Movies

Adventure-less-land

adventureland

So, on Monday, Joe and I saw Adventureland.  I was really looking forward to Adventureland — or at least I thought I was.  The truth is, I was really looking forward to the Adventureland soundtrack circa 1987, and therein lies the error of my ways – rather than sitting through a rather bland coming-of-age tale of would be grad students discovering that their undergraduate degrees have left them with no skills, and no training, qualified only to be carny barkers at a park that looks like a low rent Hershey Park, I should have simply popped my Pretty in Pink cassette tape into my dusty tape player.    The movie had problems with pacing, like a broken merry-go-round, it began in fits and starts.  But, the primary problem is sadly with the hero, director Greg Mottolo’s alter ego, James.  While James is likeable enough, he’s got it all wrong – “coming of age” isn’t when you lose your virginity, it’s that “I’m not a kid anymore” moment – true, different for all people – but ultimately, it’s when you discover your parents aren’t perfect, they’re only human, and from here on out, I really have an obligation of self-responsibilty — parental financial support is a generosity, not a right, and getting a summer job, or any job for that matter, should not be viewed with bitterness and spite, but with a “that’s life” attitude – we all have to work, bozo, and no parent has an obligation to send their kid on a summer jaunt through Europe, or to foot the bill to an Ivy League grad school.  James has an unalterable attitude of entitlement, and that he has been somehow woefully wronged.  Even in the end, when James wrecks the family car, he looks to his father to take the blame because it was his father who left the bottle of alcohol in the car, that James was somehow forced to imbibe, and crash the car.  Dude, it’s on you, don’t look at him.  Your parents have done nothing to you, get over it. 

 

So James, to come of age, must lose his virginity, and because James is the last sensitive man standing, James must be in Love, and therefore, to lose his virginity to the girl of his roller coaster dreams, to the ever pouty Em, he must be in love with her – and frankly, this love is unbelievable, and another reason why the movie doesn’t work.   The only thing James and Em have in common is their disappointment in their “pathetic” parents, who have let them down in every way.  And, since they’ll never get over that — Em will never see what a tragic figure her father really is, or that his actions were not to spite her, but to spite himself — and actually come of age, maybe they are perfect for each other.   

 

Adventureland purports to capture the essence of 1987 – and sure, the music is there – as Rock Me Amadeus blares in the background, as are the leggings, the bad hair and Reagan on the t.v. – but these self-absorbed, spoiled kids who are really too smart and too clever for their own good – could easily find themselves in a Juno ripoff Comcast ad.  There’s nothing that roots them in time and place in 1987 – and for me, that was a disappointment.

 

My last disappointment was the seriously and tragically underused talents of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.  Hader and Wiig provide the only levity in an otherwise self-absorbed “why me?'” movie  – and they really provide the answer – as James whines over and over “woe is me, why me? how did I get stuck here,” the answer is simple – why not you, eh?

To Snark or Not to Stark?

“And they don’t need me to tell them?”  What was I thinking when I wrote that yesterday? 

 

Of course, Angelina Jolie – you need my help!!

 

Actually, what I was thinking about was a review I read of David Denby’s new book, Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation.  In the book, Denby, a film critic (hmmm, has he ever heard that thing about people in glass houses?) for the New Yorker, excoriates internet snarkers, who with their  “I’m in the know and you are loser” attitude are ruining our national conversation by spewing insults, invectives, and venonmous talk, without purpose, point or perspective.  And that a snarker  joke is just a smokescreen for anger and abuse, much like a schoolkid sticking his leg out from under his desk in order to trip the class nerd.  The book was not particularly well reviewed, but the review, still managed to shame me, concluding, “No, what we need is a revolution in sensibility, a return to civil discourse, a way of opening, rather than closing down, debate.

This, too, is what Denby means to argue, that we deserve better, not just from our media outlets, but also from ourselves.” 

