Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The 100 most memorable characters of the decade - part 5

The list was narrowed down from over 600 to 100 characters and I tried to incorporate as much criteria as I possibly could - box office, critical acclaim, some of the characters readers voted for, and my own personal tastes. I'll be posting the rest of this list over the course of several weeks. Here's part 5 for you:

60 - Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) Hairspray - Tracy Turnblad is one of those characters you genuinely root for. She's a kid with passion - she's completely dance obsessed; she's sunny and optimistic, but not annoyingly so. Like so many teenagers she is an idealist, and unlike most of the adults around her completely ahead of her time ("People who are different, their time is coming!").

On the character of Tracy:

Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), the heroine of Hairspray, is a sweetly perky high school girl with a pasty coif that flips up on each side, a grin as bright as an electric billboard, and a mood so bubblicious she's like the teenybopper Shirley Temple of 1962 Baltimore. When Tracy, who can barely focus in class, goes to audition for The Corny Collins Show, the local afternoon TV bandstand around which her life revolves, she swings, twitches, and rocks her body with jubilant abandon. This makes for a rather startling image, given Tracy's undeniably bounteous physique. Yet when she does the twist, the frug, or the mashed potato, flinging her arms back and forth, her butt twitching furiously in a tight plaid skirt, she's not just a great hoofer — she's dirty-dancing on air. In her very heftiness, she makes you feel the mad, cool acrobatic joy of each unhinged gyration.

59 - Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) Legally Blonde, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde - How do you get the audience on your side if you play a character who literally has it all? It probably helps if you're a charming, lovable actress, like Reese Witherspoon. Elle Woods is the gorgeous, popular, blond president of a sorority, who decides, after being dumped by her boyfriend, to enroll into Harvard Law School to win him back.

At first glance, it's supposed to sound insultingly hilarious - a sexy blonde with a fashion merchandising major goes to Harvard. While Elle's attempt to win acceptance at law school is hilarious, she doesn't turn into a stereotype. Yes, she likes pink, but Elle is smarter and more determined than she initially lets on, which is the beauty of the character - she plays on everybody's prejudices. We go through all this again in the sequel, which really wasn't necessary because we learned the lesson the first time around.

Reese Witherspoon on overcoming stereotypes with her role:

I wanted there to be some kind of positive message for women. Too much of our focus in society is devoted to superficial impressions about people. Appearances come first, and we don't often go beyond that in judging people which is a terrible thing.

Look at Elle. At the beginning, she works hard to get into Harvard Law School so she can impress her boyfriend and win him back. Then she becomes much more conscious of her own identity and begins asserting herself under very competitive conditions with her fellow law students. She fights for the respect of her peers and her teachers. At the beginning of the film, she has no goals other than to get married and lead a pampered, privileged life. But she evolves into a determined young woman eager to pursue her ambitions. She overcomes the stereotypes associated with being an attractive blonde.

I think that's a pretty good message that the film sends out. That you can be the way you are, look the way you want, and still achieve your goals if you work at them.

58 - Legolas (Orlando Bloom) The Lord of the Rings trilogy - Legolas is a lot cooler in the film trilogy than he is in the books. He arguably gets the best fight scenes and the best stunts. He does however, retain some of the ancient wisdom in the film adaptation. You can see it in Orlando Bloom's knowing smile and in his eyes. Legolas is older than the trees.

The truth is, I only noticed all this a few years after I first watched The Fellowship of the Ring mostly because like a lot of girls and boys at the time I had a huge crush on Orlando Bloom. Or was it Legolas we all had a crush on? Yes the reaction to him like most other heartthrobs was manic, and admittedly a little sad, but I think it's a testament to how good Bloom was in the role. Most of us had never heard of him before and through a mix of the good fortune of not being a celebrity (and therefore totally unrecognizable), and being so great at balancing the role's physical demands with a nuanced performance, most people just bought him in the role. We just believed he was Legolas; we would have laughed at the blond wig otherwise.

Orlando Bloom explains what it took to create his famous elephant scene in The Return of the King:
They built like... a mound of sand bags that was shaped like the back end of that elephant, and they had... the arrows in it. So I actually climbed up the arrows, did that sequence and then they had wires and ropes to swing along the side of it. And then, you know, I slashed the thing, so I did the slash, and then there was like... a winch with a rope to pull me up, up and then I fall on top of the sand bags with all the guys. So they put in the elephant afterwards basically.

57 - Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) The Queen & Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - There was one reason why I just couldn't separate the two characters. Both have to deal with queens - Blair having to feign deference to a powerless figurehead, while Tumnus is at the mercy of a wicked and powerful queen.

Tony Blair - Blair is just beginning his time as prime minister and he faces his first crisis of sorts. Princess Diana has just died, and while Queen Elizabeth remains adamantly and publicly silent on the tragedy, Blair speaks to the nation's grief. Elizabeth responds the way only those from her era can respond. She does her best to stay out of the matter - Diana is divorced and no longer royalty. There is no official statement. No acknowledgment. But Blair knows the era he lives in. He understands the people who have just elected him. It is an era where grief will not and shall not be private. The public needs someone recognizable to grieve with and tell them that someday it will be better.

Mr. Tumnus - At once sweet and friendly, it doesn't take much to understand why Lucy Pevensie would be so willing to trust someone she's just met in an uncharted new world. Being a faun probably doesn't hurt either. He invites her to tea, but he because at heart, he is genuinely good, he cannot go through with his sinister plan of handing Lucy over to the White Witch.

56 - William Costigan Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) The Departed - Billy Costigan is a trapped man. He's a cop who goes undercover as a gangster, but for most of the film you get the feeling that he's in over his head. There's nobody he can trust, and only a few people on the outside know what he's really up to. If the people who know are killed, nobody will be able to reveal that Billy isn't really a criminal, but an undercover cop.

