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January 27, 2010

Banksy film trailer

Shot from Banksy movie trailer

I'm a few days late, here, but wanted to mention the Banksy movie that sort of appeared out of nowhere and premiered at Sundance the other day. It's called Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Here's the trailer:

There's some really thorough press coverage of the movie (Guardian review: "very funny") and about Banksy and his style of guerrilla public art as sly, darkly funny social commentary. The LA Times has a lot to say about it, so I'll briefly summarize: the movie originated with a Banksy fan, a French guy living in LA named Thierry Guetta who started filming everything in his life after his mother died. He met up with Banksy in LA, and they became friends and sort of accomplices as Thierry decided to make a documentary about Banksy, until Banksy started to think maybe this guy Thierry was just a crazy person with a camera. A crazy person who later became an art-world version of a superstar.

Anyway, Banksy ended up making this movie using the miles of footage they accumulated, so it's sort of a documentary about both of them. Judging from the trailer and its many shots of pratfalls, face plants, spilled paint, torn stencils, and other street-art disasters, it seems to promote the idea that art can be both a serious contribution to the world and a joke.

Of course, you can't see Bansky's face or hear his unmodified voice in the movie at all.

Banksy had this to say about his movie: "Trying to make a movie which truly conveys the raw thrill and expressive power of art is very difficult. So I haven’t bothered. Instead this is a simple everyday tale of life, longing and mindless vandalism."

It's supposed to come out this Spring. Here's the Flickr group pool of his art.

January 25, 2010

SAG awards

Eli Roth and the cast of Inglourious Basterds

The Screen Actors Guild gave out its awards over the weekend, and the only real surprise was Inglourious Basterds, which won the night's big award for best cast. Some of the movie's cast members were really great and deserve an award like this, like Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, and Diane Kruger. But it's nuts to see Eli Roth, with his blunderingly terrible overacted performance, standing there on stage holding up his statuette for outstanding acting. Congratulations, Eli! How about you quit while you're ahead.

Here's a shot from the red carpet, with Tina Fey captivated/overwhelmed by Christina Hendricks' red cantilevered feat of engineering:

Tina Fey and Chrstina Hendricks at SAG red carpet

January 21, 2010

Gaga tears New York's face off

Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall, NYC

(photo by dionisioyang)

I had been concerned that Lady Gaga was going to cancel her show at Radio City Music Hall last night, since she was sick and had canceled her last four shows. But when I checked her Twitter page yesterday, I found this entry: "Can't wait 4 Monster Ball, ready to tear the face off my hometown 2nite."

It was on. And she did. My face = off.

What's so amazing about Lady Gaga is her ability to create such an eye-popping performance with costumes and sets that are truly dazzling, and to be doing it now, when we've all seen everything already. The stage was set with four gigantic video panels that for the best songs (productions, really) had beautiful lights and image effects that were trippily transporting in the same way that the best moments of Avatar were. The show looked like no expense was spared to make sure everyone's minds were blown, and judging from her on-stage comment that her managers ask her why she spent all her money on her show (answer: "Because my fans are sexy") it was indeed really, really expensive.

The best numbers featured Gaga hovering above the ground in a glowing light box platform thing, wearing a bodysuit covered in little lights, or antlers, or a gladiator leotard, or a dress made of thick layers of black feathers. (Or in one shocking-for-Gaga scene, pants.) Some of the numbers were of a more standard variety that I imagine Madonna's or Gwen Stefani's shows would be like, i.e. prancing around the stage in a red patent leather bikini with a bunch of studs (see photo).

But the best productions were James Cameron-level beautiful, or completely weird, like for "Paparazzi" where she wore an elaborate up-do that was connected to two big metal rings that were linked to a horizontal metal rod that two dancers moved around the stage, essentially pulling her along the floor in an elaborate sort of hair-bondage scene. Then for a brief interval it was just Gaga alone on stage at a piano, singing a fantastic bluesy, smoky, torch-song version of "Poker Face", and some other ballads.

The crowd had a lot more women and people in their 30's or older than I would have expected. I thought it was going to be a bunch of teenage girls, a lot of gay guys, and me. In reality, the crowd seemed to be mostly people over 25, almost 100% of whom were wearing some combination of feathers, leopard bodysuits, glitter, mirrors, and in one case, a full-body spacesuit covered with Christmas lights.

