Saturday, February 23, 2013
Here’s how good this movie is. I cared about fighting. I cared about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), specifically. And I cared a lot.
Did you see this movie? Probably not, and here’s why. It was out either at the exact same time as, or directly following, The Fighter, the bigger-budget, Mark Wahlberg-backed-and-starring film about boxing, and one film on a subject is all anybody can handle, am I right, Academy? That said, I didn’t see either one when they were out, so who the hell am I to talk?
The story here sounds simple at first, like one we’ve all heard before; mean drunk of a father (Nick Nolte in fine grizzled form) drives both his sons away from him and then one of them pops back up and then everyone’s reconnected. Not so fast. This story has layers, and we don’t stop peeling them back until the whole thing’s over. The short version is the brothers, Tommy Reardon (Tom Hardy) and Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) went in opposite directions, both away from Pop. Brendan’s a family man, a fighter-turned high school physics teachers strapped for cash, looking for any way he can find to stop the bank from taking his house. Tommy…just pops back up one day at his father’s house in the working class end of Philly. He’s a mess, a pillhead, and looks like he’s lived a thousand lives, but his story takes a while to become clear. He asks his father to coach him again, train him for fights, like when he was younger. But make no mistake, he tells Pop, this doesn’t mean anything for the relationship. That’s still over.
Sparta is the name of the Grand Prix style MMA showdown that is the centerpiece of the film. Both brothers make it in, as should be clear. They fight each other in the final round. If you couldn’t deduce that yourself, maybe don’t watch this movie. Also, it was in the previews, so I haven’t spoiled anything.
The full final hour, I would say, is in the cage in Atlantic City. That is a lot of time for a movie to spend on cage fighting, and it’s a ballsy move by director Gavin O’Connor that absolutely pays off. These two brothers could not be more different in their fighting styles. Brendan is graceful and composed, having been trained to the music of Beethoven to keep him grounded. Tommy is a freight train shot of a cannon, full of years of stored anger, all released into one colossal right hook. The final fight, brother against brother, is a fight that has been waiting to happen for 20 years or so, and nothing is held back. It’s heartbreaking, which is not a word I thought I’d be associating with MMA ever.
There’s so much more to say about this movie, but I can’t think of ways to do that without spilling various beans about backstory. I’m happy that Edgerton and Hardy are each making a name for themselves in this country. Edgerton, an Aussie, is in Zero Dark Thirty, and if you haven’t seen his turn as a shy shoe company heir who overhauls the business to make boots for drag queens in Kinky Boots, get thee to Netflix. Tom Hardy you probably know as the handsome Brit with the big gun in Inception. However, if you find a little film called Bronson and you can stomach things like serial killers who beat people to death, you should get to know him in that, too. There is a lot of Bronson in Tommy Reardon, and it’s terrifying. Call your family and tell them you love them.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
If Skyfall had a drinking game, and the rules were to drink whenever you see Daniel Craig’s lovely barrel chest, you would be under the table shortly after the opening credits. Of course, then you’d have still caught the theme song and the opening scene, with its diving under tunnels and zooming along rooftops on motorcycles and a whole ton of fruit flying through the air. What I’m trying to say is, this movie is a lot of fun. It’s a joy just to be able to write that, since the last one was such a mind-numbing wreck. But we’ve got Sam Mendes flying the plane now, and he knows what’s up. \
Craig has only been Bond for six years. Doesn’t it feel like longer? He still walks with his legs as far apart as he can get them without making us chuckle, and I’m pretty sure that his suits have gotten progressively tighter. I’ll take it. Each time I watch a Bond movie, I’m surprised by how little screen time the Bond Girls actually get. They get all sorts of silly names, and they’re generally beyond the call of duty attractive, but you better not take a bathroom break, because you just missed her scene. You shouldn’t be taking bathroom breaks during movies anyway. Anyhow, one of the Girls here is the lovely Naomie Harris, who, to me, will always be the girl from 28 Days Later, hacking her friend to death. She doesn’t do that here. Here she’s lithe and graceful, with an interest in straight razors and flutes of champagne. The other BG is played by Bérénice Lim Marlohe, who(m?) I’m fairly certain is from another planet. Her face is...out of control. Anyway, she’s in maybe three scenes, all of which are much appreciated.