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A revolution in sensibility – exactly.  My favorite scene in the movie Sense and Sensibility is when Marianne and Elinor revist the spot where Marianne fell, and there she met Willoughby.  Marianne is ashamed of her behavior (behavior much like that documented in the never-to-be a classic, He’s Just Not That Into You), and Elinor gasps, “Surely you do not compare your conduct to his?”  And Marianne responds, “No, I compare it to what it should have been, I compare it to yours.”   

 

And, therefore, yesterday, I resolved to behave like Elinor, to promote the revolution in Sensibility – and nod and pass on the Oscar fashion, because really, why should I just put forth my completely unconstructive criticism?  I will return to civil discourse, and only say nice things.  Isn’t that the Jane way, if you don’t have anything nice to say, speak about the weather?

 

Well, the weather is cold outside, and that’s about all there is to say about the weather.

 

Sensibility is boring. 

 

So, with that said – I’m certainly not trying to shut down civil discourse — always, please disagree with me – the more the merrier at Chez Lemontines. 

 

And, what I did get right in yesterday’s post is that, there’s not much to say about this year’s Oscar fashion-less.  Mostly playing in straight, safe, probably to avoid being snarked – but here are a few observations:

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Note to Angie – Stay home!  If you’re going to come to a big party, where frankly you are a guest of honor, be gracious — there’s no need to snub Tim Gunn on the runaway.  The man is simply worshipping at your Diorred feet, and there’s no need to kick him in the teeth.  You have everything – a handsome (but oh so dim) partner, children the rest of us don’t want, but you obviously do, a fantastic career, and world adoration, and the rest of us, all we have to bask with pride in is the notion that we seem to be the only ones left in this country paying taxes  – smile dammit, and be happy – it won’t break your face (or maybe it will – I have no idea what work you’ve done to your face, and if it really will break your face, then by all means, go with the puss face you had on all night).  And black, again, really?   I would think that would be the most difficult color for you at this point – nothing shows baby spit more than black. 

 

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Dear Viola, dear dear Viola – I wanted you to win the Oscar, not be the Oscar!

 

Oscars Arrivals

 

Memo:  To SJP

From:  Your Tailor

Re:  Your Oscar Dress

   We have been mulling over your latest fitting, and because our suggestions fell on completely deaf ears (ears that apparently believe they are 25 years old as opposed to 45 years old), we feel compelled, in order to avoid any future liability, to reduce our thoughts to writing – simply put, this dress does not fit you, and you should not attempt to wear it on the red carpet.  If you do so, you and your breasts will look foolish. 

   Best regards.

US-OSCARS-ARRIVALS-CYRUS

Dear Miley – Get yourself a copy of Sense and Sensibility immediately! 

Oscars Arrivals

Plea to Natalie – please help Miley dress for the next award ceremony!  It’s only fitting that the best dressed should reach down and help the worst dressed.

robert-downey

Mickey Rourke was not the only comeback story on the red carpet – Robert Downey Jr. look at you!  You got it right!!!!  You cut your hair, you shaved your face, you put on a tux – doesn’t it feel good!  And, you did it all knowing that you weren’t going to win.  Next year, Robert, next year!

 

I could go on, but those are my highlights – or low lights.  Oh, there is one left:

 

tinafey

Lemon would be sad if I left out her namesake.  Good job Tina!  And, go ahead, fall in love with Steve Martin any day!

So, the new blog isn’t even a week old, and already my credibility is shaky with my stinky Oscar picks. Well, at least with my best Actor pick, I may have gotten it wrong, but Sean Penn validated why I could have easily been right when he said, “I did not expect this, but I, and I want it to be very clear, that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often.” And, my vision clouded by a fantastic comeback tale, I had forgotten that Mickey Rourke was equally an asshole for many years, and while he may have run up a bill of $60,000 worth of therapy or whatever that crazy figure was to become this emissary of the possibility of change, the bottomline is still, a comeback to what? Really, what does Mickey Rourke go on to do now?

