Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween from Veronica Lake and The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Good Old-Fashioned Halloween Fun w/ Michael Myers, John Carpenter and the Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis

The following is my contribution to The LAMBs in the Director's Chair #21: John Carpenter.

Although both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Canadian film Black Christmas precede it by four years, much claim can be staked on the proposition that John Carpenter's 1978 now-classic horror film, Halloween, was the starting point of the slasher genre that would erupt in the 1980's.  Of course Carpenter himself admits to being greatly influenced by Hitchcock's Psycho, the true sui generis of the genre, when making Halloween, so who the hell knows from whence the genre truly came.  What one does know for sure is that Carpenter's seminal slasher flick was a great, if not the greatest, influence on horror moviemaking lo these past thirty some years.  For better and for worse, Halloween gave the genre, from the giddy, gory slasher films of the eighties to the torture porn obscenities of today, its tricks and tropes and foibles and flaws.  It gave the Scream series its rulebook and Rob Zombie a career resurgence.  And then there is that creepy ass music - but more on that later.

I actually sat down to watch the original Halloween for the first time just this past week (yeah yeah, I know) and though the low body count kind of surprised me (at least in comparison to the slew of hawkish, low budget disciples that followed, Carpenter's film is quite low on violence and gore) I must admit to at least a certain amount of creeped-out narrative tension - but such a thing is Carpenter's forte after all.  The director's ability to surprise you with both what is around the corner and what is not, has always been a mainstay of his cinema - especially in his three greatest works, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and here in Halloween.   More than the eventual pay-off, which is by no means a slouch, it is Carpenter's knack of making us wait in heart-pounding anticipation not just to the veritable breaking point, but beyond, until we think we are safe at least for the moment, and then - BANG!!

Much like contemporaries Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg, as well as more recent examples such as Richard Linklater, P.T. Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, Carpenter has always been a filmmaker greatly influenced by those who came before him.  So much so that Pauline Kael even (unfairly) criticized him for such in her scathing review of Halloween, saying "Carpenter doesn't seem to have had any life outside the movies: one can trace almost every idea on the screen to directors such as Hitchcock and Brian De Palma and to the Val Lewton productions".  It is in this homage making style that Carpenter has created his interesting, if not a bit uneven, oeuvre.  To go back to his great triumvirate of the director's early years - after Assault on Precinct 13, his urban-decay take on Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo but before his graphic, paranoiac retooling of the Howard Hawks produced The Thing, came Halloween, his most Hitchcockian film, and therefore his film with the biggest, and most classically inspired BANG.  

Not only does Carpenter name the master's Psycho as his biggest influence on Halloween (along with Night of the Living Dead, which incidentally was also an influence on the aforementioned Assault on Precinct 13) but he paid homage to that film in several other ways as well.   One of these ways was the naming of Dr. Sam Loomis, the obsessed psychiatrist played by Donald Pleasence.  Sam Loomis, as any fan of Psycho can tell you, is the name of Marian Crane's lover in the film.  The most obvious homage though is the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as the movie's final girl, Laurie Strode.   Originally Carpenter had wanted to cast Anne Lockhart, daughter of June Lockhart, but due to scheduling conflicts she could not take the part.  This particular scheduling conflict was particularly fortuitous, for when Carpenter found out that another actress interested in the part was the daughter of Janet Leigh - Marion Crane herself - he had to have her for the part.  Starring in the short-lived TV version of Operation Petticoat at the time (the original film version coincidentally starred the actress's father Tony Curtis), the nineteen year old Curtis was the perfect pick for the film.  What better homage than casting the daughter of the master's Scream Queen as his own Scream Queen?

Playing the chaste babysitter who lives, while her promiscuous friends are slaughtered (a trope that would become a cliche of the genre, as well the joke behind Wes Craven's Scream) Curtis is the terrorized victim who in turn must be saved by Pleasence's Dr. Loomis (and yes, feminists have taken note) from the man in the mask.  Of course we all know that the man in the mask is actually Michael Myers, who at the age of six brutally murdered his teenage sister, and who has, fifteen years later,  escaped from the mental hospital to come home and terrorize those oh so slutty teens of Haddonfield Illinois.  On the subject of the virgin surviving while death comes to all those who have sex, Carpenter explains, "The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife. She's the most sexually frustrated. She's the one that's killed him. Not because she's a virgin but because all that sexually repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy."  Simple as that.

To make the terror all the more terrifying, Carpenter used P.O.V. shots when showing Michael stalking his prey.  The opening scene, where the six year old Michael is watching his sister and her boyfriend before stabbing his sister to death post-coitus (the guy of course gets up and leaves after sex, and is thus spared the violent end), is done completely in the point of view of the psychopathic child.  The ultimate stabbing is shown through the eyes of Michael's clown costume.  These P.O.V. shots continue upon Michael's return home.  We are put into the eyes of the killer and see what he sees (again, many are critical of this - stupidly claiming it breeds violence in children) and this makes it seem all that more terrifying.   Of course the thing that makes it the scariest, in my not-so-humble opinion, is that damn music.  Second in scariness only to The Exorcist's Tubular Bells, the film's music, composed by Carpenter himself, in rare 5/4 meter, is a simple yet haunting score.  It is enough to bring chills up and down the spine of, not just this critic, but pretty much everyone out there.

In the end it is Carpenter's prowess as a filmmaker that makes Halloween work as well as it does.  Beginning with his love of cinematic origins and history, and his ability to transform that love into his own work (this obvious Hitchcocko-Hawksian even sneaks in the original Thing From Another World as he has his characters watching said film on television) and continuing with the director's bravura stance on cinema (he brashly blows away a little pig-tailed girl in Assault on Precinct 13, so what is to stop him from doing pretty much anything to anyone in any movie), Carpenter created a genre masterpiece in his original Halloween.  The film would go on to spawn seven sequels, as well as a remake and even a sequel to the remake, none of which were directed by Carpenter, and become, for better and for worse again, one of the most influential films ever made.  Carpenter himself would continue with a later career that has yet to match his output of the seventies and early eighties (his most recent, 2011's classically-influenced The Ward, is definitely a step in the right direction though) but no matter what the future brings, his legacy will surely live on and on and on.

I have written about two other John Carpenter films recently.  The first is the director's second feature, Assault on Precinct 13, published elsewhere on this blog.  The second is a review of the director's latest work, his first picture in a decade, The Ward, published over at my review site, The Cinematheque.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: The Rum Diary

I wanted to like this movie.  I really did.  I like Johnny Depp, even in his lesser work.  I like Hunter S. Thompson, or at least I like the image portrayed by HST.  I really did want to like this movie.  I really did.  Well, you know how things tend to go.  I think it was Mick Jagger who said, "You can't always get what you want."  Well I did not.  Unfortunately I never did get what I needed either.  Drab and staid (granted the novel, Thompson's first, before he was the Hunter Thompson everyone knows and loves/hates, is quite bland as well) this Bruce Robinson directed, Johnny Depp pet project is nothing I ever wanted or needed.  Too bad really.  My review of this tired film is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Needless to say, it is not the most positive review I have ever written.

As the below shot shows, despite its many flaws, the film is visually impressive.  That's something, right?

