Category Archives: Film

Dead at the Movies: Hitchcock

Drawing of the director Alfred Hitchcock.

Oh, the agony of trying to draw Hitchcock. You can’t see it here, but there were practically holes in the paper from erasing.

Hitchcock, our third biopic this week about someone famous + dead, tells the story of “the influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.”

While the study of the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife is probably highly entertaining, I think the real reason for the entire movie was so that they could cast Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in Psycho and get her in that shower scene. That’s got Maxim Magazine cover written all over it.

Also, I’ve read that the Hitchcock and Alma relationship is surface at best – no dark demons here. There is another Hitchcock biopic out on HBO called The Girl (didn’t something like this happen with two Truman Capote biopics at the same time a number of years ago – both of them regrettably forgettable?), which movie critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says is about the harassing relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren during the two films following Psycho: The Birds and Marnie. It’s a lot darker than Hitchcock, so if you’re looking for dirt, plan on watching The Girl.

Or wait for my scathing, no-hold-barred biopic about the making of Vertigo and Hitchcock’s inappropriate,  Svengali-like relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

My Precious Impressions of the Oscar Nominations

Uggie, the dog from the film The Artist, wearing a bowtie on the red carpet..Here is one major decision I came to this morning while watching the Oscar nominations. For the Oscars, I must craft a bowtie for my dog to wear around her neck, much like the bowtie Uggie, the dog from The Artist wears when he wants to look a bit more dressy while making public appearances. I can get away with this because my dog, while female, is not what you would call dainty or feminine.

The bitch is kinda butch, is what I’m trying to say.

That heavy decision out of the way, I can focus on the nominations.

Best Supporting Actress – I’m all for Melissa McCarthy winning this one for Bridesmaids. It’s time for the Academy to recognize comedy as a legitimate art form. You don’t have don a prosthetic and weep/drown/or kill someone in order to deserve recognition. It’s much harder to make people laugh.

Berenice Bejo, while beautiful and peppy in The Artist (in fact, her character’s name is Peppy), didn’t have to speak. I’m just saying.

Octavia Spencer was very good in The Help but I fear  her performance won’t hold up over time. I fear that the entire The Help phenom might make us either wince or shrug in 2020. Many movies dealing with race relations feel instantly dated. Have you tried watching Dangerous Minds lately?

Best Supporting Actor – I’m placing my bet on Christopher Plummer. OK, it’s because he’s super cool more than because of his performance. But it seems fair that I support him because Beginners is the only movie I’ve seen in this category (the others being My Week With Marilyn, Warrior, Moneyball and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Watch this profile of Christopher Plummer on CBS Sunday Morning and you’ll probably love him, too.

Note: What the hell is Warrior? When they first read this on TV, I thought they were referring to The Warriors, which would have been more interesting except Nick Nolte wasn’t in that.

Also, Nick Nolte seems to be back amongst the living. No more drunken arrests complete with crazy hair in the near future. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Note: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was panned by almost all the critics. And yet it got the nod for Best Picture. Why? It’s Tom Hanks. There are a few things that equal nominations no matter what. Here is a brief list:

  • Famous actress donning a prosthetic that makes her ugly. Everyone knows this.
  • Anything Tom Hanks does, is in, produces, mentions that he likes. Exception: Larry Crowne
  • Double the above rule if it’s something with Tom Hanks or sanctioned by Tom Hanks that involves WWII.
  • Dames Mirren or Dench. You want awards? Hire a Dame.
  • Most bio pics. This year’s heavily-awarded biopic that no one saw is My Week With Marilyn.

Best Actress – We’re not going to have any democracy in this category until Meryl Streep is either too infirm to leave her house or dead. I wonder if it’s not just a little bit embarrassing for her at this point. If she voiced a raccoon dying of mange in a Pixar movie, she would get a nomination. “Oh, Meryl, that inflection you gave Rita Raccoon! Unbelievable! For the first time I felt as if I knew what it would be like to have mites.”

It is my dream, and I know this makes me an awful and petty person, that, upon her death, one of her daughters will publish a Mommy Dearest-style memoir and we as a nation will be shocked and chagrined. And then there will be a biopic made from the memoir and the actress portraying her – Anne Hathaway with a dye job? – will win an Oscar.

