Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Top5" in 2005

Okay, I know a lot of y'all have a "Top5" group of actors or actresses who grace a favorite spot in your heart because we've discussed it over the years. I'm talking people you both love to see in movies and who you just love to see. Period.

The Top5 list could be lustful, could be an obsession to stalk, could be someone you think is just cool who you want to hang out with and go eat fondue. Whatever. Just leave your own Top5 in the comments--and if I "know you" know you, please put initials or something so I'll know it's you.

My Top5 philosophy usually means it's someone I've seen in movies that year or recently--whether new or old films. If they take a hiatus for a few years, I drop 'em. But that's just me. My current Top5 reads like this...

1/ Rachel Weisz. Just look at the photo! She's a longtime member of the Top5 list and has been at the top since 2002 and will be on it '06 and '07. Heck, she might even challenge Winona Ryder for longest span of time on the Top5.
2/ Zooey Deschanel. Not only fetching but seems like she'd be very cool to know and hang out with.
3/ Scarlett Johansson. Reeks of Hollywood star of old--not a lot of the stars nowadays can say the same.
4/ Eva Green. Freckled French actress who is hard to miss in The Dreamers and The Kingdom of Heaven.
5/ Morena Baccarin. From Serenity/Firefly...Likely one timer as I doubt I see her in anything this year but she played the sexiest and classiest space prostitute ever in the series and film.

Dropped out of the Top5: Paz Vega, Emily Mortimer and Rosario Dawson.

Update, January 30th. I saw Match Point tonight and I'm gonna have to put Emily Mortimer and her quirky British charm back in at #5. Goodbye Morena, just haven't seen you in enough.

Dropped out of the Top5 but was put back in: Emily Mortimer.

So, this is my list until at least summer comes, ha.

Rachel Weisz, Zooey Deschanel, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Green and Emily Mortimer.

Don't be chicken...what's your Top5?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Heart Chris Penn: 1965-2006

I just learned that Chris Penn passed away while reading Down With Pants! and was saddened to see that. I've been a fan of Penn (Sean's younger brother) going back to Footloose and The Wild Life from 1984 and have felt he hasn't really been able to deliver the type of character roles he could deliver. Now, we'll never know.

Five Penn movies that you should see:

1/ Short Cuts (1993). Robert Altman's epic look at working class Los Angeles with a terrific ensemble cast of which Penn is a part of. His repressed pool cleaner is sad and dangerous at the same time as he's driven mad by his sex phone operator wife (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh by the way).
2/ Reservoir Dogs (1992). Penn plays Nice Guy Eddie Cabot who helps set up the robbery gone wrong in Quentin Tarantino's first film. Penn's death will end his involvement of a rumored return to Cabot and the Vega Brothers (Vic and Vincent) that have shown up in Tarantino films.
3/ The Funeral (1996). Another gangster role for Penn--he was made for cops and bad guys--in Abel Ferrara's period gangster film.
4/ Footloose (1984). Penn plays the sweet farm kid who just wants to dance and lets Kevin Bacon lead the boogie down rebellion into another town.
5/ At Close Range (1986). Penn joins Sean in this gripping crime coming of age tale that also stars Christopher Walken.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The new world

A new Terrence Malick movie is cause for celebration in some circles. Considering that The New World is only Malick’s fourth film in thirty-three years (his first, Badlands, came in 1973), it should be a cause for celebration for anyone who loves cinema because of the unique film style and outlook on the world that Malick embraces in his films.

I don’t know what brought Malick out of his twenty year hiatus in 1998 with The Thin Red Line but as long as he’s making a movie every seven or eight years, I’m a very happy camper. I’m one of those people who are celebrating in the theatre as the lights dim as my heartbeat goes faster and faster when I see that first Malick shot—but I’m just geeky like that I guess.

The New World is the telling of the early days of American history—done Malick style, which I will go into—as the English arrive in Virginia in early 17th century. What they find is not the Eden they imagined—you know the popular myth where gold was everywhere, just laying on the ground waiting to be scooped up by the handful.

