Thursday, May 31, 2012

Take This Waltz

Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz is a simple film about a complicated woman struggling through a messy love triangle. It’s straightforward, smart, and, much like Polley’s first film, Away From Her, completely authentic.

The woman in question is Margot, played expertly by Michelle Williams, an actress who, at this point, has no idea how to deliver a less-than-stellar performance. Margot is a woman of many fears, paranoias and eccentricities, and while none of this is presented outwardly (Williams’ performance is, for the most part, pleasantly restrained), we’re witness to Margot being told more than once that she behaves like a child. Baby voices, using the word “gay” as a substitute for “stupid,” comic ploys for attention – things like that. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Character: Sam Rockwell

I’ve covered some truly fantastic actors since I began In Character last October, but only twice have I had to bend my own rules to include what I felt were the best performances by the actor I was highlighting. I typically chose an actor’s five best roles, then a final one to signify my favorite specific performance. Emily Mortimer and William H. Macy are the only two actors I’ve had to give six essential roles to. Couldn’t find a way around it. Sam Rockwell makes three.

Whether he’s a bug-eyed maniac, a soft-spoken astronaut, or a far-from-slick con man, Sam Rockwell has a power that is rarely matched by other actors of his generation. It’s those expressive eyes. They’re maddening and sad and soft and piercing. The man’s simply got it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Ten Best Actresses of All Time Relay Race

Anna from Defiant Success has been kind enough to pass the baton onto me concerning the Ten Best Actresses of All Time Relay Race, Nostra’s female counterpart to her equally challenging (and ungodly amusing) Ten Best Actors of All Time Relay Race. And looking at the 10 actresses currently occupying the list, I can say that this is a much tougher choice for me than the actors relay race was. There are simply great, and to X one out will be extremely tough, but here goes.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Anthology Breakdown: Paris, je t'aime

The concept of Anthology Breakdown is simple: instead of reviewing an anthology film as one cohesive movie (which is the initial intention) I review and grade each individual vignette. For today’s post, the focus is Paris, je t'aime, a whimsical collection of 18 short films, each set in a different arrondissement in the City of Light.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Earrings: Editing Update and a One-Sheet

I haven’t posted about my new short film Earrings in a little over a month, and for good reason(s). I’ve lived and breathed this movie for eight months, so when filming wrapped, I felt it was important to take a few weeks off before I began reviewing all of the footage.

While taking a break from the film, I was hit with a rather heavy blow in my life. Point in fact, I’m currently going through something extremely difficult that I’m not going to discuss publicly. Times are tough, motivation is sparse, and inspiration has been nonexistent. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for a pity party, I’m just saying that when the worst of life happens, it’s important to embrace something (one thing, anything) and keep going.

Earrings is my one thing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In Character: John Cazale

John Cazale. Five films. Six years. A lifetime of legacy.

No one had the slightest clue who John Cazale was when he was cast as the weak, foolish Corleone brother in The Godfather. But at the behest of his good friend Al Pacino, Cazale was plucked from New York stage obscurity and sent to rally with guys like Brando, Caan, and Duvall. Which he did, with impossible emotion and vulnerability.

Vulnerability. That’s a word you hear a lot by people who describe Cazale, the man, and Cazale, the actor. He was completely willing to open himself up to each of the four characters he played. Sidney Lumet said Cazale possessed a “tremendous sadness” (the origins of which Lumet never pushed to discover). Whatever his methods were, Cazale transcended screen acting. He did it with his cold, dark eyes, with a glance, or a helpless whimper.

Cazale was 42 when he died in 1978 after a particularly grueling bout with terminal lung cancer. His credits are restricted to five films. Five classics that helped define the finest decade of American cinema. If I were to ever make a list of my top 10 favorite actors of all time, you can be sure that John Cazale would be ranked among them. Here’s why.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Favorite Scene: The Godfather Part II

Warning: Critical plot details will be divulged in this post.

The second installment of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather saga is about a lot of things. It’s about family, money, power, revenge. But at its core, it’s really a movie about a guy trying to figure out who the hell tried to kill him.

Early in the film, Michael Coleone’s bedroom is shot to hell as would-be assassins attempt to murder the Don. Immediately after surviving the attack, Michael sets out to find the perpetrator. Who did it, and why? Those two questions are, essentially, what fuels Michael’s section of the film.

Jumping ahead a few hours, after Michael has it confirmed that his dimwitted older brother, Fredo, was responsible for the attack, the two share a brief, heartbreaking moment together that remains one of the very best scenes from America’s best decade of cinema.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Real New York

Midtown Manhattan, Jan. 2011, taken by yours truly

Most of what I do for my day job is act as the editor in chief of a quarterly magazine. The non-profit I work for essentially lends financial assistance to people with very rare diseases. Basically, we pay for the medications, premiums, etc. of people who cannot afford to pay them. And when I say can’t afford, I’m talking medication that costs thousands of dollars. A month. If our patients don’t take the medication they need, then they don’t make it. Period.