I didn’t actually see much of the Oscar telecast, aside from the award giving. That’s the price you pay when you host a party. Non award moments are for cleaning up plates, refilling food, catching up on dishes, etc. But, I can say this about the actual award giving – I would much prefer to see a clip of the actor/actresses performance than a circle jerk of tributes and accolades by former award winners. This may be the nominees childhood fantasy, having a battle axe like Sophia Loren slur pretties and platitudes about your performance that in all likelihood she didn’t see, but it didn’t do too much for me. I like an Oscar ceremony filled with movie clips, not song and dance numbers that are straight out of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, not the resurgence of the American movie musical. There’s just something wrong with a show that doesn’t let Peter Gabriel sing the entirety of his song, yet turns the show into a High School Musical, well after that age demographic should have been in bed.

And, I could talk about Oscar fashion – but it was almost kind of fashionless – nothing really stuck out, everyone played it pretty safe, and those that didn’t – well they just looked ridiculous (Miley Cyrus), and they don’t need me to tell them that.

Why I Hate Benjamin Button and My Final Picks

This was a great year for movies.  Historically, in times of economic crisis, people flock to the movies, and this year was no different.  And, thankfully, the movies were a remarkable place for retreat – for entertainment, for introspection, and for, of course, popcorn.

Milk and the Reader raised awareness, and nudged at our collective conscience.  Frost/Nixon was not only a vehicle to showcase the talent of a tragically overlooked actor, but an overdue reminder of the need for accountability in our elected leaders.

But this, this is the year of the Slumdog – Slumdog Millionaire.  While there’s something a bit daft about a kid going on a game show in the hopes of finding and winning his childhood soulmate, this film touched us – the storytelling, to me, was reminiscent of Life is Beautiful.  The children in this film were so good, they broke your heart.  By the time love triumphs over greed and evil, and everyone is dancing in a train station a la Fame’s Hot Lunch cafeteria scene, I was doing a bouncy little chair dance along with them.  I don’t know what Jai Ho means, but it sounds joyous and lovely.

So, my pick for Best Picture, and everyone’s pick, is Slumdog Millionaire.  Not only will it win, it should win.

And what about Benjamin Button, this Gump rip-off, this playground for digital technology substituting for actual acting?  Button, to me, was not a movie, but a video game, and honestly, I would have preferred to see Mamma Mia nominated than this unimaginative Speilberg knock-off.

Which brings me to the category of Best Adapted Screenplay, and again, I would toss Button right out of this category too – the only source material from which this movie grew was Forrest Gump, not F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, because the only thing Button adapts from the original short story is the title, and the concept of aging backwards.  The original story was honest in way that Brad’s Button never imagines.  Button in the story, while aging backwards, is still human, and flawed.  He does not have a “life is like a box of chocolate attitude.”  To the contrary, he’s a jealous creature, and competitive; he’s a bad son, a bad husband and a bad father.     He is attracted to his wife while they are the same age, but as she ages, and he grows younger, he gets bored, and hides her away.  And this, frankly, is believable.  Eventually, he becomes a child to the children he parented,  but having been a bad parent, they are hardly ideal parents to him.  In Fitzgerald’s Button, aging, whether backward or forward, will get you to the same place in the end, and when you get there, you will either be loved or you won’t – it all depends on how you lived.

Again, for Adapted Screenplay – I’m going with Slumdog.

So, here are my final picks:

Best Picture:  Slumdog

Actor:  Mickey Rourke

Supporting Actor:  Heath Ledger – not just because he’s tragically dead, but because he was great

Actress:  Kate Winslet

Supporting Actress:  Viola Davis – it may have only been 12 minutes – but toe to toe with Meryl Streep for 12 minutes counts for at least 24

Director:  Danny Boyle

Documentary Feature:  Man on a Wire

Documentary Short:  The Conscience of Nhem En

Animated Feature:  Wall-E

Foreign Language Film – Waltz with Bashir

Original Screenplay – Milk

Adapted Screenplay – Slumdog

Cinematography – Slumdog

Art Direction – The Dark Knight

Animated Short – Presto

Life Action Short – The Pig

Visual Effects – Benjamin Button

Costume Design – The Duchess

Film Editing – Slumdog

Sound Mixing – The Dark Knight

Sound Editing – The Dark Knight

Original Score – Slumdog

Original Song – Jai Ho

Makeup – Benjamin Button

So, chill those champagne flutes, and enjoy the Hugh Jackman show!