Let’s talk villains. Bond movie villains are always completely over the top, and this one does not disappoint. Javier Bardem has a knack for playing whackadoos with terrible hair. Now he gets to play one with the added bonus of feeling up Daniel Craig. The two guys have a more sexually charged scene than Bond gets with either of the girls, so if that rings your chimes, get thee to a theater. Remember, though, Bardem has REALLY bad hair. And his weird mommy issues means he wants to hurt M, so, no thanks, bro, back away from Dame Judi.
Ralph (RAFE) Fiennes shows up as the new MI6 boss, and it’s nice to see him with a nose. Voldemort joke! And we get Ben Wishaw, all 90 pounds of him, as an extremely young Q with his head firmly up his own ass.
What? The plot? OK, there’s a list of names of MI6 agents and it’s going to be released to the public, which is really unfortunate, so Bond has to get it back from the bad guy with the really bad hair. And he gets a back story. James Bond was a kid once. I’ve never considered that as a possibility, and you’re lying if you say that you have.
Here’s the deal: it’s big, it’s loud, there are guns guns guns guns guns and trains and cars cars cars and gadgets and Shanghai and Turkey and PG13 sexytime and Daniel Craig and pretty girls and good reasons not to swallow cyanide. And of course, an Adele song to get stuck in your head for DAYS. Like I said, fun. Do it.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
On its surface, Last Night, which is written and directed by Massy Tadjedin, is a film about a couple who might cheat on each other. At its core, though, it’s about trust, faith, sense of self, and love. Most importantly, it questions whether love trumps the other themes.
The plot is simple. Sam Worthington and Keira Knightley play Michael and Joanna, a New York couple who married young. Eva Mendes plays Laura, Michael’s co-worker, and Guillaume Canet is Alex, Joanna’s ex. Michael and Laura go to Philly on a business trip. The same day, Joanna bumps into Alex. The rest is conversation and choices.
I think that everyone has had the experience of being attracted to, or having a deep connection with, someone they’re “not supposed to,” and it’s easy for many people to write off even the idea of cheating as evil. The fact is, though, life is complicated and messy, and if everything, especially love and lust and connection, were that simple to fathom, there would be far fewer divorces and the psychiatry industry would go bust. Is it possible to be in love with more than one person at a time? I bet it is, but I bet it hurts like hell, and that’s not something this movie shies away from. Is cheating always about being unhappy in your relationship? Nope. Sorry, haters.
Keira Knightley gets a lot of flack from a lot of people, and I cannot figure out why. She’s got a big jaw, yeah. Maybe she’s a pain in the ass to work with, and that’s a shame, but let me tell you, girl gets it done. Guillaume Canet, besides being ridiculously handsome and JESUS CHRIST that accent, does a pretty stunning job here. He could wear a surgical mask and speak nonsense words and we’d know exactly what was going on just by his eyes. The Joanna/Alex storyline is more engaging than the Michael/Laura one, partly just because of the dialogue, but mostly because they are out-acted. Michael and Laura don’t have the history of the other two, so their story is more in-your-face, fireworks, right now right now right now, while Joanna and Alex are a slow-burning flame.
What made me have a panic attack? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe I recognized myself. Maybe I recognized other people. Maybe I recognized some of the dialogue, or the situations, or some other thing that I have not come to grips with. Or maybe I was just having a bad night. In any case, I’m glad that I finished the movie, since it was great and it made me want to write. And these days, that’s all I can ask for .
Thursday, September 20, 2012
The large penis in question is attached to one of the greatest Irish imports since Jameson, and I cannot find a non-sexually-explicit way to compare the two. This appendage is the cause of the NC-17 rating this film received, since everyone knows penises are scary and unacceptable for younger viewers, but vulvas and explosions and knife-rape (hi, L&O:SVU) are totally fine. That was a joke.