On DiCaprio's performance:
This is a good role for DiCaprio: Since he's playing a wily punk on the right side of the law, it's fitting that his boyishness hasn't yet quite jelled into manhood. And as he's forced to wade deeper and deeper into his secret life, we can see how much it takes out of him: His heart is so heavy it seems to weigh down even his narrow, wiry body.
More on DiCaprio:
...DiCaprio is outstanding as the audience's main point of emotional contact, a man gravely at risk every moment of his life (one minor issue is an uncertainty over how much time the main action encompasses). In his third collaboration with Scorsese, DiCaprio has rarely been this vital, energized or passionate.

55 - Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, Tanay Chheda, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) Slumdog Millionaire - Jamal is such an unlikely character, it's hard to see his story as anything other than Dickensonian fantasy. He's transformed from street kid into a contestant one question away from winning 20 million rupees on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Amazingly, it isn't money he's after, but a chance to be with Latika - the girl of his dreams.

Dev Patel on his audition:
It's really nerve wracking, for one. Because obviously Danny Boyle's in the room, and things like that. I really wanted it. It was the first time in my life I had wanted something so bad. I remember doing one audition, and at the end of it Danny gave me this kind of talk, it was one of those talks like he was letting you down. Then after that I went with my mom to have a pizza, and it was the most sour-tasting pizza in the world. I felt like crying. Then I got a call two weeks later like something like, and it was Gail Stevens, the casting director, going 'They want you to go to India for a week, to join everyone on locations.'

54 - Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) The Queen - She's a bit of a ridiculous character both in real life and in film. She's a celebrity who makes all the money she has because of her bloodline. She's a monarch, but a head of state with no real power. She's the Paris Hilton of royalty. She's handled with satire in the first two acts ("Will someone please save these people from themselves!") but underneath that crown there is a human being. Helen Mirren is scarily good as Queen Elizabeth II and she is unexpectedly very moving in the film.

On Helen Mirren and Queen Elizabeth:
All hail Helen Mirren, who delivers a master class in acting in The Queen. Having just won an Emmy for playing Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, Mirren is in line for a curtsy from Oscar for digging deep into the role of Elizabeth II, the queen since 1952.

...the real triumph of the film is the dignity it finally allows the queen. Bred to serve since girlhood, she has dedicated herself to a life Diana rejected. And yet as the queen walks past the mountain of flowers the people have left at the palace and reads the notes of love to Diana - and the insults to Her Majesty - Mirren lets us see the confusion and hurt in Elizabeth's eyes. It's Blair who has forced her back to London to mourn Diana publicly, much against her private nature. In a tart reference to Blair's current career reversals, the script has the queen tell him that "one day, quite suddenly, the same thing will happen to you."

53 - Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) Ray - There are hundreds of articles praising Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray Charles. There are so many, it's easy to think of all the praise as being hyperbolic. But I don't think it is. Most people, even the casual Oscar watcher, knew Foxx was destined to win the Oscar just from watching him in the teaser trailer months before the Oscar campaign even started. Foxx's performance really is that good and it's a fitting tribute to a supremely talented artist.

On Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles:
Ray Charles' music didn't depend on dope, and in an odd way Jamie Foxx's performance reminds us that we knew that all along. Those strange bodily movements of Charles', the way his right leg dusted the floor by the side of his piano bench as if looking for purchase, the way he embraced himself in response to applause as if he were hugging the audience to him, the way he held his head back and moved his torso from side to side as if he were about to levitate, are less drug-induced than the body language of a man to whom sound was the most concrete thing: Foxx's Ray undulates to caress the currents of sound rising around him, like musical notes in a cartoon.

"Ray" is the movie that finally allows Foxx the full flower of his talent. His Ray Charles is such a fully lived-in performance that any questions of imitation vanish. You don't watch him thinking, "I can't believe how close he is to Ray Charles." You watch him as if you're watching Ray Charles. It's Charles' own recordings we hear in the musical numbers, but Foxx's imitation of Charles' speaking voice is uncanny. It begins as a sort of stutter, then words start to come out in little husks, almost without breath. The words gather speed and bubble out -- higher than you'd expect but gently, as if he were half speaking to himself -- before slowing to the insinuating honey drip with which he draws sentences to a close.

52 - Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) American Psycho - I felt guilty for laughing at Patrick Bateman's antics when I first saw American Psycho. I was 13. I had no idea it was satire. The opposite happened with my mother after I raved about it and got her to watch. I told her Bateman was hilarious, but she sat in stone faced silent disgust the entire time. Apparently only sick people find a greedy, Huey Lewis obsessed, psychotic serial killer, funny. A few years later, and my mother is Dexter obsessed - if only Bateman killed people who deserved it.

On the duality of Patrick Bateman:
Mr. Bale's portrayal of 27-year-old Patrick Bateman, a budding master of the universe by day (he works in mergers and acquisitions, which he facetiously refers to as "murders and executions") and homicidal maniac by night, is alternately funny, blood-curdling and pathetic.

As this character metamorphoses from preening, wolfish yuppie to chain-saw wielding maniac to whimpering crybaby, Mr. Bale makes us feel the underlying connections between these multiple personalities. One minute Mr. Bale's Patrick is a cowering corporate geek and self-described empty shell, the next an arrogant, name-dropping smoothie, the next a hysterical wimp unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Some of the funniest speeches are Patrick's pompous lectures -- each a prelude to homicide -- on the 80's pop stalwarts Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News.

51 - Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) The Devil Wears Prada - Miranda Priestly is the most respected magazine editor in the fashion industry - and the most feared. She is shockingly cruel, but that's to be expected in such a cruel industry. She coldly makes impossible demands of her staff (including getting an unpublished Harry Potter novel for her children) and forces her employees to work, even during their time off. She's a character that's been done before in film and on television, but many actresses are tempted to go over the top. Not Streep. She lets the icy stares and frosty one-liners do it all.

Here's an explanation on why Miranda Priestly is so damn scary:
Thanks to Meryl Streep, whose performance as the editor in chief of the world's most influential fashion magazine is eerie perfection, "The Devil Wears Prada" is often quite funny.
Beneath Streep's coldness, there's more coldness, and beneath that coldness is something worse. She makes you feel that the devil really does wear Prada.