The Cinematheque Reviews: The Three Musketeers

I am going to begin this intro with a bang.  I quite enjoyed the latest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckling novel, The Three Musketeers.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of my critical compatriots have been calling the new Paul W. S. Anderson directed movie, one of the worst films of the year.  In fact the only critic I have seen that shares my overall enthusiasm for this movie is Jaime N. Christley over at Slant Magazine.  Otherwise, I am alone in a sea of.....well, you get the point.  I like the movie while almost everyone else runs the gamut from mild disdain to outright hatred.  Granted, it is not a great film, and it will not make my year-end Top Ten, but it is quite the enjoyable movie and very very fun - all to my own surprise mind you.  My review of said film is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Take a look when you can.

Here is a look at some of the film's rather steampunkish design aesthetic.  Milla Jovovich as Milady de Winter is another fine sight to see in this surprisingly enjoyable motion picture extravaganza, but I will leave her to the imagination (and/or your Googling talents or willingness to buy a ticket and go see the damn thing).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Movie Vampires

Here we are again true believers, with what is my sixteenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature is a special treat for Halloween.  To go along with the scary (or at least supposedly scary - it depends on your outlook I suppose) holiday, I have chosen my ten favourite movie vampires - along with a few runners-up and special mentions and what have you.

And if you are looking for a little vampire fun, Lonely Planet Travel Guide highly recommends the Titty Twister, nestled snugly between Mexico and Hell.  Be careful of the floor show though - it's a killer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

PFF 2011: Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty

When the 10:10 screening of Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty ended, the negative chatter coming from the crowd at the Ritz Five was something akin to the angry squawking heard after many screenings of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life earlier this year.   Things like, "What was that?", "Just terrible.", "Thank God that's over." and "That's it!  You don't get to pick the movie anymore!".  And just like with The Tree of Life, none of these epithets are fairly warranted, merely idle disgruntlements from an audience caught unawares of what they had just witnessed.  Granted, the film never comes anywhere close to the artistic/cinematic level of the aforementioned Malick, but the Plebeian reaction is nonetheless the same.

The comparisons to The Tree of Life go no further than audience reactions (and this was merely one screening and not an all over thing like with the Malick film), as the two films are really nothing alike.  While Malick's film is about the deconstruction of memory and the loss and regaining of faith, Ms. Leigh's film is essentially about the attempt of a young woman, who is dead on the inside, to find, for the most part unsuccessfully, an emotional outlet in any form she can find it.  Where The Tree of Life is emotionally provocative and immensely draining, Sleeping Beauty is a void of insular excess, even while showing the most shocking of moments.  But enough of these unnecessary comparisons to The Tree of Life (I have already more than stated that the film's really have nothing in common, save for the reactions of the cinematically challenged), let us move on.

Actually, if Leigh's film need be compared to anything or anyone (even T.S. Elliot said, "No artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone") then it would be to the cinema of Catherine Breillat.  Leigh, in her directorial debut (she is a well-known novelist in Australia), imbues her film with a methodical, determined cadence and an almost deadening emotional effect that is allowed an explosive catharsis only in its final moments.  This is the type of cinema that evokes the measured yet slyly rapturous oeuvre of the aforementioned Mme. Breillat.  Of course the comparisons do not stop there.  Other than Breillat being a novelist of some artistic renown in her own native France, she too released a film called Sleeping Beauty earlier this year.  Entirely different stories - Breillat's is more Gothic fucked-up fairy-tale while Leigh's is more modern fucked-up malaise - but intriguing nonetheless.

But enough of these comparisons (we can say Breillat and Leigh have both been inspired by the likes of Bresson and Bergman and move on) for Leigh's film, whether it resembles the cinema of Breillat or not, does stand on its own merits.  Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is the story of a young, somewhat promiscuous wayward woman trying to make ends meet by taking odd jobs such as waitress, medical experiment guinea pig and a job that seems to amount to scantily clad hostess of a fetish party (perhaps I am just a bit naive, but you have got to see it to believe it).  Eventually she lands a job as the titular beauty.  This job entails drinking a magical tea that puts her to sleep for several hours, in which time various wealthy older men have their way with her.  Hey, at least the money's good - and you have no memory of what has been done to you.

Emily Browning, last seen in the ridiculously inane Sucker Punch (so her calling card did not bode well for this critic), actually does a rather nice job with this deceptively daring role - just like a heroine from a Breillat film (but we are not doing that comparison anymore, so I digress).  As for those aforementioned naysayers at the festival screening - fuck 'em.   Seriously, fuck 'em.  Now, I can understand how many can be lost in a film such as this.  Between the deliberate pacing and the sexual frankness, one can see why certain audiences would feel either bored and/or uncomfortable - even those audiences who say they like art films (you know the kind, they watch Amelie and claim to be a foreign film connoisseur).  

Too daring for many, and in a way not daring enough for this critic (some after show bellyaching would be warranted if it were directed a little differently, a little less middlebrow), Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is nonetheless, an often powerful look at the so-called breaking point of a person's already fragile psyche.  As for a US release - IFC Films has picked Ms. Leigh's film up (incidentally helped by Aussie heavyweight Jane Campion's involvement as "Presented by") and has announced a December 2 release here in the States - and with IFC, one can only assume this release will be both theatrical and V.O.D.  A full review of this film will be forthcoming on or around said date.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PFF 2011: The Dardenne Brothers' The Kid With the Bike

Not many filmmakers do the edge of tragedy better than brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.  Just when you feel yourself getting cocky enough to think you know what will happen next, these ever-so-sly Belgian brothers pull the proverbial rug out from under your cinematic expectations.  With their latest, The Kid With the Bike, it is business as usual for the brothers, which means nothing but good things for all those Dardenne admirers out there - myself included.  One of the few directors, or pair of directors as the case may be, to be honoured with Cannes' Palme d'Or twice (for Rosetta in 99 and L'Enfant in 05), this film, which incidentally was awarded the Grand Prix, Cannes' second highest honour, is nearly those film's equal.  And that ain't just me whistlin' hyperbole either.

Brilliantly seductive, with the Dardenne's usual subtle and deceptive grace, The Kid With the Bike is the story of a boy, his bike and the woman who tries to pull him out of the violent world he begins to crumble into.  With more than a mere nod to The Bicycle Thieves, this tender and quite disarming coming-of-age tale takes the genre and ferociously, but quite carefully so, turns it on its own head.  In fact this is probably the most poignant, and the most realistic (while at the same time playing as a modern day fairy tale of sorts), and the most demanding (the Dardennes' cinema is nothing if not a demanding kind of cinema) coming-of-age story since Ken Loach gave us Kes way back in 1969.  The Dardennes have taken their typically no-frills style of poetic realism (and this time, unlike their past oeuvre, with an actual soundtrack) and once again make it sing with a much deeper resonance than one would expect from such a type of cinema.