Somewhat disturbingly, there were some moms who apparently are not familiar with Lady Gaga's style, who brought their 10 year-old daughters dressed in wigs, high-heeled boots, and aviator sunglasses to listen to Gaga talk about blowjobs and dry-hump guys in spandex with fur covering their faces.

Anyway, another thing Gaga is good at is this: she appears to be totally genuine in her stage banter. She says a lot of stuff about following your dreams and being whoever you want to be and not letting anything hold you back, but she actually seems like she means it. When someone has made a career out of putting herself out there the way she has, I guess she knows what she's talking about when she says it's sometimes hard to be yourself, but really, it's the only way to go. I'm still not the biggest fan of all her music (except for "Bad Romance", which rules) but this was one stunner of a show that I think made everyone there want to be Gaga.

Reviews and pictures at the Daily News and the Post, good review from the Times.

January 20, 2010

Even Michael Haneke's child actors are creepy

The nine movies that are being considered for an Oscar for best foreign film were announced today, and among them is Michael Haneke's dark and dread-filled The White Ribbon. The movie is set in a small German farming town that's filled with some particularly malicious people in the lead-up to World War I.

I don't have that strong an opinion about whether this movie should win the Oscar or not, but if there were an award for most totally unnerving child actor, this kid with the tears of unspeakable rage would be a slam-dunk:

Das Weisse Band, The White Ribbon

Holy crap. That is one preteen I would not want to encounter in a deserted cabbage field.

The movie features many more completely creepy and unsettling shots such as this one:

White Ribbon


January 19, 2010

24: Kiefer pretends to be in NYC

Kiefer pretends to be in NYC

Another season of 24 began over the weekend with 4 big hours of action, implausible plot twists, and Kiefer burying fire axes in people's chests. This season is set in New York, but apart from a few establishing shots, it was apparently shot in Canada with some hot dog street vendors and orange and white steam chimneys Photoshopped in. You can watch all the episodes on Fox, Hulu, or IMDb.

A couple of observations:

  • CTU has been relaunched after it was disbanded a season or two ago, with a new office conveniently located in what appears to be Long Island City. As usual, the office is run by a clueless, authoritarian bureaucrat who plays by the rules, is easily manipulated by transparent terrorist machinations, and flagrantly ignores Kiefer's advice. This year, the bureaucrat is played by Mykelti Williamson, who played famed shrimper Bubba in Forrest Gump, and Tommy Lee Jones in the TV version of "The Fugitive".

    It's a thankless role that's only gotten more tiresome with each new season. We get it, guys, the government can't be trusted, America needs a maverick willing to go rogue to protect us, were you an ass scientist, because blah blah blah.

  • We've also got a secret romance between a world leader and an inappropriate young lady-- this time it's between the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire host from Slumdog Millionaire and Kissing Jessica Stein, aka Mrs. Jon Hamm. Anil Kapoor is a real star, and is the best part of the season so far.
  • Starbuck from BSG plays this year's hot CTU agent who has a secret Southern-accented identity and a sordid past she's running from in the form of a guy who seems to be an abusive ex, whose threatening phone calls she inexplicably continues to take while at work. This plot looks like it will be the boring personal drama storyline that provides several excellent opportunities each week for 24 viewers to go get another beer out of the fridge.
  • The actor playing Farhad, the evil assassin brother of Anil Kapoor's President of a Pretend Middle Eastern Country, looks exactly like a Muslim Jason Schwartzman:

Akbar Kurtha, aka Jason Schwartzman

I think he's actually Indian, like most of the "Middle Eastern" cast this year.

January 12, 2010

Chloe trailer

Chloe, Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore

Just the other day I was wondering what Julianne Moore had been up to these days, since it seemed like she hadn't starred in a big movie in a while. And now, here she is!

She's in a new sexy psychological evil prostitute thriller called Chloe. The trailer just came out, and it takes full advantage of its red band (a little bit NSFW):

The trailer probably gives too much away, which is something that bugs me about a lot of trailers, but at least while this one is revealing major plot points, it manages to reveal some naked people, too.

The movie would look pretty pulpy and bad if it weren't for the cast: Julianne, her husband Liam Neeson, and the wonderful Amanda Seyfried as the hot young thing she hires to figure out if her husband is a cheater or not. As is so often the case in these jealous-wife-hires-a-hooker storylines, things go terribly wrong, though in different and more salacious ways than you might think.