Well, the first half is now complete. There will be 50 more characters over the coming weeks so if you haven't seen your choices yet, maybe they'll be listed higher. Who would you like to see on the list?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Disney princesses: Mandy Moore on Rapunzel and an extended look at The Princess and the Frog

Mandy Moore recently talked to Empire about voicing Rapunzel in the upcoming animated Disney film. Disney is set to release its 50th animated feature, Rapunzel sometime in December of 2010. The project is 3D animation but even though it's 3D animation, the images are designed to look like a traditional 2D film. The visual style is said to be based on Jean-Honoré Fragonard's painting The Swing.

Kristin Chenoweth had been cast as the voice of Rapunzel but was replaced by Mandy Moore after the entire project was overhauled. Moore discusses Rapunzel's personality and her favorite Disney princess:

"She's sort of the quintessential sassy, feisty Disney heroine. She's quite modern, quite a curious girl as well," says Moore of the once-entowered princess. "She's just coming into her own and is anxious to figure out a way to see the world around her that she's been kept away from for so many years."

"I just feel honoured to be in such good company. Being a Disney Princess is kind of every girl's ultimate dream."

"I was always really fond of the Little Mermaid growing up, so I would probably have to go with Ariel."

As pathetic as Ariel is, she's my favorite Disney princess as well. Sounds like this modern incarnation of Rapunzel is the opposite of Ariel.

Awards Daily shares an extended clip from The Princess and the Frog with us:

Todd McFarlane talks The Twisted Land Of Oz

Slow news day people, but I figured I'd post about this movie because it has frustrated and intrigued me since I first heard about it. Todd McFarlane revealed some new details on story elements to MTV about the screen adaptation of his The Twisted Land of Oz toy line. This film is set to be darker and scarier than The Wizard of Oz.

McFarlane's chief concern is delivering an Oz that is darker than what people know. As he told execs during pitch meetings, "Number one: you have to turn off the switch to the [1939] MGM movie. If you don't turn off that switch, almost everything I'm about to say will not make sense to you."

"Basically," McFarlane reasoned, "what do I have to do to sell a 22 year old kid going to college [to come] see something called 'Oz'?"

"In mine, [Dorothy is] up in the Antarctic, and there's bad weather," McFarlane said. "The point is that when you're in bad weather in a s--tty place up north, it is completely gray. That would be our 'black & white [sequence].' Then she falls into her Shangri-La, called Oz, where suddenly everything's in color."

"There's still a thing called Toto, except its the biggest thing in the movie and not the smallest thing. [The beast called Toto] basically ate the first dog, and it's this big thing that [the inhabitants of Oz] ride. They've given this generic word... so instead of horses, [people] ride Totos."

"My understanding is that [the studio] thought we went a little too conservative, so somebody else is taking a crack at [the script] now. We're never going to get as crazy as I wanted, so I have to accept that. My pitch is fairly radical, if you will. If you're 22 years old, it's not radical. If you're an executive, it's radical."

"I think the first script was just a little soft for them," McFarlane explained. "I've always been a believer that the reason remakes don't work is that they stay too true to the source material. Hopefully we'll have a new script in the next month or two, and then we'll be a lot closer to seeing whether it will grab some true momentum or whether we're heading into development hell here."

Antarctica? People riding Totos? Do the 22 year olds have to be high off their asses to understand this? Oh right. We have to pretend The Wizard of Oz never happened, which is evidently easier said than done. Though now that I think of it, maybe you'd have to be pretty high to accept singing tin men and a melting witch. I'm so used to The Wizard of Oz I'd forgotten my original WTF reaction to it. I'm thinking if this adaptation is a disaster, at least it will be an inventive one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Megan Fox's SNL promos

Megan Fox will be hosting the season premier of Saturday Night Live tomorrow. I haven't really seen NBC promote the season opening, but hey, maybe they don't need to with Megan Fox and all. Anyway, you can check out all the promos in the video below.

Via: Get the Big Picture

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barbie headed to the big screen

Yes, I know there is a ridiculous toy craze in Hollywood, that I've mocked, but I'm not totally opposed to the idea. Variety reported that Universal will be adding a live-action, family-friendly Barbie movie to its lineup. Apparently studios need a sure thing. I had no idea a movie based on a disproportionate doll was a sure thing. Universal, please see Bratz: The Movie.

“Barbie is the most famous doll in history, a unique cultural icon in the world of brands,” said Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger. “So many representations of Barbie frequent pop culture, but never before has she been brought to life in a motion picture. We’re grateful to Mattel for entrusting us with this extraordinary opportunity.” [Variety]

Anyway, this isn't the first time Barbie has been brought to some screen. There was a Barbie animated TV miniseries. There are the horrid straight-to-DVD movies, which usually involve Barbie being some sort of princess. I will not admit to watching these. There were also Barbie novels that involved Barbie attending high school. I didn't even know these existed. I will now purchase them.

This makes me wonder what sort of storyline they'll use. The princess storyline is probably out, because who wants to purchase the rights to Barbie only to do a princess movie? Disney already does it best. Maybe they'll put her in high school to attract the young girls who are more likely to blow their parents' hard earned cash on frivolous things. Grown women will only show up in droves to watch a Barbie movie with their daughters. Or they could make her grown up and make her do some of the random stuff she's good at. She's been a pilot, a teacher, a flight attendant, a cop, an astronaut, a doctor, a firefighter, a Nascar driver, a soldier (hilariously, there was a Desert Storm edition), a U.S. President, and a ballerina (when is Barbie NOT a ballerina BTW?). For me Barbie was usually a high school kid by day and a superheroine by night. I blame the X-Men.

Barbie also has an assortment of token diverse friends, most of which I owned as a child because my mother wanted me to grow up knowing that I didn't have to be blond to be pretty, successful, etc. She neglected to tell me I didn't have to be a size 0 to be those things either. Are all of Barbie's friends, family, and boyfriends anorexic?