It may sound as if I am gushing - and I suppose I am - but I don't seem to be able to stop myself.  Probably better than anything the brothers have yet done, with the notable exception of the aforementioned Rosetta (the duo's one true masterpiece of endurance cinema), The Kid With the Bike may not have the overbearing power of that film, but in a much smaller, more subtle way, it is its very own emotionally charged powder keg of a film.  Just think of how this film would be ruined in the hands of the modern day machine that is Hollywood.  Like I said earlier, the Dardenne's take us to the precipice of tragedy, and pull us back when we think it is not enough, or toss us over when we are afraid it is too much, better than just about anyone out there today - and after a minor, just minor, slip with Lorna's Silence, the brother's prove just that.  A pair of modern day Bresson's indeed.

The film has been picked up by IFC, who will probably release the film sometime in early 2012.  A full-length review of said film (less gushing, more critiquing) will be made public around that same time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Early Bird Oscar Predictions

Some may say it is a frivolous game played only by fools and faux film critics (sorry David Poland and Jeffrey Wells - not really) but even I (one who takes the idea of film history and mise-en-scene and cinephilia quite seriously - well, except for when I don't) must fall prey to those naked little gold men each and every year.  This is how I began my early bird Oscar predix last year, so why not start it out the same this time around.  With nearly three months to go before the Academy names its annual nominations, this is as good a time as any to say just who I think will receive those aforementioned nominations.  Makes sense, right?  No?  Oh well, I'm doing it anyway.  But before that, perhaps you would like to check out the guesses I made back in May.  I'd say about half of these still hold up now, five and a half months later.

When I decided to make my early-bird predictions last year (around the same Bat Time and Bat Channel) they were actually not that far off from my eventual "official" nomination predictions made the evening before the nomination announcement (I made just a few tweaks here and there, some panning out, some not so much) which in turn were pretty close to the actual nominations themselves.  I suppose only time will tell if I do as well this time around.  So, without further ado (well, except for the picture of one of my predictions I have placed just below), here are my (three months in advance) Oscar Nomination Predictions.

The first obstacle we must climb over is the amount of nominees for Best Picture.  After two seasons of a ten film race (up from the previous five of course) and many, myself included, bitching about such a raise (five is a perfectly exclusive number of nominees dammit!) the Academy has now said there will be anywhere between five and ten this time around.  Are they just trying to piss us off now?  Seriously?  Between five and ten!?  Oh well, I suppose one should stop trying to fight city hall as it were, and just get onto the whole nomination prediction thing.  Most Oscar pundits are going with an arbitrary seven nominations guess, so I suppose I will gather in amongst the herd as well and go for seven.  

As opposed to last year, when even at this early juncture, the race was gearing up to be a battle between The Social Network and The King's Speech (with possibly an Inception upset - a thing that would die out rather quickly actually), this year looks like a relatively open field at this point.  There are of course some notable shoo-in nominees shaping up about now, but no real frontrunner(s) as of yet.  The two films I have been hearing the most Oscar buzz about so far are The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, who's Sideways was up for BP in 2004, and War Horse from Steven Spielberg, who has about a thousand Oscar nods and wins to his credit already.  At this point I think it is a safe bet to claim one of these two as the eventual winner.  Of course this could change at the drop of the proverbial hat.

The film that could sneak in there and take the top prize from either of these two films is Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  Already a BP winner with Annie Hall back in 1977 and a BP nod in 1986 for Hannah and Her Sisters, this very popular (both critically and with audiences) film is considered by many to be Allen's best work in nearly two decades - and they could be right.  Will that be enough to win the Oscar?  Who the Hell knows, but it should be enough for at least a Best Pic nomination.  I think in order to actually win, the film will need a few more nods than the three it is most likely to get - perhaps something in the acting categories - but this is something to be discussed below.  Now none of these three films can be considered an actual frontrunner quite yet, but they are still the most likely to grab nominations come the morning of January 24th.  It is after these three (supposedly) top spots where things begin to get a bit hairy.

Taking the number four spot, or at least who I think will take the number four spot, is very possibly a prediction disaster waiting to happen.  I predicted it as one of the nominees back in May (before seeing it three times in three cities as I did) and I am holding to my guns here at the end of October.  Terrence Malick's brilliant The Tree of Life (one of, if not my favourite film of 2011) is certainly not for everyone's tastes (just look at the divisive audience reactions the film received) and avant-garde certainly doesn't go over well with the Academy, but with the artistic love for Malick and a field that extends (probably) beyond five nominees, I think this is more than a mere pipe dream on my behalf.  I think it will actually get in - even if we end up with just five nominees.

The fifth nominee (in case that is all we have) could very well be yet another of a higher artistic bent.  The black and white, 4:3 aspected, silent film The Artist has been getting a bunch of buzz in recent weeks, and that could be enough to get it a BP nod, despite its obvious, but quite unfair handicap (who in today's Hollywood wants to watch a silent movie!?).  I have not seen the film yet (scheduling conflicts at both New York and Philadelphia festivals dammit) but even sight unseen, I would love to see a silent film get an Oscar nomination.  If the film does pull this off, it will be the first time a silent picture was up for the top prize since the very first year of the Oscar's, way way waaay back in the 1927-28 film year.

Well that should be it for Best Picture, but since I said I am going with seven nominations, I suppose two more need to be added to the list.  My best guesses for these two are Bennett Miller's Moneyball and Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  The former may be a sports movie, a genre that has never fared all that well at the Oscars, but it is more than just that, while the latter is not only a film by Stephen Daldry (three films = three BP nominations) but also a film about 9/11, which in Oscar terms may end up becoming the new Holocaust.  Now since we have no certainty that the nominee list will stop at seven (is a set number really all that difficult a thing to come up with?) there could be up to three more nominations.  These, in order of predictable probability, are The Help, The Ides of March and J. Edgar.

There is one other film I should mention here.  It is a dark horse favourite of mine and could very well play spoiler not only in the Best Picture category but in many others as well.  The film is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it is directed by David Fincher.  Right now I am keeping it in the number eleven spot, but if it does what I think it may do come December, it may very well make my final predictions.  At this point it is still too much of a wild card to make the grade.  Of course if something like the Daldry picture fails (and Daldry is bound to fail at some point) or The Help is way-laid by its nay-sayers, or Eastwood's Hoover biopic doesn't come on the way it is expected to, then perhaps this dark horse/wild card gets a big boost.  Then again, the film is bound to be a rather disturbing piece of cinema for many Academy members, so all this may just be hot air.

There are of course several other films that could make the grade in the final countdown. These are, in no particular order, A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Young Adult, Carnage, The Iron Lady, We Bought A Zoo, Tintin , Martha Marcy May Marlene, Shame and Hugo - even the final Harry Potter could get a surprise Best Picture nomination.  But even so, I still think it will come down to the eleven above, with maybe one or two of these possibles sneaking in most likely candidate being the Scorsese film Hugo) - but only if we have ten nominees.  Well that's it for the commentary part of our program.  Below are my predictions for each of the individual categories. 

1. The Descendants
2. War Horse
3. Midnight In Paris
4. The Tree of Life
5. The Artist
...and if it goes to seven...
6. Moneyball
7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
...and if it goes even further...
8. The Help
9. The Ides of March
10. J. Edgar

Dark Horse: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

To reiterate, the other possibilities are A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Young Adult, Carnage, The Iron Lady, Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene, We Bought A Zoo, Tintin, Hugo and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.

