Friday, December 23, 2005

Will Brokeback Mountain come to the bible belt?

I haven't gone on a rant for a while so here's one. Brokeback Mountain still hasn't come to Tulsa and it's getting a little ridiculous. Maybe I'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD since it might offend religious folk, homophobes and other narrow minded individuals who live in the region known as "The Bible Belt." I just want to see what is being hailed as the best film of the year.

I love westerns. I love director Ang Lee. I love novelist Larry McMurtry (he wrote the screenplay). I don't care that it's a love story between two men. Big deal. Two actors kissing and cuddling by the campfire. Yawn. It's 2006 people. The movie, from what I know of it, is less about the "men" and more about the turmoil of their love and the secrets that exist around them. Besides, a great movie is a great movie--I just want to be able to see it!

There are often cultural events that make me ashamed to be an Okie--the whole Tin Drum episode for example--and the absurd wait to get this lauded and mainstream--that's right, mainstream--movie because of its subject matter and where I live is just frustrating and wrong. Believe me, not everyone in the state of Oklahoma is a conservative who gets worked up in a lather about a movie about two cowboys in love. There might actually be film lovers, gay or straight, who want to see what might be one of the year's best films and maybe one day we'll get to see it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Heart Jennifer Jason Leigh

After talking about Fred Ward and Miami Blues/Short Cuts, decided I must write something about a co-star of those films—Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I first developed a crush on Leigh in 1982 when she played Stacy, the sexy as hell girl next door, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since then I’ve watched her in anything—from period dramas to junky roles to sci-fi to seeing her onstage on Broadway. I’ve watched her in lead roles and in supporting roles. She’s just one of these people I love to see and try to watch her in every movie she’s in.

Leigh’s not perfect in my book though—I loathed The Anniversary Party (2001) with a passion when it came out. Early in her career she was involved with some lurid and cheesy b-films (The Heart of Midnight--1988, Buried Alive--1990, The Men’s Club--1986, Grandview U.S.A--1984). She was also in some good genre pictures over the years like The Hitcher (1986), Single White Female (1992,more guilty pleasure than good) and The Big Picture (1989, a great satire of Hollywood from Christopher Guest).

What I’ve always loved about Leigh is she is up for anything as an actress and has been fearless in what she does on screen. I admire that. Her career is littered with characters that are whores, prostitutes, killers, junkies, drunks, depressives—you know, bad girls. She's also known for her research and preparation for roles which I always find interesting.

Watch Leigh in the adaptation of Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) playing the local prostitute “Tralala” to see what dark depths Leigh will go to. “Tralala” is a heartbreaking character and Leigh is like a caged animal in the film, full of rage and a deep sad, desperation. Or catch her if you can in the TV movie The Best Little Girl In the World from 1981 where Leigh starves herself so extremely she looks dangerously ill.

The strange thing is I’ve read that Leigh is rather bookish and introverted in real life. Isn’t that always the way? The most daring performers are often the most reserved people when not performing.

Leigh’s heyday was the 1990s. She had nine films in that decade that I recommend as being really good. Nine. Miami Blues (1990), Rush (1991), Short Cuts (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Georgia (1995), Kansas City (1996) and eXinstenZ (1999). Is that not a great decade for an actress or what? If someone can find me an actress who did better or more varied work in the 1990s please feel free to try and convince me.

Leigh was completely robbed of Oscar nominations for Mrs. Parker and for Georgia. I’m not even counting the terrific time travel and romance tv movie she did in 1998 with Campbell Scott called The Love Letter. Heck, let’s add that and make it an even ten for great movies in the '90s.

Leigh is 43 now and that’s a weird age for a female actress in Hollywood. She’s doing a lot of supporting roles and she’s still great. I have the feeling she’s going to be a good character actress as long as she wants to be and 23 years after I first saw her as a teenager, I still have a crush on her.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The squid and the whale

While I wouldn’t call The Squid and the Whale a “fun” movie to watch—it is acerbic and wryly humorous as it chronicles the breakdown of a family in 1986 Brooklyn, New York. It’s one of the best films of the year and one that never removes us from this family’s tense, dysfunctional splintering apart.

Meet the Berkmans: Dad Bernard is a bushy bearded Jeff Daniels. Bernard is the intellectual patriarch of an intellectual family whose own career as a writer has hit difficult times just as his wife (Laura Linney) has hers take off.

