Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

Big movies need big ideas to support them. In the 1956 film Giant (the most apt title ever for such a behemoth film), against the wide-open skies of Texas, big movie stars Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson deal with discrimination whether it be about class status or race. Another sprawling James Dean film, East of Eden, deals with the love of fathers and sons in such a grand manner that it becomes almost biblical. (The book the film was based on is, in fact, adapted from the Cain and Abel story.) Derek Cianfrance's new film opening on Friday, The Place Beyond the Pines, another film that deals with the complex relationships of fathers and sons, the consequences of our actions, and the legacy of future generations, calls to mind those films that came before it and deserves to take it's place among those epics. 

The film unfolds in three connecting story lines. The first stars Ryan Gosling as a rebellious motorcycle driver who works in a traveling carnival. After arriving in Schenectady, he find's that the girl he left a year ago (a deglamed, Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son. He quits his job on the road and takes up with a whacked-out auto mechanic (played creepily by Austrailian actor, Ben Mendelsohn) who convinces him that the only way to support his new-found family is to rob banks. 

Gosling, after his stony turn in Drive, is becoming the go-to actor when it comes to mysterious anti-heroes. With his body covered in tattoos, his hair dyed bleach blonde, he becomes the picture of cool. Most of his lines are delivered with a cigarette dangling from his lips as if he can't even be bothered to take it out. Watching the film, I was reminded of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen in the way he embodies such ease and charisma. And like those icons of the screen, he's got the skill to be more than just a movie star. The scene in which he enters a church witnessing his son's baptism is especially moving. 

The action then is passed off to Bradley Cooper playing a young cop. He has to deal with corruption within his unit (including a menacing Ray Liotta) and struggles at home with an inability to look at his newborn son. Cooper, who's better here than he was in his manic, one-note performance in Silver Linings Playbook, convincing plays a man at odds with himself. After years playing Frat boys and mindless comedies, he's quickly establishing himself as an actor to watch. 

We then jump 15 years into the future (or present day, as the previous stories are told in the 90's) when we meet the teenage son of Ryan Gosling's character (Dane DeHaan) and Bradley Cooper's son (Emory Cohen) who form a friendship despite the odds against them. But, the tension between them threatens to unleash secrets from the past.

At 2 and a half hours, the film certainly has a lot to say. And the first time the narration gets passed off, I wondered if the story was in danger of spiraling out of control–Crushing under the weight of too many ideas. After all, why were we suddenly having to invest our time in a completely new character? Wouldn't it have made more sense to go back and forth between the two from the beginning? But, the addition of the third story line gave it cohesion for me. There were also times when the score seemed to overpower the actions on screen. It seemed too grand for what was occurring. After the film is viewed in its entirety, the scope of it made sense. 

You start off believing that it's a small drama about a man trying to gain the love and trust of  his family, but then the camera pulls back to show that's just a small part in the puzzle. Cianfrance is telling a much grander story, that you don't realize the impact of until viewed as a whole. I have a feeling this film is going to polarize audiences who are either going to be onboard with the narrative or those who believe it just doesn't come together. Sure, it may be big and messy. But, isn't that how families are to begin with? And I'd rather have it that way than a film that plays it safe. Those that risk the most have more too gain. Just ask those filmmaker's from Hollywood's Golden Age–the one's with the big ideas.

                                                                    *         *       *

I attended an advanced screening of The Place Beyond the Pines at BAM that was attended by director and writer Derek Cianfrance, co-writer Daries Marder, and the young actors that play the sons in the third act, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cianfrance had a lot of stories to tell which I'll share after the jump. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead... 
Marder, DeHaan, Cohen, and Cianfrance hogging the mic

She's the Cherry on Top – Boo-yah!

Everyone loves a comeback. And for a 70's icon of blaxploitation films, that comeback couldn't have come any sweeter or better than it does in the hand's of director Quentin Tarantino's third feature film. Coming off the massive critical and cultural success that was Pulp Fiction (a film that also started a career-resurgence of another 70's star, John Trovalta. You know, before we realized how creepy he actually is...) it seemed that Tarantino could do no wrong. And how did he choose to follow up the in-your-face, jumbled-storytelling of that film? With something decidedly more mature. A complex, yet streamlined, story. And a love letter to one of his favorite actresses of all time: Pam Grier.