Despite my rambling mild tirade, I loved those dolls as a kid (I still want that Barbie dream house). And, all the toy movies have been geared towards the boys anyway. Who am I kidding, most of the movies in general have been geared towards the boys. So now, some of the boys are pissed. If we have to take a G.I. Joe movie seriously (well, we did before the trailer came out, and after the film made money at the box office), then why not take this seriously? Which is why even though I'm not a Diablo Cody fan, I'm not 100% against a Sweet Valley High movie either. I loved those books and I think it's about time girls had some nostalgia for themselves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A behind the scenes look at The Fighter

This particular set of photos from David O. Russell's The Fighter have been online for a while, but nobody really noticed until /Film pointed them out. More than likely all the film festivals had our attention. There are also some video blogs as well.

The Fighter, which stars Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo looks at the early years of real-life boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his brother (Bale) who helped train him before going pro in the mid '80s.

There are way more photos at IAmRogue for you to get a look at. The Fighter opens in theaters in 2010.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A clip from A Single Man

This is the first time I've seen footage from the film (excluding the trailer). It's a black and white flashback scene with Matthew Goode and Colin Firth:

James Dean lives

Well, at least he does in this South African made TV commercial. It basically poses the what if question: what if James Dean didn't die at the age of 24? The commercial for South African investment film Allan Gray was filmed in Cape Town.
Imagining an alternative history in which Dean is now a Hollywood elder statesman, it shows the Rebel Without a Cause star on his family ranch, racing his own-brand sports car and receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar. Dean is also seen as film director, humanitarian ambassador and anti-Vietnam war agitator. In the final scene he has a car accident, just as in 1955, but when the smoke clears, he has survived.

Film critic Barry Ronge described the minute-long film as "the perfect blend of simple storytelling, superlative camera effects and the smartest use of a celebrity we have seen in a decade".

"Legend" was shot over 14 months with a cast of 300 and crew of 150. The producers carried out a worldwide search for a suitable actor, considering entrants in James Dean lookalike competitions in the American midwest. But they settled on Des Erasmus, a mechanic from Cape Town.

Keith Rose, director of the ad for Velocity Films, said: "Dean might have become a junkie and done a Marlon Brando, but we prefer to think he'd have lived a long and wholesome life." [The Guardian]

I'm half irked and half misty eyed over the whole thing. Using a long dead James Dean to hawk the services of an investment firm feels a bit wrong, especially considering what a mess the financial sector has gotten us into. It's manipulative, but all commercials are I suppose. Or maybe I'm just grouchy because they had to drag Brando into this as well. But it's a very effective ad - probably one of the best I've ever seen.

New posters from Women in Trouble

Carla Gugino plays adult entertainer, Elektra Luxx in Women in Trouble: "A serpentine day in the life of ten seemingly disparate women: a porn star, a flight attendant, a psychiatrist, a masseuse, a bartender, a pair of call girls, etc. All of them with one crucial thing in common. Trouble." Written and directed by Gugino's boyfriend, Sebastian Gutierrez (Snakes on a Plane), the film is the first in a trilogy that will include Elektra Luxx and Women in Ecstasy.

Women in Trouble has a pretty impressive cast (Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Simon Baker), but, it's the women who get the best roles in the film (Marley Shelton, Adrianne Palicki, Cameron Richardson, Connie Britton, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, and Emmanuelle Chriqui):

"Women in Trouble is a fun addition to the current trend of revisiting and reworking exploitation-film themes in a lighthearted way...There's a certain pleasure in seeing a movie where the men are relegated to the Supportive Spouse and Lust Interest roles, after I've seen so many films where those are the only roles for women." [Cinematical]

Posters courtesy Get The Big Picture. Women in Trouble hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 13.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The word from Toronto: Precious wins the people's choice award

Here's part of the press release from The Wrap (via Awards Daily):

The Cadillac People’s Choice Award is voted on by Festival audiences. This year’s award goes to Lee Daniels’s Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. From director Lee Daniels comes a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in 1987 Harlem, it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones, an illiterate African-American teenager who is pregnant for the second time by her absent father and abused by a poisonously angry mother. Despite her experiences, Precious has a dream that other possibilities exist for her and jumps at the chance to enroll in an alternative school. There she encounters Ms. Rain, a teacher who will start her on a journey from pain and powerlessness to self-respect and determination. The film stars Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and introduces Gabourey Sidibe. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Cadillac.

indieWIRE'S Anne Thompson shares some of her impression of Precious from Toronto and how it might shake up the Oscar race:
Lionsgate made a starry splash for its Sundance pick-up Precious by importing not only star Mariah Carey and singer Mary J. Blige, but exec producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey who worked the fest like pros. Precious has Oscar momentum. And it has done what no other film has ever done before: won the best audience prize at both Sundance and Toronto.
She also has more on what was good, bad, and disappointing about Toronto. Some of it is surprising. It might help to a lot to keep the hype down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Single, Serious, Solitary Man

This year we have Tom Ford's A Single Man, the Coen's A Serious Man, and Michael Douglas in Solitary Man. Confused yet? A Single Man has the very attractive cast, A Serious Man has the unknown cast, and Solitary Man...well that has Michael Douglas. If things go well for all three come awards season there's going to be a hell of a lot of confusion on those voting ballots. And just imagine the confusion when they announce the winners - I can just see the embarrassing blunders.

Anyway, considering all the chatter, I figured I would add more confusion and share some interviews and reviews.

Director Tom Ford discusses A Single Man with Indiewire’s Peter Gnegt (via AD):

“No matter how much you love something, there are those moments where you think, ‘shit, maybe I’m just way out on a limb and other people aren’t going to feel this way’,” Tom Ford said yesterday regarding his film “A Single Man.” “But then after the screening in Venice, we had a standing ovation for ten minutes. And it was amazing. It was very emotional, and it was just like a great release of ‘yes, it spoke to other people.’”