The two kids, Walt—a teenager—and his younger brother Frank—are as messed up as their parents and act out in various ways. One steals song lyrics as his own and spouts out Bernard’s opinions and alienates a nice girl he’s seeing; the other curses like a sailor, masturbates in school and wipes his semen on lockers and library books as if he’s marking his territory. As you might say—the kids are f-ed up.

Bernard and Joan are having flings soon after the separation—Bernard with a 20 year old student (Anna Paquin) who writes short stories about her vagina (at least according to Bernard and his over-analytical mind); Joan with the tennis pro Ivan (Billy Baldwin), who is a “philistine” according to Bernard, and who likes to call everyone “brotha.”

Any movie with repeated use of the word philistine is okay in my book.

When Bernard and Joan separate, the kids are literally split between to two parents and they become even more difficult as both are faced with all kinds of complicated issues of loyalty. No kid is ever ready to face, or should have to, the issues that they have to face when parents divorce—but that doesn’t stop the adults thinking kids should choose one parent or the other.

The Squid and the Whale is one of the more honest, cringe-inducing films regarding divorce and the bitter hostility that seethes below the surface in a family when it breaks apart. It makes a film like Kramer V. Kramer seem as if it is a silly TV melodrama.

The Squid and the Whale is honest, or blunt, in how it portrays the hidden rages of these people and might be too realistic for some. Anything may cause the rages to bubble to the surface—ping pong, tennis, talking about books, anything. I found it refreshingly bitter to the very end. It would have been very easy for writer/director Noah Baumbach to soften the story but he never does. Good for Baumbach as softening the story would have denigrated from a very smart, caustic little movie.

I’m a long term Jeff Daniels fan and he gives one of the best performances of his career as the opinion-spouting father who is full of just that—opinions. It seems as if all the enjoyment of “discovering” is lost to him and all he can do now is analyze and suffocate all around him. It’s a complex, joyless performance from Daniels and one of my favorites of the year.

It’s interesting The Squid and the Whale was released in the holiday season where we get cheer and pleasantry in release after release. I loathe the phoniness of Christmas “spirit” that sometimes exists, so I love to see something running against that current. It’s a great antidote to the “perfect worlds” often created in films out now and is an honest, dark, smart, funny, bitter look at a family crumbling apart at the seams. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Heart Fred Ward

I’ve been meaning to write something every now and then on favorite actors, actresses, directors and other film people so decided to start with a career appreciation of one of my favorite character actors: Fred Ward.

While I’m not opposed to writing about “stars,” I’ve always been drawn to character actors. They always seem to do some of the most interesting, unheralded work in film acting and Fred Ward fits into this category as his career stretches back to the early 1970s. He always provides a grizzled, off kilter, “everyman” presence to any film he's in.

My earliest memories of Ward would be in Walter Hill’s Cajun revenge picture Southern Comfort (1981). Ward plays one of the National Guardsmen (along with Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) who are hunted down and killed by a bunch of pissed off swamp Cajuns. As a kid, this was just great, great stuff.

A year later Ward was in a movie I also loved as a kid—Timerider. In it he plays a motocross rider who goes back in time (while still on his bike!) to the old west and gets into a mess of trouble while getting to ride this bizarre looking machine around while everyone else was on horseback. In ’82 when I first saw this I thought it was such a kick ass film and I still hold a special place for it in my heart as time travel is something I always love seeing in films.

1983 was a good period for Ward as he was in some very prominent movies such as Silkwood and The Right Stuff. Ward spent some time in the Air Force and military or cop roles would become a staple of Ward’s through the years.

In 1985 he was in two more favorites from my youth—the toss away teen comedy Secret Admirer (I remember going on a “double-date” for this one at age 16) and Remo Williams. Remo Williams was intended to be a franchise action-comedy in the Indiana Jones mold that should have been more popular and made Ward a star. But, box-office didn’t come and doomed Ward to more character roles.

The early 1990s were Ward’s biggest in terms in the quality of films he did. Big name directors had noticed him and cast in films by Philip Kaufman in Henry and June (1990) and Robert Altman in The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993). Henry and June is notorious for being the first film ever released in the newly created NC-17 rating and Ward had the role of Henry Miller in the controversial film.

1990 also saw two cult films from Ward in Tremors and Miami Blues. Miami Blues to me is kind of a lost treasure of the 1990s with a young Alec Baldwin playing an oddball criminal and Jennifer Jason Leigh as his sweet-hearted hooker girlfriend. Ward plays a cop on their trail who is missing his teeth. Ward has had a long history of great roles but his Hoke Mosely in Miami Blues is probably my all time favorite.

