Sunday, February 28, 2016

Best Picture: Rocky (Yo Adrian!)

I did a Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa one-two punch yesterday, first taking in a viewing of Creed at the dollar theater and then catching Rocky on Amazon.

First to quickly discuss Creed. It's a good movie, but not really necessary. I don't believe anyone was clamoring for a film about Apollo Creed's heretofore unknown illegitimate child. But it's fun to watch, and Stallone, who created Rocky forty years ago, knows the character well and inhabits him with all the years of Rocky's life. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Rocky sits at the cemetery, on a chair he leaves in a tree, to sit with is dead wife and friend as he read the newspaper.

 As I watched Rocky, I realized that I knew about it, but had never actually seen it. And it's fantastic. Rocky is such a cool character and Stallone has written him as a person you want to root for. He wears glasses. He has regrets. He gets nervous to ask a girl out. When he opens up to Adrian about his fears the night before the fight my heart breaks for him.

The film surprised me on all counts and for that I'm glad. I like that I can be surprised still by films that are such a part of pop culture, but are so much more than the little snippets most people know about them. Also, that sweater Rocky wears - fantastic.

It became obvious while watching Rocky that Creed is essentially the same movie - it hits all the same story beats and themes, and even uses (to great effect) the motif of conversations being had through closed doors. I love that. However, the story of Rocky Balboa is more interesting than the story of Adonis Johnson Creed. The film makes this same argument, but still insists that Adonis' story and rise to boxing greatness is worthy of our time. I believe it's made worthy by Rocky (and Stallone) being a part of the story. His story is filled with history, we know his life and the knocks he's had and the losses he's had. It's deep and moving.

A quick sidenote about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that is attached to this film. It stars a black man and is directed by a black man, and people are upset that the film only garnered one nomination - Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor. In my opinion this is less a slight to black filmmakers and actors and more a recognization of an aging actor in a sentimental role first seen forty years ago. The film is good, but not really "Oscar-caliber", and if Stallone hadn't been in it we would not be talking about it at all this awards season.

2016 Oscars: My Picks

It's Oscar Sunday! I look forward to this every year and relish the lead up to it, which includes going to the movies a lot.

This year there are 8 Best Picture nominees (I still sorta wish the Academy would go back to the traditional 5...). I got around to seeing all 8 of them, and even wrote reviews for all of them. You can read them here (in order of me seeing them).

My personal favorite is Brooklyn. I adore literally everything about this film. It's not going to win Best Picture, and that's fine. As long as something else I like wins, like Spotlight or The Big Short. Wouldn't if be cool if the summer-release-huge-crowd-pleaser The Martian won?! 

Best Picture: I'm still betting/hoping for Spotlight to win, but it seems as if The Revenant is making a huge push for frontrunner. I'm slightly indifferent about The Revenant and think it would be odd for the Academy to award Best Picture (and Director, for that matter) to the person who won last year. I like Alejandro G. Inarittu, and last year I thought his win for Birdman was well-deserved. Not the case this year though.

Best Actor: Leo pretty much has this locked down, one of those "He deserves it" award years. It's how Al Pacino won for Scent of a Woman and not The Godfather. I'm really fine with this, but do want to note how much I would love for Fassbender to win for Jobs. 

Best Actress: It would be lovely if Saoirse Ronan won this category, but she won't. Brie Larson gives a great performance and will likely be the winner tonight. Thankfully it will not be Jennifer Lawrence. I like her, I really do, but she seems to becoming this generation's Meryl Streep - nominated for anything and everything she's in.

Best Supporting Actor: I've seen all the nominees in this category.Stallone is the sentimental favorite, playing Rocky Balboa forty years after the first time. I was at first really against this, as sentimental wins sometimes bother me (I have to say sometimes because it doesn't bother me that much in Leo's case this year; this is not a science, just my feels dictating). But yesterday I watched Creed and followed it up with Rocky, and I am now okay with this win. Some day, though, it's going to finally be Mark Ruffalo's turn to win; he's been turning in stellar performances for years and deserves to be recognized.

Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet hands down. I've only seen two of the performances in this category (Rachel McAdams being the other), but only Kate winning will bring a Jack and Rose reunion. Kate and Leo are legit friends and have been fun to watch this awards season as they each win. Nothing would make me more happy than to have them both on the cover of Entertainment Weekly's Oscar issue, clutching their Oscars.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Best Picture: Out of Africa

Out of Africa, the real-life but fictionalized tale of a woman who married a guy out of convenience and moved to Africa to farm and then fell in love with a loner-type safari hunter, won the Oscar for Best Picture for1985. Of course other things happen to this woman, played by Meryl Streep, notably getting syphilis. The surprised me.

