Tag Archive | movies

Relationships Ground ‘Days of Future Past’

What differentiates First Class, and by extension Days of Future Past, from the other five X-Men films is the emphasis on relationships. Of course, other films (especially The Wolverine) focus on specific relationships. But First Class examines a myriad of relationships that seamlessly power the story it wants to tell. Days of Future Past eloquently builds off of the primary relationships that defined First Class: Raven/Charles and Charles/Erik. By extension, we also have cursory follow-ups to Raven/Erik, Raven/Hank, and Wolverine/Charles, among others. We also have the relationships between younger mutants in the future (which carries over from The Last Stand), unspoken relationships (Erik/Quicksilver), and relationships that will occur in the future but haven’t yet in the past (Stryker/Wolverine, Wolverine/Jean). The sequel, by nature of its narrative conceit, also allows the viewer to examine the relationship between past and future iterations of the same character and how these might differ given a change in circumstance.

X-Men hinges (and wants to hinge) on the relationship between Charles and Erik. Their friendship, while often extremely estranged, is an emotional counterweight to the drama they face in the main story of any given film. They must continually navigate how to maintain a relationship with no trust but complete understanding of each other’s motivations. The future indicates that these men, despite these differences, find a way to come together and regain a complete friendship. Another core relationship, that First Class fostered and Days of Future Past capitalized on, is that of Raven and Charles. Their bond is showcased in First Class, but under the new influence of Erik, Raven leaves Charles to pursue the more radical side of mutant advocacy. Ten years later, they are out of touch. Raven is radicalized, even by Erik’s estimation, and Charles is desperate to rekindle their lost connection. After repeatedly appealing to her throughout the film, the ending rewards both Charles and the audience by his words finally reaching through to Raven. It’s a powerful moment and the film earns it by crafting the building blocks throughout the story. Days of Future Past ends with little clues on how these events affected future Charles/Erik and Charles/Raven, but I imagine it will be an important component of the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.

Other things I enjoyed about Days of Future Past:

A heavy reliance on First Class plot lines and characters, primarily because it is obviously the future of the franchise. It is the gateway between the camp of the original trilogy and the kind of comic book films being made today. As the relationships deepen, so too does actual plot from First Class: Raven’s blood is integral to both stories. In First Class, her blood is the key to suppressing obvious mutant traits (or at least that is what Hank deduces before injecting himself and completing the transition to Beast) and in Days of Future Past, her blood is the key to the destruction that the Sentinels will eventually unleash on mutants and humans alike.

Subversion of genre tropes: A downside to being any kind of genre buff is the recognition of the reliance on certain tropes. Some tropes define genres and are necessary as well as expected. (Why else do you think we still learn about the hero’s journey in English class?) The dominance of good and bad comic book movies prepare us for the typical narrative arc we are likely to encounter: origin, transformation, conflict/challenge/threat, resolution. The cleverer scripts will tweak various stages of the formula to offer up a fresh, compelling take on a familiar story. While it is impossible to shake off the skeleton of a coherent narrative (unless you are aiming for confusion), I prefer for films to allow for dynamism. Multiple times during Days of Future Past I found myself assuming where the story was going to go (and was proved wrong) and by the end, I wasn’t sure how it was going to wrap up. That’s exciting and rare for today’s Hollywood climate. For instance, while we can expect Erik to double-cross and/or use his reunion with Charles to his own ends, it happens very quickly — he attempts to kill Raven to “secure the future.” This seems destined to set up a Raven vs. Erik dynamic for the rest of the film, but only a few scenes pass before their first confrontation and it ends more “amicably” than I would ever expect. The overall plot moves with rational purpose but leaves the viewer unclear of what, where, and how the climax of the film will occur.

Parallel storytelling:  Whenever you have stories taking place in different time periods or locations, you have an opportunity to use the difference in space to examine and mirror the same themes in both narratives. It can be underutilized or a crutch, but Days of Future Past finds a nice balance that doesn’t draw too much attention to this device. In fact, I wish they would have used it a bit more. There are parallels in action: the Sentinels go on the attack in both 1973 and in the future, at the same time; Wolverine’s consciousness momentarily jumps back to the future at a time of heightened activity in both times. There are relationship parallels: an examination of Erik and Charles’ relationship in 1973 and in the future, as well as Charles’ relationship to his older self.