Unfortunately, Ward sort of drifted into the world of b-film and TV in the mid-1990s and has never fully gotten out of it. He did have a nice little comedic role in Sweet Home Alabama (2002) but sadly he hasn’t gotten the kind of roles he did in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

It’s a shame too as Ward is so appealing a character actor and just delivers great, interesting, watchable performances. I have discussed Orlando Bloom’s lack of screen chemistry a few times lately and while Bloom doesn’t have it—watch Ward in one of these films I’ve mentioned and he jumps off the screen in a way Bloom only dreams of.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lowlights of 2005

I see hundreds of movies a year and not all of them are good. Actually, most are kind of average with a small percentage being really great and a percentage being really bad. The good ones will come later—now is the time for the awful movies or performers of 2005. The fact that some of these made a lot of money is like a dagger in my heart. The first Android will be handed out to one of these films below when we get the statues delivered to the offices. Let the ridicule begin!

The Pacifier
Hands down one of the worst pieces of garbage I’ve seen this year belongs to this unfunny and unoriginal Vin Diesel comedy. Diesel comes from the Sly Stallone school of acting which often means monosyllabic grunts in place of actual lines of dialogue. The man is just an awful actor who has more screen chemistry with his biceps than he does with other actors. Everyone and everything else about The Pacifier is just second-rate moments stolen from other films and a leading candidate for the worst movie I saw in 2005.

Sahara is a complete mess of an action film with probably the silliest, most full of nonsense story all year (I know, action films don’t have to make sense if enough stuff blows up but when you see 250 films a year—blowing up stuff is not good enough). Probably the biggest negative for Sahara to me is the worst actor in Hollywood cast in the lead. That’s right Matthew McConaughey I’m talking about you. McConaughey is so bad an actor he makes Vin Diesel seem like Robert De Niro in his heyday! McConaughey should stick to bongo playing, worrying about his hair weave and rogaine treatments and leave the acting to people with talent. Did I mention the story of Sahara is just an absurd excuse to blow stuff up? Even the great Steve Zahn can't save this disaster. Awful.

Orlando Bloom
When making the list of the worst of 2005 I quickly saw that Orlando Bloom happened to be the lead actor in two of the films so why not make him one of 2005’s worst? He deserves it for foisting two bad films like Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown on us. Do teenage girls swoon at the knee regarding Bloom’s pretty boy looks? Probably, and it’s likely more than teenage girls. The problem with Bloom is that he has absolutely no screen chemistry. None. Zero. I don’t care how good-looking you are, looks have nothing to do with the mysterious quality known as “chemistry,” and Bloom is lacking in it. Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown makes weak movies even weaker by his being cast in the lead as he can't create chemistry with the romantic leads either in Eva Green and Kirsten Dunst. Any male who can't generate sparks with Eva Green must not be human. One thing that makes these two movies so disappointing and qualifiers for worst of 2005, they were made by very talented directors—Ridley Scott and Cameron Crowe. They are too talented to put out bad films like this but they both have a good excuse if they want one—Orlando Bloom.

Lord of War
While probably not the worst film of the year for me, I disliked this vile, heartless, soulless piece of satire that falls flat and is just a misguided waste of time. While I appreciate the “guns are bad” message of the film, it’s done with such a smug, sanctimonious way that it just filled me with bile while watching it. Nicolas Cage unearths a bad toupee (does he ever wear a good rug?) and pompous narration to send Lord of War into the range of one of my least liked films in years.

The Island
I actually kind of liked this in the beginning as it stole from two movies from the 1970s I love—Logan’s Run (1976) and THX 1138 (1971). Unfortunately the director was Michael Bay and anyone familiar with the name of Bay knows he likes to shoot and blow stuff up. And when I say blow stuff up, I mean blow stuff up. Bay has such a fetish for fire he should be put on wanted posters for being a pyromaniac. The Island devolves into a typical Bay film with everything that moves being shot or blown up with beautiful slow motion shots of the explosions. Jeez Bay, get help from a therapist and stop making us watch your obsessions with explosions and actually make a film with a good story that is worth spending 90 minutes of my life watching (I’m not holding my breath, Michael Bay is Michael Bay after all).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Let the people speak or forever...

Long layoff. Sorry. Kind of busy. December will be a month of lots of posts once I get going. I promise.

Curious to see what other people think has been the best/worst in film for the is your chance to infuence the voters of the first ever Android Awards that I will be doling out over the next few weeks. So, what movies have you loved or hated? What actors/actresses have stood out? What film has been overrated or completely annoyed you? Any overlooked films that you loved in 2005?