Monthly Archives: August 2010

Just for fun: The Top Five List.

Everyone should have one. It’s just good survival skills. Let’s say that you’re walking down the street, and one of those celebrities for whom your little heart goes pitter-pat walks by.  Let’s say you strike up a conversation, and one thing leads to another. Suddenly, you’ve got a dilemma. You’re in a relationship, but…but…it’s so-and-so! This is the chance of a lifetime we’re talking about here!! What to do?

Hence, The List. Also sometimes known as the “Freebies” list, this is the list of the celebrities for whom you are allowed to bend the rules. I think the concept originated on an episode of Friends, sadly, in which there is discussion of Ross’s list, which is laminated and lives in his wallet. Isabella Rossellini guest-starred, perhaps. Anyway. It is, of course, highly hypothetical, and purely for fun. I am not condoning any sort of inappropriate behavior. Nor am I suggesting that actors or celebrities are merely there for our objectification. This does not need to be that serious a conversation.  But let’s face it. Most of the time, actors and actresses are pretty people. They’re fun to look at. It’s part of their job, frankly. And we humans are visual creatures. Deal with it.

I have had a list in some “official” capacity for a very long time. Sometimes I wish I’d kept better track of them so that I could really trace the evolution of my choices, because I find them interesting. But, I will say that in the last few years, there haven’t been any major changes. Usually, it’s just the Number 5 spot that sees the most action. And recently, some friends and I (yeah, we like to talk about boys, you wanna make something of it?) realized that more than one list is necessary. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Right now, I know the question that you’re dying to ask.

Wait no longer! Behold, in its most official format to date (simply by virtue of becoming a post on this blog), My Top Five List.  Yeesh. I’m kind of nervous about making such a declaration. But first, some caveats. I would like to say that my list is much more to me than simply pretty faces. These are all men who are talented, seemingly intelligent, often funny, and just interesting human beings. I also think they’re all quite lovely to look at. OK. Ready? Here we go.

    1. Russell Crowe
    I know, big shock. My love for Mr. Crowe has already been welldocumented on this blog, so we’ll move on.

    2. Robert Downey, Jr.
    Kind of a newcomer, but he jumped right into the number 2 slot. I watched a couple of movies in preparation for Iron Man two years back, and by the time I saw Mr. Downey bring Tony Stark to life, I was good and truly smitten. Nobody should be allowed to live the life that man has lead and still look that good. Seriously. Recommended viewing: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

    3. Gerard Butler
    Several years ago now, I watched the movie Timeline at a friend’s apartment. I spent most of the movie seriously trying to figure out how to crawl into the television set. I admit to not having seen The Ugly Truth or The Bounty Hunter yet, but that’s just because I know Mr. Butler to be capable of better. Go see Dear Frankie, and then we’ll talk.

    4. Nathan Fillion
    It’s a long story, but let’s just say that I had occasion to watch the entirety of Firefly over the course of a weekend, and from then on, I’ve been kind of obsessed. Mr. Fillion has the distinction of being the only Top Fiver that I’ve actually seen in person (and actually shook hands with!!), and let me say that the screen does not do him justice. My overly giddy reaction leaves me concerned about what would happen if I were ever to meet #1 or #2. I think I might pass out. Recommended viewing: Waitress.

    5. Javier Bardem
    He’s the newest addition, although I’ve had my eye on him since the 2001 Oscar telecast, when he was nominated for Before Night Falls (which is excellent, if you like heavy drama). He’s so totally charming. I do wish he would make less heavy drama so that I was more inclined to watch his movies, but I’m hoping that after Eat Pray Love he may do some more work that doesn’t involve horrible haircuts and being an assassin. No, I haven’t seen No Country for Old Men, and probably won’t. Recommended viewing: Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

…yep.That’s my list. Lovely, aren’t they? Sigh.

Oh right, I mentioned the need for more lists. So, when compiling a List, there are always thoughts like, “Well, five years ago I would totally have said so-and-so,” or “Do they have to be alive/current?” My friends and I decided that these considerations were important enough to warrant two secondary lists. Just for the sake of being organized, you understand. I admit I don’t have these lists quite as fleshed out yet, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

Used to be hot, now not List

James Spader, Brendan Fraser, Peter Davison (look him up, make fun of me later)

Used to be hot, sadly no longer with us List

Gene Kelly, Cary Grant, Brandon Lee

…SO? I’m now DYING to know. Who’s on YOUR list?

