Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack 1934-2008

Academy Award winning director Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, Tootsie, They Shoot Horses Don't They?) passed away today in Los Angeles. He was 73 and had been suffering with cancer for some time. He'll truly be missed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can We Talk About....Anthony Mackie?

D.O.B: September 23, 1979, New Orleans, Louisiana

Where you know him from: She Hate Me, Half Nelson, We Are Marshall, Crossover, Million Dollar Baby

Ideal Career Trajectory: As successful as Denzel Washington, as bankable as Will Smith, yet still as interesting and daring as Samuel L. Jackson

Worst Case Scenario: Cuba Gooding Jr, post-Oscar (God, what a mess)

The Rundown:
I first saw Anthony Mackie in 2004 in Clint Eastwood's emotionally moving (if somewhat facile) Million Dollar Baby. Although his part was small (a clear villain. They're so easily identifiable in Clint Eastwood movies) I couldn't help but take notice to how Mackie commanded attention each time he was on screen. His presence is undeniable, his talent and range seemingly limitless. He next caught my attention when I watched indies like Brother to Brother and most notably Half Nelson where he comfortably held his own against the film's two powerhouse leads (Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps). It really upsets me when I read lists of hot rising talent in Hollywood in magazines like Entertainment Weekly that fail to mention actors like Mackie, clear forces to be reckoned with to anyone who's actually paying attention and watching films—the people who do tend to rank also speaks volumes about the people making said lists, but that's another issue entirely.

The Solution:
Things are slightly easier for a black man in Hollywood than they are for a black woman (read: slightly). That's why Mackie has been relegated to certain roles less than worthy of his greatness. The somewhat forgivable We Are Marshall and the unfathomable Crossover are just two titles on that list. He was also in 8 Mile, which some people regard as having certain merits, though I was uninterested, as I am with Eminem in general. But his filmography is actually not so disastrous as most up and coming black actors, which is a good sign. When you're as talented as he is, it may pay off in the end to show some discernment and taste when it comes to what roles you take. Just heed my warning to all up and coming black actors, Mr. Mackie: steer clear from the double-edged sword that is Tyler Perry. Not. Worth. It.

What does the Future Hold:

Look for Anthony Mackie to break into mainstream consciousness in a big way within the next couple of years. In 2008, he has The Great Observer a silent (ballsy) film about young Louis Armstrong (he's not playing Louis). He also has Iraq-war thriller The Hurt Locker, which sounds interesting enough, but after Stop Loss, I'm not getting my hopes up. He also has a supporting role in Eagle Eye, the new Shia Labeouf vehicle which should guarantee some viewership. Hey, the ends justifies the means, okay? It's 2009 that should have Mackie fans hearts aflutter. Two biopics, one in which he plays a lead. There's Notorious, the biopic about slain rapper Notorious B.I.G in which Mackie plays Tupac Shakur. I'm shaky and nervous about how this film will play out, but it will definitely be a cultural event and guarantee some ink for Mackie. Then there's Jesse Owens, which tells the story of the African-American Olympic athlete. Confession time—biopics are not my thing most of the time. But they usually get attention, and for once I'm glad that attention will be turned on a worthy performer. And who knows? Maybe, we'll be hearing Mackie's name uttered alongside the elusive O-word sometime in the not so distant future. One can dream, right?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Presidential Race

This is the first post actually dedicated to the 2008 Presidential Election and may very well be the last for any number of reasons. Not the least of which are that I don't want to make it the focus of this blog. Also, I'm a legal permanent resident in this country, which means I am not allowed to vote until I become a citizen (if and when I choose to), so I'm not really supposed to be complaining, nor am I allowed to have an input. This is all fine with me of course, because even though the election is more than five months off, I'm already bored/done with it. My candidate of choice (Kucinich) is nowhere near the ballot, and in the end who ever wins is going to feel so much like the less desirable friend of the person you really wanted to have sex with. That being said, I hate the Hillary-or-nothing Democrats just as much, if not more, than the Obama-or-nothing Democrats. They're both just as foolish and short-sighted in my book, but in the end, it's the former that may cause John McCain to coast to a victory come November and that's what makes me feel bored/done.