I don’t know what to do with this category. Besides Streep for The Iron Lady, there’s Viola Davis for The Help, Michelle Williams for that Marilyn movie, Glenn Close for the disturbing Albert Nobbs (the trailer sure made it look like some funny business goes on between Close and Mia Wasikowska but not in a fun, lesbian kind of way), and Rooney Mara for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Best Actor – I’m going with The Cloon. I saw three out of the five films in this category and I think George Clooney turned in a fine performance in The Descendants. Is it life-altering? No, but none of the performances I saw are. I like Jean Dujardin’s expressive eyebrows as much as the next gal, but I don’t think his performance in The Artist is Oscar-worthy. Maybe the two foreign guys in this category – Dujardin and Bichir, cancel each other out – because we’re in a Theodore Roosevelt-inspired, jingoistic mood. Then Gary Oldman goes out because it’s determined that his glasses and trench coat did the bulk of the heavy lifting and Brad Pitt… well, I heard he’s busy dealing with a severed head.

Best Director – Of the two people I know who actually saw Tree of Life, neither one had anything good to say about it. Perhaps Malick is nominated in this category because it took him so long to make this movie and people feel bad about that. “This took you how long? Oh. Well, bravo. Here’s a… statue.

This is one film I will have to try to see before the awards though, so that I can keep putting it down but in a more intelligent manner.

For me, this category is between Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris and Alexander Payne for The Descendants.

Best Original Screenplay – I’m waiting until I have more information on this one – there are two films I still need to see in this category, which I take ridiculously seriously. In a contest that has no bearing on my everyday life, this category means more to me than the price of a gallon of gas and maybe more than who is going to get the Republican Presidential nomination, although in that contest I’m rooting for Gingrich because it will be more fun for all of us.

The nominees are Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for Bridesmaids, J.C. Chandor for Margin Call, Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris and Asgar Farhadi for A Separation.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for The Descendants.

Best Picture – They could have nominated 10 films in this category but, for giggles, they nominated nine. Those tricky Academy members! By the way, I know of two people who are actually in the Academy and they have awful taste and the film projects they’ve been involved with are shit, so it raises the question of whether we should put any stock in Academy members’ opinions in the first place, but then again it’s not just one or two votes that matter, it’s the aggregate, so in that sense it’s like the popular vote in the Presidential race.

I guess.

The nominees are The Artist, War Horse, Moneyball, The Descendants, Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, The Help, Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I’m going with The Descendants because it’s got it all – Clooney, Payne, Hawaii, the other Bridges brother, some laughs, some tears. What more do you want from a movie?

Or it could be Midnight in Paris, just for Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Ernest Hemingway alone.

Another Look: Bill Cunningham New York

The documentary Bill Cunningham New York came out last spring. It played in the Twin Cities as part of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, which is where I first saw it. It has quickly become one of my favorite documentaries. I watched it again last week (it is now available streaming through Netflix) and was struck all over again at how it accomplishes everything a documentary should.

To me, this  means that it delves into its subject and allows the subject matter to raise the questions (and there must be questions and murky areas or the viewer is left wondering why the documentary was made at all). This is especially true when a documentary is about a person. The person needs to be extraordinary themselves or their story needs to be extraordinary. They can’t be mundane unless they are so mundane it passes into comedy.

I was recently at a film festival and watched a documentary made about a semi-famous person and it was awful. Why? Because everyone interviewed for the film liked or loved that person. And it was all interviews of people talking. The one person who said he didn’t like the subject seemed as if he was a hired actor. I grew very bored.

Bill Cunningham is a street fashion photographer for the New York Times. He also photographs charity events and the big runway shows. He started out in life as a hat designer, went into the Army when he was drafted during WWII, came back and started writing for newspapers and eventually became a fashion photographer. He is now into his 80s and still biking around New York every day, capturing photos of interesting fashion. A more complete bio and links to his work can be found here.

For Bill, it’s not about the people wearing the clothes, although he has great respect for his subjects. It’s also not about his own celebrity (street fashion blogger du jour take note). It is about the clothes and what those clothes say about the times we live in. He’s not thinking up a trend and then going out to find it. He’s patiently waiting for trends to present themselves to him and then he documents them for us.

