Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Michelle Williams and the Ellipses of Wendy and Lucy

In the melancholy world of Wendy and Lucy, meaning is conveyed more through looks and gestures than words.

That’s key, given the plot turns on the relationship between down-on-her-luck Wendy, subtly portrayed by Michelle Williams, and Lucy, a lean and tan mutt with soulful brown eyes.

We can’t know the full story between the two, but their affection is palatable.

The simple narrative offers only hints at who Wendy is. Like the mysterious bandage she wears around her ankle, we don’t know what’s underneath it or how she got it, just as we don’t really know how Wendy got to this moment in her life, or where she’ll end up. Like life and the character, the bandage is complicated.

“It’s sort of like Wendy herself,” Williams says. “It’s the physical manifestation of something that’s never really revealed—like a question on top of a question.”

Williams, 28, prompts us to seek answers as she taps into the soul of Wendy and her wounds in a remarkable performance.

Read the rest at Awards Daily or here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Doubt's Beautiful Ambiguity

At a recent SAG screening of Doubt, writer/director John Patrick Shanley said the film—based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play—is about “the pain and experience of being alive, and that you can’t be certain and yet you have to live.” No doubt about it.

The story takes place in 1964 at Catholic school in the Bronx, where a nun grows suspicious that a charismatic priest has developed an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Beyond the plot machinations of his story, Shanley said the setting—which he experienced first-hand during his youth—was about a feeling he had, going back to that time, that the world of that Bronx Catholic school was disappearing. “A real impetus for writing the play was to celebrate and mourn—I had a moment of beautiful pain about this world,” he said.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with the source material should stop reading here if you want to be completely spoiler-free.

Read the rest at Awards Daily or here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

American Song and Dance

All the talk of musicals over at The Film Experience Blog this week motivated me to re-post this review I wrote of An American in Paris.

An American in Paris is not a great movie. Rather, it is a great musical. Perhaps the best pure musical ever made. And I admit I'm fudging the language a bit, because I would consider that other Gene Kelly movie (you know the one) to be the greatest movie musical. Period.

But this Kelly romp somehow manages to out-dance and out-sing that classic. The ballet finale of the film brings forth all of the romance and power, transforming a lukewarm, by the numbers romantic-cliché plot into a chill-worthy finish.

Still, it nearly loses its way to that dazzling climax. The story and dialogue are to the film as "story and dialogue" are to a porn film: Just there to set up what we really want to see. Instead of the sex of a skin flick, An American in Paris is an orgasmic feast of musical genius: The Gershwin songs, Gene Kelly's dancin' shoes, Leslie Caron's dancin' legs, Oscar Levant's fancy fingers on piano, and Georges Guetary's suave singing.

The flimsy plot follows Kelly's former GI, Jerry Mulligan in Paris after WWII. Mulligan, an eager painter, falls hard for Caron's shop girl, Lise. Naturally, there are complications. The melodrama is pretty standard. If it weren't for the music, I don't think I could endure scenes like the one where Lise pleads with Jerry that they should enjoy the time they have together, not worry about when they are apart. (He's getting "sponsored" by society gal Nina Foch; she's being prepped for marriage to Guetary.)

Despite Caron's amateurish performance (this was her first film, she would improve a great deal), there are moments to recommend the film that aren't set to music. Notably, some snappy dialogue here and there, (mostly provided by the priceless Levant). Kelly always manages to be charming, even when he's being a bit creepy, like when he first meets the shy Lise. Guetary and Foch are both good as love's also-rans. While the outcome is never truly in doubt, they are both likable and sympathetic. Hell, I think Guetary is 10 times sexier than Kelly (until Kelly dances).

Also of note is the Oscar-winning art and set direction. Making the most of the Paris setting and wild party scenes like the Arts Ball. The vibrant colors out-do Moulin Rouge! (and An American in Paris was released in 1951).

In the end, it's the music that wins the day (and in my humble opinion won the Oscar for Best Pic). The main narrative is peppered with classics including "Our Love Is Here To Stay," "I Got Rhythm," and "'S Wonderful."

The high-point though, already touched on above, is the "An American in Paris Ballet" at the end of the film. This 18-minute musical interlude, choreographed by Kelly, is bursting with color, imagination, beauty, energy and eroticism. The blandness of the Kelly/Caron romance, unable to flourish through dialogue, is made lush and ripe as they replay their courtship in dance. It contains one of the most romantic and beautifully sensual moments ever filmed, as they dance in shadows and fog on a fountain to the gorgeous Gershwin music. Heaven on earth.

Those who don't like musicals will probably resist the overall charms of the film. But they will miss out in seeing one of the finest examples of how the musical could transform the medium, bringing forth feeling that could not be expressed as deeply with simple words.