Here's the thing. I am not particularly fond of any of the three remaining presidential hopefuls, that is Obama, Clinton, or Mccain, for different reasons obviously. As a black man, I am surprised how immune I've been to this notion that Obama represents change--real, meaningful change. It might have something to do with the fact that his voting record/political positions are hardly reflective of this so-called "change" he speaks of. Are we to assume he represents change because he's black? Yet he wants people to look beyond his race when making their decision, which is understandable and necessary if he hopes to win (and, since he's the presumptive Democratic nominee, I do hope he wins by the way). But he can't go in wanting to be both exempted from and exalted because of his race. It's kind of a crapshoot either way and he's just got to hope for the best when it comes to how the electorate reacts to the possibility of a black president.
I flat-out dislike McCain because of his ridiculous plans to keep us in Iraq well past his own life-expectancy.

And Ms. Clinton. A lot of people have given her a lot of flack over the past...well, always. That's why I admire her for going at this head-first and getting as far as she did. She put up a hell of a fight and either her or Obama are more than qualified, IMHO, to be president of the United States. Again, neither would be my top choice. But I think that enough really is enough. By staying in the race, all Clinton is doing is fueling those ridiculous rumors about her wanting John McCain to win so she can run again in 2012. Which is (repeat) a ridiculous theory. Hillary is a smart person and she knows that this country will never elect a 65-year-old (which is how old she'll be) WOMAN into the Whitehouse. Though the same country seems to have no problem with potentially electing Crimean War veteran John McCain into the same position. But sexism abounds when it comes to politics--that's just a fact and Hillary knows this. However, she needs to drop out so that the party can rally around Obama as the nominee (which he pretty much is anyway), pick a VP nominee (which, if he's smart, he'll seriously consider picking her. Don't know if she'll accept...) and start campaigning against McCain. And I hope that Obama is ready for the big show. Because the battle between him and Hillary is going to seem like shits and giggles compared to what McCain and the Republican party have in store for him...

That is all. Peace. Love. And Pretension.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nicole Kidman--A Mess of Contradictions

Nicole Kidman has gotten a lot of flack for her choice of roles. It's no secret that her post-Oscar career has been less than stellar, so much so that there's no point in even listing all the duds. I remained conflicted about her for the longest time, less forgiving of the projects she chooses to work on than say Halle Berry. Don't get me wrong. Berry has a lot to answer for too. But for a woman who looks like Nicole Kidman, you'd have a tough time convincing me that there aren't infinitely more opportunities for good roles than someone who looks like Halle Berry.

I recently saw Margot at the Wedding for the first time on DVD. I initially avoided it, not because of Nicole Kidman, but because of writer-director Noah Baumbach whose 2005 offering The Squid and the Whale annoyed me to no end (and when not even Laura Linney can't save a movie for me, that says a lot). Having now seen his second feature, I can now respectfully call Mr. Baumbach a hack. He incorporates the worst parts of Wes Anderson's writing-style, with absolutely none of Wes Anderson's charmingly meticulous attention to detail, nor his flair for art direction. With the exception of Nicole Kidman (whose characterization of a loving yet spiteful and biting woman is spot on--anyone who has a sister will especially recognize this), it's almost all quirk, no substance. Straight out of "Indie-Screenwriter 101" and it's probably no coincidence that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson's worst film to date, was co-written by Baumbach. But this isn't about him.

After watching Margot at the Wedding, and then re-watching The Hours for about the tenth time a few days ago, I'm now convinced more than ever that the talent is there for Nicole Kidman--in spades, actually. She's actually better in Margot at the Wedding than she's been in years, so much so that I'm beginning to question why there was no Oscar nomination here? People have certainly gotten nominations for worse performances in worse films, and I know that the Academy is just waiting to invite her back to the party. It's their way of justifying who they give Oscars too. How else would you explain Hilary Swank's second win for Million Dollar Baby, or Charlize Theron's throwaway nomination in 2005 for doing the exact same thing she did two years earlier?