Fassbender, to me, will always sort of be the warlock he played on Hex, a good and dark, if silly, British TV program. But here, he is Brandon, a very human man with a very real addiction to sex. Everyone who laughed at David Duchovny last year and called him just a cheating scumbag, look out. Sex addiction is real, it’s gross, and it’s destructive. I’m not talking about the potential for disease, as, frankly, that’s pretty low on the list in terms of the ways it can ruin your life. The director, amazingly named Steve McQueen (opposite in every way from the action hero), shows us in great detail how sex addiction lays waste to Brandon’s life. It gets him knocked out, unable to perform when he actually cares for someone, his computer at work taken in for repair due to all the porn he’s put on it, and with an almost complete lack of actual friends, save for his dickhead boss.
The thing that Brandon has going for him is that he’s handsome. Very handsome. And very charming. With a soft Irish brogue. So, in several instances, he is handed what he wants (needs, really) without having to ask. What he certainly doesn’t ask for is his younger sister Sissy, an emotional time bomb and human tornado, to turn up in his apartment without asking first. But that is exactly what he gets, in the form of Carey Mulligan, who is terrific in a very grown-up role. Sissy and Brandon have what can loosely be termed a strange relationship. Not a sexual one, really, but an overly close and at the same time, completely separated one. They see each other naked, hear each other having sex, but can barely be in the same room together without tearing each other apart. They are both terribly unhappy people, as is made clear in a heart-wrenching scene where Sissy, in a beautiful Marilyn-style gown, sings a slowed-down, tear-inducing (in Brandon) version of New York, New York.
Two unhappy people living together is good for no one, and the weight of the siblings’ unhappiness is heavy on them both. They both clearly need help, but are each too self-centered to notice the other’s pain. Brandon has a day job that pays him loads of money, enough to live in a sterile white penthouse apartment in Chelsea, order high-class hookers like pizza, and book pricy hotel rooms in the middle of the day. He cannot, however, purchase love, as you may have heard. Sex is his form of communication. Try to have a conversation with the man and you’re out of luck. He’d rather go home to his gadgets that all bring him closer to women he doesn’t know who will do what he asks as long as they get paid. This is a movie about a man. There is sex aplenty here, of all sorts and not lacking in detail. There are boobs and butts and various crotch areas all over the place. All that said, though, this is one of the least sexy movies I have ever seen, and that is on purpose. See it for the acting. See it for the script and the directing. See it for the views of NYC. Do not see it to get off.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Over the July 4th long weekend, the SyFy network (they changed it from SciFi to give it more cache with the young people…no) had the good graces to air a 48-hour-long Twilight Zone marathon. I had no plans for that weekend, so imagine my glee at the realization that I could indeed sit in my pjs in various rooms of the house, watching episode after creepy episode, taking breaks for food. Also, I had the ability to DVR the episodes that would air when I was asleep. Amazing.
I had seen most of the episodes before, but more than a couple of them rang a little too true to present time. Some things, they say, never change. Many episodes of TZ deal with mob mentality, created by members of a community turning on each other based on their fear of the unknown. Generally, it was due to the threat of nuclear war (only one small bomb shelter in a neighborhood) or of hostile visitors from outer space (your neighbor has been acting strangely, so surely must be working with the invaders). It was a crazed marriage of McCarthyism and Cold War mania. Were we to make new episodes, the same mob mentality would be present, I’m sure, but would be provoked by the threat of terrorism.
Then there are the inanimate objects that control the world stories. Talking Tina, who will put children off dolls forever is probably the most terrifying. But of course there is the camera that shows you the future, and the ring that saves a small town. Or the “tiny versions of people” stories, occasionally flipped into “giant versions of people.” And the dead people who don’t understand that they’re dead, and so on. And let me tell you, most of these are truly frightening.
One of the joys, to me at least, of watching The Twilight Zone, is getting to play the “hey, that’s (blank), from (TV show, movie, etc.)! What are they doing here???” Elizabeth Montgomery, of adorably-nosed Bewitched fame, is here playing a soldier (!) opposite a mightily young Charles Bronson. And Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird is around, disappearing into a better world beneath her swimming pool. The most fun sighting, of course, has to be the outrageously handsome young William Shatner, both when he spies “something on the wing!” and when he is learning his future from a napkin dispenser. The list is long.