1. Steven Spielberg for War Horse
2. Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
3. Alexander Payne for The Descendants
4. Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life
5. Stephen Daldry for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Dark Horse: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist 

Like Best Picture, the Director race is an open field as well.  The numbers are pretty much arbitrary here.  I decided to go with Daldry over Hazanavicius (in matching the top five pics with their corresponding director) since he is three for three in past Oscar races, but let's not  count out sch a buzz-worthy film.  I think when all is said and done, Woody Allen could actually be the winner here (I told you the numbers were arbitrary) but that is getting way ahead of ourselves.  Other possibilities include Bennett Miller for Moneyball, Clint Eastwood for J. Edgar (if the film hits big), Roman Polanski for Carnage and/or that aforementioned dark horse David Fincher for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. 

1. George Clooney in The Descendants
2. Brad Pitt in Moneyball
3. Jean Dujardin in The Artist
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar
5. Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 

Dark Horse: Michael Fassbender in Shame or A Dangerous Method 

These seems like a pretty solid top five here.  Clooney seems to have suddenly become the frontrunner here as well, even without his film being released yet.  In the end though, they may give it to Pitt since he has never won, and Clooney has.  The dark horse is a personal favourite.  Fassbender is one of the hottest actors around today (and one of the best!) and that alone may get him into the final five.  For which film he gets in is another question though.  Other possibilities include Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March (though I personally favour his role in Drive), Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo and Woody Harrelson in Rampart, but as I said, the top five, or at least the top six, seem pretty solid.  The one odd thing here though is the lack of buzz for Tom Hanks in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  The film has some relatively strong Oscar buzz (which may die out by Oscar time though - definitely the weak link in the BP top seven) but Mr. Oscar himself has been almost totally invisible in any and all Oscar talk about the film.  I'm okay with this though.

1. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
2. Viola Davis in The Help
3. Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn
4. Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs
5. Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene 

Dark Horse: Charlize Theron in Young Adult
Dark Horse: Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  

I don't think anyone will deny that Meryl Streep will receive her seventeenth Oscar nomination come January for playing Margaret Thatcher, and I also think it is a safe bet (at least as of right now) to say she may very well win her third statuette - and her first since 1982.  The one that could upset is Viola Davis.  She had been considered supporting until the recent FYC ads named her as lead (which helps Jessica Chastain the Supporting Actress category, but more on that below) and therefore she quickly jumps to the number two spot.  After Williams (my celebrity crush so I have to put her in here) the last two on the list are pretty vulnerable.  Even though Close is a popular choice, and she has never won before (think "career" award), Albert Nobbs has yet to prove itself.  As for Olsen, she is young and therefore vulnerable, but if her film pulls off the Indie accolades that Winter's Bone, and thus (equally young) Jennifer Lawrence did, then she should be a lock.  Then again, Theron has a bunch of buzz for Young Adult and could jump in at a moment's notice, and as for Rooney Mara, I have been saying all along, let's not count out The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  As for other possibilities, Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin or Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method could sneak in.

1. Christopher Plummer in Beginners
2. Albert Brooks in Drive
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Ides of March
4. Kenneth Branagh in My Week With Marilyn
5. Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method 

Dark Horse: Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Dark Horse: Ben Kingsley in Hugo 

This category, like most years, is a pretty open field.  Eventually it will probably come down to one can't lose frontrunner, just like it usually does (Christian Bale, Christoph Waltz, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem etc), but for now it is anybody's guess.  I would really like to see Brooks win this, and the Academy does like villainous turns from non-villainous actors.  If EL&IC does hit it big (which is still pretty debatable) Von Sydow could easily sneak in there.  Other possibilities are John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jim Broadbent in The Iron Lady, George Clooney in The Ides of March (a double nominee this year?) or even a pair of surprise comic nods in Jonah Hill for Moneyball and/or Patton Oswalt for Young Adult.  The one I would really like to see (even though I have yet to see the film) is  my second dark horse candidate, Ben Kingsley in Hugo.  He plays one of the forefathers of cinema in a Martin Scorsese picture - who could ask for anything more.

1. Octavia Spencer in The Help
2. Berenice Bejo in The Artist
3. Jessica Chastain in The Help
4. Shailene Woodley in The Descendants
5. Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris

Dark Horse: Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids 

Again, like Supporting Actor, this seems pretty much anyone's game.  Jessica Chastain is getting nominated for something dammit.  It might have been The Tree of Life at first, but now that The Help costar Viola Davis is being billed as lead, it puts her performance there up for the taking.  I am far from a fan of The Help, but the two strongest performances are definitely Chastain and Octavia Spencer.Bejo has a good chance because this is the category most likely to have unknowns in it.  The big if is Cotillard though.  If Midnight in Paris is to be a big winner come Oscar night (top prize perhaps?) it will need more than just Picture, Director and Screenplay nods, and this is the most likely place for such a thing to happen.  And Woody does have a knack for getting his ladies Oscar gold.  The dark horse may seem a bit too dark horsey (I personally hated the movie) but you never know what will happen.  Other possibilities are Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs, Carey Mulligan in Shame, Judi Dench in J. Edgar and Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus

Well, I am going to stop there.  I will update these predictions come mid December (after many of the critics awards have been announced) and probably even add predictions for all the other categories as well.  My final predictions will be coming on the evening of January 23rd, just before the morning nominations announcement.  Last year those final predictions did not differ that greatly from these early bird ones.  Cannot say if that will be the case this year with a seemingly much more open field.  See ya then.

Monday, October 24, 2011

PFF 2011: David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method

Part of the Masters of Cinema section of the Twentieth Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, one could make a claim that a film such as this gets a bit of a free ride from an auteurist like myself, but dammit, I don't care - the film is quite spectacular, no matter who directed it.  Even so, it is not your typical kind of spectacular - it's the kind of spectacular that sneaks up on a person.  At first unassuming, leading crescendo-like into full-bore Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method (missed at the New York Fest but finally caught here in Philly) is something one may not expect from the director, but at the same time, something completely in the madman's semi-psychotic wheelhouse.

Perhaps not as cleverly deceptive as A History of Violence (in my not-so-humble opinion, the director's greatest and gutsiest work) nor as balls-out as Crash (the other film in the Canadian's oeuvre that comes closest to a masterpiece), but only the man who gave us, along with the aforementioned two films, Dead Ringers, The Fly, and the filmic version of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, could have put so much disturbing dread, so much perverse glee into the now-infamous psychoanalytical battle song of the mystical Jung and the Svengali-like Freud.  Cronenberg is one of those directors with the ability to arouse and disgust you simultaneously, and once again, like in Videodrome and Crash (to name just two), he does it here in this tale of psychological horror disguised as an analytical period piece.  The film is subtly dirty, and that's just how we want it.