Also, the director is Atom Egoyan, who generally does a good job when his movies involve commercial sex, family strife, and homicidal insanity: see Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Felicia's Journey, some of his best.

It comes out in March. Actually, Chloe is a remake of a French movie called Nathalie in which the hot young hooker is played by Emmanuelle Béart, who was 40 years old when it came out. To put it another way, Emmanuelle Béart is the same age as Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays Amanda Seyfried's mother on "Big Love".

Ah, the French! So loose in their requirements for playing a movie temptress. Here in America, we know that if you're over 25, you're a matronly hag.

January 11, 2010

Farmers use the wrong agricultural metaphor

40 Acres and a Mule t-shirt

Industrial farmers have been getting more scrutiny lately, now that anyone concerned about animal welfare, pollution, climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or their own health has started looking at factory farms as the cause of a lot of big problems. Some states are considering new laws regulating things like the size of cages animals are kept in and other agricultural operations in order to protect animals and the people who eat them.

Which, of course, farmers don't like one bit. At this year's meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the president, Bob Stallman, said in a speech yesterday denouncing their perceived opponents, "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule."

Um, oops. I think what Bob Stallman was trying to say is that we're no longer living in an age of small farms, and large-scale corporate factories that produce massive volumes of food must resist efforts to treat their industry as if it's made up of independent, pastoral family farmers with their livestock eating clover out in the pasture (even though that's exactly the image food producers use in their marketing.)

But "40 acres and a mule" is a reference with a very specific meaning that isn't really about agriculture. For a brief period after the Civil War, under Special Field Order No. 15 from General Sherman, former slave families were to be given 40 acres and a mule, in order to start their own farms. According to the Wikipedia entry, about 10,000 former slaves were settled on 400,000 acres of land in GA and SC, but after Lincoln's assassination, the policy was revoked, and the land was given back to the former white landowners.

"40 acres and a mule" has become shorthand for the need for reparations for slavery in an effort to reconcile the incalculable advantages that the beneficiaries of a few centuries of slavery had and continue to have. During his anti-agricultural legislation speech, the American Farm Bureau president accidentally (I hope) equated proposed farming regulations with making reparations for slavery, which he later referred to as an "elitist power grab." Need to get your metaphors straight, there. Unless he's trying to make some ill-founded connection between beleaguered factory farmers and slaves, which I really hope is not the case.

Wikipedia has a list of pop culture references to 40 acres and a mule, the best known being Spike Lee's film production company. My favorite on the list is some lines from Nelly's "Nellyville": "40 acres and a mule, fuck that, Nellyville, 40 acres and a pool."

The Yippies' website outlines their own 40 acres and a mule demand as follows: "Since it is illegal to grow pot in the United States the YOUTH INTERNATIONAL PARTY demands 40 acres of prime pot growing land in Northern Mexico for every former Prisoner of Weed (POW) and a mule to bring it back into the States."

I really hope Spike Lee never sees that.

January 7, 2010

Top movies of 2009

A Serious Man

Now that you've read not only one million Best Movies of 2009 lists, but also another million Best Movies of the Decade lists, and are completely over the whole year/decade and Sandra Bullock and $16 3D movies and loving Avatar and hating Avatar and you just want to leave the past behind and go see some cool Australian vampires in Daybreakers, here's what I have to offer you: my dumb top movies list.

I'm bad with making a firm commitment to something as important as a movie list, so this list is not really strictly speaking ranked, though it does flow more or less from my very favorites on down.

A Serious Man
Larry Gopnik fails to understand life's mysteries in the same way other Cohen characters fail to obtain a lot of money or hatch their ambitious schemes: spectacularly. This movie is the funniest meditation on the inescapable and inexplicable miseries of living I've ever seen. Why do bad things happen? Does having a spiritual belief system help us endure life's hardships or does it just set us up for being disappointed by a cryptic and uncaring deity? Is God punishing us for something or are we alone in the universe? Either way, there's nothing we can do about it, so you might as well enjoy the rare good, happy moments, then go around the next corner and get kicked in the face. The Sy Ableman scenes were some of the funniest scenes I saw all year. Bring on the Meshbesher drinking game!