In late January, I traveled to New York City to interview Dennis Stravropoulos, a 9/11 rescue worker who currently lives with pulmonary hypertension, one of the diseases the company I work for supports. PH is a disease that causes abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. Every breath for Dennis is a challenge, and I thought his story, that of a veteran NYPD detective who contracted this often-fatal disease as result of cleaning up debris post-9/11, would make for a good cover story.

I had met Dennis twice before writing the article, so when I met up with him at Ground Zero in January, I was there as a friend first, an editor second, and a movie lover always. What basically developed was one long, giant conversation about his life, his disease and That Day.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the ‘60s

1.     “The day was 24 hours long, but it seemed longer.”
2.     “You never did eat your lunch, did you?”
3.     “Here you are, sir. Main Level D.”
4.     Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty
5.     Peter Sellers as Capt. Mandrake
6.     Peter Sellers as President Muffley
7.     Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove
8.     The unexpected brutality that occurs directly before this shot:

Friday, May 18, 2012


After the “necessary” plot details are thrown into play (something about US officials shooting lasers into space to ignite the curiosities of would-be alien life forms) Peter Berg’s Battleship briefly divulges into some amusing character development.

Soon after we meet the Hopper brothers – the older, wiser, Navy man, Stone (because people are really named Stone), and the younger screw-up, Alex – Alex decides to break into a convenience store. Basically, what carries out is a send-up of my favorite viral video of all time. American blockbusters are always trying to be hip and relate to its young audience via the latest pop culture references (remember the "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" bit from X-Men: The Last Stand?). We see it all the time, but I’ve never seen it done this refreshingly.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In Character: Ray Winstone

Ray Winstone, that big, brooding, brute of a man. He’s one of our go-to tough guys – a violent, charming bruiser whose characters do whatever it takes to get what they want.

I’ve been a huge admirer of Winstone’s on screen presence for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t until he told Leonardo DiCaprio that “You don’t. Fuckin’. Hit ‘em!” that I realized I loved this dude.

A few more examples of my admiration follows:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dictator

The extent of Sacha Baron Cohen’s greatness has yet to be fully realized. Fifteen years from now, when we’re laughing at the newest shmuck who stays in character for great lengths of time, and does whatever it takes to make an ass out of himself and his subject, it’ll be important to remember where that style originated. Certainly Baron Cohen isn’t the pioneer of dress-up comedy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers established the style, but Baron Cohen is one of the few people who continually reinvigorates it. With vemon, no less.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Best Looking Films of All Time (Color)

As a companion piece to yesterday’s list of the Best Looking Black and White Films of All Time, here is the same list, only colorized.

Picking 11 of my favorite looking black and white films was extremely difficult; picking 11 in color was damn near impossible. A lot was left off, so, again, let me know your favorites in the comments section. Here goes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Best Looking Films of All Time (B&W)

When I was drafting my list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers, I quickly noticed a disconnect: some of the best looking films of all time were not shot by my favorite DPs. Every single cinematographer listed in this post has proved that they are a master of their craft, but I was bothered that so many great films were left off that initial list.

To curb my troubles, I’ve drafted my list of the best looking films of all time, in two parts. Today, we’ll look at the black and white films I’m most visually drawn to. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle color.

One final note: there are dozens (actually, hundreds) of films that I’ve left off this list. The marvel (or anguish) of a list is in exercising the act of exclusion as much inclusion. There are so many more to name, but these are the 11 that strike me most. If I left off your favorite, tell me. And why. But let’s limit it to black and white for now. Color comes later.

Sound of My Voice

Early in Sound of My Voice, the fabulously eerie, remarkably clever tiny psychological thriller barely in theaters right now, a couple is taken through the initial motions of attending their first cult session. (Is "session" the right word? Do cults have sessions? Get-togethers? Do they chill? Conspire? Meet?)

Anyway, Peter and Lorna are taken to a suburban home, told to disrobe, shower, and put on a hospital gown before they are handcuffed, blindfolded, eased into a minivan, and driven to another suburban home where they are led downstairs and told to sit patiently with the other members.  After a few moments, out walks Maggie, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed goddess hidden behind a white shawl. Maggie says she’s from the future, and she’s here now to collect a group of people to take with her. Where? I’m not really sure, but that’s not exactly the point.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anthology Breakdown: The Hire

New column: reviewing and grading each specific film within a single anthology film. The rules will have be skewed slightly depending on what film (or as is the case with today’s post, what series of films) is being reviewed, but by and large, an anthology film is meant to be viewed and examined as one collective venture. Let’s see what happens when we break them down.

If you were alive and well when BMW started releasing editions of The Hire online in 2001, then you may be aware of its impact.  The Hire was revolutionary to the way we view our entertainment. The concept was simple: eight short films, all roughly 10 minutes in length, all directed by famous filmmakers, all featuring the same character, known only as “The Driver.”

The concept itself wasn’t groundbreaking. The marketing was. For one of the first instances ever, a major company (in this case, BMW) decided to market their new product (in this case, cars) online via a series of webisodes. Today, you can’t get on the internet without seeing some major star in some hot shit webisode that promotes X product. In today’s world, they’re a step above a commercial. But with The Hire, they were genuine works of art.