Cronenberg has always had a rather perversely funny way about showing sexual encounters in his film (and again, we must look back at Crash as the prime example of such perversity), so a film about Freudian psychoanalysis and the particular case of Sabina Spielrein, a patient and eventually lover of Jung, and the catalyst (at least in this version of the story, based on Christopher Hampton's 2002 stage play, The Talking Cure, which in turn was based upon the 1993 novel A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr) of the break between Jung and his one-time mentor Freud, was ripe for the Cronenbergian touch.  When we watch as Keira Knightley's Sabina is belt-whipped by Michael Fassbender's Jung, and see the look of orgasmic power shooting from the actress's surprisingly nuanced face, Cronenberg has enraptured us inside his own web of sexual obsession - and that is just what a film such as this needs to have.

Most attuned to the director's Dead Ringers (sexual obsession, psychosis) and, of course Crash (socially perverse actions that are merely the workings of a person's natural sexuality), but more subtly maneuvered (an attribute that comes with age perhaps?), A Dangerous Method , which incidentally also stars an especially devilish Viggo Mortensen as Herr Freud (in his third collaboration with the director), is a film that may seem a bit awkward at first as the viewer is not sure which direction one is about to take, but ends as a bubbling cauldron of, for lack of a better or more encompassing term, chewy Cronenbergian goodness.  In sum, both unexpected territory for the director and typically lurid Cronenberg material - a fiery juxtaposition that creates such an atmosphere as to make this one of the master's best and most mature works.

A Dangerous Method will open in limited release on November 23, with a national roll-out later (in time for the Oscar campaigns I assume, of which Viggo Mortensen could be a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actor nomination).  I will have a full review of the film coming right around that planned release date.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: 1980's Flashback Double Feature - Footloose (and Fancy Free) & The Thing (From Another Movie)

There seem to be quite a few 1980's films getting remade lately.  Just a few months back, I did a post very similar to this one, linking to reviews of the remakes of Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night.  Now comes another duo of 80's flashbacks making the grade on the same opening day.  And again, just like the aforementioned double feature, we get one surprisingly well done remake and one not-so-surprisingly mediocre one.   This time it is The Thing that gets the short end of the stick.  Not a terrible movie, but merely a retooling of the 1982 Carpenter version, playing as if it is a prequel.  Too much of a copy - and a substantially lesser one at that - to be able to hold itself up on its own merits.  Then again, Craig Brewer's deep south retelling of the iconic 1984 film Footloose, plays it rather close to the original bone (from exactly duplicated dialogue to Ren's yellow bug and maroon tux jacket) but manages to give it enough of its own soul to somehow make it work surprisingly well.  My reviews of both films are now up and running over at that bastion of film criticism known as The Cinematheque.  My review of the Antarctic monster mess-up can be read HERE, while my review of the Dance Your Ass Off southern brew can be read right HERE.  Here are a couple of international posters for these two flashback films.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Paul Thomas Anderson Characters

Here we are again true believers, with what is my fifteenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature (as I am sure you have already ascertained by reading the title) takes a look at the characters (and their performers) inside Paul Thomas Anderson's cinematic universe.

Here is PTA's ode to Uncle Fester:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Anticipation of The Philadelphia Film Festival

This Thursday is the kick-off for the Twentieth Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, and yours truly plans on being there.  Well, okay, not opening day, but I will be attending several screenings, and I will be reporting back to you, my faithful readers and true believers, on all the films I see.  My tentative schedule include the films A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg), The Kid With the Bike (Dardenne Bros.), My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis), The Descendants (Payne), Sacrifice (Chen Kaige), Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh) & Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Love).  There may be a few others tossed in there as well.  Sadly though, due to scheduling, I will be unable to see the two most anticipated films (at least in this critic's heart and mind) of the festival.  The Artist, a silent ode that I had to skip at the NYFF as well, and Shame, with my mancrush Michael Fassbender, will go unseen by yours truly.  Alas...I must struggle on.

At last year's festival, due to scheduling conflicts, I was only able to catch two films - Blue Valentine and Black Swan (and back to back at that!).  It will take a lot to outdo that experience - a thing I do not expect to happen, even with the greater amount of films to be seen, and with the aforementioned Shame and The Artist out of reach.  Now some of the more anticipatory films screening at the festival I have already had the pleasure of seeing.  Five in total.  Four of these I got the chance to see at the New York Film Festival late last month.  The links to my festival coverage of these four films (full reviews of each coming upon theatrical release) can be found at the following links.

The fifth film I have already seen is now playing in NY and LA.  It is Joann Sfar's Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life.  My review of that film can be read here.

Well that is it for this short but sweet pregame show.  Throughout the next two weeks I will be posting pieces on each of the films that I see at the festival.  I will of course, be writing full reviews of the films once they get a little closer to their eventual release dates.  These too will be linked here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Though he is a legend and an icon, and rightfully so, in his native France, singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg is virtually unknown my the masses of this country.  It is a sad but true fact of reality.  Joann Sfar's new biopic (though biopic is far too pedestrian a word to describe the strange entity that is this film) will probably not fix this problem much, if any, due to its quite limited release.  But those who do get to see the film (and this critic recommends it quite highly) will more than likely dig it indeed - and in turn may actually begin to dig M. Gainsbourg as well.  Here's hopin'.  My review of said film is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.

Read my review of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life at The Cinematheque.

I think the below screenshot will give one an inkling of what one is in store for when one sits down to watch Gainsbourg: Vie héroïque.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Criterion Critiques w/ Alex DeLarge

What follows is part of a regular series of reviews on the always wonderful, and quite indispensable Criterion Collection, written by our special guest reviewer Alex DeLarge of the Korova Theatre.

ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier, 2009)
Released on Criterion Blu-ray 11/09/2010; Spine #542

“So the green field To oblivion falls,
Overgrown, flowering,
With incense and weeds
And the cruel noise
Of dirty flies.”
-A Season In Hell, Arthur Rimbaud

Man succumbs to the deviltry of his antithesis, his masculinity replaced by emotional impotency, both victim and abuser of Mother Nature. Lars von Trier’s season in hell exorcizes his own personal demons through the dark glassily; the nameless characters avatars of human conceit, both lost amid their own secret gardens.

The film begins in a monochrome snowfall, the couple making love while their son tumbles like spun clothes. Cut to color and a month later where the woman is hospitalized in a deep depression and her husband is revealed to be a psychologist, a man who seems cold like a hard rain and just as expressionless. He begins aversion therapy with his wife, discovering her atypical fear and confronting it, his relentless ego a brooding shadow upon her senses. She is inexplicably afraid of their summer cottage named Eden, where the previous summer she gave up working on her thesis about the Salem witch hunts. He forces her to confront each aspect of this wicked landscape and it soon subsumes her…and him.

Trier’s maddening narrative remains elusive in meaning and ripe in interpretation: is she suffering from the trauma of her lost son? Does she become possessed by some feminine malignancy represented by Nature? Cause and effect has been erased and reversed blurring the lines between external horror and internal conflict: in this storm only chaos reigns (rains). We begin to suspect that she has loathed her husband for some time, and had begun torturing their son the summer before. In a revisionist flashback, we see her cruel eyes focus upon their son moments before his fall from grace as if she could have saved him…but chose not to. Her passion has transformed into hatred, and sex becomes a violent weapon whose edge cuts both ways.

