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July 2012 Archives

July 30, 2012

The Extremely Serious Dark Knight Rises

As part of my preference for avoiding death threats, I'm not going to say anything outright negative about The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that was the subject of so much anticipatory fantasy and hyperventilation before it came out that it couldn't possibly live up to everything we wanted it to be. I've got just two things to say:

1) I wish everyone involved with this movie, including me, had half as much fun with it as Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy did with their roles.

2) The big climax at the end features a red LED screen ticking down the seconds on a time bomb. Really?! That's the climax of the summer's best and most intelligent superhero action movie? From the guy who came up with storylines as complex and creative as Memento and Inception, I expected something that the whole world hadn't already experienced in ten thousand other action movies and half the episodes of "The A-Team".

I suppose that one unusual use of the red LED screen counting down the time bomb was that, the first time we see it and realize that a bomb is going to go off, it reads something like 19 minutes. Which, for an action movie, might as well be a week and a half for all the tension it creates. Look at the bomb timer now! What does it say? It's at 16 minutes! Hurry! And how about now? 12 and a half minutes! And...how about now? ... ... Oh, sorry, I must have nodded off there.

As interesting as the political attitude of this movie is (still trying to untangle the Occupy Wall Street side from the Law & Order side) and as confusing, dark, and cool as its vision of superhero-dom is, I can hardly believe all the predictable by-the-book elements came from someone like Chris Nolan. Well, at least it's over and now he can go back to making more of the movies I really like.

July 23, 2012

I love Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I'm getting to this party late, but I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild a few days ago, and it's clearly the best movie I've seen yet this year*. So here are a few things about it, even though it's no longer news to anyone that this is a really special movie.

Beasts was shot in the Southern-most part of Louisiana, in lower Terrebonne Parish, a part of the country where land and water are one and the same indistinct swamp, except that these days it's getting so it's all water. The movie is about people who live in a place called The Bathtub, so outside mainstream society that the levee system that protects coastal Louisiana from the ocean was built north of where they live. There's no health care, school, government, or social services, and the only store is really a bar. On the first day of shooting, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the worst oil spill ever began. The vulnerability of the characters in the movie is totally real.

But this is America, and these people love their hometown and can get by just fine on their own. Coastal erosion, government indifference, and every storm that comes along threaten to destroy everything, but they're not going anywhere. They share what they have, help each other, and get along, banding together to party like crazy on holidays and muscle through every other day. It would be a lame cliché to say these people are poor but happy. More like, they're poor but ecstatically joyful and exuberant and more full of life than just about anything I've ever seen. It's impossible to say whether this is a conventionally liberal or conservative ideology--it's an ideology about being free.

The central character is 6 year-old Hushpuppy, a girl who is so fiercely self-assured that she actually makes me wish I had a daughter so I could show her this movie. She's played by the magnetically charismatic Quvenzhané Wallis. Hushpuppy is one gutsy little girl, but watching her worry about her sick father and miss her absent mother is heart-wrenching. She can tear apart a crab with her hands and stun a catfish with her fist, but she's still a child who's pretty much on her own, trying to survive in a dangerous world full of terrifying things.

My favorite scene involves Hushpuppy and her girl posse (see photo above) venturing off-shore to a waterside crab shack/dance hall/brothel. They momentarily enter into a softer, gentler, prettier world where the ladies who work there talk to them, pick them up, and dance with them while Fats Waller's "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" plays in the background. It's beautiful to watch, and such a relief to see adults treating these abandoned kids with some kindness. But the girls leave that magical place and go back home to their waterlogged, dying, broke-ass town, because when self-determination is all that matters, that's what you do.