The font is actually the same font as Foxy Brown
In honor of QT's 50th birthday this week, Jackie Brown is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience. I haven't seen the film since it's initial theatrical release back in 1997. I was in high school at the time and just beginning my education and appreciation of cinema. Back then, I wasn't familiar with who Pam Grier was. I just remember that my B-movie-loving dad was excited that she was in a film again. Luckily, Tarantino, who in many ways is a film preservationist with his homages to film's past, was the perfect person to introduce me –and a new generation–to the star of such awesomely named films as Coffy, Scream Blacula Scream, and Sheba, Baby.

Tarantino wrote the part especially for Grier. It was based on an Elmore Leonard book called Rum Punch, but Quentin changed the race of the main character and changed her last name from Burke to Brown in honor of one of Grier's most iconic films, Foxy Brown. The director even had Pam Grier's posters up in his office when she came in to read.

The obvious love and admiration that he has for his star is evident in every shot of her. It's Tarantino's goal to make the audience fall in love with her. And much like Robert Forester's bail bondsman, Max Cherry, we're hooked from the very moment we set eyes on her.

Quentin is constantly shooting Pam Grier in profile in the film.

With her mane of hair, eyelids heavy with lashes, and majestic nose cutting a regal pose, she calls to mind a lioness on the planes of Africa or the famous bust of Nefertiti – a woman who certainly knew how to cut a royal profile.

But, for me, the image that I'll forever associate with Pam Grier and Jackie Brown occurs when she shows up at the apartment of Melanie (played by Bridget Fonda. By the way, where has she been? Can we get Quentin to start working on her comeback vehicle?!?). After a super-cut of Jackie's red talons she pops into frame to make herself known:

 wait for it...

I remember it from the trailer and it's forever engrained in my mind when I think about this film. She's effortlessly cool with her sunglasses and the way she says her name. It's just one of those moments were I felt I was seeing a star. True, she had been a star for over 20 years before, but this was my introduction to her. And it's all thanks to Quentin Tarantino.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Child's Wonder

After exploring two films that I'm already quite familiar with (Barbarella and The Wizard of Oz) in this season's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience, I was surprised to find a movie this week that I've never seen before. Well, not even that, I've never even heard of the damn thing. It won an Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1953 ceremony (before the category became an annual, competitive category in 1956), so I was preparing myself for what was sure to be "Art". It's French (okay), set during WWII (of course), about children (ugh, you're starting to lose me...), and it's named: Forbidden Games. A title so ridiculous in it's foreign-film, French-ness that I worried what kind of forbidden games these children were actually getting into. My mind immediately went to Les Cousins Dangereux, the film George Michael tries to sneak into on Arrested Development. Luckily, nothing of the sort happens in the film. Turns out those forbidden games consist of stealing crosses and making an animal cemetery. (Oh, those crazy French. Forbidden, indeed.) And for a film with such a racy-sounding title, it turns out to be a surprisingly sweet film about coping with death through the innocence of a child.

The film begins with a caravan of people leaving war-torn Paris with all their belongings on carts and in broken down cars. We meet a couple and their young daughter, Paulette. Paulette has a puppy named Jock that runs away. Being a child, Paulette's instinct is to run after the escaping dog. But little Paulette is oblivious to the danger surrounding her. Amid the frantic energy of everyone trying to leave on the same bridge, are German planes bombing the citizens as they flee. Paulette's parents, knowing the danger that's present, try to save Paulette from harm and end up dying in the process. Poor Jock is also killed. But there's no time to grieve. People are still making their way towards safety. A man picks up Paulette and puts her in a cart with his wife. Paulette, who has decided that the body of a dead puppy seems like a good thing to hold on to, finds out from the woman on the cart that, you know, maybe a dead puppy probably isn't the best thing to keep ahold of. And she throws him in a river! Just tosses him! To quote Phoebe from Friends, "Okay, what kind of sick doggy snuff film is this?!?" Paulette jumps out after him and meets a peasant family. Suddenly the frenzy of the first 15 minutes of the film give way to a quietness and the heart of the film begins.