Ford optioned the novel from Don Bachardy, the deceased Isherwood’s longtime lover. Barchardy was somewhat hesitant given that “A Single Man” was Isherwood’s favorite book, and something very personal to himself as well (the character of Jim is largely based on him). And even though Ford chose to take significant (and necessary) creative liberties with the original work, Barchardy is quite pleased with the final product.

“I know what I want to say in fashion,” Ford said, “and I have said it over the years but I had to really stop and think: Why does anybody want to see a Tom Ford movie? Who needs another movie? What do I have to say? So finding something that had a message that I felt was important was really the most imperative thing. I read a lot of scripts. I had optioned a couple books I was working on adapting. And still nothing felt quite right. Until one day I was driving to my office and I realized I was thinking about this character George in ‘A Single Man’ - which I had read in my early twenties when I was living in Los Angeles.”
Tom Ford and star Colin Firth also answered questions at the Single Man press conference in Toronto a few days ago.

I realized that I haven't discussed the Coen's A Serious Man nearly as much as I've wanted - Richard Corliss from Time ends his review with this (also via AD):
As Fate keeps stomping him, he embraces Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. What he tells his class about the theory — "Even if you can't figure it out, you're still responsible for it on the midterm" — applies, in spades, to his crumbling life. And yet for most of the movie he hangs in there, behaving honorably, seeking the wisdom of his ancestors, trying to observe the Jewish concept of Hashem. "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you," says Elie Wiesel's Rashi. To absorb God's body blows, this disquieting, haunting movie says, is to be fully alive. To do otherwise could kill you.
Can't say I'm a huge Coen Bros. fan, and of the films they've crafted, I tend to like the ones nobody remembers or cares for. So, I'm naturally wary of the heaps of praise it's gotten so far.

And finally, John Foote from In Contention talks about Michael Douglas who he feels is the only good thing about Solitary Man:
He’s back this year with “Solitary Man” (*), and I am happy to report he is terrific in the film, playing the sort of role he is very good at, and that no doubt challenges him as an actor, because Douglas makes it very clear these days that he needs something very special to get him out of his house. However Douglas is the ONLY good thing in the film.

There is nothing particularly strong about the film visually, so it is left to Douglas to entertain us, and he manages to do that. It’s one of those films like “Street Smart,” a weak film with a brilliant Morgan Freeman performance. And the supporting cast has so little to do, one wonders why they even bothered to make the film? Only Danny DeVito seems to have a character that can really relate to Douglas, and that is stretching it.

Here we have a brilliant, daring performance from Douglas in a film that is a genuine chore to sit through. As much as I like him, I am not sure I could get through this one again. Pity.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nicolas Cage too good for The Green Hornet?

You probably already know this but Nicolas Cage dropped out of The Green Hornet over a week ago. He was promptly replaced by someone who can actually act Christoph Waltz. Can't say I was remotely disappointed by this news. There hadn't been an exact reason as to why Cage left, but he did finally discuss the reason for his departure with the Canadian Press (via FirstShowing) while promoting Bad Lieutenant at the Toronto International Film Festival:

Cage says he "wasn't interested in just being just a straight-up bad guy who was killing people willy-nilly."

He says Rogen and Gondry "had a different take on the character" and there wasn't enough time to develop the script.

"I had to have some humanity and to try to give it something where you could understand why the character was the way he was but I don't think there was enough time to develop it."
Forgive me while I lol. The guy with Ghost Rider 2 in development and two National Treasure movies in his filmography is concerned about the trappings of two-dimensional characters? When did Cage's desire for a character with some "humanity" suddenly start? I should probably give the guy a break. This is the best news about The Green Hornet I've heard in a long time.

First look: Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton in Stone

Stone started shooting in May, so it's amazing that they've gotten a trailer out this fast. The film is centered around a convicted arsonist (Edward Norton) looks to manipulate a parole officer (Robert De Niro) into a plan to secure his parole by placing his beautiful wife (Milla Jovovich) in the lawman's path.

I had been looking forward to this because of Norton and De Niro, but from the looks of the trailer, Jovovich looks like she has the most interesting, if not difficult part to play. She has the most to prove, working with not one, but two very respected actors. Stone opens some time in 2010.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The word from Toronto: The Weinstein Company buys A Single Man

After last week's impressive showing at the Venice Film Festival and Colin Firth's best actor win, the excitement around Tom Ford's A Single Man went way up right before its Toronto debut.

According to indieWIRE, the film found a distributor after its first screening. Harvey Weinstein's The Weinstein Company bought the American and German rights to the film managing to out bid Focus Features. It's the first high profile purchase of the Toronto International Film Festival.

TWC is set to release the film sometime this year, so I guess that throws it into the awards race, especially considering Colin Firth's much talked about performance.

Five new Where the Wild Things Are images

We've heard every bit of bad news about Spike Jonze's upcoming Where the Wild Things Are: the skepticism about making a story made up of no more than 10 sentences into a feature film, delays, terrified children in test audiences, etc. Still, most of us are excited. Maybe it's the gorgeous photos or the footage. It's probably Jonze himself.

There will reportedly be advance screenings of Where the Wild Things Are open to the public in New York and Los Angeles. Most of us will have to wait until October 16 to catch it, but enjoy the five new photos from the NY Times.

If you missed the TV spots that made their way online a few days ago, here they are:

Patrick Swayze: 1952-2009

Patrick Swayze passed away from pancreatic cancer yesterday at the age of 57. It's been a sad year with celebrity deaths. Most of the ones that stand out have been relatively young, including Patrick Swayze. He announced his illness in early 2008 and fought it with dignity. I was truly awed by his resilience.

I remember him most in Ghost - a film I can say I've seen a least 100 times without exaggerating. I always cry at the ending.

He is survived by his wife of 34 years. Lisa Niemi, his brother Don, and his mother.