Time travel conundrums: No time travel movie is complete without addressing the consequences of time travel. This can come in many flavors: what happens when you change something in the past? Can you change the past or will the universe course correct? What happens if you die/get injured/kill someone else who wasn’t supposed to die? Every story approaches these ideas differently and more often than not, the principles of time travel often contradict, even in the same narrative. Days of Future Past keeps it simple and only briefly touches on the idea that you cannot change the past. The public spectacle that Raven, Erik, and Hank put on in Paris ramps up the demand for Sentinels and exposes the “mutant threat” decades before it happened in the original timeline. This leads Hank to question whether they can actually prevent the future. Of course, they can change it — leaving that time travel potential a mere thought experiment. Even Wolverine seems to be confused about the consequences of his own mission: when trying to convince Charles to join him, he focuses on what Charles will tell him in the future (when Charles says he’s never told anyone about his childhood fears, Wolverine replies, “You will.”). He fails to consider that if he fails in the past, that might not happen in the new timeline.

The Star Trek approach: The resolution effectively erases the arc of the original X-Men trilogy, allowing future films to tell the stories of Erik, Charles, Raven and other X-Men however the new writers wish. They are no longer constrained by what those films depict as the future for these characters. Just as J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek creates an alternate timeline to seal off the original series and give itself narrative space to tell new stories, Days of Future Past changes the timeline. Of course, in this case, the alteration to the main timeline indicates that every event in the original X-Men trilogy is now erased. (Not that it seems like many people will complain about this revision.)

These are the aspects that I keep coming back to when I examine the merits of Days of Future Past. As my title indicates, I find the relationships to be the essential part of the story. The actors (namely James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence) all elevate the material by their heartfelt performances. As I rematch these films, and look toward Apocalypse, the relationships between these three characters remain the biggest draw for me. Mutant or superhero, when you acknowledge your powerful characters are emotional as any human, you strike gold.

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Five Non-Traditional Holiday Films

While I have a standard list of go-to holiday flicks, sometimes it’s nice to watch a movie where the plot doesn’t revolve around shoving Christmas cheer and/or drama into every scene. A nice Christmas-tangential film is perfect for just the perfect amount of holiday awareness without causing you to OD on the big Christmas chill. This list doesn’t include Die Hard (because it is a gaping hole in my pop culture canon) but you know, some people may find that to be a good option as well.

Gremlins

A mogwai can make the perfect surprise Christmas gift. But if you accidentally get him wet, and subsequently feed your mogwai brood after midnight, your town will be in for a Christmas it will never forget! (Also, violence and death.)

Bridget Jones’ Diary

I can watch this year round but so much of its timeline is tied to the Christmas season that it makes for the perfect holiday movie.

Better Off Dead

Who can resist endless microwave meals wrapped up as presents? Or a picture of your host family’s creepy son? Or this movie in general because of its hilarity? I always think of this movie when I see a tiny teddy bear.

“Look Beth, I gotta go. The Christmas tree’s on fire.”

Rent

While I would recommend the live on Broadway edition of the show, the movie will also do in a pinch. Rent begins and ends its story on Christmas Eve, which it doesn’t let you forget due to its aggressive notation of the passing year. But the characters and their lives are far more interesting than the holiday itself.

American Psycho

There must be a point for everyone in American Psycho where you either fully get behind what is being presented, or don’t. I’d like to think that process begins when Patrick Bateman makes plans with Paul Allen at the work Christmas party to meet up. Also, “mistletoe alert” is the most abrupt/hilarious/creepy thing.

Horror 101

Inevitably, October dissolves into a re-visitation of horror movies I’ve seen countless times and sometimes taking some dubious chances on “horror” I haven’t seen yet. If it all works out, hopefully I will have added one or two to my rotation. The great thing about horror fans is that whenever we get to pow-wow, someone will have some obscure, great title that you’ve never seen before. And of course, judging from various tastes (supernatural, slasher, B movie), each collection will be skewed in some direction. I will freely admit I overly love anything from the ’80s: the good, the bad, the marginally okay.

Everyone has their own method of introducing a pal to a series, a genre, or even a new band. You have to strategically decide what to expose them to and when in the process. Someone wants to get into Doctor Who, you show them “Blink” (probably). Someone wants to get horror educated, you don’t start them with Sleepaway Camp (I mean…right?). My college roommate used to vehemently oppose horror. Luckily I wore her down eventually.  My method: first you gotta start with a spectrum-spanning base of classics. My go-to Top 10 of these would be something like:

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

1.Night of the Living Dead (1968)

“You could have dinner with us… my brother makes good head cheese! You like head cheese?”

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

“And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.”

3. Jaws (1975)

“Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”

4. Suspiria (1977)

“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the *devil’s* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… *evil*.”