This movie is really one of those epic Hollywood love stories, like Casablanca or The English Patient. Or at least it's supposed to be. Streep plays Karen Blixen, the aforementioned woman who moves to Africa and then experiences all sorts of things. Her love interest is Denys, played by Robert Redford. To me, Redford is always playing a variation of the same character; he never brings any depth or uniqueness to the characters he portrays. But he's certainly nice to look at. When the movie came out, Redford's star power was slightly in decline, but Streep's was red hot having already done Silkwood and Sophie's Choice (both of which netted her Oscar noms). Redford is top-billed, even though Streep is clearly the star of the film.

These two fall in love, obviously, even though Karen is married. It's just a marriage of convenience though, so we're supposed to think it's okay that Denys moves in with her and they are a couple. I honestly didn't care about that though. I was disappointed that Karen turned into a naggy woman desperate to not just be loved, but to have that love be proved by getting married. She gives Denys an ultimatum, which is never a good idea. It's supposed to prove their love or something, but ultimatums are never a good idea.

This movie was long and not terribly interesting. It needed to be edited (director Sydney Pollock, who won Best Director for this film) was really in love with shots of the landscape. This film was up against The Color Purple (which was entirely shut out) and Witness (which I think should have won because it's masterful). Streep is great at accents, but an accent does not a compelling character create.

I would recommend skipping this and watching Witness instead.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

One of my favorite things is the TCM Big Screen Classics. It gives me an opportunity to see classic films on the big screen, often for the first time. This weekend was The Maltese Falcon, the film noir classic starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre.

The film is written and directed by John Huston. It was actually his directorial debut, based on a novel by Dashiel Hammett, which has actually been filmed twice before. Apparently the third time was the charm, because this is the only version of The Maltese Falcon that people talk about.

With good reason, because it's pretty fantastic. Huston's script is top-notch; every scene dazzles with sparkling dialogue between characters that are shady and yet completely interesting. Huston's direction is impressive, as well, with some sweeping shots and awesome long takes.

If you want to see a classic film noir (if you don't know what a film noir is this is a great introduction) watch The Maltese Falcon. You'll get the femme fatale, the P.I. that's not really a hero, the dark lighting, the crime and the downbeat ending.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

45 Years

Since I've seen all the Best Pic nominees, I decided to branch out and catch some films that include a Best Actress/Actor but aren't nominated for Best Pic. This brought me again to the Angelika to see 45 Years. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for her role as Kate Mercer, a woman dealing with a newly discovered secret about her husband the week of their 45th wedding anniversary party.

I wanted to like this movie, but I did not. I found Kate's reaction to her husband incredibly cold and unnecessary. Before Kate and her husband, Geoff, met and married he had a girlfriend. Turns out she died during a hiking excursion, and her body has just been found (it was encased in ice if I remember correctly....). Geoff is slightly upset about this revelation, which I think is understandable. Kate, however, overreacts. This relationship occurred before Kate and Geoff even knew each other, and yet she takes incredible offense to it. I would think after 45 years of marriage she would be less insecure about the relationship and marriage.

There could be legitimate reasons for Kate to act this way, but I felt like those reasons weren't in the movie.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pretty in Pink: 30th Anniversary

I discovered Pretty in Pink sometime in late junior high/early high school when I caught it on cable one night. I instantly loved Andie and Blane and rooted for them to get together. They just had so much chemistry! I mean, did you see the way they look at each other?! Anyway, when Cinemark announced it would be part of their Classics series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film I marked it on my calendar so I wouldn't forget.

Andie is a girl from the "wrong side of the tracks" (we know this because there are various images of train tracks), which basically means she's poor. And apparently that sucks, especially because she goes to school with a lot of "richies". Well, except for her best friend, Duckie, who is definitely not a "richie". Andie and her friends have cool, eclectic clothes and go to cool clubs to listen to cool music. The "richies" just throw lame parties in their parents' homes and fret about upholding their rich-people dynasties. However, opposites attract when Andie and Blane, a "richie" start crushing on one other and start dating.

Can we just talk about how adorable and real their flirting is? They perfectly capture the awkwardness of liking someone and finding ways to cross their path. I love when Blane asks Andie out because he's so awkward and nervous about it, but he likes her and she likes him so he does it. Roger Ebert's 1986 review of the film sums it up perfectly.