There is a great tribute to him that you can read here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Venice winners


Golden Lion: “Lebanon” (Samuel Maoz)
Silver Lion: “Women Without Men” (Shirin Neshat)
Grand Jury Prize: “Soul Kitchen” (Fatih Akin)
Best Actor: Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Best Actress: Ksenia Rappoport, “The Double Hour”
Marcello Mastroianni Prize for Young Performer: Jasmine Trinca, “The Big Dream”
Best Screenplay: Todd Solondz, “Life During Wartime”
Technical Contribution for Set Design: Sylvie Olive, “Mr. Nobody”


Luigi De Laurentiss Lion of the Future: “Engkwentro”
Venice Horizons Documentary: “1428″ (Du Haibin)
Venice Horizons Special Mention: “The Man’s Woman and Other Stories” (Amt Dutta)

(Courtesy: In Contention)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The word from Venice: rave reviews for A Single Man

Based on Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel, A Single Man "depicts one day in the life of George, a gay middle-aged Englishman who works as a college professor in Los Angeles and whose lover, Jim, has recently died." [Wiki] The film, directed by Tom Ford had its world premier earlier today in Venice.

Emma Pritchard Jones from Grazia:

Should Tom Ford have stuck to designing his impeccable Gucci suits? Not if “A Single Man’ is anything to go by. The screenplay – which Ford co-wrote, produced and directed – could win more than the Best Dressed award at the Venice Film Festival. That’s already in the bag for sure – from the moment Colin Firth strides onto the screen in Ford’s trademark black, his 50-something professor character George is turned out like an Italian billionaire. We follow a day in the life of George, some months after the death of his gay partner of sixteen years. It’s set in LA but Firth doesn’t do American – instead he’s the perfect stereotype of an English gentleman, silently devastated by his loss.

Ford should be praised for making a film which isn’t just pleasing to the eye – gay or straight, George’s predicament speaks straight to the soul. The only problem is, his surroundings are so perfect you’ll be mourning his sorrow one moment, and coveting his lampshades the next.

In Contention's Guy Lodge says this is Colin Firth's "finest screen work to date":

But just as you’re tempted to dismiss the film as a gorgeous vanity exercise, it reveals a keen beating heart beneath the decor — and the match of Ford’s precise sensibility to Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 literary examination of the effect of grief on an overly compartmentalized life begins to make perfect sense.

In a graceful, meticulous performance that easily ranks as his finest screen work to date — and merits serious awards consideration — Colin Firth plays George, a British academic living in Los Angeles who finds his life slowing to an impasse as he struggles to recover from the death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode). As he bides his time with increasingly indifferent teaching and melancholy get-togethers with his boozy friend and neighbor Charley (a tart, affecting miniature from Julianne Moore), the film follows George through a single day, wherein a key life decision gradually veers off-course.

It’s a spare, moving narrative of only-connecting, through which Ford initiates larger enquiries into sexuality, loneliness and etiquette: it’s easy to read Firth’s intriguingly opaque characterization as a mirror for Ford’s own personal and social insecurities.

Wendy Ide from Times Online praises Tom Ford:’s a work of emotional honesty and authenticity which announces the arrival of a serious filmmaking talent. There will be critics who will be unable to get past the director’s background, but rest assured: Tom Ford is the real deal.

Isherwood’s novel...unfolds predominantly through an interior monologue, a device which is notoriously tricky to transfer to the big screen without resorting to pages of cumbersome voice-over. Ford sidesteps this by keeping the narration to a minimum and instead giving us vivid little glimpses into George’s bruised psyche with some well-chosen flashbacks.

In the role of George, Colin Firth gives one of the finest, most affecting performances of his career.
The film's new stylish trailer (via ONTD!) is below.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Worst. Poster. EVER: Takers

I almost never talk about poster art. I usually just toss them out for people to look at but I can't help myself with this one. ComingSoon (via FirstShowing) points us to this God awful poster from Takers, starring Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Idris Elba, and Matt Dillon. Oh and that douche Chris Brown is in this as well. The movie has something to do with bank robbers on their last job (gee, I've never heard this plot before). The photos of the actors in the foreground has got to be the worst Photoshop job I have ever seen. The film opens on February 19, 2010.

New release dates: The Road, Up in the Air, The Lovely Bones and more

There's been a lot of date changes and date announcements over the last day or so.

John Hillcoat's The Road is getting moved yet again. It was to have been released last fall, but it got pushed back. It finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival last week, but The Weinstein Company has pushed it back once again - this time by a little over a month. The film is now set to open on November 25 instead of October 16. With the new Thanksgiving weekend release The Road is going to have to contend with Disney's Old Dogs, Ninja Assassin, another Oscar hopeful Nine (also from The Weinstein Company), and Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox which will be going wide.

Jason Reitman's Up in the Air still has a wide release date of December 4, but it will likely have a limited release date of November 13 - probably in New York and L.A. The film will slowly expand and start to go wider on November 25. This means it will have to contend with The Road and Nine.

Also opening on November 25 is Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles starring Zac Efron and Claire Danes. It had premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, but it's only now getting a theatrical release date.

Fantastic Mr. Fox will be in limited release on November 13 before its wide release on November 25 as previously mentioned.

Michael Moore's documentary Capitalism: A Love Story is being moved to October 2.

Low-budget horror film Paranormal Activity is getting a limited opening on September 25 and will expand based on how well it does. According to ComingSoon the film is about a young couple who "suspects that their house is haunted by a malevolent entity. They set up video surveillance to capture evidence of what happens at night as they sleep. Their surveillance and home videos have been edited into the 99 minute feature film." Apparently the film is terrifying.

Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones will be in limited release on December 11 and then expand on Christmas Day. It goes wide on January 15.