5.  Halloween (1978)

“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

6.  Alien (1979)

“You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday… “

7. Friday the 13th (1980)

“Danny isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance. “

8. The Shining (1980)

“Look at her eyes. Look at her eyes! For God’s sake, what happened to her eyes?”

9. The Evil Dead (1981)

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. / Three, four, better lock your door. / Five, six, grab your crucifix. / Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. / Nine, ten, never sleep again.”

10.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

And because that list was really hard, I would in theory put these on the table as well:

Zombies!: Dead Alive; Possession!: The Exorcist, Child’s Play; Vampires!: Fright Night, The Lost Boys, Near Dark; Mogwais/creatures!: Gremlins, Pumpkinhead; Hell children!: Children of the Corn, The Omen, Carrie; Ghosts!: Poltergeist; They never come back…good!: Re-Animator, Pet Sematary, Hellraiser; Slashers!: Prom Night, Candyman, Black Christmas; Aliens!: The Thing, Phantasm

Of course you could go the new classics route with:

“If you were the only suspect in a senseless bloodbath – would you be standing in the horror section?”

“You’ve got red on you.”

“He always takes one.”

“I won’t let anyone come between us any more. “

“It hasn’t got a name. It’s a new system. I wanted us all to discover it! No one’s ever been down here before.”

“His name is John, Dr. Gordon. He’s a very interesting person.”

“In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes.”

Trying to Make Sense of Senselessness

When I woke up today, I honestly could not believe the news. Actually, it still feels surreal; like such an absolute invasion of everyday life could never happen. Of course, it happens all the time. The whole terror of violence is that it can literally strike anywhere, anytime. I didn’t spend my four years at college terrified of lecture halls that could be invaded by gunmen, but I lived in a post-Virginia Tech world. And I didn’t wake up petrified to go to high school, even though I lived in a post-Columbine world. And frankly, I went to school in an area where guns were probably present at my school, on students, more often than I would ever want to know. It is part of the human condition that we have to push the senselessness of violence out of our minds to get out of bed and go out into the world everyday. But, what happened last night in Aurora, Colorado was a new violation, one that hits home for me in new ways. Violence has found new ground and it is one that I frequent all too often: the movie theater.

And it is honestly something I have thought about. I think it must be the similarity between lecture halls and movie theaters. The vulnerable position you unwittingly put yourself in should something happen. But you wouldn’t think that would happen somewhere you go for just a few hours to lose yourself and escape the outside world. This is the grossest violation of it all: yes, we may go to see a film like The Dark Knight Rises, where villains use guns and bombs to terrorize cities, but it is still escapism and it is usually fiction. We want to set aside our own lives for a brief period and get lost in the life of someone else. To be so savagely ripped out of that world of escapism and back into our own broken, flawed world is unfathomable. And yet, some guy decided to do just that.

For big tent pole films like this, I am usually at the midnight show. I saw The Dark Knight at midnight. There is something electric about being able to share such an anticipated moment with hundreds of other people (even if it includes being squished into queues that condense those hundreds of people into a few feet of real estate). But I didn’t see TDKR last night. So I can’t imagine which is worse: to not have seen it (and blissfully ignorant of what was happening in Colorado, seen the film) or to live in this world now, where I won’t be able to shake this feeling of dread and hopelessness when I do finally see it.

One thing we have going for us now is the prevalence of social media. We are connected like never before, so we have allies in our grief and allies in our sense of injustice and outrage. We can login to Twitter or Facebook and add our sentiments to the masses, being comforted by the notion that this is being felt everywhere. The first thing I saw today was an article by Alyssa Rosenberg over at ThinkProgress, which beautifully captured all my sentiments and more. This quote is particularly stirring: “We are vulnerable when we go to the movies, open to fear, and love, and disgust, and rapture, surrendering our brains and hearts to someone else’s vision of the world.” And that is what is great about going to the movies. For someone to exploit this is unimaginable, but it happened. The other thing that struck me was how social media brings us so much closer to the victims. Obviously the entire event was recorded in real time on cell phone video, via text messages and Twitter (and other means I’m sure). And for some people who are very active on social media, we get to see their final tweets and their final blog posts before, unpredictably, their lives changed forever or were ended.