In addition to the girl who plays Hushpuppy, there's another non-professional actor, Dwight Henry, who plays her father Wink. He is not the greatest actor, because he's really a baker at his New Orleans shop, the Buttermilk Drop Bakery. He told Roger Ebert he's not pursuing an acting career (though he just got a small role in Twelve Years a Slave.) His character can be stubborn, cruel, and exasperating, but even though it was difficult to watch how he treats his daughter, he got me to understand him. If he coddled Hushpuppy, she would never make it. It's not because he told her she's a pretty princess that Hushpuppy can climb up on a table in the town bar, raise her fists, and look as powerful as an ox with an Afro (see wonderful photo.) His performance is rough, but it gets the message across.

The movie opened wide last week and has finally made a little bit at the box office. I think it's going to keep building through word of mouth. It's fantastical, magical, and completely authentic at the same time, and the most original movie I've seen all year.

Here's the trailer.

* Actually, I think it's tied with Goon.

July 18, 2012

Maybe now Katie Holmes can be an actress again

Katie Holmes and Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys

It's been many years since Katie Holmes was primarily known as a TV and movie actress, and her marriage to and masterfully-orchestrated extrication from Tom Cruise, Inc. are probably going to be the subject of most of the attention she gets for the next few months. But one of these days, Katie Holmes will emerge from the cloister she's more or less lived in for the last six years, and will be talked about because of stuff she does that isn't related to her ex.

Katie Holmes isn't the most talented actress out there, and she sometimes falls short of spectacular. But back in the late 90's, when she was a TV actress first making her way into movies, she had a run of roles in some of my favorite movies from that period. The movies weren't necessarily great because of Katie Holmes, but she was respected enough to get the attention of really good directors, and held her own against many excellent famous actors. Michelle Williams is the major talent to emerge from "Dawson's Creek", but Katie Holmes did OK, too.

Let's take a look at some of her career highlights:

  • The Ice Storm. Ang Lee's movie from 1997 about sad rich families in the 70's. She plays Libbets, Tobey Maguire's unrequited high school love interest. Her most memorable moment is at the end of a booze-and-pharmaceuticals party in her parents' apartment, when she states, "I'm so wasted," and passes out in Tobey Maguire's lap.
  • Go, Doug Liman's 1999 movie about the LA rave scene and nice kids in over their heads in drug deals gone bad, it's like the fun, light, inconsequential version of Pulp Fiction. Katie Holmes is a grocery checkout girl who unwittingly ends up serving as collateral with hot and menacing drug dealer Timothy Olyphant while her friend Sarah Polley goes out to sell a lot of fake ecstasy. Memorable moment: an enthusiastic make-out session with Olyphant on a staircase.
  • Wonder Boys from 2000 (photo above), directed by Curtis Hanson, adapted from Michael Chabon's book about a washed-up, shambling writer at a small college (Michael Douglas) and his exploits with his students (Katie Holmes, together again with Tobey McGuire, their scenes together are good), flamboyant agent (Robert Downey, Jr) and mistress (Frances McDormand). A wonderful, strange little movie.
  • The Gift, Sam Raimi's excellent (and undervalued) Southern Gothic supernatural thriller about Cate Blanchett, a psychic single mother, trying to help solve a missing person case. There's all kinds of grisly stuff in here as Blanchett's visions get more scary and violent, and I'll admit this movie scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it. Katie Holmes plays the first role that was a real departure for her: she's a rich, entitled, bitchy little Georgia princess, all sweetness and propriety on the outside, with a raunchy, slutty side that we in the audience get to lap up. Here's a clip of her first scene. Plus: brief topless shot!

About The Gift: it's a worthwhile movie (has Sam Raimi ever made a bad movie?) but uneven. The setting is the kind of overgrown, swampy Southern backwater that's both beautiful and decrepit, and the whole movie is kind of like that. Some performances are great, like Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, and even Greg Kinnear as the likeable guidance counselor who Katie Holmes the princess is inexplicably engaged to. Hilary Swank and Katie Holmes are both good as women living on opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Then there's Keanu Reeves. He plays a redneck villain, who is presented as so evil and sociopathic that he not only beats his wife and threatens everybody he doesn't like with violence, but he also claims to kill cats for no reason other than that he is evil. Keanu Reeves doesn't possess any of the menace or scariness to pull this off, so he mostly just glowers and rasps his way through lines like, "Messing with the devil's gonna get you burned." It's bad, but everything besides Keanu and his dead cat holds up.