No, this “new world” wasn’t quite so friendly. The English build a makeshift fort, fight off starvation, live in absolute squalor and manage to make enemies out of the one people that can either keep them alive or kill them off—the Native American tribes that populate the area (one of which is played by the great Wes Studi, an Oklahoman).

The film has one of the best opening ten minutes I’ve seen recently. The English ships arrive on the shores and the Native-Americans witness these vessels from the protective barrier of the trees while being completely stunned and sort of freaking out. Music builds with intensity, no words are spoken, yet these two cultures come face to face for the first time, and knowing the outcome over the next couple of hundred years—it’s a powerful moment.

The early story concentrates on John Smith (Colin Farrell, who I can't stand but luckily he is sort of controlled by the fact there’s little dialogue for him to butcher like he usually does) and his relationship with the fetching Pocahontas. He’s torn between his love for this woman, vastly different than anything he’s known before, and his duty to England and his need to explore the unknown world.

Pocahontas, played by newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher, desperately loves Smith and is willing to sacrifice all for him—including her traditions within the tribe—but Smith isn’t so sure. The film uses this love story as the basis for exploring a lot of other ideas that Malick wants to look into.

Well into the film Christian Bale shows up as another settler in the Virginia colony and who takes a fancy to the beautiful Pocahontas. When Bale enters the film the story picks up again from a sagging middle portion of the film that wasn't as good as the 1st and last third.

The New World has the usual visual aplomb by Terrence Malick. This means breathtakingly beautiful cinematography that embraces natural lighting. By using natural lighting Malick creates mood, varied color tones and atmosphere just by showing this world the way it actually looks—not by adding anything artificial to the look of the film. It’s stunning to see.

Malick has a philosophy background and this film is an extension of that as it’s a meditation on love, nature and the destruction of untainted lands that go hand in hand with his previous films. The story has little dialogue, as there’s more internal narration than there is people talking to one another.

The pace of the film is also rather slow, which fits with the story, as life among these people is seasonal. Life is connected to the natural elements around them. Malick returns to scenes of nature over and over again. No one films nature like Malick—no one. Water, light in the trees, wheat, rivers, sunsets and other aspects of nature return repeatedly.

At one point, Pocahontas sums up Malick’s opinion on wheat by stating simply, “I love grass.” I do too, Mr. Malick, I do too. I could sit and watch Malick show wheat like he does in this or in his 1978 film Days of Heaven for hours on end. The man knows how to film wheat like nobody’s business!

I love Malick’s storytelling style but it might put off some not initiated in the way he makes a movie. Don’t be alarmed. If you can allow yourself to slow down and let his lush visuals, the epic quality, the loose narrative style wash over you, a more rewarding cinema experience might be had by watching this versus most of what’s in theatres.

It takes a bit of work sometimes while watching The New World, but the dividends are greater. When the movie is over, you feel like you’ve seen one man’s artistic vision and a magical spell has come over you, it’s not some overly processed, manufactured by marketing strategy film like so many of the movies released these days are. Isn’t that a feeling worth working for just a little bit? I think it is.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Android #8--most annoying

The obvious winner here is “Grinnin’” Tom Cruise but I’m not going to choose him because that’s too easy. Cruise was a nitwit of epic proportions in 2005.

Cruise meets Katie Holmes and evidently goes crazy in lurve from her kisses and batting eyelashes as he’s jumping up and down on Oprah like a nut, railing against psychiatry and Brooke Shields on vapid network TV, getting into it with people at movie premieres and who knows what else. The guy is a grade-A doofus who can’t act either.

The ANDROID for most annoying person of 2005 goes to…

Jude Law. This guy is an idiot. His first offense is he has to be in 25% of all the films released recently and delivers the same stale performance in all of them.

His second offense is he dumps his wife and mother of his children (actress Sadie Frost) for younger actress Sienna Miller.

Third offense, Law can’t control his desires and seduces the nanny! This costs him the affections of Miller for a few weeks (and wins him an ANDROID!). This is Hollywood though and Law is obviously a smooth talker, so last I heard he and Miller were back together. At least until Law sees some hot as hell barista that he has to have right then and there.

