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January 29, 2013

Side Effects

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh has been putting out a new movie every few months for the last couple of years, and somehow he finds a way to make each one both really Soderberghy, and also unlike anything else he's ever done. The latest one is Side Effects, a thriller about a young couple and their involvement with prescription drugs. Reviews are going to start coming out for this movie, and they're probably going to reveal way too much and ruin the many surprises make this movie so much fun.

Since I don't want to ruin anything, all I'm going to reveal is that Soderbergh might have invented a new sub-genre with this movie: the pharmaceutical noir. There's some really smart and wicked commentary in it about the pharmaceutical industry and its many tentacles reaching into the world of wealthy people, but that's all in the background. He doesn't belabor the heavy stuff. And besides, he's already made Traffic, so "drug economy dissection" has been crossed off the list.

My other thought is how Soderbergh's recent tear of surprising, unpredictable, and often great movies has been a lot of fun, but each movie is a painful reminder of his allegedly approaching retirement from directing, or sabbatical or whatever he's calling it. You know how "30 Rock" has suddenly gotten really funny again, which only makes this week's series finale that much sadder? It's like Soderbergh is reminding us how great he is right before he leaves us hanging. Right now, his HBO biopic about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra is the only thing left on his IMDb page, after years of many reassuring little "(pre-production)" and "(filming)" notes on there.

Maybe he'll direct some theater, he tells New York Mag. OK, but unless he starts producing 2-3 plays per year, it just won't be the same.

January 23, 2013

Hell's Kitchen dancers, Hell's Kitchen pervs

Broadway Dance Center, and Private Eyes, on 45th St

There's an article today about a stretch of West 45th Street where a fascinating diversity of New Yorkers intersect. There's the Broadway Dance Center, a high-level school for aspiring young dancers that's been around for decades, and right across the street, there's a hotel for homeless people. Students and parents with kids at the school just learned that three sex offenders live (legally) at the hotel, including one guy who abused a 9 year-old, so now they're concerned. One 19 year-old student says, "We go home by ourselves every night at 11. It's dark and bad things could happen."

In addition to housing sex offenders, there have been violent incidents in the hotel, like a woman arrested for attacking a man with a knife a few weeks ago, who yelled "I'm the victim!" as she was led away. Residents of the hotel (and actually, anyone on the sidewalk) can see the Broadway Dance Center students dancing through large windows that face the street.

What this article doesn't mention, and the parents don't comment on, is the strip club immediately adjacent to the dance school, Private Eyes. You can see the sign in the photo above. I've long been amused by the variety of dance styles offered in one convenient midtown location.

All kinds of questions come to mind. Like: Do parents and students have any concerns about all the non-traditional forms of dance going on next door, while Broadway Dance Center students are walking home? Are parents worried about the Private Eyes patrons hanging around outside eyeing their 19 year-old daughters during ballet class? What about the Private Eyes dancers, many of whom are probably the same age as the students--is it dangerous for them to walk home after work past convicted rapists?

On a more practical level, do recruiters from Private Eyes visit the Dance Center to tell students about the job opportunities available to them after they finish Jazz, Tap, and Modern? Do Private Eyes dancers ever brush up their technique with a few Street Jazz Funk classes next door? Broadway Dance Center actually offers a class called Stiletto Heels, which seems like a perfect cross-over for students looking for an immediately lucrative career, right in the neighborhood.

One concerned mom with a daughter taking ballet says she doesn't like that the guys in the homeless hotel can watch her daughter during class. "The kids are all wearing tights, but they might as well be naked." She really said that, I swear.

January 11, 2013

The Oscars and tokenism

Kathryn Bigelow after winning two Oscars

When Kathryn Bigelow won her Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, I felt pretty sure that she won because she did the best directing job of the year, and not because the Academy decided to check "women" off the diversity to-do list and congratulate itself on being so broad-minded and progressive.

Fast forward to yesterday's Oscars nominations. Zero Dark Thirty is, in my opinion, even better than The Hurt Locker, and certainly represents a more ambitious and dazzling feat of directing in terms of actors and story and all the technical stuff. So I was disappointed that she didn't get a nomination (though ZDT got a Best Picture nomination,) but more than that, I was sad to realize that her nomination and win back in 2010 was probably more about the Academy deciding it was time to let a girl win than I had hoped. She deserves the Oscars she has, even if they turned out to be tokens.

On the other hand, it was nice to see some surprise inclusions: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Michael Haneke for Amour were both wildly unlikely long shots. I guess this proves that the Academy loves heartwarming fantasies about adorable children, and also old people. Amour was one of my favorite movies of the year, but the directorial style pretty much defines "minimal": hire two of the world's greatest living actors, turn the camera on, and then don't do anything else. It's a great movie, but it's super small. For an Academy that typically equates "best" with "most", this is a really weird category of Best Director nominees.