*This review originally ran on the web message board Moviola at ezboard.com.

Fillin' In at The Film Experience Blog

So I just completed a week-long stint guest-blogging for Nathaniel over at The Film Experience Blog.

During the week I shared blogging chores with JA of My New Plaid Pants and Thom of Planet Fabulon.

I didn't get to post as much as I would have liked to (thanks to a bad cold), but I did share my thoughts on the following topics:

The Dark Shadows Adaptation

Top Hat

The Jonathan Strange Adaptation

Top Ten: Movie Hookers

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Poscar Ceremony

The “big night” has come and gone. No, not that “big night,” the other “big night.” Last Saturday I presented the Poscars at an exclusive, invite-only soiree on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

For the five of you sitting on the edge of your seats awaiting the results, I present the first ever “PoscarCast Semi-Live Blog.”

Saturday, Feb. 17, 2008, 5:45 PM: Let the cheap beer, one-pound Sumo Burgers and milkshakes flow as I wait for the nominees to stroll up the “Cold Concrete” and into Big Nick’s famed burger joint.

My carefully planned Poscar look is inspired by two finalists: a bath towel to honor clothing nominee “Viggo Mortensen’s Bath Towel” and an Anton “Chigurh-Chic” hairdo.

Read the full post here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kazakhstan Gets its Glory with Mongol

A year ago, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s Oscar-nominated Borat made Kazakhstan the butt of a massive joke. The “glorious nation” was not amused.

In true cinematic fashion, this year’s Oscars offer a chance for redemption. For the first time ever, the country has a Best Foreign Language nominee with Mongol.

Russian director Sergei Bodrov says he personally liked Cohen’s film—which skewers pretty much everyone who gets in the way, but Kazakhs didn’t appreciate the joke.

“People in Kazakhstan were very upset, they took it really personally, they couldn’t believe how it was possible to make this kind of movie,” he says. Among the character sins committed against them, the film portrays Kazakhs as urine-drinking, incestuous racists. Borat put the country on the map, but not in a positive way.

“For them [Mongol getting the Oscar nomination] is a big deal. It’s good for the Kazakhstan film industry and for the country,” Bodrov says.

Read the rest full post here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Second Annual Poscars

By Susan Thea Posnock

Even as the fate of this year’s Oscar ceremony hangs in the balance between the glitzy and the clips-y, fans of the former can breathe a deep sigh of relief: The Second Annual Poscars will take place as scheduled.

For those of you who don’t know, the Poscars are the Oscars’ more prestigious and self-indulgent, “father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.” An “expert panel of judges” gives them out. (Translation: Me and me alone, displaying my omniscient power.)

I’d also like to note that Sasha Stone graciously allows me to present my views at her site, but the rumor that she and I are the same person is completely untrue—though I’m flattered by any confusion!

I make the rules and therefore can bend them to my will. Last year I nominated three contenders in each category, but this time I’ve widened the field to include as many as five. This year I’ve also added several “Honorary Poscars” to ensure the “Poscarcast” runs the requisite three and a half hours.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Search of a Masterpiece

Once upon a time in the far off and whimsical land of Jersey—the “New” version—a young girl dreamed movie dreams and begged her parents to take her to see Rocky as often as they could stand it. She and her older brother would listen to Bill Conti’s glorious theme and reenact the final, tear-jerking moments, complete with a gut-wrenching yelp of “Adriaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!” It was, in her 6-year-old opinion, the BEST MOVIE EVER.

A year later, she changed her mind, having been introduced to a new man—we’ll call him “Han” for short—and Star Wars ruled the day.

Years have gone by. The young girl is in her thirties and has loved many films and performances since those heady days of cheering for the contender. But her affection for him (and Han) lingers.

Of course, I’m referring to myself. And as I observe the debates over this year’s five Academy Award Best Picture nominees, I think it’s important for all of us to remember that inner film geek and how we got here in the first place. I’d guess a lot of us have “first film loves” that we cling to, even as our tastes have matured. I know that the Oscars are all about rewarding the “best” NOW, but I also think that whatever the film, it’s important to understand that our perceptions and feelings aren’t static. Despite this, most film reviews are the artistic version of a phone call to a friend after a first date. It’s all about snap judgments—over praise or dismissal in an instant.

Read the rest here.

Talking STP

Recently, I had a chance to TALK film online versus just writing about it when my friend Nathaniel at The Film Experience asked me to participate in an Oscar nominations discussion as part of his new podast feature. Joe Reid of Low Resolution also pitches in.

The segment follows an interview Nat conducted with 12-time sound Oscar nominee Greg P. Russell, who is up for another sound Oscar this year for the Transformers.

Download the conversation here.