Slow weekend?

Due to my crazy schedule during the week and the fact that I watched my Netflix movie (From Here to Eternity) last night, I may not actually manage to watch anything this weekend. That’s not entirely true – my husband is interested in Wizard People, Dear Reader and so he’s got the download and the film at the ready. It remains to be seen if I really think I’m interested in this particular Internet phenomenon (I am often not. Yeah, I’m an old fuddy-duddy sometimes.).

It also appears to be a pretty slow weekend at the box-office. I guess the summer movie season has officially wound down, and soon we’ll be hearing about all the Oscar bait. I do so love awards season! No, seriously. Anyway, I decided that what I would do today, instead of asking you what you plan on watching, is tell you what you should watch! Or rather, respectfully make some recommendations. I’m going to go through my list of the movies I’ve seen so far this year (yeah, I keep a list) and tell you what my top five favorites are. Doesn’t that sound exciting? I know, you’re all on the edge of your seats right now. Keep in mind these aren’t just films that were released in 2010, of which I have seen very few, so the list will hopefully be a nice mix of time periods, genres, etc. So, here goes nothin’.

In no particular order:

  • Up in the Air (2009) : I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film.  Solid acting, timely and interesting story. I don’t consider myself a Clooney fan, but I’ve been thinking about him lately, and about how he generally makes a quality movie.
  • State of Play (2009): You didn’t really think you’d get away without a Crowe film, did you? I’ve seen 4 this year, and I think I enjoyed this one the most, with Robin Hood running a close second. I haven’t seen the British TV show so I can’t comment on how they’re different, but I can say that this version is smart, well-acted (seriously, what a cast!), and enjoyably paced. And hey, even the critics liked it.
  • M*A*S*H (1970): What is there to say? It’s a classic. I tend to dread war movies a little, but I was surprised by how darkly funny this one is.  Strongly recommend, if you haven’t seen it.
  • Inception (2010): Is this still in theaters? If so, consider hitting a matinee. One of the biggest movies of the summer, I believe Inception lived up to the hype. Great cast, fascinating story …Nolan at his best.  Bring your brain. Enjoy.
  • Camelot (1967): I’m a little surprised that I’m including this one, but I really enjoyed it. Read my review here.

A few honorable mentions: The Third Man, Away We Go, Proof (reviewed), The Lion in Winter (reviewed), The Living Daylights, About a Boy.

Surprisingly more current list than I thought. Also very male-centric. Perhaps I should watch more chick flicks? Anyway, whatever you decide to watch this weekend, enjoy! And if you happen to take me up on a recommendation, let me know what you thought!

Good, better, best.

Writing about Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and reading others’ reactions to the movie got me to thinking. Ms. Roberts is something of an oddly polarizing figure: most people either love her or hate her. But why? She is has been, for the most part, involved in pretty good projects. She was once the queen of the rom-com, but she has broken out and done some more interesting, edgy stuff as well – Closer springs to mind. That’s definitely not romantic, or particularly comedic, even.

And then there’s Erin Brockovich, the “biopic” about the feisty trailer-park single mom who takes on the system and wins. As we all know, Julia Roberts won an Oscar for that performance. And therein, I think, lies the problem. You see, Julia Roberts is not a great actress. She is merely a good one. And we’d like to think (even while we sneer at the Academy and their choices) that Oscar is supposed to decorate the truly great actor, not just the good ones, the so-so ones, or the downright bad ones. And so, lots of people dislike Julia Roberts for winning the award. Did she deserve it? It was a good performance … I’ve seen better that didn’t win an Oscar, but that’s hardly news. What interests me about this scenario is that she is definitely not alone, and that I question whether or not we direct more dislike towards her, as a woman, than we might towards a similarly likeable and “good” actor who happened to be male.

So that got me to thinking about the various strata of A-list actors that might be discerned. I’m going to try to break down what I came up with, but I have a few points to make before I dive in to what is a pretty sticky subject. Number 1: This is my opinion. This is how I feel about these actors. Just so you know, you may think someone is the most convincing performer in the world, and someone else will think they are as wooden as the redwoods. Shocking, I know.
Number 2: I’m trying to keep this brief so you’ll read it. Hence, examples will be kept to a minimum.
Shall we?