Paulette is taken in by the family and immediately forms an attachment to the young boy, Michel. It is Michel's idea to give shelter to the girl. When she is going to bed, the dark frightens her. Michel says to call out his name and he'll protect her. The two become so connected, so quickly, that it almost seems unrealistic. But, that's the way friendships are built in childhood. There is immediate trust since life has not yet taught them to be cynical and weary of each other.

The next day, Paulette sets out to bury Jock. Along the way she becomes enamored by a crucifix and learns about Christian prayers. Michel helps her with the burial and tells her they'll make a cemetery. This is also new to Paulette (man, didn't her parents teach her anything?) who learns that cemeteries are where they put the dead together so they don't get sad. So Jock won't be sad being buried alone, they decide to make a cemetery for animals. 

Michel sets about acquiring as many crosses and crucifixes as he can for their project. He and Paulette take them from the actual cemetery, including one from his own brother's recent grave. He was killed by being kicked by a horse–which seems like such a silly way to die in wartime. (Ah, such is life!) And it sets off a feud with Michel's family and their neighbhor, whom they accuse of doing the stealing.

But, the war, dead parents, dead brothers, feuding families–these aren't problems that a child thinks about. The children are able to escape such plights with the little world that they've created. One that's so enchanting that troubles seem to go away:

The cemetery has an almost dreamlike quality to it. For something as macabre and depressing as death, there is something so beautiful about this. It was made with love and the care they put into it shows:

This film reminded me a lot of Pan's Labyrinth and Life is Beautiful in the way that an alternate reality exists for the children so that they don't have to face the harsh realities of war. But, unlike those films, this one always seemed firmly in this world. Yes, this is a fantastical place, but it's made with very tangible things. Dirt, shells, wood. It's their childlike wonder that is able to transform the mundane. Making the harsh realities of the world somewhat bearable. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Patty's Day Showdown: Battle of Hollywood's Redheads

Happy St. Patrick's day to you all! Hope everyone is drinking their weight in green beer and shamrock shakes. Last year we celebrated with a list of Cinema's 10 Best Green Looks. This year, I've decided to give the ladies of Ireland a turn. Well, honorary ladies of Ireland. Hollywood has given us many memorable redheads over the years and now it's your turn to vote for your favorites!

Battle of the English Rose
Greer Garson vs. Deborah Kerr

Greer Garson was one of the biggest box office draws in the 1940's. She received 7 Best Actress Oscar nominations and won for 1942's Mrs. Miniver. From 1941 to 1945, she received 5 nominations back-to-back, a feat matched only by Bette Davis. She is also credited for having the longest Oscar acceptance speech at over 5 minutes long.

Deborah Kerr is probably best known for her make-out session on the beach with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity. She was nominated 6 times for the Best Actress Oscar but never won. She is tied with Thelma Ritter and Glenn Close for the dubious title of Most-Nominated Actress Without a Win. However, in 1994 she was awarded an Honorary Oscar.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What Kind of Girl ARE You?!?

Whoa. Hey, maaaaaan and...all you other groovy, free-love cats. I've been to the future and it's all gooood. Just make you sure you've dropped your LSD otherwise none of this will make sense. Well, it doesn't make sense to begin with but...what was that? It looked like a Barbie-pink spaceship powered by three balloons just flew by. And look who's inside: Barbarella herself. She bares a striking resemblance to two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Jane Fonda. Nah, I think it's just that chick from my mom's exercise vids from the 80's. Either way, we've only just begun and already she's getting naked. Are those space boobs? This is the greatest PG-rated film ever.