The lush cinematography imbues this world with a vibrant realism underscored by a damnable crescendo of entropy. The violence is brutal and anarchic, the comfortless man suffering the trials of 17th century women while his wife becomes tormentor. Their roles reversed, she is consumed by her masochistic behavior while his lament blossoms into a spiritual awakening: he is finally embraced by the ghosts of woman past, and becomes a daughter of the dust.

Final Grade: (B+)

To toss my own hat in the ring of this guest review, here is my take on Antichrist.


About Alex: "To state things plainly is the function of journalism; Alex writes fugitive reviews, allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and allegory, and by leaving things out, he allows the reader the privilege of creating along with him." Alex can be found hidden deep within the dark confines of his home theatre watching films, organizing his blu-ray and dvd collection and updating his blogs. Please visit the Korova Theatre and Hammer & Thongs to see what’s on his mind.

The Cinematheque Reviews: The Ides of March

A political thriller for today's jaded public.  Director/actor George Clooney said he made his presidential candidate - a charismatic yet flawed candidate - a Democrat because he did not want to seem like he was just playing typical politics.  The film - typical politics or not - is a bit on the pedestrian side, but the acting, from Gosling to Hoffman to Giamatti to Tomei to Clooney himself, is quite, as they are prone to say, spectacular.  I am sure there are a few Oscar nods in the film's somewhat near future too (besides acting, there is also probably one in store for composer Alexandre Desplat as well), but that is another tale for another day.  Whatever the case for Oscars may be - or for politics for that matter - my review of The Ides of March is up and running over at The Cinematheque.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #650 Thru #659

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These ten films were seen between Sept. 27 and Oct. 8.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#650 - All That Heaven Allows (1955)
(#287 on TSPDT) This Douglas Sirk directed masterpiece is one of the most deliriously succulent films I have ever seen.  A melodrama of the highest melodramatic caliber indeed, but more than mere melodrama.  More even than mere Sirkian melodrama.  The film looks and feels as if it is a painting - but even more than that.  Sirk's view in this film, about a wealthy widow and mother of two, and her dalliance with the local gardener, and how this effects so many people in such a seemingly negative way, is that of an all-exclusive, insular world where no outsider dare pry.  It is almost as if, and this surely sounds corny, all the action - all the Sirkian melodrama - takes place inside a very complicated and convoluted snow globe.  I have not seen either Written on the Wind or Imitation of Life yet, but at this date, this is my favourite Sirk - and I am falling deeper and deeper in love with Mr. Sirk's cinema with each passing film.

#651 - Zorn's Lemma (1970)
(#946 on TSPDT)  Blah blah blah.  Egad, how I loathe most experimental cinema.  Brakhage, Anger, Deren, even Jacobs on occasion.  I can take Kubelka and Snow, but that is about it.  All I see in experimental cinema is a bunch of blips and bloops and bleeps.  I don't think it is an artistic sensibility, because I quite enjoy experimental art, and the creative blips, bloops and bleeps of people such as Picasso, Kandinsky and Rothko (three of my favourite artists!).  When it comes to this same approach in cinema though - ooooh boy.  Which brings us to Hollis Frampton's Zorn's Lemma - basically 56 minutes or so of shots of letters in signs (road signs, store signs, graffiti signs, and so on and so on) all placed alphabetically.  Seriously!?  I could do the same damn thing with my own camera.  What the fuck is the big deal!?  Give me art dammit, not repetition.

#652 - Queen Kelly (1929)
(#862 on TSPDT) Erich von Stroheim.  Some have called him a mad genius of cinema.  Others have called him a pretentious fraud.  Still others have called him a money-wasting bastard.  That last group consists only of those studios foolish enough to deal with such a mad genius of cinema.  His films have been famously truncated and/or destroyed by angry producers who wouldn't know good cinema if it bit them on the fucking foot, as they say.  Queen Kelly may not be one of von Stroheim's masterpieces (it never reaches the levels of Greed, even in the eventual brutalized cut made behind von Stroheim's back) but it surely shows what such a great and artistic talent can accomplish at the end of the silent era.  I suppose even lesser von Stroheim is better than...well, you know how it goes.

#653 - The Man in the White Suit (1951)
(#859 on TSPDT)  Quirky and whimsical, but with the most debonair English politeness, this typical Alec Guinness vehicle is very very droll, and ever so reserved (as the Brits, and much of their cinema is, the gorgeousness of Powell/Pressburger aside of course), while at the same time being ever so irreverent (another quality of British cinema, this time P&P very much included).  Perhaps not as deep and dark and sinister as something by Joseph Losey or Carol Reed even, but Alexander Mackendrick, who incidentally made one of my all-time favourite films, The Sweet Smell of Success, does give the film the bit of an oomph it needs to jump out in front of typical British cinema (The Archers not included).  The best part though is Sir Alec (before becoming the regal knight we all know today) playing something, or someone, somewhere in between Charlie Chaplin and Maxwell Smart.

#654 - An Affair to Remember (1957)
(#463 on TSPDT) Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, in a film that is considered to be one of the most romantic films ever made.  I probably wouldn't go quite that far, but the movie is good - up to a point.  The chemistry between Grant and Kerr is actually quite fantastic, and the first act of the film, when they are together aboard the cruise ship, plays out almost as if it were a screwball comedy (director Leo McCarey did have some experience in said genre), but the picture gets a bit tired once they are apart and pining for each other.  A remake of McCarey's own Love Affair from 1939 (an almost duplicate copy in most respects, sans Grant and Kerr), An Affair to Remember is a good enough picture, but even this old sentimentalist thought it a bit on the melodramatic side - and this is coming from a noted lover of Melodrama.  But at least it isn't Sleepless in Seattle - and that certainly is something.

#655 - Nosferatu (1922)
(#103 on TSPDT) Some say this is the scariest vampire movie ever made.  I don't know if I would go quite that far - Dreyer's Vampyr is much creepier - but it is one of the most artistic ones.  Then again, what more would one expect from the camera of F.W. Murnau.  There are great stories about the making of the film (watch Shadow of the Vampire) and granted, they are probably quite apocryphal, but they do make the film more interesting to watch.  Did mad Max Schreck really think he was a vampire or was he just playing mind games?  Did Murnau believe it or was he too playing head games?  Was Schreck batshitcrazy?  Was he an actual vampire!?  Who knows.  What we do know for sure is that he plays a damn fine vampire, a la Count Orlock, on screen.  I have yet to watch the Herzog remake (which is not on the list), but that will come soon.  As for the Murnau original, perhaps not the scariest, or even the moodiest (again, Dreyer's Vampyr), but still quite an expressionistic tale indeed.

#656 - Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
(#976 on TSPDT) I must admit - I love me a good melodrama.  I don't care how unmanly that may sound - it is true.  Just look at my drooling over the Sirkian melodrama that starts this section of the list off.  Directed by John M. Stahl (speaking of Sirk, he would go on to remake not one, but two Stahl melodramas - though not this one, so I parenthetically digress), the film stars Gene Tierney as a conniving, backstabbing, murdering whack job - but a whack job with the sexiest overbite you ever will see.  Quite cheesy at times, and way over the top (but delightfully so!), and leading man Cornell Wilde couldn't, as they say, act his way out of a wet paper bag (do they actually say that?), but for Tierney's performance alone - and for the evil inside of her pretty little body (do not go swimming with this girl!) - it is well worth the watch.  I do love me a good melodrama.