The latest film from the Coen brothers, A Serious Man is still scheduled for its limited release on October 2, but its U.S. premier is now set for September 24 in New York City at the Ziegfeld Theater.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Evans has been picked up by Paladin and will screen at a few fall festivals before its limited release in late December in New York and L.A. It should expand in early 2010, but no word yet on an exact date.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The 100 most memorable characters of the decade - part 4

We're nearly halfway through the list. It's been tough to narrow things down, and as usual, there weren't really any rules, and I tried to balance the characters as much as I could. Here's the next batch for you:

70 - Paikea Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes) Whale Rider - I said earlier that there won't be many teenagers on this list, and there will be even fewer pre-teens. Pai will end up being one of a handful of memorable children. Fueled by the strength of Castle-Hughes, Pai is the poster child for female empowerment - the ultimate personification of girl power. Sometimes it's hard to believe she's just a child.

is the only available heir to her grandfather, the chief of her tribe, though customs demands that the chief be male. But she stands up to her grandfather, who would rather Pai had been born a boy, or perhaps, not even born at all (''There was no gladness when I was born.'')

Keisha Castle-Hughes on her role in Whale Rider:

''It's about a girl who's trying to find who she is in a male-dominated society,'' explains Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 13-year-old star of Niki Caro's inspiring coming-of-age film, ''Whale Rider"... The tale of the Maori in New Zealand has been embraced around the world, proving that it's more than a chick flick. ''One man said he saw his grandfather in Koro, the patriarch,'' Castle-Hughes says, happily surprised. ''He could relate, even though he was an Italian from New Jersey.''...The movie's message is a universal one: ''If you want something, you've got to go out and grab it with both hands..."

More on Whale Rider:
Keisha admits there are certain parallels between the young actress and this remarkable character she has played so effortlessly. "I think we're both strong willed and independent, and Pai has a great unique quality about her. She's an 11-year-old girl who's confident about who she is and knows exactly who she is. Not many 11-year-old girls are like that. She's a great role model for young girls. I think I'm like that too."

69 - Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) I'm Not There - I don't remember much about the film - messy plot and all. But I do remember Blanchett as Jude Quinn, an incarnation of Bob Dylan, circa the mid 1960s and his electric uprising. I don't know what's scarier - a movie made up of six different Bob Dylans that I have to keep up with, or the fact that Cate Blanchett might make a better Dylan than Dylan.

Stephanie Zacharek from Salon explains why Blanchett as Dylan is so good:
...Cate Blanchett, as the Royal Albert Hall-era Dylan (there we go again with the pushpins), is the most hypnotic, capturing the spirit of Dylan -- or, more accurately, one of his many spirits -- in her willowy frame. This could be the performance of the year, in one of the most inventive and joyous movies of the year.

And more from Jeff Beresford-Howe at Film Threat:
Cate Blanchett gets all the attention and awards talk for her cross-dressing portrayal of Dylan at his most scathing and magnetic, and she deserves it. You can’t take your eyes off her as she staggers through Dylan’s best-dressed, most confrontational and most fucked up time in his life, what was essentially a long-playing nervous breakdown. It’s an over-the-top performance rooted firmly in the truth.

68 - Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) Frida - Sometimes the media goes crazy for good looking actresses who get ugly for their roles. But in Hayek's case all the attention was deserved. While Frida reads like a standard biopic, on the screen it isn't. And that is largely due to the directing, and Hayek's ability to make a legendary artist into a flesh and blood person.

Frida's like a human hurricane; tempestuous one moment, and suddenly calm, and then tempestuous all over again. Hayek's performance is so brave, I think that she isn't afraid to show the Hayek beneath the Kahlo. It's not just Kahlo you're seeing there. You're seeing Hayek's years-long obsession with Frida and the guts she had to be able to bring Frida to the big screen (in the early 1990s 'when Hayek was told she was too young for the part, she replied "Then you are going to have to wait until I'm old enough"'). You can see it all somewhere in the eyes, beneath those striking eyebrows.

On the challenge of playing Frida:'s apparent that the role of Frida may easily be the most challenging role Hayek has ever undertaken. The part shows that Hayek is much more than just a pretty face. She mesmerizingly portrays Frida throughout all stages of her life – young girl, budding woman, old and dying. Not to mention that she has to convey the horrible physical pain Kahlo endured as a result of a crippling childhood accident. Additionally, prosthetics ranging from aging make-up, numerous scenes in full body casts, and of course Frida's omnipresent unibrow were heaped upon Hayek. "Honestly, it is definitely by far the most complex character I have ever played and maybe the most complex character I will ever play," exclaims Hayek. "But it was not the most challenging one. When you are so passionate about something and when you love someone so much, it's easy to feel their pain."

67 - Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Capote - I've always found the character memorable mainly because I find him unbearable. I've been trying to figure out if there is anything more than the fact that he gets on my nerves that has made me remember him all these years. Maybe it boils down to the obvious. The character annoys me, but Philip Seymour Hoffman does not. In fact I really like Philip Seymour Hoffman, so I suppose it's a testament to just how brilliant he is in the role.

Maybe Ebert's review helps give me an explanation:
...As he talks to the killers, to law officers and to the neighbors of the murdered Clutter family, Capote's project takes on depth and shape as the story of conflicting fates. But at the heart of his reporting is an irredeemable conflict: He wins the trust of the two convicted killers and essentially falls in love with Perry Smith, while needing them to die to supply an ending for his book. "If they win this appeal," he tells his friend Harper Lee, "I may have a complete nervous breakdown." After they are hanged on April 14, 1965, he tells Harper, "There wasn't anything I could have done to save them." She says: "Maybe, but the fact is you didn't want to."
66 - Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) The Notorious Bettie Page - This is arguable one of the best examples of perfect casting in a biopic. Gretchen Mol, with her huge eyes, big black bangs, and dazzling smile plays the sweet, innocent pin-up girl of the 1950s with so much charm and vulnerability. She's just as comfortable dressed in high heels and leather as a dominatrix as she is being bound and gagged - or even completely nude.