There's, like, no more war on earth but somehow the members of Duran Duran have made some-sorta-death ray. Not cool, maaan. Luckily our girl is on the case to stop it. Um, but first a wardrobe change is in order. Nothing says rescue mission like clear plastic boob guard over a jazzercise outfit. Well, that was exhausting. I could sure use like a 154 hour nap. And all that orange shag carpet covering the inside of the ship sure looks plush. Anywhere looks like a comforting place to lay one's head. Or sleeping on the vinyl tarp from Fuerza Bruta works, too...

Are we there yet? Oh, good. It's time to change outfits again. Capes! I just hope there aren't evil twin children that ride around on hovercrafts powered by ice skating manta rays in this movie. It's been done soooo many times. Damn:

Great. Next thing you know, they'll be trotting out that old cliche of impossibly slow, flesh-eating dolls with razor-sharp teeth...

Oh, come on now...

It's lucky that bearish Man Handler (real name) is there to rescue her. How's a girl to repay such a hairy hero? Oh, just by rediscovering the healing power of penis-in-vagina intercourse. You see, in the future the deed is normally done with a pill and a hand touch. Trippy. Also, not cool. Where's the love, man? But, luckily for Barbarella, once you go actual sex you don't go back. And girl is definitely feeling the afterglow.
I think she likes it...

And how does one celebrate? New outfit, of course. Just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

But, wasn't there a purpose to all this? (Don't answer) Oh, yeah. We need to be "Hungry Like the Wolf" for that Duran Duran concert. Well, those post-sex skunk furs aren't gonna help. Time for another–you guessed it–change of outfit! Good thing it's virginal white cause someone just met an angel! No, really. An actual angel:

He may be blind and lost the will to fly, but daaaaaamn he fine. He lives in a labyrinth among other half-naked people trapped in rocks and things. It's all for an Italian Vogue layout. But, whoa, man...Some hollowed-out space guard is trying to harsh our buzz. Good thing you can teach a blind guy to shoot a space gun. Cause he needs to get a reward. a nest. And looks like Barbarella's roll in the hay this time was just as satisfying:

It was so good, it gave an angel back his flight. Seriously. Miracle sex. And how was your last time? 

Let's go on a flight! (Maybe we'll find the plot.) But, let's not forget the post-coital outfit. Another cape! This time with Wonder Woman boots. 

Alright, y'all. I think the LSD is wearing off cause this trip isn't blowing my mind anymore. Quick rundown of the rest before we come to an abrupt end, in honor of the film:
  • The city they fly to is a co-ed S & M dungeon built above a giant eeeevil lava lamp.  
  • The Great Tyrant is trying to...oh, who cares
  • Barbarella almost meets her untimely demise to something even more terrifying than dolls: parakeets
  • She's saved by a rebellion leader who wants to have sex the good-ol-fashioned pill-like way. It quite  literally curls her hair:

  • But mainly he just exists to give her a new outfit. Now with a single boob cut-out! Sex=new clothes. And she was wearing that last one for far too long.
  • Something about an invisible key and, I don't know. The Magnus destroys everything. The End.
  • Oh, and a man in a bong:

Now, The End...

But not before we experience the single greatest moment of the film: A sex organ. (No, not that. Get your mind outta the gutter.) An organ that, when played, administers sexual gratification to the person inside. (Okay, so it was right to be in the gutter.) But as the tune changes, you will die...of pleasure!

I wanna build one in my basement.

But, if there's anything Barbarella is good at (and for the amount of times she almost dies or gets captured, it sure ain't what she's supposed to be doing....) it's sex. And, wouldn't you know? Her sexual appetite can't be satiated and she breaks the machine. But, not before she leaves us with the shot that, for me, captures the essence of the whole film:

It just oozes sex and whimsy, which is what this film is really all about. The red appendages look like they're licking her up and she's loving every minute of it. Plus, the best part, she got a new outfit after!

Sex Total: 4 times–with a Man Handler, an angel, hand sex with a rebel, and a machine

Outfit changes: 8 (not including various states of undress)

*This is apart of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series at The Film Experience...well, sorta. I'm not really sure what just happened.