I'm not going to discuss all the nominations Silver Linings Playbook got because I'm too bewildered and upset, but my main consolation is knowing that it has basically no chance of actually winning any of the big awards. The one exception might be Robert DeNiro, which I can live with. Let's just remember that David O. Russell last made a really good movie in 1999 with Three Kings and try to get on with our lives.

January 1, 2013

The Matthew McConaughey™ Top Movies of 2012 List

Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

This year's list of my favorite movies is brought to you by Matthew McConaughey, who suddenly remembered that what he's really good at is not mainstream romantic comedies, but oddball indies by really awesome directors where he gets to unleash his inner manic lovable freak and/or wear a leather thong. He was the single best thing about movies this past year.

But here are my actual favorite movies--five of them:

Zero Dark Thirty
The best thing I've ever seen about America and the people fighting our War on Terror. A tense and exciting revenge procedural with taut, thrilling action scenes, no-nonsense acting, and characters and story that are made of determination and brains, but with an undercurrent of sadness and horror. This movie shows us the complicated problem of torture and revenge and bravely lets us figure out how to deal with it.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
An original, fantastical movie about a fictitious place in southern Louisiana, threatened by storms, floods, a government that's alternately intrusive and indifferent, and giant mythical bison creatures, and the wonderful misfits who live there. I feel more strongly about Hushpuppy than any other movie character this year, and the scene where the renegade little girls from the Bathtub find the offshore brothel and dance with the ladies to Fats Waller is my #1 favorite scene.

Django Unchained
In a slavery-era double feature with Lincoln, Django would be the wild, radical, bloody inferno to Lincoln's measured, determined plod. But the same moral outrage at the horror of slavery is at the center of both. Django just has a lot more style and magnetism. Plus, it's so much more satisfying to see a powerful black hero avenging his own exploitation than a bunch of Senators dithering. I can't wait to see it again.

A movie about a married couple dealing with aging, the loss of faculties, and death that doesn't pull any punches, but somehow isn't depressing at all. It's brutal, beautiful, and sad. Just by casting Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as the couple, two romantic icons of 1960's French cinema now in their 80's, Michael Haneke says so much about the reality of love, beyond passion and romance.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson really turns the twee up to 11 in this one, but it works. The conviction of those two 12 year-olds in love is simultaneously cute and steely. Beautiful, irresistible.

And here are some more movies I loved:

Holy Motors
The first of the two White Limo movies of 2012, Holy Motors features Denis Lavant transforming himself into nine different characters in a series of convincing but inexplicable "appointments", performances for an unknown audience. I guess the audience is us? This one is totally captivating and exciting, a statement about identity and performance and also a lesson in the power of real cinematic acting and technique over CGI and artificiality.

The other White Limo movie, this one with a surprisingly compelling Rob Pattinson being driven across Manhattan on 47th Street trying to hang onto his unfathomable wealth while all hell breaks loose in the outside world. David Cronenberg adapted Don DeLillo's book and made it better, funnier, and more unsettling.

Jack Black and real-life small town Texans in a fascinating look at how a close-knit community can support its most beloved members so fervently that even if they kill someone, maybe it's sort of OK.

The Cabin in the Woods
One of the smartest genre movies of the year, this one rewards horror fans with a gleeful fire hose blast of all the coolest stuff from every horror movie you've ever seen. A really fun time.

The Queen of Versailles
Everything that's bad about American consumerist values in an intimate look at a rich family becoming somewhat less rich. It would be so easy to cast this family as trashy irresponsible morons, but the movie takes an approach more like sympathetic disbelief. We can't seem to hear this message enough: money doesn't buy happiness.

The Master
This sure is a beautiful movie to look at, but I sometimes struggled to see past all the Very Serious Acting going on to get at something like meaning. I also thought Amy Adams was distractingly terrible. But then there are moments like PSH singing "On a Slow Boat to China" that are transcendent and mysteriously great. I don't know if I get it, or how much there is to get, but it's good on some level, so it's on the list.

And here's a bunch of other ones that I really liked:

Magic Mike
Killer Joe
Flight (Denzel is so great)
How to Survive a Plague
Not Fade Away
Hunger Games
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Oslo, August 31st
Red Hook Summer (the most uneven movie I saw this year: Clarke Peters is phenomenal, other actors are almost unwatchable)

A few disappointments:
The Dictator: not funny enough
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman had it, maybe lost it. Too wry and winking for its own good.
Silver Linings Playbook: I cannot figure out why people think this is good. It starts as an interesting unconventional love story, but ends up a by-the-book painfully cheeseball rom-com, and "character development" is little more than a series of gestures and catchphrases each character says or does over and over again with no variation. Really sloppy.

The one movie I most wish I had seen is This is Not a Film, the Iranian sort-of-documentary by a filmmaker under house arrest, forbidden from making movies.

What good movies did you see that I missed?

Here's the list from 2011.

About January 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in January 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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