The perfect description of Bettie Page:
It has often been said that Bettie Page, the legendary '50s pinup with the pert features framed by those famously severe black bangs, was the rare American sex goddess who was equally at home projecting the image of a good girl or a bad girl. Frolicking, naked, in the ocean foam, her leg extended with playful pleasure, she was all dazzle and sunshine: the girl next door who said yes yes yes. In her scandalous underground bondage photos, where she posed as a dominatrix with a whip held high, or as a masochist with a ball in her mouth, she vamped like a pussycat from hell, her eyes narrowing with mean delight — or widening in mock terror. Yet the mysterious alchemy of Bettie Page isn't just that she could turn on a dime from light to dark, saint to sinner, virgin to vixen. It's that she was somehow able to project both qualities at once. In the bondage photos, so shocking for their time, her warm, spirited, peekaboo vibrance doesn't disappear; it's there just beneath the surface aggression of her poses. As for her all-American cheesecake shots, they have a quality of delirious, laughing abandon, as though she were winking at the she-devil inside. What Bettie Page conjured — always — was the promise of pleasure without limits. She was a one-woman orgy in centerfold form.
65 - Alice (Natalie Portman) Closer - Alice is an intelligent, sexy, 20 year old, who deals in deception ("Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off...but it's better if you do.") It's easy to be fooled by her innocent face, but even when Alice tells the truth it is to hurt her partner, not to unburden herself of guilt. She talks a good game about love, but one wonders at the end of it all if she's ever really felt it.

Why Portman's performance is so good:
Portman, who digs so deep into the bruised core of her character that they seem to wear the same skin. It's a blazing, breakthrough performance.
As for the elfin Portman, it's far and away the best performance of the adult portion of her career. Gone is that kid-genius preciousness; she seems like someone abused by men and self almost to the breaking point.

64 - Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) Donnie Darko - The title character in the film is a puzzle. He goes to a nice school and he's walking around with Jake Gyllenhaal's angelic face. But on the inside, he is gloomy, tormented, lost. He is a paranoid schizophrenic dealing with the mundane aspects of teenage life. He's more than just an angst-ridden teenager. He hears voices in his head, hallucinates, has visions of the future - he's often visited by a giant rabbit with an injured eye. He's an oddball with the guts to ask out the new girl.

Jake Gyllenhaal on his experiences working on the film:
I remember that when [Richard] was in the bunny suit that we shot that at night and that there was pizza behind the camera, because we were going over, and all I wanted was a piece of pizza, that was my main motivation for that... I couldn't agree more with Steven. When I read it, I just immediately responded to it, even though I didn't read it all the way through when I met [Richard]. I had ten pages to go and I had five minutes before the meeting and I knew I already wanted to do it. Good to know that I didn't know what happens in the end because I still don't know what happens in the end. But it was an amazing experience for me and a familiar one too because this was hopefully not the last time that I work with my sister, but everyone sort of became family from that experience and I'm so proud of it.

63 - Latika (Freida Pinto, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar) Slumdog Millionaire - Latika isn't like other love interests, though, like most of them, she's beautiful. Even as a child she is street smart and tough. Latika knows how to survive. She starts off as Jamal's friend - the unnamed third musketeer. But as time moves forward, she's snatched away, and she comes in and out of our hero's life - she's more of a vision than anything real.

Freida Pinto discusses the character:
Two younger actors play Latika at earlier ages, so she drew from that work. However, most of the adult Latika was intuitive from the script. "I read the script first and I read little Latika's part. I was like, 'That's the character. That's the Latika that I can relate to because she's a spicy, stubborn girl. She's got this zest for life and she's playful.' She's a fighter and the moment you come to the girl in the middle, she automatically gets submissive and she's kind of grown before her time. She's 14 but she looks like she could be 18, 20. So it was really important to watch the kids to see how they had grown so I could grow beyond that as well. So Danny had already shot scenes with the two characters and I watched it and it was such an immense amount of pressure because they were so good. They just seemed so effortless. It just makes it kind of simpler to have watched it, so the growth seems not disconnected. It just seems fluid."

62 - Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) Transformers & Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Sam starts off as an awkward high school kid hell bent on trying to impress Mikaela, the hottest girl in school. He is the unconventional hero. He isn't that strong, has no useful skills, and he's more of a smart aleck, than actually smart. He's kind of cool though, in a dorky sort of way. There is also courage deep down, even though at times, one wonders if the kid is just stupid. But he has that quality every film hero ought to have - he is sympathetic. He's the everyman.

On Shia LaBeouf as Sam:
...things get infinitely better when Shia LaBeouf appears as Sam, a smart-mouthed teen who discovers the Transformers with his would-be girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).

LaBeouf is a good choice to act out the lively script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who never forget that they're writing a movie about robots from outer space that can turn into helicopters and boom boxes. The rising young actor, who will play Indiana Jones' sidekick in next summer's big movie, has a geeky charm that recalls a young John Cusack or Patrick Dempsey.

61 - Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) Forgetting Sarah Marshall - We spend most of Forgetting Sarah Marshall feeling sorry for the hero. It's bad enough that his girlfriend dumps him, but having to deal with her self-centered, cool, rock star boyfriend while on vacation sucks even more.

Russell Brand does, sort of steal the show:
Brand, a Brit stand-up, radiates star quality and ace comic timing as the sexually insatiable lead singer of Infant Sorrow, a rocker so self-involved that he doesn't see why Sarah wouldn't want to join his groupies, the Sorrow Suckers, on tour. Brand is priceless when a pushy waiter (Hill is perfecto) asks if Aldous has listened to his audition CD. "I was going to," says Brand in an accent that blends Keith Richards with Monty Python, "but then I just carried on livin' my life."

But, Aldous Snow doesn't end up being the stereotypical vapid rocker though he does screw around. He's funny, charming (mostly because Brand is playing himself) and he eventually becomes friends with his rival. Aldous isn't really a villain ("Fuck you're cool! It's so hard to say, because, like, I hate you in so many ways.") It's not that surprising that Aldous will be getting his own spin-off movie.

There are still a lot more characters left, and hopefully I'll have the next part up next week.