Also, it’s important to note that The Hire was, essentially, America’s first glimpse at Clive Owen. He had starred in Croupier in 1998 (which no one saw), but Owen’s work in The Hire led to his big break in The Bourne Identity, which led to Closer, which led to, well, you get it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Extraterrestrial Blogathon

Earlier this week, my good buddy Sam at Duke & The Movies proposed a Blogathon to take place today. The concept is simple, the execution has been painful. Here’s the prompt:

Extraterrestrial forces land on Earth. Unknowing of our planet and society, you can pick five films from the history of cinema that represent humanity. What titles would you choose and why?

I’ve tried to be as varied and all encompassing with my picks as possible. I could easily list 30 movie titles here, but the challenge is five, so five it shall be.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Something Wild

Early in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, Charles Griggs, a yuppie New York City businessman played by Jeff Daniels, walks out on a lunch tab simply because he feels like it. Spotting this, Lulu, a young, impulsive gal played by Melanie Griffith, approaches Charles to call him on his misdeed. What soon follows is a delightful, inspired romantic comedy about two people who meet by chance and fall in love. Something Wild should be the same old song, but, luckily for us, Demme’s picture is exactly what its title describes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In Character: Jeff Daniels

I’ve always meant for In Character to be interactive. From the get-go, I’ve welcomed outside input on which character actors I should profile in this series. Jeff Daniels has been on my radar for a while, but after the fervent encouragement (i.e. demand) of Anna and Dave, it was made clear to me that Jeff Daniels was to be covered immediately. (Or else.)

Not that I much minded the push. Daniels is one of the best, most reliable actors working in movies today. Looking over his filmography, it’s clear that he is able to play any kind of character in any kind of film. The fact that he is always identifiable as Jeff Daniels makes his identity as a character actor that much easier to grasp.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Three Trailers and a Tease

From Todd Solondz's new film Dark Horse
Earlier today, three trailers (and one photographic tease) for new films I’m looking forward to were released, and, much to my surprise, they’re all pretty good. Four acclaimed directors, four drastically different genres. Here goes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Are There No Female Cinematographers?

Last Friday, as I compiled, wrote and posted my list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers, a harsh truth was confirmed: there really are no notable female cinematographers currently (or previously) working in film. While that’s a bold (and, as I soon learned, inaccurate) statement, the real question I’m driving at is: why are there no female cinematographers?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers

For me, personally, seeing a movie like The Avengers is terrifying. For starters, it’s a comic book movie, which, in my book, doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. Secondly, because The Avengers was released weeks ago abroad, a sizable amount of positive hype accompanied the film into domestic theaters. Basically, it can be very difficult to fully enjoy a film that everyone else appears to be in awe of. Especially when that film is spawned from a genre I couldn’t care less about.

In short, I walked into The Avengers rolling my eyes and shaking my head, but walking out, I found myself internally repeating something Brian Cox’s Robert McKee tells Nicolas Cage’s Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation: “You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit.” That’s goddamn right.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My 11 Favorite Cinematographers

There’s nothing I don’t love or admire or respect or appreciate about the filmmaking process. I’m fascinated by it all. If I was to crudely rank each part of the process strictly based on personal inspiration, then cinematography would rank extremely high for me.

I’m a complete and utter film addict, there’s no question. And for me to try and articulate how completely taken I can be by a camera angle or tracking shot, or how inexplicably moved I can become based on lighting and shadows, would be to fail my loyal readers. I simply can’t explain the full impact that cinematography has over me.

Superb cinematography makes great films masterful, and bad films bearable. Here is a list of my favorite directors of photography – men who have moved me to tears, based simply on what they can do with a lens.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

2012 Summer (Indie) Movie Preview

In terms of cinema, the summer is all about blowing shit up and making money. Notions of physics, logic, common sense and human decency are suspended so that people can escape into worlds of aliens, fighting robots, super heroes and pot-smoking teddy bears.

But recently, studios have realized that there is indeed a market for independent and/or foreign films amidst the shit show of summer blockbusters. In fact, many of my favorite films from 2011 were released last summer, including Bridesmaids, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Midnight in Paris, The Double Hour, The Tree of Life, Beginners, Incendies, A Better Life, and The Trip.

While I doubt this summer is as fruitful as that, there are a lot of indies coming out over next few months that you can be excited about. And with the presumed greatness of the summer hat trick that is The Avengers, Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises, summer 2012 is shaping up to be a hell of a season.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In Character: Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson’s got that perfect character actor face. He’s got the look of a charming, affable everyman – a human teddy bear that you could slug back a few pints with at a local pub. And it is precisely Gleeson’s delicate sensibilities that make his caring characters more humane, and his ruthless characters more evocative.

The man can play any role in any genre, always to effective results. He’s the burly bruiser, the sensitive dad, the crooked cop, the remorseful hit man, the iconic political figure. He’s whoever he needs to be, in that perfect, Gleeson way.