Android #7: best actor

While I’m waiting to see Match Point and Transamerica, I’ll go ahead and give the best actor ANDROID as those don’t have actors touted as something that might be award worthy. First the contenders…

Terrance Howard for Crash and Hustle and Flow. Howard burst onto the radar in 2005 with these two electric roles from two films I really loved. His smooth talking Memphis pimp in Hustle and Flow is the Rocky Balboa of pimp-rap films.

Daniel Day-Lewis for The Ballad of Jack and Rose. The film is flawed and a bit na├»ve, the performance of Day-Lewis however, was up to his usual standards of brilliance. The saddest thing about Day-Lewis is he just doesn’t act much anymore. He’d rather be off in Italy learning to make shoes or some other intense hobby. The man is just the best actor to grace the screen the past 20 years in my opinion.

Jeff Daniels for The Squid and the Whale and Good Night, And Good Luck. Another dual role nominee is long time favorite Daniels, who is starting to really amass a varied list of roles in his career. In Squid, he grows a massive beard and delivers one of the best performances of his career. In Goodnight, he proves he can deliver a measured, small, character role with the best of them.

Robert Downey Jr. for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Good Night, And Good Luck. Downey is another double role nominee along with Howard and Daniels. Good Night’s entire cast was great and Downey has a terrific, small part but it’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that really sees him in his element as a fast talking criminal pretending to be an actor lost in the Hollywood muck.

And the ANDROID goes to…

Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote. So good is Hoffman playing Truman Capote that this was an easy one for me. I’ve been a fan of Hoffman’s since I saw him in 1992’s Scent of A Woman and try to watch everything he does. Who could forget his role as Dusty in the classic guilty pleasure Oklahoma weather flick Twister? I’ll even go see Mission Impossible 3 hoping that Hoffman gets to kill “Grinnin’” Tom Cruise as he’s playing the heavy in that film. But the 5-4 Cruise will save the day to go convert more people to Scientology and rail against psychiatry.

From the first seconds of Capote, Hoffman is in complete control in a complicated and deep role as the conflicted author who gets too close to his subjects. It’s a mesmerizing and difficult performance that is never just Hoffman copying Capote’s uniqueness—he crafts a complex character, as Hoffman often does, that buries into you as the film develops. It’s the best role of his career and Hoffman is up for the challenge.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Android #6: worst actor

I could have gone for the obvious choice here and given the ANDROID for worst actor to Orlando Bloom or Vin Diesel, but I’ve already ragged on that pair enough over the past couple of months.

Instead, I’m going to give the ANDROID to two actors who were once thought of as maybe the best actors in Hollywood who have had handfuls of awards given to them over their careers. Unfortunately, both have chosen to take high paying, middle of the road roles over the past few years and for that, the 2005 ANDROID for worst actor goes to Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.

De Niro has fallen to such depths his best role recently is to hock credit cards in artsy, black and white commercials (he’s not alone as I’ve seen Kate Winslet in similar odes to their art and spending habits). Since 2002, De Niro has been in complete shite like Showtime, City by the Sea, Analyze That, Godsend and the worst of the bunch—Hide and Seek.

Foster hasn’t been as busy filming horrible movies as De Niro but she’s fallen nearly as far as De Niro has with her two recent American releases.

You want to explain to me how an actress like Foster can make a film like Panic Room in 2002, wait three years to make another film and then that film is the wretched Flightplan? I can see making one of those two—but to wait three years after Panic Room to make Flightplan? It just boggles my mind.

Next year, Foster cast De Niro in a film she’s directing called Sugarland, so they can keep each other company on that set. Maybe De Niro can give pointers on credit card commercial acting or they can bond over winning ANDROID #6 for worst acting of 2005.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Android #5: character actor

Rather than choose someone from this year—the entire cast of Syriana for example, I’m looking to the past for my favorite performance in a character role. The ANDROID for character actor/actress of 2005 goes to Lenny Montana for his performance as Luchino in the 1978 film Fingers.

Montana, who played Luca Brasi in The Godfather but whose career was pretty obscure, is probably only onscreen for a minute at most in Fingers. But his scene is just so integral to what character acting is to me I watched it over and over at least five times in a row.