I love midnight showings. I love being that excited to see a film. And movie theaters are one of the last places left where we can congregate with total strangers and equally experience the same emotions: laugh together, be scared, be stimulated. Sure, some people save money and wait or save money and watch it illegally. But unlike other experiences that new technology has replaced in our lives, the movie theater remains as one of the last vestiges of the free time of yesteryear. A constant in an otherwise changing world. Our world may now include jacked up prices and unnecessary 3D, but for the most part we don’t care. I don’t want to be scared to go do one of the few things I enjoy without reserve in this world. And I hope we don’t lose that social contract with fellow moviegoers that we struck so long ago.

Down a Dark Hall to be Adapted

Entertainment Weekly posted last week that Lois Duncan’s book Down a Dark Hall will be adapted by Stephanie Meyer, creator of He-Who-is-Shiny Edward and the rest of those people. Like many, I was excited to see a book I enjoyed in my teens being thrust back into prominence. But I am anxious about Stephanie Meyer and what her influence will do to it. (Shuddering at the thought.) Serendipitously when I discovered my cache of Lois Duncan books in the attic, I decided to sit down and see what I had in store – and how Hollywood would likely adapt the story for our modern age and movie-going expectations.

My obsession with Lois Duncan books fell sometime in between devouring everything Nancy Drew and scouring used bookstores for Christopher Pike titles. My version of I Know What You Did Last Summer ties in with the movie version as the cast from the film is on the cover. That’s right, the film led me to the novel, but at least it was the gateway to more Lois Duncan fun.

Apparently (disclaimer: my source is Wikipedia), Duncan was none too pleased to see her YA novel turned into a horror movie. Which actually makes sense because (spoiler alert) I was stunned when reading the book that neither Helen nor Barry (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe’s characters in the movie) die. As a SMG obsessive at the time, I was actually pleased with this alternative narrative. Her book Killing Mr. Griffin was adapted into film in 1997 and again under the title Teaching Mrs. Tingle in 1999. I remember the previews for the Katie Holmes and Barry Watson-helmed Teaching Mrs. Tingle well, but do not remember Helen Mirren playing the titular Mrs. Tingle. I haven’t see it, and why, Helen, why?!

But if true, her outlook is sort of a shame: even if they are gearing toward the Twilight crowd, Down a Dark Hall has all the ingredients necessary to pull off a spooky, atmospheric horror film. In fact, throughout the book, there are many elements reminiscent of horror movies that came out after Down a Dark Hall was published. What jumps out immediately? Suspiria; in fact, I could almost see some people (not knowing it was a book) thinking of DaDH as a modernized take on Suspiria, although the film came out 3 years after the book. If a script, and director, could put together a film as creepily haunting as Argento did with Suspiria, this could be awesome. In Suspiria, an American ballet dancer travels to an elite academy in Germany only to discover it is run by a coven of witches. Like main character Kit in DaDH, Suspiria’s Suzy is often woozy and falls asleep unexpectedly while strange events happen around her.

Some aspects reminded me of Evil Dead. One girl in particular, Lynda, appears possessed by the spirits that compel her to paint. Similarly, a possessed Kit throws a broken pencil at her friend Sandy, evoking memories of this scene in Evil Dead and this scene from The Faculty. Pencils are deadly. Similarly, when Ruth throws her notebook on the fire and howling voices emanate from it, I couldn’t help but think of the Book of the Dead when Ash throws it onto the fire.  Briefly, I also thought of A Nightmare on Elm Street, if only because of the evil that awaited when the characters slept. Kit repeatedly fails to stay awake to prevent the spirits from taking over – if only she took a page out of Nancy’s book and kept a coffee pot under her bed (I remain envious of this).

My takeaway: I identify – a lot – with Kit. She looks around the small town (that she doesn’t even get to visit) and remarks “There isn’t even a movie theater!” (When I went to college, the sight of the local Regal made me feel instantly better about life.) And her newly remarried mom and step dad dropping her off at boarding school so they can take an extended European honeymoon?: that is straight out of my worst fears as a child. This quote in particular from new dad Dan, annoys me: “I know your position in the family has been different from that of most girls; with just the two of you, your mother has treated you as an equal rather than as a child. You’re strong-willed and independent and very used to running things. But you are not going along with us on our honeymoon”. All of that uttered as if it is a bad thing! To be fair, I think Duncan wants us to feel as slighted as Kit; the real perpetrators of evil in this book almost seem to be Kit’s mom and Dan: guardians surreptitiously pointing Kit towards Blackwood and ignoring her fears because their honeymoon was so damned important. I would feel so much satisfaction from being able to tell my mom how wrong they both were and how miserable I was in part due to their inattention. To think my mom would let anyone talk to me like Dan talks down to Kit is just unfathomable. Thankfully, I also believe that my mom would never have left me anywhere for that long of a time, especially if I voiced misgivings about it and pleaded to leave immediately.