Best “Leading” Actress – Oscar 2009

This year’s Best Actress category really calls the question, “What is a leading actress?” Is it based on actual screen time? how many actresses are actually in the movie? or is it simply a studio designation?  We know it’s not the latter, because Harvey Weinstein ran a pretty hot and heavy campaign for Kate Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz to be nominated as a supporting role, and the Academy saw fit to nominate her as Best Actress. And, with the bumping of her performance in Revolutionary Road, and “upgrading” The Reader to the Best Actress platform, one has to wonder – will the Academy vote for her actual performance in the Reader, or will they vote for her based on two Oscar worthy performances in the same year.

Traditionally, if an actress is nominated in two categories, one of two things will happen – a complete shut out, or they will snag the Best Supporting Actress award. Before the nominations came out, and I was doing my pre-picking, I had Kate Winslet as a sure thing for Best Supporting Actress for The Reader. And, now that I’ve actually seen The Reader, this is the right category, this is where this performance should be nominated. The Academy simply got it wrong.

winsletreader2 Hanna Schmitz is a supporting role, not because she’s not on screen for a significant period of time (she is), and not because there are other actresses in the film that could fit the bill as the lead actress (there aren’t). And, it’s not because of strategy – that’s the category Kate is most likely to win. It’s because the Reader is not Hanna’s story — it is the story of Michael Berg, a teenager who embarks on a doomed affair with Hanna Schmitz, a much older woman, and a former, unrepentent, Nazi prison guard, and how she changed him, and ultimately, how he changed her.

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David Kross, as the young Michael Berg, was really fantastic, and that he is not nominated in the Best Actor category can only be attributed to 2 things – a. he hasn’t put his time in yet, and is too much of an unknown, and b. this was really a strong year for male performances (see below)  (although I would have bumped Brad Pitt any day for this kid, and likewise, come to think of it, I would boot Angelina Jolie out of this race for that whiny, weepy performance in Changeling, a great disappointment from Clint Eastwood, and at most, a mediocre movie. Brad and Angie were nominated simply for their star appeal, and what they bring to the red carpet – which this year has fans salivating for a showdown with this superstar twosome and Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer. Team Anison/Mayer anyone?).  While I was waiting in line in the bathroom after the movie, a woman was shocked that Hanna was not ashamed of her role in the war, but rather her inability to read.  I don’t think that’s entirely accurate – Hanna Schmitz is a very complicated character, and that’s an oversimplification, but the movie is not about her struggles with her past, or her accountability for her actions.  It’s about Michael’s struggle to understand her, not only what she did to him, but what she did in the context of national history,  in the face of the overwhelming sentiment of Germany at the time, that understanding is of no moment, and irrelevant – she was responsible for the deaths of more than 300 people, what more is there to understand?

Kate Winslet’s performance truly “supports” David Kross.  His need to understand is made reasonable, understandable, and almost achingly necessary because she makes an unlikable character so interesting, and her flaws almost endearing.  This performance should be rewarded – but will it be in the leading spot, in the wrong category, up against an icon like Meryl Streep?  I’m tentatively going to say yes, but in truth, I could easily change my mind by Sunday.

Meryl Streep is a two time Oscar winner, has been nominated 15 times, and the tagline “greatest living American Actress,” might as was well be tatooed on her forehead.  But, being nominated 14 previous times, and only winning 2 times, means that she had to sit in the loser’s chair 12 times.  And this year, when she won the SAG award, and gave her somewhat dopey, but endearing acceptance speech (I talked about acceptances speeches in the previous post – I think Meryl and Kate cancel each other out here), you could tell, she really really wants to win, and the Academy might give it to her, and they wouldn’t be wrong.  Doubt is a good film, and Meryl’s performance, while at times over the top, was at times, also mesmerizing.