Rod Serling, the creator, writer, and narrator, was a pioneer in the industry. He dared to tackle subjects that had been largely untouched by the mainstream media. Racism, deformity, paranoia, war flashbacks, and religious cults all made it into the Twilight Zone. He was also able to take some of the greatest fears of humans and turn them into a “what if” teleplay. What if you walked up the stairs to your apartment to find someone else’s name on the door? What if you were the only person alive in the world? What if you woke up in the wrong year, the wrong decade? He plugged into all of those and created sheer terror for 22 minutes.
One of Serling’s ballsier moves was writing an episode called “Death’s Head Revisited.” It is an episode that I had not seen previously, and watched almost entirely with my jaw on the floor, and with a boulder in my stomach. It was aired first in 1961, not 20 years after WWII, and deals with a former SS officer who has come to visit Dachau, where he “worked,” to admire his old surroundings. He is greeted by ghosts of his victims. To say more would be giving away too much, but I will let you know that I really felt a little ill watching it.
Every once in a while, though, Serling gives us a break and hands us a little love story. The point of the Twilight Zone is that something can be just a little bit unfamiliar, but that tiny change envelops the whole world. For example, there is the author who is having an affair…with a character from a play he wrote who came to life. Or the meek bank teller (Dick York from Bewitched) who can hear people’s thoughts and turns that ability into a first date with a cute girl. So it’s not all horror and nightmares.
So I spent an absurd number of hours making myself afraid over the course of a few days. But I have just checked, and indeed, the entirety of The Twilight Zone: The Original Series, is on Netflix Instant. So do yourself a favor and take it all
in. But feel free to take your time.
**A small but imnportant note: a few of the episodes in season 2 were shot on video, as opposed to film, for monetary purposes, but it was decided, rightly so, that it looked terrible. Just an FYI, if you're watching an episode and think it looks like a crappy daytime soap opera...it's because it does. Sadly, there are six whole episodes like this, and it's really a bummer. Totally ruins the experience. But they are very obviously different, so just skip 'em. They are not, however, consecutive. Eesh.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Woody Allen is back, guys. In a big way. This is the days of yore Allen, winking and magical. The instant his familiar opening credits rolled, jazz playing, white lettering on a black screen, I was smiling and settling into my seat. I was ready for Paris from the man who shows that cities can be just as gorgeous as the leading lady, if not more. The last time I recall Allen putting Paris in his movies was with Everyone Says I Love You, his whimsical musical from 1996, almost a generation ago. It was a beautiful setting then, but here it becomes a character in its own right. The whole opening sequence is lingering shots of Paris, in sunlight, in rain, at night, and you (I, at least) cannot help but be seized by the desire to jump into the screen and eat baguettes alongside beautiful people.
The story here is of an American screenwriter/hopeful novelist, Gil, played brilliantly by Owen Wilson. I know, not exactly the actor that springs to mind when looking for a Woody Allen-esque character. But he dives in headfirst, and is all nerves and excitement, awkward and charming. Gil is engaged to Inez, played by the lovely Rachel McAdams (Rachel McHottie, if you will), whose father has business in Paris, which is why everyone’s there. Inez, though very pretty, is essentially an irritating shrew, and it is unclear why Gil is with her at all. But that is easily glossed over, as this is not her movie.
Gil finds that rather than spending any amount of time with Inez and her toxic friend Paul (Michael Sheen, gloriously pompous, arguing with Carla Bruni playing a museum guide), he’d like to walk around the city and learn it for himself.
Here’s where the magic comes in. When the clock strikes midnight, a car pulls up, picks up Gil, and takes him to a party. At this party, he is accosted by Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), who introduces him to her husband, Scott. Gil is, understandably, gobsmacked, and no less so when he recognizes the man at the piano as Cole Porter. But he goes along with it, as any self-respecting artist would. Best of all, he meets his idol, a Mr. Ernest Hemingway, played perfectly and at full speed by Corey Stoll of the dreadful Law and Order LA.