In Fingers (which was recently remade in France as The Beat That My Heart Skipped), Montana plays a pizzaria owner who owes money to a bookie (the scene was filmed in the legendary NY pizza joint John’s). Harvey Keitel shows up at the pizzaria to get the money and gets a stern lecture from Montana about not selling “slice pizza.”

The pair go into the back room of the restaurant, where Montana delivers a wicked improvisation for Keitel to give him a “double suck”, with toothpick still in mouth, so accurate and dead on I wanted the film to be about this man in the pizzaria from then on.

He’s not in another scene, but I thought about Luchino and his “double suck” quip the rest of the film, Montana was so real in this small scene in director James Toback's cult favorite.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New year's resolutions

I never make New Year's Resolutions but I'm going to make three of them connected to my film watching in 2006.

1/ Watch more foreign movies. I saw 228 films in 2005 and only 36 were from another country. That's too few as I usually see many more than that when I've lived in Seattle or New York. I'm going to have to rely on Netflix to increase the total this year. I am going to Seattle for 2/3 weeks in the spring for their film fest, so that will help a lot. Plus a trip to Japan later in the year will get me some Japanese film watching I'm sure.

2/ Watch more older films. In 2005 I only saw 34 films from the 1970s or earlier. I need to watch fewer middle of the road newer films and watch more old films that deserve to watched or re-watched. Turner Classic needs to become a best friend of mine this year.

3/ Watch more films with other people instead of watching them alone. Seeing films with other people make the films more social and I watch far too many of them alone.


Brokeback Mountain review

I wish I could write my review of Brokeback Mountain without having to even mention the phrase “gay western” but I’ll just say it and move on. The film is much more than that limiting, two-word description and deserves all the accolades it is receiving. It also deserves a large audience—even those who may feel turned off by the “gay western” tag it’s gotten.

Because of its content, it really is unlike any other western that has ever come before it, but make no bones about it—this is a western. It’s a western in attitude and spirit and has one of the most memorable and heartbreaking love stories seen in American film in years.

Brokeback Mountain begins in 1963 Wyoming as two young, cash poor cowboys sign up to spend the summer watching thousands of sheep on a rancher’s mountain land. The “pair of deuces,” as the ranch foreman calls them early on, barely speak to each other as the summer starts. As they spend time isolated on the mountain range they begin to bond, and eventually, feel a complicated attraction to each other.

These two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) are completely surprised by what occurs on Brokeback Mountain and it creates various amounts of turmoil in their lives after they leave the mountain and resume their lives away from one another.

Director Ang Lee, back in familiar waters after his big budget misstep in 2003 with Hulk, crafts the early parts of the film by letting us slowly get to know these two men and the ruggedly beautiful setting. Then he separates the men by letting us see how their lives are away from one another to see how much they care for each other when they meet again.

Lee is a masterful director when it comes to incisive character driven pieces and with this story he delves deeper into two individuals than he ever has. Ennis and Jack have to face aspects about who they are and how they can fit into this rough and tumble, conservative cowboy and rodeo world they exist in. It’s not easy and tremendously brave to have to recognize the fact that to love a person might also get you killed, beaten to death in some far off patch of land.

As with any Ang Lee film, he wrings out terrific performances out of his cast and this film is no different. Standouts include Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams as his wife and Randy Quaid in a small, but important, role as the ranch foreman.

I’ve never been a fan of the Australian Ledger but he delivers a powerful and fearless performance as the conflicted Ennis Del Mar. He is caught in a web he doesn’t understand how to get out of—his wife and family or this man he loves. Already a silent, brooding person, Ennis becomes so wrapped inwardly he can barely speak or look you in the eye. Rage is bubbling under the surface like a coiled wire.

There is a shot in the film involving Ennis that is perhaps the most visually striking and composed shot I’ve seen all year. Ennis beats up a pair of bikers and stands over them, fists clenched, jaw tight, wife and babies loom in the background as fireworks explode overhead. It doesn’t get any better than that shot as it tells you every single detail you need to know about Ennis Del Mar.