I am now going to go on a rant about Duckie. Lots of people really like him and think that Andie should have ended up with him. I am not one of those people. I like Duckie, I do. Well, for most of the movie, before he turns into a really bad friend. Andie and Duckie are friends, have been for years. Never has Andie given any indication that she has romantic feelings towards him. He, however, is in love with her. He doesn't ever actually tell her this, but assumes lots of things. Like that she agreed to go on a date with him when she never did. Then he gets entirely bent out of shape when he realizes that she actually has a date with someone else.

This would be fine if he acted a little hurt or sad but then supported his friend, because she clearly really likes this Blane guy. But he doesn't. Instead he blows up at her and says that he can't be her friend anymore, as if she was supposed to suddenly change her mind and her feelings because HE likes HER. "Hey, I don't care if you like me," he essentially says, "because I like you." WHAT?!

Here's the thing - Andie likes Blane. And he likes her, so they're going to go out and see what happens. Andie shouldn't have to feel guilty for that by someone who claims to be her friend.

At the end of the film the filmmakers and stars discuss the original ending of the film, which was Andie ending up with Duckie. Test audiences, however, didn't like this so they changed it to Andie ending up with Blane. I completely agree with this ending. One of the producers, though, makes the comment that "audiences didn't want Andie to end up with true love, they wanted her to end up with the cute guy." This comment really irks me. She doesn't end up with Blane because he's the "cute one" and she doesn't not end up with Duckie because he's "not conventionally attractive." She ends up with Blane because that's who she loves, and to say that she just chose the "cute guy" is incredibly disingenuous and reduces women to only choosing a guy based on looks. Again, Andie has never given any hint throughout the movie that she has romantic, lovey feelings for Duckie.

Can we just talk about their first date? I adore Blane and how he got up the nerve to ask Andie out after flirting with her at the record store and with a computer message, but dude chose to go to a party at his friend's home for their first date! Bad choice, man, bad choice. I do love how he tries to make the best of it, and then tries so hard later to do what Andie wants. He wants to spend more time with her and is willing to do something or take her home, but Andie doesn't want him to see where she lives. She's admittedly acting a little crazy, especially for their first date, but I love how they both try to work things out and meet in the middle because they like each other.

I adore Andie's dad and their relationship. He's a lost man after his wife left them a few years ago. He still loves her and his life has been a wreck since she left. Andie helps him out and sometimes plays the parent. I love their conversation after she's just returned from her first date (and amazing first kiss) with Blane. She is of course stressing about their different stations in life because she's a teenager and those things seems like a big deal when you're 18. As a wise older person, he sees it as "You like him and he likes you, so it's worth it." Which is so obvious! I love their breakdown at the end when they both must come to terms that his wife and her mom is gone but that doesn't reflect on their character.

Also, Andie's friend Iona is the best. And James Spader as Steff is perfect and so quintessential '80s with his feathered hair and sock-less loafers.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Look Back on The Bachelor/Bachelorette

The other night I got into a conversation with some friends about The Bachelor/Bachelorette, and apparently I know more about it than I thought. I go through spurts of watching the show religiously (I used to love to read EW's recap the next day along with all the comments) and of not watching at all. I'm sadly currently in a non-watching period. 

Tonight, though, I am watching The Bachelor at 20: A Celebration of Love, which is obviously airing on Valentine's Day. Because, you know, when you think of love you think of a reality television show. I won't be entirely cynical, because weddings and babies have come out of the show occasionally.

But really, watching can be fun and can sometimes lead to real emotions. I chose to blog about it occasionally. (Each link is a blog I wrote abut that season.)

--Jason and Molly (and Melissa) had a gut-wrenching ending full of lots of emotions (and the classic Mesnick-crying-over-the-balcony).
--The start of Jillian's season (she was in the final three of Jason's season). This season had me straining for believability when Jillian just happens to choose the guy that had to leave in the middle of the show (but was magically able to come back at just the right time....).
--Brad Womack's second go at being The Bachelor, when I ranted about him getting so much flak for not choosing either girl the first time. Apparently it's better to lie and fake a proposal.
--Ben Flajnik was pretty loved when he was a contestant on Ashley's season, especially when he was rather unceremoniously dumped after getting on one knee. He was a super lame Bachelor, though, and chose the toxic model.
--Desiree found love after a truly crushing break-up. That was tough to watch.

