Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Visitor and The Wrestler

Saw two very good films this week that play a part in the Oscar race:

The Visitor - A somber story of a widowed college professor (Richard Jenkins) who comes back to his part-time NYC apartment to find an immigrant couple living there. Jenkins befriends the couple, at which point the narrative branches out to both love story and post 9-11 "war on terrorism" tale.

I really liked The Visitor, in part because writer/director Tom McCarthy didn't deal with the aforementioned issues in a cheesy, formulaic or flashy way. I cared about these characters like I knew them. Richard Jenkins is great in this film; you see his transformation from sort-of-depression to a full embrace of life and the city he had all but abandoned. His Oscar nomination for Best Actor is much deserved; it's too bad he has no chance of winning. Also, co-star Haaz Sleiman is wonderful as Tarek, the Syria-born drummer who squatted in the apartment and changed Jenkins' life. This guy has the goods (charisma, talent and hotness!) to become a star.

Moving on to a Best Actor nominee who does have a shot at victory: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. I'll skip a description of the film, at this point everyone who follows movies knows what it's about and why there's buzz. I liked the film, but I wasn't knocked out by it (pun intended). It has a documentary feel, but the handheld camera constantly shooting behind Rourke's head was annoying after a while. Also, if you are adverse to watching violence on screen, steel yourself before seeing this film. 

As the titular role, Rourke carries the film valiantly. He runs the gamut of emotions: pride, pain, shame, love, (figurative) impotence. What makes this a great performance is that Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson isn't a dialogue-driven character.  Robinson's story is told in Rourke's battered face and eyes. 

However--and I'm a longtime Mickey Rourke fan...of his acting, not the rest of it--you have to ask how much of a stretch this really was for him. Rourke the (close to) washed-up actor vs. Robinson the washed-up wrestler. Rourke's face is as beaten up from ill-advised boxing and drug abuse as Robinson's body is from drug abuse and wrestling. Both men have alienated nearly everyone who ever cared about them (and at least Robinson had his wrestling "family," which was an unexpectedly sweet aspect of the film). So what was the challenge? This film is as close as Rourke can get to playing himself without playing himself. 

In a year in which Sean Penn and Frank Langella (as well as Heath Ledger in supporting) are being honored for iconic performances that are complete flipsides of what you would expect from them, why is Mickey Rourke getting all of this love for basically looking at himself in the mirror? Weirdly, as good as he is, I found him more heartbreaking in Sin City (his last "comeback" movie).

As a final point, if Rourke upsets Sean Penn for the Oscar, considering how much of a total fuck-up he was in Hollywood, then someone will have to explain to me how Eddie Murphy lost two years ago for Dreamgirls!

Mediocrity reigns!

Forget that this chick has the #1 selling album this week, why does she even have a recording contract?!! She can barely carry a tune! I heard a woman sing at a subway station yesterday who's 10x a better singer than her!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Requiem for The Dark Knight pt. 2


It’s not enough that The Joker is caught; The Joker himself even says that in the final exchange with Batman. Gotham’s reckoning begins and ends with Harvey Dent. He has gone off the rails and seeks revenge on everyone who led to his disfigurement and the death of Rachel Dawes. Even with The Joker’s capture, his “piece de resistance” is Harvey Dent’s turn to the dark side, his complete descent into madness – the birth of “Harvey Two-Face.”

As Harvey goes, so does Gotham City – as well as its hopes and its need for a better tomorrow. This is why his murdering spree can’t be brought to light, so Batman takes the rap and goes on the lam. This isn’t a new story: it’s as old as Jesus dying on the cross (and no, I’m not comparing Batman to Jesus, I’m just making a point). The Dark Knight hinges on the need for hope in society (sound familiar?); in this case, hope trumps even justice and truth.

Why is this confusing? How is this cold?! Maybe after two hours and the absence of Heath Ledger some people lost interest and stopped paying attention. Some people think that a “comic book” movie should solely be entertaining, so for them the third act – and possibly the entire film – would be a turn off. Frankly, those are not the limitations of the film. Those are THEIR limitations! This film set out to tell multilayered, compelling stories, and it succeeded. This film set out to be entertaining and visually spectacular – check. Christopher Nolan, his cast and crew didn’t settle to make a run-of-the-mill “superhero action flick” that would be a cash cow for Warners (which they could have done – they got paid either way). Their mission was to elevate a popcorn movie into a timely and timeless work of art – CHECKMATE. And as its reward, The Dark Knight made even MORE money than expected! To quote a line from another popular film: if you build it, they will come.

I write this sentence in all seriousness: The Dark Knight is the Citizen Kane of the 21st century. For those of you who didn’t get it – especially all of the AMPAS voters that couldn’t place it on your Best Picture ballots – YOU SIMPLY WEREN’T READY.

**me throwing down mic and walking off the stage**

Requiem for The Dark Knight pt. 1

This will be my final post about The Dark Knight, unless something crazy happens between now and the Oscars.

I saw the film again when it was re-released in theaters last weekend. The film holds up, even in its third viewing in a theater. The narrative is still compelling, the action sequences still thrill (esp. the 18-wheeler flipping over in the middle of Chicago’s LaSalle St.) and the acting is top-notch.