Like Lee’s other character driven films—Brokeback Mountain reeks of authenticity. He captures the mountain setting, bars, rodeos, run down farms, the clothes and small and dusty western towns perfectly. You believe that these two men exist in this world, which further fuels the danger and elicit nature of their relationship.

The film was co-written by one of the great western novelists of all-time and a personal favorite of mine, Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), which also lends authenticity to the setting and the characters in it. The spare score with acoustic guitars and pedal steel guitar that languidly drifts in and out fits in perfectly with the setting.

Brokeback Mountain is as good as advertised. It’s not only a stellar western but a truly unique love story that is complex, beautifully filmed, haunting and powerful. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Android #4: worst director


Quick history lesson on director Michael Bay: he is the man who has given us crimes against cinema such as Bad Boys, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and oh yeah, don't forget Bad Boys 2. This year saw Bay unleashing the wretched film The Island on us. For The Island and his miserable body of work I give Bay the ANDROID for worst director of 2005.

The true star of a Michael Bay film isn’t the actors or script—it’s the person who sets up all the various explosions or destruction that is going to ensue. That person needs a vacation after working on a movie like The Island (or any Bay film) because they will have pushed the “explode” button so much their finger will be sprained. I’m not kidding. Bay will blow or shoot anything up—cars, buildings, helicopters, more cars, train-stations, streets, people. Anything. It becomes exhausting at a certain point and not at all thrilling or exciting, as Bay believes it might.

Bay just has to be himself. And showing us sweeping helicopter zooms, cheesy slow motions of explosions, cars flipping over again and again, machine-guns and rockets blowing even more stuff up is just Bay letting us see how macho he can be. Bay is as subtle as a jackhammer to the skull and it’s dull, soulless and insulting cinema to anyone who loves movies.

Michael Bay is at very best a hack director and at worst a pyromaniac who could use therapy he loves fire and explosions so much. I just wish he’d go away forever and take the rest of the directors from the Jerry Bruckheimer school of filmmaking with him.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Android #3--welcome back award


2005 saw the welcome return of the very talented Robert Downey Jr. and he receives the "Welcome Back" ANDROID.

There's never been a question about his talents but the issue has always been the mess of his life due to drug addiction. I am hoping this was the first year of Downey's career rebirth and the straight/narrow as he can dazzle onscreen in the right role.

Downey is starting to look his age with lines in his face. The wear and tear is going to make him a terrific character actor if he chooses to do more ensemble roles that pull him back from his tendency to go over the top performance wise.

Downey was stellar in two good films this year--Good Night, and Good Luck and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He's got a bunch of films coming up in the next year so he's getting a second, or third, or fourth chance. Hopefully he'll make the most of it.

Android #2: best foreign film of 2005



Of the six contenders for the ANDROID for best foreign movie of 2005, four were from Asia, which backs up the past few years for me in saying the best foreign films are coming from that region. Some of these may have been 2004 releases but didn’t come to Oklahoma until 2005.

6. Paradise Now (Israel). Hany Abu-Assad’s gripping story about two young men who decide to become martyrs and blow themselves up in the name of Jihad and Allah. Paradise Now is a gritty, very timely film that almost feels like a documentary at times, as it uses no music, great locations, a terrific cast with non-pro actors and a semi-open ending. Gripping story that tells a viewpoint you don’t get from the national media about the Palestinian cause.

5. Howl’s Moving Castle (Japan). Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazoki’s latest is a breathtaking meditation war, romance and magical spells. I’m not a huge animation fan but this film is so completely transporting to another world it’s hard not to embrace. I wish all my American friends with kids would introduce their children to Miyazoki as he destroys the bulk of the mainstream animated releases.

4. I’m Not Scared (Italy). This thriller/coming of age film from director Gabriele Salvatores caught me completely off guard when I saw it. At first it’s this dark mystery that turns into a dark coming of age thriller. I was especially impressed with Salvatores ability to capture a particular tone and pace the entire film. Plus, unreal shots of wheat and everyone should know I love wheat in movies!