I never thought I'd be writing a post defending Nicole Kidman, but I just don't understand the reaction to her performance here (or lack of a reaction.) I know I'm months too late, but it's a little baffling to me. With the exception of Marion Cotillard, I sincerely believe that the Academy got all the acting awards right this year. But that doesn't change the fact that they rarely reward performers for taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zone. Nicole did that with Margot at the Wedding by daring to play such a complex, unlikable woman. I've been trying to rationalize it, and I can't come up with anything. It's a great performance in a bad movie, but the Academy has rewarded those before, so that doesn't seem to be an issue. Baffling...

Review of Margot at the Wedding: C- (Some good ideas, but try again Mr. Baumbach)
Review for Nicole Kidman's performance:
A (Note perfect. Better than she's been in years)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mini Reviews--"Baby Mama" and "88 Minutes"

It's been forever and a day since I posted here. Busy, graduating from college and all (thank you, thank you) plus working on a feature film, but sticking with it. On the grind, as they say. Since I saw Baby Mama and 88 Minutes so long ago, I'll be making my review of each a little shorter.

Baby Mama:
This is the type of movie I feel kind of conflicted about. I love Tina Fey, love Amy Poehler and even liked most of this movie. But I can't help thinking about how much better the film would have been with Tina Fey at the helm as writer, or even director. I was surprised to find that Tina Fey neither produced nor wrote the script for this film when I saw the trailer many months ago. I've mentioned before how 30 Rock is one of the most consistently funny shows on television, and I really commend Tina Fey for making it successful. But I digress.

By now, everyone knows the plot of Baby Mama. Tina Fey plays a successful, career-driven woman who, because of her responsibilities, may have missed the biological window for having a baby. So she enlists the help of an uncouthed surrogate (Amy Poehler) to carry her baby. Hilarity ensues. I'm not being sarcastic either. This movie is very funny, even in all its absurdity, which often undermines the moments when it's trying to be a serious(?) acting showcase for Tina Fey. Okay, maybe I didn't word that correctly. Tina Fey is playing it like she's in an actual movie, while Poehler plays it likes she's in the confines of a really funny SNL sketch--but in a good way. I think it totally works, despite what critics are saying about the film. A few talking points to discuss in this shortened review:

  1. What was up with Romany Malco's character? While I love the guy, he was totally unnecessary here, and bordered on offensive.
  2. Why does Maura Tierney keep showing up in these thankless film roles? It's more forgivable here because Baby Mama is infinitely better than the hot mess that was Semi-Pro. But is she seriously trying to forge a film career out of these bit parts in comedic films where she neither says anything interesting, nor does she get to crack a joke.
  3. Who knew Sigourney Weaver was funny?
There are more if I think of them. Ultimately, for someone who's a fan of Tina Fey and her self-deprecating brand of comedy, you'll at the very least find Baby Mama worth a rental (save it's ending, which is a such a colossal miscalculation it almost made me forget everything I'd seen before it.) Like I stated earlier, I have no doubt in my mind that Fey can write and direct a better film for herself. She actually has the potential to be the female Judd Apatow, building up a repertory of regular female players...herself, Poehler and dear God, please throw poor but talented Rachel Dratch a bone.

Grade: B-

88 Minutes
I now think that it may have been a bit of a mistake to wait so long after seeing this movie to write a review. 88 Minutes is a ridiculously contrived movie. Needlessly complicated, so much so that I'm struggling to remember what it was even about. Al Pacino (and his crazy hair) plays a psychiatrist/college professor who (as far as I can tell) sometimes works with the FBI. Whatever. He put this serial killer away, who liked to hang women upside down and do terrible things to them. The killer is days (hours actually) away from execution, but then women start showing up murdered, in the same fashion as his victims(gasp!) And now Al Pacino's character has received a phone call from a mysterious voice, saying that he will die in 88 minutes. Doesn't say how, except we can assume that he wasn't injected with anything or otherwise poisoned. I'm sure he could get that checked out by a doctor if he explained the situation, then he could just go to a police station and chill out until the 88 minutes are up...wait, that would all make sense. Not that kind of movie.