Could the film had been shorter? Sure. I agree that the film could have benefited from having 15 to 20 minutes shaved off. Are there slight plot holes with the film? Sure, as with nearly ANY film, esp. action flicks. Was Christian Bale’s voice affectation annoying? Not to me at first, but yes, it can grate after a few viewings, I admit. Do any of these things lessen the impact or the brilliance of the film? In my view, absolutely not!

I specifically want to address those people who have issues with TDK’s third act. David Carr, aka The New York Times’ Carpetbagger, has numerous times complained about the film’s final act, and eluded that the “cold and confusing” ending is the reason that Oscar voters failed to embrace the film. I disagree wholeheartedly. The third act is not only coherent and thoughtful, but the entire narrative is buoyed by it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Anger towards AMPAS aside...

Congrats to Melissa Leo for her deserved Best Actress nomination in "Frozen River!"

AMPAS can suck my dick!

I called Kate Winslet in lead for "The Reader," didn't see Michael Shannon coming (but it's a good pick), but none of that matters now. I will turn off the Oscars this year after the supporting actor category! They're dead to me now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And now ... my picks for the Oscar nominations!

I will go into more details later about what films I've seen and what I think about them. But here's what and who I think will earn Oscar nominations tomorrow morning:

"The Dark Knight" -- yes, I think it will make it in. :-)
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- although I think this film has lost a lot of steam. If one of the early frontrunners gets left out for say, "WALL-E"  or "The Wrestler," I think it will be this film.

Danny Boyle - "Slumdog Millionaire"
Christopher Nolan - "The Dark Knight"
Gus Van Sant - "Milk"
Ron Howard - "Frost/Nixon"
Andrew Stanton - "WALL-E" - I think this will be one of the surprise nominations...their consolation prize for the film not getting a BP nod (like Paul Greengrass for "United 93"). Despite his DGA nod, I think Fincher is weak enough to get knocked out.

Sean Penn - "Milk"
Frank Langella - "Frost/Nixon"
Mickey Rourke - "The Wrestler"
Clint Eastwood - "Gran Torino" - because they have to nominate him for SOMETHING!
Richard Jenkins - "The Visitor" - Jenkins is a veteran actor that's been around the block. His performance has gotten buzz, and the "Benjamin Button" fade out will be enough to take Brad Pitt out of the running.

Anne Hathaway - "Rachel Getting Married"
Meryl Streep - "Doubt"
Sally Hawkins  - "Happy Go Lucky"
Angelina Jolie - "Changeling"
Kate Winslet - "The Reader" - AMPAS will ignore "Revolutionary Road" and bump her up to lead for this performance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Does it even matter, really?)
Heath Ledger - "The Dark Knight" - They should have sent the Oscar to his family last summer!
Josh Brolin  - "Milk" - personally, I think James Franco deserves it more.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - "Doubt"
Robert Downey, Jr. - "Tropic Thunder"
Dev Patel - "Slumdog Millionaire" - The "Slumdog" love will carry him over for this nom.

Penelope Cruz  - "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis - "Doubt"
Marisa Tomei - "The Wrestler"
Taraji P. Henson - "...Benjamin Button" - The "Button" backlash won't rub off on her. People like her performance and like HER.
Rosemarie DeWitt - "Rachel Getting Married" - She will be the other SHOCKER acting nomination, with Winslet's absence in this category letting her sneak in (and it will be deserved).

"...Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
"The Wrestler"
"Burn After Reading"
"Rachel Getting Married"

We'll see how right I am in less than 10 hours!

Hello world! Part 2

Hi again. I will be blogging about different things on this site: politics, music, film, weird-ass people, whatever comes up. But because of what's going on right now, a lot of my posts in the next month will revolve around movies, because of the pending Oscar nominations as well as the Independent Spirit Awards. And as you can tell from the last post, I will be an unabashed apostle of The Dark Knight. Deal with it. :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hello world!

I'm a blogger now! Well, actually I have a blog on MySpace, but I don't know if that really counts. Anyway, welcome! I guess better late than never.

Because it's late, let me cut to the chase...

1) Today saw the swearing in of President Barack Hussein Obama! WHOO fucking HOOO!!!! Finally, some competency and compassion in the White House! I broke out in a huge smile while watching him take the oath and give his inaugural address. It was a good feeling, and made me realize that I don't smile enough. But that's another thought for another time.

2) It's about 32 hours until the Academy Award nominations are announced, and I can't wait. I am so emotionally invested in The Dark Knight... if the film is not nominated for best picture, I will a) likely because physically ill and b) destroy something in my apartment. To prepare for the worst, I will probably set aside some inexpensive items that I won't be concerned about bashing to shreds if necessary. And I'm sorry, I don't even want to hear it about Slumdog Millionaire. Saw it this weekend: great film, heart-tugging rags-to-riches/finding lost love story. I really get why people are in love with this film. But this film is NOT BETTER than The Dark Knight. Not by a mile. Sorry Danny boy, but Batman's got you by the balls. Hopefully, the Oscar voters will agree.