Inglourious Basterds
As Roger Ebert said, it's one World War II movie where we don't know the ending. The Shoshanna storyline was my favorite part, and as many times as we've seen scenes like the one of her getting ready for her final cinematic victory, it just totally knocked me out anyway. I love all the big cinematic, old Hollywood stuff, the hyper-movieness of those last scenes in the theater. I also loved the slow, careful way the Christoph Waltz scenes rolled out, as he edged closer and closer to destroying his victims with perfect, deliciously evil elegance and confidence. The Basterds themselves were sort of a waste, though.

It's pretty amazing that Pixar can keep making these fantastically successful movies that appeal to so many people yet somehow completely avoid feeling obvious or trite. Up was original and surprising and way more touching than I expected. The visuals, characters, story and structure were all right on. I didn't see it in 3D and don't feel like I missed anything.

Summer Hours
A small movie by Olivier Assayas about a family dealing with a country house full of objects that could be regarded as beautiful artifacts to be appreciated and preserved or as junk to be unloaded for the highest price. It asks lots of questions about how values change over time, like, how much do history and family matter? Is stuff that connects you to the past valuable or is it ultimately just stuff? It's sad to watch three siblings realize they don't care about spending time together in their mother's country house enough to keep it. I really like the scenes of their young kids running around outside and having parties at the house -- a good reminder that old things still matter if you stop worrying about if they're valuable or not and just enjoy them.

The Hurt Locker
Probably the first good movie about Iraq because it's not about politics or culture or strategy, it's just about soldiers who are really good at what they do. Tense and tight; even if I felt like some of the sequences were too similar every now and then, it was still really nicely structured. Not a lot happens in the way of characters changing through the course of the movie, but we gain an understanding of why these people do their incredibly difficult jobs.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Nicolas Cage is a bad cop who goes crazy, and Werner Herzog eats it up with a spoon. You don't see a performance this wildly unhinged every day, but Herzog knows how keep it from derailing the movie and to make it part of a structure that holds together. No one can play a maniac like Nicolas Cage, and lately it seems like those are the only performances of his worth seeing.

A super-small movie that was largely improvised, so I've heard, that is just fantastically subtle and funny. It's worth seeing, especially if you don't know too much about it in advance, so I'll just say that it's about two old friends trying to prove to each other how open-minded and comfortable with themselves they are, while also being far more conventional and predictable than they would like to think. Both of the two main actors and the woman who plays the wife give some really natural and believable performances.

Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi lets his inner 80's horror fan out to play, and it's so freaking fun to watch. He could make this kind of movie in his sleep, but he doesn't skimp on bizarre details and fresh, disgusting ideas to gross the audience out. The confrontation in Alison Lohman's car with the old woman was one of my favorite scenes of the year, particularly all the face-gumming.

Goodbye Solo and Sugar
These last two are both little independent movies about immigrants in America, both very different stories than we might be used to seeing. Goodbye Solo is about the ebullient Senegalese cab driver Solo and the grizzled old bastard he calls "Big Dog" who becomes his client. This little movie just rolls along quietly until you get to the end and the emotional impact hits you and you realize your mind has been blown. Sugar is about Dominican ball players in the States, and follows a really different path than I thought it was going to. It's just about all amateur actors in this one, and was so natural it hardly feels like you're watching people act.

Here are a few other movies I liked a lot: Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which is as filled with misanthropic dread as anything he's done but I didn't quite connect with as much as his other recent ones; Adventureland, with an outstanding supporting cast and soundtrack; Moon, Sam Rockwell in an unsettling one-man identity confusion show in space; Funny People which is so damn hilarious for the first half, then falls off a cliff; An Education, a good story of middle-class self-deception, that Carey Mulligan is great; Big Fan, Patton Oswalt turns out to have some real chops; In the Loop, stunningly funny swearing and an unusually dark view of how politics happens; Precious, Jennifer's Body, and Soderbergh's double bill of arm's-length protagonists, The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant!

Watching Avatar was a completely amazing and immersive experience because of the 3D effects and CGI that finally look as gorgeous as we all hoped it could look. But I sometimes got pulled out of the experience by a story and premise that made no sense and Cameron's brand of pretend feminism and respect for indigenous cultures that's so simplistic it's borderline offensive. And a few lines that sounded like they were taken from Can't Buy Me Love, the one that goes like, "I was only pretending to like you at first, but then once I got to know you, I really fell in love with you!" Anyway, it was a lot of fun to watch.