20a1-doubt1In Doubt, Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysios runs her Catholic school with an iron fist, and in her role as principal, goes head to head with Philip Seymour Hoffman, the parish priest.  When she points her steel finger at Hoffman, with her limited proof, but only her firm, resolved belief, I believed her.  And, in the end when she expresses doubt – you see the pain on her face, as her doubt is not about whether the priest was actually guilty – of that she has no doubt – but a doubt at the very core of her being – a doubt in the church, with its sexist heirarchy, that would not only subordinate such behavior, but actually elevate this man to a higher position.  Some people probably found her character unlikable, unsympathetic, that she could convict without proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but I liked her – I was with her in her struggles as a woman in a male run/male dominated institution.  I envied her belief in her own instincts, and I respected her almost feral protectiveness of the children in her school, and a sympathized with her inability to modernize.

And, in the end, there was no doubt this was Meryl Streep’s movie.  She was the undisputed  lead, this was her story.  And this primacy, along with the fact that it really would be painful to see her lose for the 13th time, may put her over the hump, in the face of Kate Winslet’s two standout performances.

And what of the other nominees?  There’s buzz abounding that Melissa Leo is going to pull a huge upset for Frozen River – possible, always possible, but I don’t think enough people saw the movie.  And Anne Hathaway – not her turn, and like Eddie Murphy who sabotaged Dream Girls with Norbit, Bride Wars killed any chance she had.  But, on the other hand, she may get some pity points for having a jailed ex-boyfriend who publically humiliated her on an almost unfathomable scale.  You never know.

So, in this moment, I’m going with Kate Winslet, but by Sunday . . .

Smackdown – Best Actor Oscar 2009

There’s no ring, no Rocky Balboa chant, no championship belt, but this year’s Oscar race for Best Actor features two heavyweights duking it out for the coveted naked little man statuette.  I say two, because although Richard Jenkins and Frank Langella offer Oscar worthy performances, and frankly, in another year it may have been Frank Langella’s turn for his uncanny romp as Nixon, I really think it boils down to Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke.  (Yes, I am ignoring Brad Pitt – I’m ignoring everything about Benjamin Button – I really wish Button had been born at 60 as opposed to 80 so that the movie could have been 2 hours shorter). 

seanpenn2Milk is a standard Hollywood biopic.  That it is about the first openly gay politican is of no moment when you talk about originality as it relates to genre.  The story is told in flashbacks, as Harvey tells of his political rise and personal failures into a tape recorder – Harvey is closeted, Harvey moves to San Fran, Harvey becomes the mayor of Castro Street, Harvey is elected to office, Harvey fights Prop 6 and Anita Bryant, Harvey is assassinated.  The story is illuminated and made moving, interesting, and inspirational by an outstanding supporting cast; Milk is a sum of its parts, and while Sean Penn’s performance is fantastic, it cannot stand alone from this truly ensemble piece.  

seanpennThat’s not to say that the moments when Penn is alone, in his room, talking into a microphone, to an impersonal audience because he has lost those truly closest to him, fall flat.  Sean Penn has told his story into a tape recorder before – in the Assassination of Richard Nixon, Penn plays an man suffering from a pyschotic break, who rants and raves into a tape recorder.  I didn’t really get that movie, and was ambivalent about his character.  But in Milk, Sean Penn, having practiced this narrative technique, gets it right – some of the finest acting in this film comes during the quiet moments in Harvey’s apartment, listening to Penn’s voice, and watching his face,  regrets, failures, triumphs, and fear, all there, in every breath he takes, and with every line on his face.  By the time Penn has a bullhorn in his hand, and he gleeful announces, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I am here to recruit you,” the audience is already in his pocket. 