First off, the good actor. As already stated, Julia Roberts fits into this category. She is charismatic, engaging, able to convey a reasonable range of emotions. But the thing that, for me, characterizes the “good” actor is that they are always themselves. Julia’s always got that grin. She always looks like Julia. Likewise, I can think of two other actors, male, off the top of my head who are in the same category, and interestingly, are considered truly likeable. Does anyone hate Tom Hanks? Yes, yes, I know, Philadelphia was an amazing performance. I agree. And, he lost a lot of weight to play it! Same with Castaway! However, I would suggest that he is still, 99% of the time, just Tom Hanks. We know his mannerisms, his voice, his patterns of speech. They’re always the same. Likewise George Clooney. Dude is always George Clooney, whether he’s slinging a gun, a briefcase, or lovely ladies from both arms. And you know, that’s fine. We are entertained. We like watching these people. No big deal.

Second, we have the better actor. This actor is much like the “good” actor in that he is, quite often, himself. Highly recognizable. However sometimes, when that one role comes along, the better actor can disappear.

You’re going to think me terribly biased here, but I think a great example is Robert Downey, Jr. Particularly since his comeback, he’s been playing himself, to a degree. Handsome, devilishly, mischievously charming, maybe a little bit crazy. But again, tremendously charismatic and interesting to watch. But sometimes, Mr. Downey can pull a true vanishing act, and I’m not just talking about going blackface in Tropic Thunder (although I think that performance is tremendous). I would respectfully suggest that you sit still for all of Chaplin, for which RDJ did not win an Oscar, but should have. That performance is pure Charlie Chaplin with not a bit of Downey in sight. Amazing. And for the female “better” star? I’m going to start a riot here, but I submit to you Meryl Streep. Yep. She’s an excellent actress, don’t get me wrong. Very convincing. But still, largely, always Meryl Streep. You never look at her and think “Who is that, again?” She did, however, successfully capture Julia Child in Julie & Julia, and so she’s got the capability. It’d be interesting to see her use it more, and if she does so in any of her earlier work, please let me know. And discussing La Streep brings up, again, Julia Roberts’ appeal, or lack thereof. It’s interesting to me that Streep is largely hailed as the greatest actress of her generation, when she’s still so much of herself most of the time. What I’m getting at, I think, is that maybe actresses are held to a different standard than actors. But moving on.

The great actor. For me, the “great” actor is someone who disappears consistently. From character to character, even if they wear the same face, you really believe you’re looking at totally different people. You forget that you’re watching your favorite actor. Sometimes, you can’t even truly identify this individual from one film to the next. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this … yeah, I think Russell Crowe is a great actor. BUT, I think that discussing Crowe brings up another interesting point, which I will come back to later. Seriously, look at Crowe’s early work. From The Insider to Gladiator to A Beautiful Mind, that guy is three completely different people. It’s not just about gaining or losing weight or muscle, or changing the hairstyle. There’s a different man looking out of his eyes. I would also submit Christian Bale (to a lesser degree) and the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis as prime examples of the great actor. And for female star? There’s plenty, and most of them unsung, so I’ll go with Cate Blanchett. She’s very striking, yes, but she still finds a way to bring very different qualities and actions to all of her roles. I haven’t seen her play Bob Dylan (and probably won’t) but that’s probably an excellent example of what I’m talking about. These are the actors who take the risks, who go out on a limb, who don’t concern themselves so much with box-office returns or awards season. I think they take on these roles just to see if they can, sometimes, and that’s what makes them great.

I’ll mention one more interesting sub-category, just in passing. I feel the need to give a nod to Halle Berry and Nicolas Cage, as actors who are largely mediocre, but who made that one shining choice. If you haven’t seen Monster’s Ball or Leaving Las Vegas, I’d recommend them both, if only to understand that, while they may not be great or even good, they deserved awards for those performances.

OK. So there’s my good, better, best of actors. I’m sure you’ll disagree, but that’s just how I see it. Moving on, I want to bring up a point that got mixed into my thoughts on this a week or so ago. RTM over at FlixChatter wrote this post about actors who always seem to be typecast vs. those who seem to vanish into roles.

It got me to thinking about the character actor. For the character actor, vanishing into roles is a way of life. They’re always on the fringes, sometimes in larger capacities, but usually they’re there to support the leads, and so for them, you’re not supposed to recognize them. And that makes me wonder – is what I call a “great” actor truly what Hollywood wants in terms of leading ladies and men? For my example, I give you Gary Oldman. Oldman sort of started out in leading roles, what with Dracula and Immortal Beloved and The Professional, but over the years he’s slipped into a pattern of impressive, memorable, smaller roles. He fits better in the supporting role, no doubt about it. But why is that?