So it goes that every night in Paris, Gil is transported to Paris in the 1920’s, which to him has always seemed a magical time. There is, naturally, a love interest who is not his overbearing fiancée. Happily, the woman in question is played by Marion Cotillard, outrageously beautiful and sweet. When we first meet her, she is Picasso’s mistress, and Gil has his first meeting with her after agreeing to bring his novel to Gertrude Stein for her to look over. Insanity! What better, more hilarious casting could there be than Kathy Bates as Gertude Stein???? I challenge you, Dear Reader, to beat that. Well, maybe Adrien Brody as Dali. YES.
Thankfully, we are allowed to simply bask in the beauty of the movie, as the “how” of the time-travel is never explained. Why should it be? Inez remains a mystery to me, though I suppose it is funny enough to have her wonder why her fiancé is applying cologne, if all he is planning to do is walk around and write. Never mind, though. Just see the film.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Tonight, I cried over spilled milk. Thrown milk, really. And after that milk was splashed across the floor, I didn’t stop crying until I was standing on line for the bathroom.
Allow me to present a scenario to you: There is a play on Broadway. It is about the founding of GMHC and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in America. When presented with this scenario, I, in my infinite wisdom, decided that I should probably go to this play by myself. As in, not in the company of anybody that I call friends or family. Here’s why that was incredibly faulty logic: there was no one to peel me from my seat at the end and no one to carry my limp, broken, cried-out body home.
The Normal Heart, originally produced in 1985 at the Public Theater in New York City, is the story of Ned Weeks (based largely on Larry Kramer, the playwright), a gay man in NYC who wants someone to pay attention to the fact that all of his friends are dying. He wants the Times to write about it, he wants the mayor (Koch, remember him?) to help him, he wants his brother to lend his lofty lawyer name to the cause, and he wants his friends who are still alive to come out of the closet and fight.
Ned, played with tenderness and fragility by Joe Mantello, is a loud, neurotic, fiercely opinionated Jewish man with a volcanic temper that works against him, as hard as he fights to make it work for him. He loves a good argument, as well as a bad one. Weakness is unforgivable in his eyes, but his weaknesses are all too visible to the audience.
Ellen Barkin, my beautiful Ellen Barkin, makes her Broadway debut as Dr. Emma Brookner, a Polio-stricken wheelchair-bound doctor who seeks desperately for answers. She diagnoses many many men with an unnamed disease, a cureless disease, and helplessly watches them die. During the second act, she has a scene that is so powerful and stunning, so full of anger and pain, I stopped breathing. She unleashes the fury of Hell at a government goon, spewing venom at the President (Reagan, who, let’s recall, is NOT actually the saint he’s been made to look like recently), and all the while, is unable to use her whole body AND is facing straight at the audience. Balls, ladies and gentlemen. Balls.
The cast here is so good that it’s almost silly, as well as being pretty surprising. Jim Parsons, of The Big Bang Theory (CBS sitcom) fame, is a highlight as a supporting character, Jimmy Boatwright, a self-proclaimed Southern bitch and quiet activist. Lee Pace, from Pushing Daisies (super fun series, Netflix) is Bruce, a handsome banker who remains in the closet but does his damndest to get the message out. His last big speech is outrageous, and elicited gasps from the audience. And John Benjamin Hickey, who I know hardly at all, is brilliant as Felix, Ned’s closeted partner, who one day finds a purple bruise on his foot.
Though the play was written in and was about the 1980’s, there is so much in it that rings true now. Though the virus has been isolated and there are now medications to slow the effects, there is still no cure. There are still people who oppose handing out condoms or educating children and adults about the disease and prevention. There are now tens of millions of people living with HIV and AIDS across the world. There is still not enough funding, there are not enough doctors, and not enough help.
Why did I cry at this show? Why did so many others? Was it because I hate death? Because the prospect of losing love in such a manner is horrifying to me? Because though I was very young at the time, I remember that my mother’s friends kept dying? If you do not get a chance to see this amazing show, which is open until July 10th, buy the book. I am out of a job right now, but was determined to see this play any way I could. I came out of it with a fire in my belly. It awoke something in me that I didn’t realize I was missing.