There are only a few things I think Stephanie Meyer should change in the adaptation.

  • Kit should be older than fourteen. She certainly acts older than that in the book and any flirtation that she will get to have in the movie with Jules, a recent graduate of a European music conservatory will be less creepy. Duncan does a pretty good, Stephanie Meyer-esque, job of describing Jules as the hottest guy, like, ever. But as Kit faces some tough revelations about Jules, she re-evaluates and no longer finds him attractive – not sure if this is in Stephanie’s wheelhouse.
  • There is the obvious need to update technology. One of the biggest reveals in the book that something is up at Blackwood occurs when Kit notices neither her mom nor her best friend are receiving her letters anymore. This will not fly in this day and age, especially with Skype. How can the movie get the students so isolated for so long? And the whole “ugh, no signal” trope will not work for many parents.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer, at the end of the day, was a horror movie, making the deaths of two of the characters all but necessary. Had the book been adapted in the vein of Twilight, they could have stuck to the main plot instead of creating the Ben Willis character. With Stephanie Meyer taking the reins on DaDH, I assume (and hope) that there will be little derivation from the book in this regard.
  • Finally, the book stops abruptly: we know that Kit has escaped and she will be rescued almost immediately after the conclusion. It is fairly satisfying but — at the risk of book purists getting up in arms — I would love an epilogue to these events. The book ending denies us the chance to see Kit’s mom’s reaction to what happened at Blackwood. We fail to find out what happens to Madam Duret and if her deceits, forgeries, and abuse are uncovered for the world to see. Would Kit forgive Jules after he stands up for the girls against his own mother? Questions I would love to see answered on the big screen.

Musings on Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Canadian programming and Dawson’s Creek

As I researched Ryan Gosling’s filmography, I came across a little gem of a picture with Michael Pitt. I thought, whoa what is this Michael Pitt movie? And then I realized: Murder by Numbers from 2002. I own this; I desperately want to watch this now. Problem: it’s not on Netflix Instant and 8/9 of my DVD collection is at my house and not at my apartment. I probably haven’t watched it since at least 2004 because it isn’t one of those “I have to watch this over and over, show it to my friends” type of movie.

But I digress: This is a great movie to look at in terms of before these two actors became THE Ryan Gosling (like THE Bradley Cooper) and Jimmy Darmody. Regardless of the creepy killer factor (which would have attracted me to it) I am guessing that Ryan and Michael were really the driving force behind why I saw this in theaters. (But as I brush up, maybe Ben Chaplin as well…although I did not know Nick Offerman yet! And he was no Ron Effin’ Swanson then). And it is right about this time that Ryan would make the transition from former Mickey Mouse clubber to full-fledged star with The Notebook; Michael Pitt worked steadily as well but his breakout moment did not come later with his work on Boardwalk Empire.

But these fellas already had a special place in my heart: Ryan for Breaker High and Michael for his role as Henry on Dawson’s Creek.

I am not sure what I first saw with Ryan Gosling but, from his filmography, I started with Breaker High when my digital cable subscription included Encore’s WAM (it probably no longer plays these shows). Before BH he was involved in an episode of one of those shows my friends and I always reminisce about: Are you Afraid of the Dark? I am not sure if it was after school or during the summer, but I loved me some Canadian programming. Any and all episodes of Breaker High and Our Hero I could watch multiple times.

Whereas Breaker High was about kids attending high school on a cruise ship, Our Hero was about a girl who communicated her life lessons through zine form.  Luckily, WAM tended to air them all over and over so I could get my fill (I mean, BH had 44 episodes total and OH had 26). I could never get into the other show they liked to air from New Zealand, The Tribe (funny how now I am part of my own Tribe), and generally judged it whenever it came on.

I distinctly remember that he was a prominent feature of a website I liked to go to for all my teen obsessions and that his gallery included a lot of shots from Young Hercules, although I never watched the show. When Murder by Numbers appeared on my radar, I was excited to see this new dark side. Most people would probably argue they first saw him in Remember the Titans, and while I most likely did know he was in it at the time, I have never been enthused by sports movies (sorry, Moneyball).