#657 - Cul-de-Sac (1966)
(#888 on TSPDT) Polanski's third film, and his first in the UK, is a tale of gangsters, guns and gender roles.  Starring Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac (the tragic older sister of Catherine Deneauve) as a young couple who are taken hostage by gangster Lionel Stander, Polanski's psychosexual thriller is a riot in its strangely inappropriate dark humour.   Oh yeah, that's right, it's Polanski.   A fun romp that plays with the ideas of repressed sexuality (as he did the year before in Repulsion) but instead of taking it to the dark extremes he did in the parenthetically aforementioned Repulsion, he goes all out hilarious.  Okay, perhaps I am among the minority by thinking this (many would say dark and even disturbing) film is a laugh riot - but I cannot help it.   Dorléac is drop dead sexy, but in an impish kind of way, Stander is gruff and almost a parody of the gangster role and Pleasence, surprisingly lean and lithesome in the role, is somewhere between a rabid jackrabbit and a frightened door mouse.  Perhaps not Polanski's finest work, but surely his most fun.

#658 - The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
(#288 on TSPDT) Appropriately big-shouldered and very bare knuckles, very John Huston, Asphalt Jungle is a fun film noirish like heist movie - and it has Sterling Hayden too.  Ha!  What more could a guy ask for?  I tend to be a bit cool to Huston's films - having never disliked one, but having never loved one either - and I would say this doesn't change that status at all.  Probably my favourite Huston actually (I am pretty cold on The Maltese Falcon - not even in my top ten film noirs) and adding Sterling Hayden to the boiling pot just makes it all seem even better.  Hey, we also get a young Marilyn Monroe in a relatively bitty role - about two or three years before anyone really knew who she was.  I also quite enjoyed Jean Hagen in her role as a down-and-out dame in love with Hayden's big lunk.  I know her only from her Singin' in the Rain role, and this was a surprising change (even though this film and role came first).

#659 - Lessons in Darkness (1992)
(#910 on TSPDT)  I must preface this entry with the fact that I really don't like Werner Herzog all that much.  This one wasn't all that bad though - even if I did begin to wander off midway through.  Trapped somewhere in between some Dystopian diatribe and an avant-garde edition of Dirty Jobs, this rather brief (just 50 minutes) pseudo-doc, performance piece look at the Gulf War certainly has its moments (Herzog's penchant for the melodramatic actually works well here as he narrates over a landscape that is all-too real while simultaneously seeming as alien as can be) but drags too often, even at its mere 50 minutes, to go above and beyond the typical latter-day Herzog. Then again, as far as Herzog goes (I do quite like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Cobra Verde - I've yet to see The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and Fitzcarraldo) I suppose this is pretty well done - even with the moments I wandered off.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Italian Horror Blogathon Returns

It's October - time for some scary-ass shit.  While I will be catching up on the unseen Horror end portion of My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films (Carrie, Nosferatu, Eyes Without A Face, Rosemary's Baby, Halloween, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir - okay, that last one may be pushing it) the fine folks over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies (aka, film critic Kevin J. Olson) are hosting the Second Annual Italian Horror Blogathon, from Oct 26 to 31.  From Bava to Fulci to Argento, and everyone inbetween.  As Mr. Olson says in his introductory post, "Anything from Giallo to Zombies to bad knock-offs of more popular movies to really bad Exploitation long as it's horror and from Italy, it meets the criteria for this blog-a-thon."  One can read and hear all about this blogathon by heading on over to Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies.  I will probably not be joining in myself (due to time constraints), but still wanted to get the word out there for those who care.   Please enjoy the quite bothersome banner below (with my queasiness toward certain aspects of the body - I can't even watch a person put contacts in their eyes - imagine how I feel about this).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Train Movies

Here we are again true believers, with what is my fourteenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature (as I am sure you have already ascertained by reading the title) takes a look at the way trains have been a large part of cinematic history - or at least those ten that I deem to be the greatest of such a genre.

Read my feature article, "10 Best Train Movies" at Anomalous Material.

The 1903 film from which the below shot is taken, did not make the final cut, but since it did help start the whole damn shabang and all that, I thought I would include it - tinted for your pleasure.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh What, Oh What Will Be The Best of 2011.....

It is nearly the middle of October and therefore edging closer and closer to the end of the year.  This of course means it is edging closer and closer to that time when all we film critics go about that annual duty of naming the best films of the previous year.  Some of my fellow critical compatriots call this ritual a chore (and some of them are not just saying that to sound like the cool kid on the block - they actually mean it) but I quite look forward to it each and every year.   I have been making these lists ever since I could first watch movies.  First personally (scribbled about in multitudes of notebooks) and later publicly (ever since I "went live" with my website back in 2004) - so why should I change now.  Chore?  Hell no!

Of course we still have two and a half months worth of filmwatching to go before any semblance of a list can be concocted - and of course I have yet to see many of the films which may make such a list.  But there are some films, already released, that are sure to make the list.  Below are these films, but necessarily in the order they will eventually fall in my eventual Best of 2011 list.

Sure bets (in no particular order):
The Tree of Life
Super 8

Possibilities (also in no particular order):
Midnight in Paris
Uncle Boonmee
Certified Copy
The Arbor
Meek's Cutoff
Source Code

Likely Runners-Up (once again, in no particular order):
Drive Angry
Le Havre
Horrible Bosses
We Are What We Are
Cedar Rapids
Troll Hunter
The Ward
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Hobo With a Shotgun
The Guard
The Future
X-Men: First Class

Now, as I said above, there are still quite a few films yet to see.  Films that could, or could not, sneak into that "possibilities" section, or even perhaps that "sure bets" category - at least the "runners-up" section.  The most likely of these upcoming films are below - and once again, are in no particular order of likability or anticipation.

A Dangerous Method
The Skin I Live In
Red State
The Artist
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Rum Diary
The Thing
Sleeping Beauty
My Week With Marilyn
The Descendants
The Muppets (yeah, I said it!)
A Separation
Young Adult
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Texas Killing Fields
Goodbye First Love
Take Shelter
We Bought A Zoo
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Ides of March (no, I have not seen it yet!)

Well, that's it for now.  I am sure some of these films will fail to excite me as much as I hope, but some of them are bound to be in that eventual year end Best of list.  Said list should be coming right around New Year's Day, right here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Some Random Thoughts On Carole Lombard

Thursday, October 6, 2011 marks the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Jane Alice Peters of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Sadly, this great screwball beauty, who we have come to know and love as Carole Lombard, never made it past her 33rd birthday, having died in a plane crash on the way back from a war bond rally in 1942.  In the 1930's this petite actress (she was 5' 2") would become known as the queen of the screwball comedy, and though her career was truncated as it were, the films she did leave behind all share that rare mark of an actress with both pinpoint comic timing and stunning beauty.  Graham Greene praised the "heartbreaking and nostalgic melodies" of her faster-than-thought delivery. "Platinum blonde, with a heart-shaped face, delicate, impish features and a figure made to be swathed in silver lamé, she wriggled expressively through such classics of hysteria as Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey."