Friday, March 8, 2013

100 Posts: 100 Films

Everyone, I have an announcement to make. Try to contain your excitement, but I've come to a milestone: I've reached 100 posts! In honor of the occasion, I thought it would be fun to celebrate in the best way possible–with a list! (God, I love a list.) I decided to go all AFI and list my 100 favorite films. And I have to say, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. 100 films is a lot and I felt like after about 20ish, I really had to rack my brain coming up with things. But, then I suddenly had 100 and kept thinking of new films. Suddenly I had to make the Sophie's Choice (which is not on here–sorry, Meryl) of what films got the cut. Then I couldn't decide on the ranking. How can one compare a film you loved in childhood to one that shaped you as an adult? But at some point I had to stop tinkering because, honestly, the order could change and films could be dropped and added just with how I'm feeling moment to moment.

Let me just clarify that this a list of my personal favorite films. These are the films that I go back to time and time again. The one's that spoke to me, affected me, or just make me happy. It is NOT a list of what I think the best movies are. Citizen Kane is considered one of the best film ever made, but have you ever met anyone who names it as their favorite? That's not to diminish it's artist merit at all. And I know Hocus Pocus isn't likely to be cited as a milestone in cinematic history, but that doesn't stop me from loving it any less or looking forward to seeing Bette, SJP, and a talking cat named Binx every year at Halloween.

I found that the list tends to skew films from the late 90's-early 2000's. That was the time that I began to nurture my cinephilia. In high school, I would rent about 5 movies at a time from Blockbuster (remember going there?) and watch them all in the basement. I actually used AFI's list as a starting point at what to start watching. Gradually I began to incorporate world cinema and my interests began to grow. Adolescents is such an important time in shaping your interests–when you become passionate about something. So, it would only make sense that those films find themselves on this list.

Without any further ado, here we go:

1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
No offense to Vertigo or The Godfather, but the greatest film all of all time for me will always be GWTW. I've seen it countless times (including a couple times on the big screen) and always get caught up in it as if it's the first. Scarlett O'Hara (and Vivien Leigh's portrayal of her) is the greatest character in all of cinema.

2.Sense and Sensibility (1995)
I watched this movie almost once a week in high school. It was the film that introduced me to Kate Winslet (my favorite actress of all-time). It's also the first Oscar race that I feel started me off on my obsession. Further Reading on S & S

3. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
I saw this film 7 times in the theater-including twice on the opening weekend. It was like nothing else I'd ever seen. Words cannot describe the joy this film gives me.

4. The Hours (2002)
Based on one of my favorite books, I was skeptical of how it would work. But, the movie stands on it's own thanks to David Hare's screenplay and some amazing actresses. I like to watch this when I'm depressed and just wallow in sorrow...

5. The Age of Innocence (1993)
If you haven't gathered by now from the list, I love a period piece. No film is more sexy or heartbreaking–all with a PG rating. Starring three of my favorite actors.

6. A Place in the Sun (1951)
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are so beautiful in this. It reminds you of how glamorous Hollywood was. Even admits such a dark tale.

7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The film that started my love for movies. I can still remember seeing it in the theater at the age of 8. I wanted to be Ariel, but, more importantly, it made me want to be a Disney animator. Further reading on Disney and Mermaid

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This was the last film I saw multiple times in the theater. It combined the weird, cool Charlie Kaufman world that I loved from Being John Malkovich, but this time gave it a heart. Still one of Kate's best performances.

9. Portrait of a Lady (1996)
It just finally came out for the first time on DVD in Dec. But, it doesn't matter because I already have it memorized. I used to rent the VHS from the library and endlessly watch it. I love the flourishes that Jane Campion adds so it's not a typical period film. I still think Barbara Hershey should have won the Oscar that year.

10. The End of the Affair (1999)
I feel like it's hard for a movie to surprise me. I was completely taken aback by the ending of this film and Julianne Moore's performance. This is another film, like S & S that I watched a lot. It's perfect on a rainy day.

The rest of the 100 after the jump