting ones, dictated whether or not the work as a whole was working or not.

HUH?

Regan. Eve. Maya.

I remember being pretty put off, frankly, this past summer when several online pundits and reviewers were slandering Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette for this very reason. more...

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Saturday
Mar022013

All Hands on Link

IndieWire ABC may forge a miniseries out of Oscar nominated AIDS doc How to Survive a Plague
Hollywood who said it: The Pope or "Fifty Shades of Grey"?
MNPP ways not to die celebrates King Kong for his 80th anniversary 
The Advocate interesting take on Seth MacFarlane's Oscar night hosting gig, in which the author believes his entire performance was satire of sexism. I think that's an optimistic forgiving stretch but more power to you for enjoying the show so much! 

Clothes on Film the shoes in Stoker
Empire Emma Watson may play Cinderella
French Films about Trains points to 14 directors whose films are worth obsessing about in advance  
/Film Whoa. They're STILL trying to get Pride & Prejudice & Zombies made? You'd think Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter's fate and the free zombies on TV would have finally decapitated that project.
The Talks with Brian de Palma on violence in cinema and the staying power of Scarface
Unreality a pitch to Netflix. If you're going to revive beloved series, why not Firefly?
The Credits talked to Gavin Bocquet production designer for Jack the Giant Slayer about his work and the new visual fx demands of Production Design:

...if we were around during the Gone With The Wind time, you know the production designers job was more or less the same, you still had to create what you wanted to be the image, and then you broke it down into how you produced it. So the process is the same for the production designer, but the tools and the palette are a lot more variable in terms of what you can do, and also at times much more expensive. 

Weekend Must Watch
Brava to Chelsea Davison for this incredible mimicry job & spoof: here's "Lena Dunham" auditioning for Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. So funny.

So... you know this silence is literally torturing me. And yes I do realize now that in this situation that choice of words might have been a little inappropriate. But, you know, it makes *me* feel like an asshole that I have to threaten to torture you every day. So... if you could just tell me I'd really appreciate it and we wouldn't have to keep doing this"

 

Thursday
Dec132012

With Regards to Lena Dunham

Hello, lovelies. Beau here, discussing a unique talent whose first foray into television just released on DVD and Blu-Ray for all the sorry souls deprived of the best network on television.

Lena Dunham might be the most divisive director of her generation. Self-deprecating, incisive, witty, aware to a fault, she’s what would happen if Diane Keaton and Miranda July met and had tea using Amy Heckerling as a footstool. But at the same time, her characters and their individual dilemmas are direct reflections of their generation, behaviors indicative of a group of twenty-somethings who devoured Palahniuk and shit out Klosterman. They Know What They’re Doing And They Are Smarter Than You. Hipsters cum Proselytizers. Join us or be deemed irrelevant.

I’ve talked with several co-workers, friends, relatives who’ve watched either Tiny Furniture or Girls (or both) and find her writing and her characterizations insufferable. Others still find it remarkable and on-the-nose, a young woman (or girl, if you will) entirely aware of her faults and vices and dealing with them through humor and observation.

The question then is: is that something we want to watch?

 

Click to read more ...