Instead, the movie wants us on the edge of our seats, asking ourselves if Al Pacino's testimony put away the wrong man? Suspense abounds...except, not. Because we saw the guy killing some girl at the beginning of the movie, so we already know that he did it. So what we're essentially watching is an entire film (that's more than 88 minutes, mind you) of Pacino trying to find out who the copycat killer is. Is it his lesbian co-worker, played by Amy Brenneman? Is it the Dean, played by Deborah Kara Unger? Or is it one of his students? Leelee Sobieski, Alicia Witt (love her. Hate that she's here) or Benjamin McKenzie?

Ultimately, you do find out and it all feels kind of anti-climatic for several reasons.
  1. You probably already guessed it (jokingly), but you were right.
  2. There's nothing here that makes you care even remotely about these characters, so why start now?
  3. It's all so ridiculous that you gasp that the half-jest guess you made about the film's conclusion turned out to be correct.
I've already spoken about Leelee Sobieski, so I won't pick on her any more here. She's had more than 88 minutes to prove her worth, and I still remain unconvinced. I so want to see Alicia Witt do well, but I fear her time is running out for a truly great role. And finally, it's a shame to see someone like Al Pacino taking such a nosedive in the quality of work he puts out there. His last good project was Angels in America, which you may not even want to count since it was a mini-series. If we're just talking features, I would feel safe in saying he hasn't had a great film since The Insider, more than nine years ago. And the hair...

Grade: D

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Random Thoughts...More to Come

Happy May Day!

I have not forgotten this blog. I just had finals this week and was insanely busy. I don't know how I survived, but I did. Now unto the breach! I posted 11 times in April, and my goal is to double that amount for May.

Since I last posted, I saw Baby Mama and 88 Minutes. I will post mini-reviews of each, since they've both been out for some time now. In short, I liked Baby Mama for what it was, though I find myself wondering about its third act and how much stronger it would have been with Tina Fey in the writer's chair. And 88 Minutes...starring Al Pacino and his hair. I walked out knowing one thing--before, I was merely unconvinced by Leelee Sobieski. I can now say whole-heartedly that I do not enjoy her as an actress. More to come...

Here are some random thoughts before I post more at length:

  • I re-watched Capote recently and was surprised to find out how much better I liked it this time.  I don't think the Academy has made a better, more astute choice in recent years than nominating Capote for best picture and best director (maybe nominating Laura Linney for The Savages).  It's so noticeably absent of all the tricks and gimmicks the Academy usually goes for.  I'm also more convinced than ever that Clifton Collins Jr. got totally shafted in the best supporting actor race that year.
  • I don't normally like horror movies, nor do I normally like movies starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (who?) but the trailer for The Strangers is incredibly creepy and I'm kind of intrigued.
  • If I see one more ad for the DVD release of 27 Dresses or for the theatrical release of that new Patrick Dempsey movie I will shoot someone. Seriously, does anyone even remember that 27 Dresses even existed? And advertisers, you will never convince me that Katherine Heigl is "America's Sweetheart." Ever. Both Heigl and Dempsey presented at the Oscars this year, only slightly more deserving of being there than Miley Cyrus. Is there no escape?
  • Guillermo del Toro finally comes forward and makes it official that he's directing The Hobbit. And Sir Ian McKellan will reprise his role as Gandalf. And the sky is blue. Dudes, we've known this for months. But thanks for telling us.
  • Confession time: my favorite hour long drama is Brothers and Sisters (shut up. Shut. Up.) I've had a good five or six days to let it marinate since the last episode, and the more I think about it, the more I consider the distinct possibility that the series has jumped the shark. More on this later.
  • Say what you will about Madonna (and people do), but she's proven that she can still move product with the release of her latest album "Hard Candy." Apparently, Madge has still got it.
  • It is the first of May. And you know what that means...there are approximately 265 days left of George W. Bush's presidency, until the Inauguration on January 20th. Oh, and by the way, Bush is now officially the most hated president in modern history. His disapproval ratings are at a whopping 71%. Bush probably ain't sweating, though, since his grades were worse than that when he got into Yale. (I'm here all week).
  • Peace. Love. and Pretension.