Oldman would fit into my “great” category – I’ve even had conversations with people about how, yes, Dracula, Beethoven, and the bad guy from The Professional were the same guy. We know he’s got the chops. What I think, though, is that Hollywood is hoping to bank on the stars’ recognizability (yes, I made that up), their brand … and so what they want are more actors who fit into the “good” or “better” mold. If you disappear too often, people aren’t going to come see your movie, because they’re not sure who you are, and whether or not they liked you last time around. I sometimes wonder if that hasn’t become the problem for Russell Crowe. He is much more recognizable now than he was when he made those three award-winners, and I wonder if it doesn’t hurt him a little bit. Just a thought.

That’s what’s sad about this possibility, really. As time goes on, I think it becomes harder for the great actors to do what they really want to do, because they have to do less of the really neat vanishing tricks in order to pay the bills. But it’s just a theory. I really do believe that there are gradations of acting abilities, though, and that we shouldn’t necessarily blame actors for sticking with their niche roles or genres. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? Still, I personally enjoy most the actors who seem to be different from movie to movie … those are the performances that make me sit up and take note. So, who’s your good, better, best? It’s different for everyone, after all.

Very important Monday morning announcement

Today is the birthdate of the greatest movie star ever, and I will brook no argument with that fact.

If you haven’t ever seen a Gene Kelly movie, today is the day to fix that. I recommend Singin’ in the Rain, my very most favorite movie in the entire universe. However, if that one is unavailable, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, On the Town, or For Me and My Gal are acceptable substitutes.

Actually, you know what? Here. It’s raining in New England, and this is just what we need. Enjoy.

Weekend viewing?

Planning on seeing any movies this weekend? I’m expecting From Here to Eternity, which we are watching as part of a very large project that I promise I will tell you all about soon, but one of my best friends is in NYC for the weekend, so we’re headed down to have some adventures with him and his girlfriend. Very excited about that!! Not sure if I’ll have the motivation for a movie tonight or not.

Either way, hope you see something good…

Review: Eat Pray Love (2010)

If you’re on Twitter at all (and if you are, follow me @bananaoilmovies!), you might be familiar with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. It’s a pretty descriptive little phrase designed to throw a bit of snark at those more fortunate than ourselves. For a lot of people, it’s also a good summary for the story of Eat Pray Love, journalist Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of a year spent traveling the globe in search of herself, and now a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

I’ve got a lot to say about this. And the movie. Let’s dive in, shall we? I’m crabby today, so this ought to be entertaining.

Liz Gilbert is a successful writer, but she’s unhappy and feels she is losing herself in her marriage to less-successful Stephen (Billy Crudup, appropriately schmuck-like), who seems to be a professional career-shopper without an actual career. After separating/divorcing Stephen, she finds herself in another unfulfilling relationship with much-younger actor David (James Franco, kind of smarmy). Feeling that she has lost all passion for life, she embarks upon a year-long journey of self-discovery (and a quest for God) that takes her first to Italy (in order to eat and learn Italian), then to India (to live/work at an ashram), and finally to Indonesia, where she wants to put all of her new-found knowledge together under the tutelage of the charming, toothless medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto, adorable) she met in Bali while on a previous assignment. This time around, she also meets a charming Brazilian divorcee (Javier Bardem, sensitive and fabulous), thus ending the year with love. Lest we think it’s all too rom-com for words, I’d like to point out that in reality, Gilbert married her Brazilian and they’re still together today. And she wrote a really successful book and now has a movie. In which she is played by Julia Roberts. Win!

Alright. So I already know what you’re thinking. What a lot of people are thinking. And to you, and them, I say phooey. Take your holier-than-thou, indie cred, sneers-at-bourgeouis enjoyment attitude, and stuff it. Or, um, to be a bit nicer (told you I was crabby), “Geez. Lighten up!” My reasons for going and seeing this movie were mainly, and I quote, “[to] watch pretty people visit pretty places and eat awesome food”. Plus Javier Bardem. And it delivered on those scores, definitely.