Requisite Ewan capture from Stay

From there he became a household name with The Notebook and bona fide movie star as we all chanted “McAdams loves Gosling!” And he has appeared in many movies I have been motivated to see: Stay (well it has Ewan McGregor so…), Half Nelson (had award consideration), Fracture (probably something my Dad dragged me to), Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. This man has been working steadily for years and making pretty good script choices. Well done. Moving on…

First of all, can we clear the air? Why is Dawson’s Creek no longer cool? Why do people look back and say, oh boy, I bet these guys don’t want us to mention their Dawson’s Creek days. They should be proud of it; compared to many teen shows, Dawson’s Creek was a ground breaker for dealing with many teen issues and it has produced more actors that continue to be significant and even A-listers than most other former teen shows combined. I could rant on about this for a while but the bottom line is it sort of hurts my feelings to hear Michelle Williams, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson and James van der Beek parody their time on Dawson’s Creek and/or act like it never happened. DC was a big part of my formative years and it is a show they should be proud of (at least the first three seasons), and not shrink away whenever it is referenced.

Michael Pitt annoyed me about as much as he initially annoyed Michelle Williams’ character Jen Lindley on Dawson’s Creek. He was younger and childish and prone to flying off the handle for no good reason. But just like Jen I started to think well hell, he IS sweet and Henry’s earnestness began to rub off on me. And then it became bizarro world with Jen the cheerleader dating a football player, a place she (and us) probably couldn’t have ever imagined when she first showed up in Capeside. Michael appeared in a slew of prominent movies that I saw before Murder by Numbers: Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bully as well as a prominent movie I haven’t seen, Finding Forrester. And just like Ryan he worked steadily afterwards, garnering attention for The Dreamers and appearing in The Village and Funny Games among others.

Why it is good to revisit older movies: Fran Kranz, Adrien Brody, Michael Pitt and Jesse Eiseberg are ALL in The Village? I definitely blocked out that knowledge.

But it was his role on Boardwalk Empire that really turned heads. As each episode progressed, Jimmy Darmody became the most complex, compelling character on the series. Forever haunted by his time spent in France during WWI, we slowly get to unpack his character scene by scene. How and why did he go from Princeton to the war to employment with Nucky? What is the deal with his mother? And sometimes it is nice to just spend some time with Jimmy, whether he is enforcing for the Italians or plotting a coup in Atlantic City. And his friendship with Richard Harrow was truly a boon for us viewers. And to sum up, Boardwalk Empire leaves it indisputable that this guy has some acting chops that I hope to see more as his career continues.

 

In sum, it is nice to look back on how these two formidable actors converged on one movie set a decade ago and how they have each grown. Murder by Numbers represents a time where I already had my reference points for their respective careers (admittedly they were teen shows); moving past that point, my reference points have changed due to the expanding caliber of their portfolio.

Let’s Pretend the Independent Spirit Awards are the Oscars in 2012

I have officially expanded my award season repertoire with rentals of 50/50, Margin Call, and Drive. One problem: it doesn’t give me much headway when it comes to the Academy Awards race.

But, taking a look at the nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards, airing the day before the Oscars, I feel much more on top of my game. Most movies I thought mattered this year are being honored at the ISA. (Of course The Artist and The Descendants are still nominated for Best Feature, sigh).

But what else do we have? 50/50, Beginners, Drive and Take Shelter. I can’t wait to check out Take Shelter and I am very pleased to see Best Feature nods for Beginners and Drive.

Under Best First Feature we have: Margin Call and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

The Best Supporting Male category mainly serves to give me a confidence boost because I have seen all of the films: Albert Brooks for Drive, John Hawkes for MMMM, Christopher Plummer for Beginners, John C. Reilly for Cedar Rapids, and Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris.

It is a little odd to see Shame and Melancholia under Best International film but no complaints here.

And finally, Margin Call gets the Robert Altman Award (given to one film’s director, casting director and its ensemble cast) and oh yes, it deserves it. I could hardly peel my eyes from the screen as the movie unfolded and a big part of that has to do with the amazing cast. I always tend to believe Zachary Quinto is the MVP of anything he is involved in (Heroes, Star Trek, American Horror Story) but everyone else was up to the task of challenging him on that, even Penn Badgley (shockingly). And I have to say, watching this was far more entertaining than listening to a two hour podcast on the origins of the financial crisis for my International Finance class.

Lots of Loki love today! Is it May yet?

Here's Tom NOT answering my tweet. And check out that awesome Thor poster!

Today The Avengers official Twitter page hosted a live Twitter Q&A with some of the stars and Joss Whedon. Even though Buffy is one of my favorite all-time television shows, it wasn’t enough to sway me. Until I saw that Tom Hiddleston was also joining in (I didn’t even know he was on Twitter!) I had to get in on the action. Of course neither Tom nor Joss answered my tweets (oh well) but it plunged me straight back into my Loki obsession while I was at work.