I watched a bit of Juan Pablo's season (worst Bachelor ever) and most of Chris Soules' (he made the wrong decision); Desiree was the last Bachelorette I watched. I skipped out on seasons 5-12 of The Bachelor, mainly because 2005-2008 was a busy, crazy, strange time in my life. Those are also some pretty crappy seasons (the Prince one, the doctor one, the famous actor one, the football player one). Maybe I'll star watching this current season....

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Mom Came To Texas

My mom was in Texas earlier this week. I decided she needed to come out and visit me, but thought I needed some reason. So I checked the Jazz's schedule and discovered that they would be in Texas playing the Mavericks right around her birthday, which is February 5. I decided to combine Christmas and her birthday into one big present - a trip out to Texas and a Jazz game!

She arrived early Monday morning and we headed straight to Fort Worth to check out the famous Stockyards. We got there right as the first cow herd down Exchange St was getting ready to start. Then we took a guided tour of Fort Worth, which is a pretty cool town with lots of "old west" history. Fort Worth was once a major player in the cattle drive from southern Texas north to Kansas, and it was really neat hearing all the history. My mom, who grew up on a "spud farm in Idaho" and whose dad was a farmer, loved all of it.

We had dinner and ice cream in Denton (obviously Beth Marie's would make an appearance; anyone who visits me must get local ice cream).

Before heading down to Dallas for the day, I took her into City Hall to meet some of my coworkers. We rode the train down to Dallas and headed first to the Sixth Floor Museum, which back in November 1963 was the Book Depository and was the employer of Lee Harvey Oswald. It was from a sixth floor window of that building that he shot and killed President Kennedy. The building is now a museum, and it's extremely well done. It takes you on a tour of not just the assassination, but provides background on his presidency, the state of the nation and world, and the aftermath that followed. 

Once finished with the museum tour, we headed down to the street. The roadway is marked with two Xs where Kennedy was shot. The street is surrounded by Works Progress Administration structures and is quite beautiful.


We then walked over to Reunion Tower and went to the top to check out some spectacular views of the DFW Metroplex.

We had pizza at Campisi's before walking over to the game. The Jazz trailed for much of the game, at one point by 15 points. We struggled with getting over that 5 point deficit. But then we did, and the game went into overtime. The Jazz came out victorious and it was awesome. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, mom!

And then she left Wednesday morning. I love having people come visit me.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road

Much like Bridge of Spies, I never would have bothered to see Mad Max: Fury Road if it wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I haven't seen any of the Mad Max movies. When this newest installment came out during the summer, the previews didn't make me clamor to see it. Even the many positive reviews didn't make me want to see it.

And now I've seen it (thank you RedBox) and my life isn't any better for seeing it. I thought the movie was pointless and plotless. Dialogue was mumbled. I had no idea what was going on, but didn't care. The movie was just one incomprehensible car chase interspersed with moments of stopping to sort of talk about things so the characters could get moving to the next car chase scene. The "car chase" scenes aren't like Fast and Furious or the Bourne series car chase scenes, which either show off cool car stunts to cunning maneuvers through a city. These "car chase" scenes are really a band of weirdos chasing after a rig inhabited by the characters we're supposed to care about.

In a way Fury Road is similar to The Revenant in that both are very in love with their visuals - that sand storm was kinda cool - but the former is far less reverent about it. Both are "Hey, look what I can do!" concoctions of their directors (although George Miller is less showy about his in interviews and such).

Also, I am honestly baffled as to why Tom Hardy keeps getting these plum roles in huge movies. He is utterly unimpressive to me. This could be that the only movies I've really seen him in require him to wear a mask, but I just don't get the love for him.

This movie might be at the bottom of my Best Picture list this year...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Inside Out

Saturday night I checked out the "dollar" theater again to finally see the Pixar summer-hit Inside Out. The film is incredibly clever and lots of fun. I love the concept of different personality traits as actual figures in our head trying to work together. Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, is the one in charge, but she has to work with Anger, Disgust, Fear and, rather importantly, Sadness (who is perfectly voiced by Phyllis from The Office) to make Riley a functioning person.

This movie is a such a delight and really hits all the important aspects of being a person - joy, anger, disgust, fear and sadness, along with core memories, imagination land, dream world, personality islands. It also gives a little insight into the crazy life for pre-teens and teens - their emotions are just all over the place! It definitely a tough time (a few of my nieces and nephews are teenagers now, and dang was there a change when they hit 13!).

Definitely see this movie.

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