However, I would also like to say that I found it to be moving and thought-provoking. Not on any tremendously deep level, but still. We’ve all had periods of our lives where we felt we needed guidance, or a chance to reconnect with ourselves. I mean, I don’t really buy that looking for oneself, or attempting to find some balance/peace/happiness is purely a “first world problem.” Seems like that’s an everybody problem. What people are taking issue with is Ms. Gilbert’s method of dealing with said problem, which, sure, I’d also love to take a year off and eat pizza in Naples and visit lots of exotic locations. But I can’t, so I will have to find myself how and when I can. But that doesn’t mean that I should begrudge her the ability to do it in her way.

She’s also criticized in various places for being selfish. Well, to that I would suggest that we are all, especially at difficult points in our lives, pretty damn selfish. I think it’s even necessary from time to time. I read one review in which a specific part of the movie was criticized. For her birthday, Gilbert emails all of her friends and asks them to send money to a woman she’s befriended in Bali, in order for that woman to build a house and provide a stable life for her daughter. The reviewer suggests that this is done from a purely selfish standpoint, in order to prove how lovely and selfless a human being Gilbert wants us all to think she is. Um, ok. First of all, how was she to know anyone would ever read about her experience, really, much less watch it on a big screen? And I don’t know, I guess I just find that whole notion kind of ridiculous anyway. Sure, most of us get a good feeling about ourselves out of helping others, but more importantly, we still helped those people, right?

Mostly, I think that people are only taking the whole thing at face value. “Oh, forget her, she spent 4 months in Bali, wah wah wah.” The thing is, the movie at least (I haven’t read the book) is not a documentary. It is not designed to tell us how to live our lives. It is one woman’s story of some adventures she had. That’s it. Same as any other number of movies. So why spend time on a rant about how she’s selfish and her problems are not resonant? It’s her story. Her life. She doesn’t have to answer to you. I’ve seen other posts in which people list the reasons why they could not do what she has done, because they have kids or don’t have money, or whatever. Well, that’s YOUR life. You fix it/live it your way, and then maybe you’ll get a movie made about you, and someone even less fortunate than you (because realistically, they do exist) can complain about how your problems don’t resonate with them. It’s a never-ending cycle.

But hey, to each his/her own, right? Bottom line is that I try to keep an open perspective and learn from whatever source I can. And I liked this movie. It spoke me to me, it gave me a lot to think about, and I found it something worth sitting in a theater and watching. So there.

Oh yes, and about the movie

First off, Julia Roberts’ performance in the film is spot-on. She carried us through her pain and her struggles and her triumphs without too-frequently resorting to the megawatt grin and braying laugh that are her trademarks, for good or ill. Her supporting cast, most notably Bardem and Richard Jenkins as a fellow American living at the ashram in India, also provided all the right notes. Bardem, in particular, gave an interesting performance. He could so easily have been a one-note, stud-muffin love interest, but instead, we get a damaged man who is still reeling from a divorce ten years earlier and cries when his son’s visit is over. Jenkins, too, who starts out in what seems to be a sort of comic-relief role, delivers some of the most poignant moments of the film. It’s these characters that remind us that we’re watching a real story, and not just a rom-com. They are based on real people with real problems, and while one would have liked to have seen more development for most of the supporting cast, they still felt multi-dimensional and, well, real.

The scenery and the cinematography is, of course, gorgeous. The pace of the film was not as slow as I was anticipating, and it maintained a steady arc overall, though at times it felt a little choppy. I get that the scenes were perhaps meant to be a series of vignettes, but the transitions could have been more fluid. Still, the movie hits all the right notes of poignancy and playfulness, and while I don’t think it’ll make any “best of the year” lists or generate any award-season buzz, there are worse ways one could spend an afternoon.

To sum up, I get the complaints, but I guess that I just don’t feel they are warranted. Whether or not we agree with the way in which Gilbert has lived her life, and whether or not we are envious of her experiences, it’s still her life. She wrote a hit book, she gets to be played by Julia Roberts, and it is what it is. Good for her, I say. At the end of the day, this is still just a movie. You get out of it what you put in. If you were somehow expecting a life-altering experience (for you), you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re open to the idea that it won’t be completely shallow and mindless, I think you’ll discover there’s some meaning to be found. And if you just want to see pretty people and pretty scenery? Well, that works too.

Trailer: The Next Three Days

I know you probably haven’t heard of this at all, but that’s why I’m here! This is Russell Crowe’s next movie. With Elizabeth Banks (ugh) and Liam Neeson. I’m just going to post the trailer because I haven’t had breakfast yet and truly have no idea what I think about this. None at all.

What do you think?