I won’t go into my strange attraction to misunderstood evil masterminds (hello, Benjamin Linus), at least not in this post. But the combination of Loki possessing this trait and Tom Hiddleston’s penchant for long character-essay discussions during panels make an irresistible draw for me. I am just so psyched that Loki is the villain in The Avengers and I am way more interested in him than most of the others combined (well, I am anxious for more Jeremy Renner).

Seriously, if you watch any panel where Tom is involved, the majority of questions go to him and he just…knows exactly what to say; he is definitely as emotionally invested in Loki as I am. And his answer-tweets were a treasure trove of Loki insights and teasers.

Some highlights from the chat:

What was your biggest challenge in playing Loki in the #Avengers ?

  • @twhiddleston: The biggest challenge was magnifying his menace without losing touch of his emotional truth. Keeping his chaos honest!

In Thor, you had lots of emotions. In #Avengers, was there a day where you were devastated emotionally after “cut”?

  • @twhiddleston: In all honesty, yes. Sometimes you wake up feeling warm and sunny, but the scene requires hatefulness and spite. You have to reach deeper. And stay aware of the fact that the emotions are true, but they’re not mine.

Might we see a more mischievous (rather than mostly just evil) Loki in the #Avengers ?

  • @twhiddleston: ENTIRELY. More mischievous. More evil. More hubristic. More delusional. More damaged. More badass.

In the end of “Thor”, we see that Thor still loves his brother and misses him a lot. Does Loki feels the same?

  • @twhiddleston: The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. And Loki hates his brother.

Shakespeare quote to describe Loki?

  • @twhiddleston: “O beware my lord of jealousy, it is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Othello) … Or: “Stand up for bastards!” (King Lear)

Other choice tweets from @twhiddleston:

  • Who are these Avengers? They were made to be ruled.
  • He doesn’t want revenge so much as identity. Belonging. Purpose. Self-esteem. Through delusional dreams.
  • MARGIN CALL was sensational. Smartly written, impeccably performed, utterly compelling. Chilling, brilliant, terrific.

Why, between Margin Call being .99 cents on Amazon today and this glowing review, I think I am watching Margin Call tonight! (Maybe I am not the only one who stalks the daily deal on Amazon Instant?)

The Help: Now I’ve Seen 3(!) Best Picture Noms…

I finally worked up the motivation to watch The Help (with a little nudge nudge from Amazon since it was a weekend rental deal). Okay. OKAY. I liked it. I found myself extremely invested in many of the characters. And if I wasn’t particularly invested, I was still engaged.

After last night’s SAG awards (where The Help won for best ensemble and Viola Davis won for Best Female Actor in a Dramatic Role, not to mention the continued streak of Octavia Spencer) I am hoping that the momentum will shift towards The Help in the Oscar race. Although, let’s be honest, The Artist winning for best ensemble would have been a joke. Keep in mind that I am still operating under the assumption that I will not be as charmed by The Artist as the rest of Hollywood seems to be. Months from now there may come a post about how clearly Past Me was an idiot and The Artist is the best thing ever. (But Present Me is letting Future Me worry about that).

Some quick takeaways:

  • I loved, loved, loved Jessica Chastain’s character. I hadn’t heard of her until maybe the beginning of 2011 when she got cast in every single new movie but she’s great! I hate all the Bridge Club women for looking down on her and I was SO HAPPY that Mike Vogel actually loved her (as opposed to marrying her solely because he knocked her up). I had a feeling it would turn out that he knew about Minny cleaning the home and cooking the entire time, but it was still a sweet reveal.

Clearly there is a deleted scene...right? Whaaat is happening?

  • I also didn’t know about Chris Lowell playing Emma Stone’s love interest. Now my criticism here may be one part I always fall for sappy love stories and one part I didn’t read the book so maybe something got lost in adaptation, but: Stuart quickly saw that our heroine Skeeter was different from the other women and loved her for the same reasons we did. He tells her to write about something that matters and all seems well. But when she reveals how radical her writing really is, he completely flips out, without any indication he would react in this fashion. Yes, I realize that Skeeter moving to NYC probably would have put the kibosh on the relationship anyway (she is moving into the world of Don Draper…) but that is a much more valid reason then his little hissy fit. I guess the writers wanted to resolve the storyline (in case people went out of the theater seriously fuming “well it was nice but what happened to Stuart, I just have to know!!”) but this is one of my biggest film pet peeves: a throwaway scene at the end of the movie that basically unravels an entire storyline. Oh well. My hope is that the storyline is a bit clearer in the novel?
  • The clothes! Had to jump on eBay immediately after and cruise the vintage section.