With that in mind, here are three reasons to watch this film:

1. Bill lives a meager existence compared to many of us. He doesn’t like fancy food. He doesn’t cook (one of my favorite things in the movie is a side note at the end saying that, after Bill moved into a new apartment, he had the landlord take out the kitchen appliances so he would have room for his filing cabinets of photos and negatives). He doesn’t wear fancy clothes. His time is devoted entirely to photography. His singularity of purpose and passion in this modern world are what make him extraordinary and it’s a good reminder for us all about what makes life worth living.

2. You can’t watch this movie and feel not uplifted. That’s not to say that there aren’t sad moments in the film but it’s great to watch someone who seems genuinely happy. If I were having a down day, I’d want to have a chat with Bill.

3. This film is beautifully shot. The lighting is extraordinary. Everyone looks beautiful. Even though this was a first-time effort on a feature-length film for the cinematographers, you can tell they have experience in photography and it’s to the audience’s benefit.If nothing else, enjoy the lighting.

If you’re in the mood for documentaries, here’s a little list that might may you say, “Oh, yeah, that movie. I should see that again.”

Hell House (2001)
Capturing the Friedmans
Rize (2005)
Crazy Love (2007)
Inside Job (2010)

And here are some that are on my Must Watch Soon list:

The Interrupters (2011)
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (2010) Out on DVD on December 6th.
Marwencol (2010)
Winnebago Man (2009)


Now Can You Hand Jive, Baby?

I learned over the weekend that Annette Charles, the actress who played Cha Cha DiGregorio in Grease, died from cancer.

From Access Hollywood (I know, I know):

Annette, who famously danced with John Travolta in the classic movie musical and told the movie’s Pink Ladies, “They call me Cha Cha because I’m the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s,” was also a speech professor at California State University Northridge, in Northridge, Calif., following her career on the big screen.

Annette quit acting sometime in the 80s and went on to graduate from the NYU School of Social Work in 2001, then became a professor.

I can’t tell you what an impact Cha Cha had on me as a child seeing Grease in the theater. I know it sounds strange, but I found Cha Cha to be exhilarating and even a bit scary. She was rough, sure of herself and sexy. I love the scene at the school dance competition when she steals the show dancing the “hand jive” with Danny. It seemed delicious and wicked, something no “nice girl” would ever do.

When my sister and I played Grease at home, I was always Danny and she got to be Sandy. This was because I had dark hair and she had blond hair. But the truth of the matter was that, while I was also awed by her in the final scenes of the movie, I would have made a crap Sandy. I was not soft and pleasant. I was not a “girly girl” and I really had no interest in that.

I probably identified more with Cha Cha, the bad girl I was always just a bit too shy and unsure of myself to become.

As a movie-goers, I felt like I was supposed to be against Cha Cha – the temptress, the villain. But I’ve always loved a villain, even at age five. And Cha Cha did not disappoint. I had never seen dancing like that – she takes a fake slap across the face! She picks up her dress and exposes her (full-coverage) underwear! She writhes across the floor and between Danny’s legs and then snatches the trophy at the end. It was all too much.

Oh, that moment when Danny, caught up in the moment, starts dancing with Cha Cha without giving Sandy another thought! Haven’t we all been there, ladies? A sliver of the bad girl in me never felt bad for Sandy as she ran from the gym.

This movie electrified me. My sister and I listened to the album over and over again after first seeing i, essentially wearing it out. I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count, can say many of the lines, know all the songs and yet I never tire of watching Cha Cha’s big dance number. I also remember hoping, please God, that Grease would be exactly what high school was like. Please let me wear a big, poofy dress and flip over someone’s back at the school dance!

It didn’t turn out that way but it doesn’t matter. I still have Grease.

Rest in peace, Annette, and thank you for a memorable movie.


My Important and Precious Oscar Predictions

It’s heady times in Hollywood as everyone prepares for the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, hosted by jack-of-all-creative-trades James Franco and Anne “The Teeth” Hathaway. At least, that’s what I imagine. Ah, probably most people don’t give a shit. But still… it gives all of us something to think about other than Flavor Flav opening a chicken restaurant in Iowa or the state of the union or Mini Kiss.