3. Kung Fu Hustle (Hong Kong). People think that all foreign films are super serious or dour—think again. Stephen Chow makes some of the most fun films on the planet and he’s done it again with this tale set in 1940s Shanghai about the vicious “Axe Gang” who battle a group of apartment dwellers who have special fighting powers. Chow crafts bits of business almost as if he’s a clone of Chaplin or Keaton the way he constructs his fight scenes with comedy. Fun!

2. Oldboy (South Korea). Chan-wook Park has crafted THE best Hitchcock ode of the past few years with Oldboy, giving it violent bursts and creepy plot twists that would make Hitch proud. Story is about a man who was locked in a building for 15 years who gets out and tries to figure out the whos and the whys of being locked up. Already being remade by the idea challenged Hollywood movie system but it will be a pale imitation of this as the remakes always are.

AND THE ANDROID GOES TO…

3-IRON (South Korea). Ki-duk Kim’s 3-Iron is by far my favorite foreign film of the year. It’s one of these films I can’t stop thinking about as I was completely captivated by it. It’s in the Ming-liang Tsai/Last Life In the Universe mode with very little dialogue and slow pacing. But it’s riveting and romantic as hell as we see the two leads break into houses together without ever speaking to one another. The first hour of this is the best hour I’ve seen in film ALL year—it’s that good. Enigmatic ending too that I loved. I’d like to see Hollywood try and remake this! But how could they--there’s no dialogue for them to hash over. Ki-duk Kim also made the lyrical Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…And Spring which is worth seeing.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Android #1--best documentary of 2005


Rather than do one film, here's my top five so you can see the others in consideration for the ANDROID for best documentary of 2005. Agree? Disagree?

5—Mad Hot Ballroom. This was a lively look at some schools in New York as the kids enter a ballroom dancing competition with various results. This is kind of like last year’s Spellbound but with dancing instead of spelling. It got me in the heart and made me eager to learn how to ballroom dance—something I’m always saying I want to learn to do.

4—The Aristocrats. Hands-down the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. It’s not even close. This is a doc about how different comics tell this old joke and how they each try to make it as filthy as possible. It is filthy but is often uproarious at the same time.

3—Grizzly Man. Maverick German director Werner Herzog compiles footage of oddball and bear lover Timothy Treadwell as he lives in Alaska part of the year amidst bears. And when I say lives with the bears, I mean the guy comes in day-to-day contact with them. Treadwell films a lot of his encounters with a digital camera and some of the footage is absolutely amazing to watch. Treadwell is kind of off his rocker a bit and thinks he’s part bear and the film has a macabre feel to it because we know early on the bears eat him but this is a strange, powerful film with some of the most fascinating grizzly footage you’ll ever see.

2—Z Channel. This was a completely riveting look at an early pay movie channel in Los Angeles in the 1970s that had an incredible array of programming thanks to its eccentric programmer Jerry Harvey. This film is a treasure trove for film geek/robots like myself and makes me wish I’d spent my youth with access to the channel. What makes this interesting on multiple levels is Harvey’s damaged and deadly turn in his private life.

AND THE ANDROID GOES TO…

MURDERBALL. I absolutely loved every second of this doc about a group of quadriplegics who play a sport known as “murderball” because of its violent nature. I knew nothing of the sport so loved learning about it but there is a great rivalry created in the film between the United States team and the American coach of the Canadian team. What I loved about Murderball is it is a completely empowering look at these men and just how “normal” they are despite the debilitating injuries/illness they have suffered to put them in a wheelchair. These are regular athletes who are profane, chase women, party and have a good time—like any other athlete might and that’s the best thing about this film—it throws off any kind of stereotype you might hold onto regarding people in wheelchairs and stomps it. Murderball is one of the more thrilling and exciting films of any genre, fiction or non-fiction, you will see all year and is deserving of the first ANDROID of the year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Androids delayed

I'm waiting to make my best of 2005--otherwise known as the Android Awards--until after I've seen two much hyped films I've yet to see--Brokeback Mountain and Match Point. I should probably see King Kong but it's three hours long. Add in the trailers and ads in the theatre and I'm looking at 3 and 1/2 hours. Could King Kong be worth that kind of time investment? After I see those, I'll get to the best/worst and probably make all those people who loved The Pacifier angry again.