The fashion, yes please! They can keep the hairstyles.

  • I see a lot of people comparing this to Crash and citing that as a reason it may win Best Picture. I disagree, mainly because I do not feel Crash was deserving of Best Picture. It was preachy and everything that The Help was not. The Help may win for the same reasons Crash won but it is definitely in a different league.

Oscars 2012: The Year Hollywood Celebrates Itself

Hollywood is pretty full of itself this year: The Artist, Hugo, and My Week with Marilyn all harken back to the glory days of film. These choices are the epitome of conventional: no Shame, no Bridesmaids, no Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I feel wholly uninspired by this year’s best picture nominations. In years past I was excited by races like The King’s Speech (vs. The Social Network) and The Hurt Locker (vs. Avatar). I have no such drive or interest to see The Artist or Hugo.

Best Picture Thoughts: This year I have seen precisely 2 of 9 nominated films—and I have no real desire to rush out and see any of the others. Why not just go ahead and have a 10th  film if the voters are so divided? Hello, why not throw in Bridesmaids or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Other than the two I have seen, the rest of the nominees are a pile-up of films that I had an excuse to pass on for one reason or another. The Artist: a celebration of old Hollywood that is notable for its nostalgia in this day and age but would be less of a sparkler in 1925. The Descendants: most comparisons likened it to a Lifetime movie.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: simply, got mixed to negative reviews. The Help: did not pique my interest.  Hugo: thought it was a kid’s movie? Moneyball: sports movies are my kryptonite. The Tree of Life: history of the cosmos, what? With all the other stunning films of this year overlooked, I might make an attempt to watch those films already out, namely: The Help, Moneyball and The Tree of Life. That would put my count at 5, and I usually push for at least a majority. Right now I am placing bets on The Artist (and I generally make an exception to see what I believe will be Best Picture) but I feel so unmoved in this race. So disappointing. I have been on a streak of seeing and predicting Best Pictures since 2007. And last year was a banner year: I saw every contender except Toy Story 3; can it please be last year again?

Good thing Michael Fassbender is such a dedicated actor. No really, I don’t think he needs an Oscar to validate his work. Yet.

The snubbed:  Too Polarizing? Young Adult, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Drive, the darker and more groundbreaking films, were all snubbed.

Andy Serkis, Patton Oswalt, and Albert Brooks were all expected to be nominated. But Michael Fassbender wins for most shocking snub. I am still very dismayed over his exclusion. Peter Travers throws in Michael Shannon and Tilda Swinton as well.

Other Category Thoughts:

Best Actor: Seems like George Clooney has the momentum right now; even if Michael Fassbender failed to combat the might of Clooney, he deserved a nod for Shame. I do think Tinker Tailor deserves some love, so go Gary Oldman (in his first nom!). I resolve to check out A Better Life as soon as possible.

Creepy good, Glenn

Best Actress: So far I have only seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but Michelle Williams is the darling in this category. However, I have a feeling that when Albert Nobbs finally reaches my eyeballs I will be very impressed with Glenn Close. Hell, I already am…she is a fellow alum!

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer all the way. I love me some Beginners. And Patton Oswalt (hooray for another alum!) wasn’t nominated. Sad face. But at least he has a good sense of humor about the situation.

Best Supporting Actress: The GGs seem to indicate Octavia Spencer, but this has been quite the year for Melissa McCarthy.

I don’t really know my stuff well enough to pass judgment on the other categories (how great would it be if Bridesmaids won Best Original Screenplay!? Or Midnight in Paris.) But as someone else pointed out, no Art Direction nod for Tinker Tailor? If I hadn’t watched the HBO First Look on TTSS, I wouldn’t know about how many meticulous ideas came together to create that stunning 1970s atmosphere of dread.

(Not actually the nominated song, but ya know, wanted Bret)

Best Song: Apparently only two songs were up to snuff this year. The day Bret McKenzie wins an Oscar will make this girl very happy; and I haven’t even seen The Muppets. Here is a glimpse at how insane the voting rules are for the Oscars (and why only two songs made the cut): Songs are watched in the context of their films (during scenes or even the credits) and academy voters rate them on a scale of 1-10. Those with an 8.5 or higher are nominated. So apparently out of the 39 eligible songs, only these two scored higher than an 8.5. Thanks, Entertainment Weekly!

I have already reached a state of denial: how can we fix this year’s Academy Awards? Seems like I am going to have to ride out this storm of disappointment.