But back to Katie. She starred in Pieces of April in 2003, a small movie that defines indie quirk, and the first Chris Nolan Batman, but her movie career since then has been slow and unremarkable, probably because it was so tightly controlled by Cruise, Inc. Now that she's on her own, she's going to star in a modern retelling of The Seagull with a great cast (Allison Janney, Jean Reno, Cherry Jones.) If casting agents can pretend the last seven years never happened, hopefully she can get some movies with great directors again. She'll never be the best actress around, but she's good, and at a time when Kristen Stewart is our highest paid actress, I'm happy to have her back.

UPDATE: Katie just got cast as the star of Theresa Rebeck's new play, Dead Accounts, which will be on Broadway in the fall. Go, Holmes!

July 11, 2012

Janis Joplin biopic surges boozily back to life

Janis Joplin and Nina Arianda

There have been Janis Joplin biopics in development for the last 12 or 20 years, with all kinds of problems related to rights to songs and biographies preventing such a movie from actually getting made. There's also been the problem of finding an actress to play Janis. If you're going to create a credible movie version of Janis Joplin, you've got to find someone who can sing, has magnetic charisma and bold sexual swagger, combined with agonizing vulnerability and self-doubt. (See the great Vanity Fair feature on Janis and the early San Francisco hippie scene.)

And, most of all, she can't be pretty in a conventional Hollywood kind of way. Clearly, this last point has been the toughest, stickiest point for producers. This isn't the 70's, when Sissy Spacek could pull off Coal Miner's Daughter, win an Oscar, and bring in loads of money at the box office. Now if you need an actress to play a real-life person who wasn't beautiful, you cast Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman, and if you need someone to play the dorky, not-pretty girl on TV, you choose Lea Michele or Zooey Deschanel.

Deschanel was one of the many actresses briefly attached to a Janis Joplin movie over the years. Here are some others:

Britney Spears
Scarlett Johansson
Lindsay Lohan (in retrospect, maybe a smart choice?)
Renee Zellweger (in a rival project that was going to be called Piece of My Heart)
Lili Taylor
Brittany Murphy

The wrongest candidate to date: Amy Adams.

And maybe the best candidate to date: Pink. Pink had the flamboyant grit, gutsy voice, and appropriate unattractiveness to be a compelling Janis, but dropped out in 2006 when the project floundered. Clearly, casting for this movie has always been more about popularity than getting the right person for the role. Pink said at the time, "They're trying to turn it into some circus pop contest - who's the 'it' girl who wants to play Janis."

Today's it girl is apparently Nina Arianda (above), who in yet another iteration of this tired old story, got cast in a movie called Joplin. BUT: this one sounds good. It has a producer, a budget, and even a director--Sean Durkin, who did last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene--and might actually get made.

Arianda has only done a few movies (a small role in Midnight in Paris as Michael Sheen's wife, and a better role in Higher Ground as Vera Farmiga's drug dealing sister) but her real claim to fame is her freaking super-humanly amazingly sexy and incredible performance in Venus in Fur, which was on Broadway until last month. In this play, she goes from desperate to absurd to funny to seductive to ferociously powerful to actual human embodiment of a Greek god in 90 minutes.

She's really unlike any actor I've ever seen on stage, and she is gonna play the shit out of Janis Joplin. But can she sing? Of course she can! She can do anything! The New Yorker says she grew up singing both the male and female arias in Rigoletto, and it's just a tiny baby step from opera to ballsy Texan Southern Comfort-soaked blues, so, there you go.

Just one thing: couldn't we get a better title than Joplin for this movie? Something like, say, "Sing Them Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jormp-Jomp Story"?

About July 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in July 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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