I wasn't so into Up in the Air, it was often either too cheesy or too relentlessly dark to be believable. Like, I can't see even the most cold-hearted business executive actually finding Clooney's backpack metaphor of jettisoning all people from your life useful. But the acting was fantastic and a few scenes were awesome.

A couple movies I missed, regrettably: The Beaches of Agnes and Lorna's Silence.

Here's the list from 2008.

What movies did you like this year?

January 5, 2010

You can't help but love that Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart is a small, simple movie about people you've seen before in lots of other movies--an alcoholic country singer past his prime, a woman who's been through hell but is willing to take a chance on him, and a straight-shooting Texan played by Robert Duvall. It's a formula you've seen a lot of times before, but you've heard lots of versions of "Your Cheatin' Heart", too.

It's easy to compare the story and its style to other movies, especially The Wrestler and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The main character's very listenable songs were written by T-Bone Burnett, who also did the music for O Brother Where Art Thou?, and one of the musicians in the movie who co-wrote the theme song is named Ryan Bingham, the same name as George Clooney's character in Up in the Air.

I bet Clooney and Jeff Bridges are going to be the top contenders for an Oscar this year, but Bridges is probably going to get it. Last year, the race was basically between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke, and because both performances were great, and because Mickey Rourke pissed off a lot of people in Hollywood for the past 20 years, it went to Sean Penn. This year, Jeff Bridges gives a similarly fantastic performance of a really similar character, but everyone loves Jeff Bridges, and he's been nominated four times already and never won. So I think he's got it.

Politics aside, he deserves an Oscar for this. This is a role and a movie that could spill over into sappy, self-pitying melodrama, like bad country music does, but it stays honest and wistful and a little bit reserved, like good country music. He does all his own singing (as does Colin Farrell) and guitar playing. He also spends the majority of the movie with his pants partially unbuttoned, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about his character.

The Times did a good article about how Crazy Heart almost didn't get released this year. The story has a lot of similarities to Slumdog Millionaire, last year's surprise hit and big Oscar winner. It was only toward the end of 2009 that Fox Searchlight bought Crazy Heart from Viacom, which produced it through Country Music Television but was going to release it straight to cable or video. Fox originally planned to wait until 2010 to release it in theaters, and only decided to do it in 2009 a couple of months ago.

So far, Jeff Bridges has been nominated for a Golden Globe, and the theme song got a nomination as well. Both will probably get Oscar nominations, too, and the movie should get a much wider release. It's an accessible, not-too-cheesy movie about a rough but lovable country singer, so I could see it doing well. One of the movie's producers says he hopes it "has legs in a part of the country that is typically underserved by Hollywood," i.e. country fans in middle America who might not go nuts for a movie whose hero is an antisocial jerk who flies around the country blithely firing people from their jobs.

January 4, 2010

Hit-Girl wants a Benchmade Model 42 butterfly knife

Hit-Girl Chloe Moretz

I already mentioned the red-band trailer for Kick-Ass that features Hit-Girl, the purple-wigged crime-fighting little girl hellion. She also appears in the regular Kick Ass trailer that's playing before Avatar in the theater, but this newer trailer is the one where you get to see her shoot about a thousand guys in the head and swear good-naturedly at her dad Nicolas Cage. I love it.

Anyway, the actress who plays Hit-Girl is 12 year-old Chloe Moretz, who has been in a bunch of movies and TV shows, including simultaneous roles in Disney Channel's "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" and ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money". This year she's playing an unstoppable killing machine in Kick-Ass, and I just learned that she's playing the lonely (and hungry) little vampire girl in the American remake of last year's Scandinavian tween vampire movie Let the Right One In, which has the brisker, non-Morrissey-referencing title Let Me In. (Richard Jenkins is in it, too -- hopefully he's playing her slavishly devoted keeper.)

Quite a career for young Chloe! I'm guessing her life is rich with parental release forms. She's just a couple of years behind her fellow Georgia native Dakota Fanning, who's playing Cherie Currie in The Runaways at 15. Unlike Dakota Fanning, Chloe luckily avoided getting movie-raped in her transition from Disney roles to assassin/hellraiser.

About January 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in January 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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