 

And, following the passage of Proposition 8, this performance has terrific Oscar appeal.  A win for Penn would be a resounding rejection on the part of the Hollywood commnity against Prop. 8, and in the arts/theater community a proactive vote for change (and an apology for passing on Brokeback Mountain).  But, a vote for Penn is really a vote for Milk and what he stood for and the need for a new voice for the disenfranchised, and those who require equal civil rights for all now.  And, the bottom line is Harvey Milk is not nominated, Sean Penn is, and Sean Penn, well, is kind of an asshole.

 

A speech can’t win you an Oscar or lose you one, I would like to think.  That Kate Winslet gushed and cried, and looked fairly ridiculous coaching herself to “steady steady” or whatever it was she gasped will hopefully not be her undoing.  Likewise, you would like to think that the ill conceived things that come of Sean Penn’s mouth will not keep him from the podium – but they just might – his speech at the SAG awards was really a slap in the face to all t.v. actors, and guess what – most of them vote. 

 

No, this Hollywood, I think, is somewhat postmodern, in that the story about making the movie is the final factor in vote casting, the movie in the end, is about the movie making.  Perhaps this is not only postmodern, it’s also a bit narcissitic – an actor who votes perhaps believes that actors transcend  the actual acting.   And, in this case, where the performances were so close, so good – I think Mickey Rourke’s personal story, a story that makes you see the Wrestler through an entirely different prism, will land Rourke the naked little man.

 

mickeyrourkeThe Wrestler is an unpleasant, hard film to watch.  Rourke’s character, a wrestler who can no longer wrestler, is not a tragic figure because he is not capable of redemption, he is a tragic figure because he is completely capable, but rejects it.  Although his wrestling career is over, he has every opportunity to make a new life for himself, repair the relationship with his daughter, start a new relationship with a single mother, a naked Marissa Tomei, working the hard life as a stripper.  This is a movie about aging, but it’s also a movie about opportunities and second chances.  Rourke’s Randy the Ram can’t embrace life outside the ring, squanders his second chance, and is left with no option, in his own mind, but to seek suicide by wrestle, and just end it all instead of finalling giving in to adulthood and middle age.  Middle age and responsibility  is more ravaging to him than the steroid infested, cocaine enahanced life of pro wrestling, that’s only highlights seem to be muted cheers from an equally aging crowd and the occasional fan adoration over an autograph or photo op.  And, it’s is really hard to watch this loser make the same mistakes over and over again.  When he misses a crucial dinner date with his daughter, you find yourself saying, no no no you jackass, and you find yourself more involved in his life than he is.

 

And, when I say that Mickey Rourke playing this character makes you view the movie through a different prism, I’m not saying it’s Rourke’s personal story – but it’s similar -his strange attempt at a boxing career, his crazy promise as an actor potentially wasted and ruined by bad choices fueled by drugs and the need for money, and his winning the Oscar would give the movie a whole new meaning – Randy the Ram, broken loser, Mickey Roure – Oscar winner! In this day and age, we all would like to think that redemption is not only possible, but that we are each worthy of it.

 

And Mickey Rourke has been all over the media circuit just being so darn nice, humble, thankful, gracious – the kind of guy you want to give an award to.  To me, Mickey Rourke is like a client  at a VOP – a violation of probation hearing.  As a new public defender, you”re assigned to do these violation hearings every other day.  You stand there next to your client, and struggle to think of something, anything to say that will move the judge to give your guy a second chance, or a tenth chance, sometimes.  And Mickey is that guy – that guy you really really want to have another chance, and this movie is it for him.  It is a brave performance.  Sean Penn may be labeled as brave for taking on an openly gay character requiring him to indeed portray the sexual lifestyle that goes with it.  But, to me, eh, not so brave.  Here, Rourke opens himself up, exposes himself in so many ways – playing an unlikable guy, a raw guy – Rourke breaks himself into a million pieces, for all to pick up, examine and judge.

 

And, I think, the Academy is going to reward this comeback story, it needs this comeback story – we need this comeback story.  And for gosh sakes, the man’s dog died over the weekend – he needs an Oscar, and he’s my pick.