I confess to be the kind of person who sits through the entire awards show, minus the musical numbers. I can never stand the musical numbers, which are predictably Randy Newman, a 1980s or 90s female star like Vanessa Williams, Cher or Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles or something more unpredictable, like the year Three 6 Mafia performed “It’s Hard Out There For a Pimp.”

I like the formality of the Oscars. I like how everyone has to look their best. I know that people say award shows like this are bogus but I suspect that if you won an Academy Award you would not feel this way. I would not feel that way. I would be like that Italian guy who so annoyed people with his twee-ness in 1999.
Continue reading My Important and Precious Oscar Predictions

Amazon Studios Embraces Sharecropping

sad mime drawingIf you’re not someone who is concerned about writing and/or making movies, you may have missed Amazon’s big announcement this fall that they have formed Amazon Studios. They are getting into the game of creating original programming rather than just distributing other people’s stuff.

I think the initial reaction by many people was HOLY SHIT, COOL! And then people started reading the fine print and the “Development Agreement” and getting disturbed by some of the rules associated with this. Here’s how it works:

Amazon Studios will award $140,000 a month to the “best movies and scripts and a total of $1.1 million to winners of Annual Awards.” So each month they have a contest going for movies and scripts and if yours is chosen that month, you may win cash and then they may further develop it.

They don’t want people to submit a completed film – they want a “test movie. “What is a test movie? “Test movies are inexpensive, full-length movies that tell the whole story of the script in a compelling way. They should have good acting and sound, but polished visuals are not required. Even primitive visuals will help people imagine what a script would be like as a finished film.”

Continue reading Amazon Studios Embraces Sharecropping

Where Can I See That Indie?

In a follow-up to my post about the nominees for the Spirit Awards, I decided to compile a list of nominated films (in all major categories) and divide them up according to how you can see them in the Twin Cities.

Currently Screening
127 Hours – As of now, it’s screening at AMC Southdale & Rosedale and at The Lagoon Cinema in Mpls.

Get Low – This is only showing at Hopkins Cinema 6, once it leaves there, might have to wait for DVD

Marwencol – One week only at the Lagoon, starts December 3rd!!

Never Let Me Go – OK, not currently screening but its coming to The Riverview in Mpls soon.

Continue reading Where Can I See That Indie?

Crank Up The Awards Machine

I go back and forth on whether or not I care about annual film awards. I used to get stupidly excited about them, then I went through a period of thinking they were total bullshit (but still watching them on TV, of course) and now I would say that I’m mildly interested in the outcomes again. This morning the nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards were announced. This is the very first indication of what’s to come from bigger awards – seeing what gets noticed here and what gets snubbed. The criteria to be nominated is (according to Spirit Award’s website):

• All submitted films must be at least 70 minutes long.
• Eligible films must have either played one week in a commercial theater or have been shown at one of the following six film festivals: the Los Angeles Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, New York, Sundance, Telluride, or Toronto.
• Eligible films must be made for no more than $20 million, including post.

If you have a film that meets all these points, you can submit it for consideration. Now, I know someone that rants weekly about the fact that there’s no way a movie like The Kids Are All Right could have been made for $20 million, all in, but let’s just assume, out of the goodness of our hearts, that all the films nominated met this criteria. I personally think that $20 million is waaaay out of truly indie territory but that’s a debate one could read on any of the snobby film blogs out there.

Continue reading Crank Up The Awards Machine

The Big If… “The Catcher In The Rye” Screenplay

JD_SalingerWhen J.D. Salinger died earlier this year, I felt ambivalent, despite the fact that I’d nearly worshiped him in high school as one of the only writers out there who “got” what it was like to be a smart and disillusioned teen. Somewhere along the line, I either stopped being a smart, disillusioned teen or realized that everyone believed themselves to be smart and disillusioned and so rejected it in favor of some other modus operandi.

Along the way, I also found out more about J.D. Salinger – his reclusive lifestyle, refusal to publish more novels, his dabbling in everything from Dianetics, homeopathy and macrobiotics to urine therapy – and I found it a big turn-off. In 1999, I read Joyce Maynard’s memoir At Home In The World, which painted a picture of a pathetic old man with high ideals cloistered away in a compound. This was not my hero. This was a mere mortal who was as confused about life as the rest of us.

Continue reading The Big If… “The Catcher In The Rye” Screenplay