The fine folks over at Carole & Co. are hosting a blogathon in honour of Ms. Lombard's (or Mrs. Lombard Gable's as her epitaph reads) birthday.  Said blogathon has the wonderful title of Carole-tennial(+3).   In lieu of a review of one of Lombard's films or an overview of her career, as I have done in many a past blogathon piece, I have chosen to create a potpourri-like post, filled with random trivia, thoughts, quotes, photos and anecdotes on the sublime comedienne.  And of course, as anyone who knows me will not be surprised by, a Best of list will be tossed in there as well.  So without further ado...

  • Carole was the second cousin of directing legend Howard Hawks, who said of the lady, "Marvelous girl.  Crazy as a bedbug." 

  • After her death, a WWI Liberty ship was named in the actress's honour.  

  • On January 18, 1942, Jack Benny did not perform his usual program, both out of respect for  his dear friend Lombard and grief at her death.   Instead, he devoted his program to an all-music format.

An interesting quote from the very patriotic Ms. Lombard goes a little something like this: "I enjoy this country. I like the parks and the highways and the good schools and everything that this government does. After all, every cent anybody pays in taxes is spent to benefit him. I don't need $465,000 a year for myself, so why not give what I don't need to the government for improvements of the country. There's no better place to spend it."  Ah, what a simpler time it must have been.

One of my favourite Carole Lombard anecdotes is this one:  Around the time the actress's relationship with stud Clark Gable was beginning (1936ish), Carole had just read the book "Gone With the Wind" (a new release best seller at the time).   Loving it, she sent a copy of the book to Gable, with a note attached reading "Let's do it!".   Gable, of course, assumed the young actress was making a sexual advance to him, and quickly called Carole to organize a date for said mistaken rendezvous. When he found out Carole wanted to make a film of the book, with him as Rhett Butler and herself as Scarlett, he flat-out refused (probably cheekily so, considering he was in the mood for other things at the time).  Gable would thereafter keep the copy of the book she had given him in his bathroom (out of spite or shame, who knows).  We all know how the story ends - Lombard being one of thousands of actresses turned down for the so coveted part.

  • Carole Lombard had a little dachshund named Commissioner that ignored hubby Clark Gable completely.   After her death in 1942, the dog would not leave Gable's side.

  • Her good looks combined with her abundant use of profanity (Lombard had a sailor's mouth and a siren's face and body) made many dub her the "Profane Angel."

  • Lombard's favourite movie, of those she made, is 1937's Nothing Sacred, directed by William A. Wellman and co-starring Fredric March.

Another quote from the lovely and acerbic actress on the subject of marriage (a thing she did twice):  "I think marriage is dangerous. The idea of two people trying to possess each other is wrong. I don't think the flare of love lasts. Your mind rather than your emotions must answer for the success of matrimony. It must be friendship -- a calm companionship which can last through the years."

I remember the first time I saw Carole Lombard.  It was in the 1934 screwball comedy Twentieth Century.  The reason I watched the film had nothing to do with Ms. Lombard though.  It was shortly after seeing both Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday for the first time (the latter of which, Lombard had turned down the role that would then go to Rosalind Russell) and the beginnings of my obsession with all things Howard Hawks.  Considered the vanguard of the screwball genre, the film is an appropriately fast-talking, witty and quite hip comedy, full of lying, backstabbing and general bad behaviour.  Much of this bad behaviour comes courtesy of the man known as "The Profile", the great bard John Barrymore.   The aforementioned wit comes from Carole Lombard, as she more than holds her own against the great actor of stage and screen (playing an aging alcoholic egomaniac - basically himself), but bests him quip for quip and lunge for lunge.

As far as Lombard's romantic life goes (which you can guess at from the quote above) she had two very notable relationships.  The first was with William Powell.  The two were married in 1931 and divorced just two years later, but would remain close friends for the rest of the actress's life.   Powell and Lombard would actually go on to star in a film together a year after their divorce.  My Man Godfrey was a big hit and would garner Carole her one and only Academy Award nomination (she would lose, wrongly if you ask me, to Luise Rainer for The Great Zeiegfeld).  The big love of her life though, was Clark Gable.  On March 29, 1939, during a break in production on Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard would drive to Kingman, Arizona and get married in a quiet ceremony with only Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler, in attendance. They bought a ranch, previously owned by director Raoul Walsh, in Encino, California and lived a happy, unpretentious life, calling each other "Ma" and "Pa" and raising chickens and horses.  Even though Gable would eventually remarry, he is interred next to his great love in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

My 5 Favourite Carole Lombard Performances:

1. Maria Tura in To Be or Not To Be - Lombard's final film (she sadly never saw its release), is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing story of a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their acting abilities to fool the occupying troops and hide their Jewish compatriots.  Starring with Jack Benny (with whom, like the aforementioned Mr. Barrymore, the actress was able to go toe to toe), Lombard was at her comic peak in this film.   A fitting comic finale to a still budding Hollywood career.

2. Irene Bullock in My Man Godfrey - Made with her ex-husband, William Powell, this hilarious screwball comedy is about a somewhat snarky socialite who hires a homeless man (Powell) to be her family's butler, only to find herself falling in love with him. 

3. Lily Garland in Twentieth Century - Playing naive Mildred Plotka, who changes her name when she becomes a star of the stage, and going head-to-head with John Barrymore's ego-maniacal Broadway producer,  Lombard is both sweet and tangy in this role that rolls down the tracks with the titular locomotive.

4. Hazel Flagg in Nothing Sacred - Playing a worrisome young woman who is mistakenly thought to have a fatal disease, Lombard's naive Miss Flagg is swept away to New York City by newspaperman Fredric March, and becomes the rather reluctant toast of the town.

5. Ann Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (the Master of Suspense's only pure comedy in the U.S.), Lombard co-stars with Robert Montgomery as a bickering, but not-so-secretly happy married couple who find out that due to a clerical error, are not legally married.  Another fun, fast-talking screwball from Lombard.

Lombard gave many more fine performances than just these five of course.  They include her roles in such films of varying degrees of quality (the film's qualities, not the performances) as Hands Across the Table, No Man of Her Own, Lady by Choice, Swing High Swing Low & The Gay Bride.   The great comic actress would try her hand at dramatic roles as well, but these were merely mediocre vehicles, and they did not go over well with a public that wanted to see her being funny instead.

To say something along the lines of how great a loss it was when Lombard's plane went down, is of course merely just stating the quite obvious, but it is a great loss nonetheless.  Just 33 years old, and even though she had been acting for twenty years at this point (Lombard's tomboy upbringing got her cast at the age of twelve, after Allan Dwan saw her playing baseball) the actress was just getting started on a career that was sure to go much further than what it already had.   With a salary that made the President's seem piddly in comparison (as is still the case in today's world of Hollywood stardom), Lombard was at the height of stardom when she died.  Since then, it is her legend of comedy that has lived on and on.  Even friend Lucille Ball claims to have been visited by Lombard's ghost, who supposedly talked Ball into taking a chance on a little show called I Love Lucy.  I will now leave you with a lovely image from Ms. Lombard's personal favourite.