Monthly Archives: October 2010

Review: An Education (2009)

Yes! We watched a movie! And what a lovely movie it was. I think everything you’ve heard about this movie is true. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s beautiful to look at, impeccably acted, and emotionally resonant. Which, really, is more than you get from a lot of movies these days, right?

An Education is about sixteen-year-old Jenny (Cary Mulligan), who lives with her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) in middle-class, 1960s London. Jenny attends a girls’ school, where she earns top grades and dreams of “reading English” at Oxford. She is pushed in those dreams by her father, who wants to see her well-educated. All of this gets turned upside down one day when she meets a handsome, apparently well-to-do playboy, David (Peter Sarsgaard) who takes a shine to her and suddenly whisks her off for a glamourous, real-world “education”. Suddenly, Jenny must re-evaluate her dreams, and decide which form of education will truly provide her with what she wants in life … and must face the consequences when the house of cards she’s been unwittingly setting up for herself comes crashing down.

First off, the film is gorgeous. The fabulous sixties clothes, and the changes in color from scenes of “normal” life to the brighter, more saturated hues that pop up in the “dream” world that Jenny visits with David all mix together to admirably shadow the story itself. Plus Cary Mulligan is totally darling, Sarsgaard and Dominic Cooper (who plays David’s friend and business associate Danny) are handsome in that sort of severe, always-in-a-suit way, and Rosamund Pike (as Danny’s ditzy girlfriend Helen) is lovely as always.

As fun as it is to look at, it’s the acting that makes this one. Mulligan and Sarsgaard are both really excellent; there’s a reason this movie has made a star of Cary Mulligan. She’s the heart of the story, of course, and she carries it with ease and grace, if perhaps a little too much self-possession for me. I  think that within the story, I would have liked to have seen her seem a little more out of her element. But perhaps I have merely forgotten exactly how well a sixteen-year-old girl can pretend to be worldly and wise beyond her years. I look forward to future projects, and seeing her mature as an actor. Sarsgaard walks the fine line between being smarmy and sympathetic, all while being the only Yank in the otherwise all-Brit cast. His is something of a thankless role, and I would have liked a bit more exposition, but that’s just the nature of the piece, I guess.

In my opinion, though, it’s the supporting cast that really make this special movie. Molina and Seymour are superb as the well-meaning, slightly stodgy parents who really only want the best for their daughter but must still contend with their own, generational ideas of how the world works. Cooper balances slight menace with sincerity expertly – I actually found his character to be one of the more interesting, and the one most similar to Jenny herself – a kindred spirit, perhaps. Pike, quite simply, steals the show. It takes some serious talent to play the quintessential blonde bimbo, complete with totally boneheaded statements and comically wide eyes, and never come across as obnoxious. She manages it flawlessly. And finally, in much smaller roles as a marmish teacher and prim headmistress, respectively,  Olivia Williams and the fabulous Emma Thompson (I find it hard to not just always attach fabulous at the beginning of her name) are spot-on.

Finally, there’s the story itself. As a coming-of-age movie, An Education isn’t really telling us anything new. Where it succeeds is in telling its story with simplicity. It never tries too hard, but packs in a lot of emotional resonance that will leave you thinking about it for a while after you’ve seen it.

Jenny, of course, is the main focus: the teenaged girl on the brink of independence, hoping for some adventure out of life but being reminded by the authority figures around her that opportunities for a young woman are not particularly glamourous or exciting. Jenny’s parents, who clearly had some of the same dreams for themselves at her age, but have settled into middle-class fears and mundanities, are being swept along by the fantasy and romance of Jenny’s experience, and forget their role as guardians and caretakers in the process.

The teacher and headmistress provide the other side of the coin with regard to Jenny’s future: they are women of the world, with very few illusions as to what might lie ahead for Jenny on her current path, probably having been down very similar roads themselves not so long ago. An interesting side theme is the presentation of the options open to a young woman during this period of time; despite the heady sense of what “reading English” at Oxford means to Jenny, for a woman at that time, the opportunities afforded still seem to be limited to finding a rich husband or becoming a teacher, droning the virtues of Charlotte Bronte to unimaginative young ladies to earn one’s living.

Finally, the world presented by David, Danny, and Helen looks shiny, but is naturally tarnished, and not really what it seems. They are, in some ways, as trapped in their existences as anyone else, searching for a way out, perhaps, through the involvement of other people. In a sense, they are struggling the hardest to believe in the life they represent to other people.  Helen’s really the only one who seems happy in her life, and that is because she is not bright enough to know better.

This, then, is the crux of Jenny’s education; that adventure comes with a price, that a drab, suburban existence doesn’t have to be joyless, that there are no “shortcuts” to getting what one wants, and that doing the right (or the wrong) thing isn’t guaranteed to make you feel any better about the situation one way or the other. Things we all already know, sure , but certainly worth the reminder.

All in all, absolutely a movie worth seeing. It’s funny without being silly or cheesy, romantic but not sappy, poignant without being heavy, and beautifully crafted across the board. These days it’s truly not that often that you come across a well-made movie, so enjoy them when they come along. Highly recommended.

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Weekend viewing : We might watch MOVIES

We’ve been so busy lately that I seriously haven’t watched a movie in weeks. However, An Education is sitting in a little red envelope on my coffee table (squee!) and my husband has informed me that he would like to see RED, so maybe I will actually *gasp* see some movies this weekend. Oh, plus I will have to slip in one of my required Halloween movies (Nightmare Before Christmas or Hocus Pocus [shut up]) in there too.

How about you? Any movie-viewing plans??

Lists: 5 Character actors I love

Let’s talk about the character actor. They’re the unsung heroes of films … those people that you almost always recognize, but maybe can’t name. “Oh,” you say, “it’s that guy.” I think we all love character actors, even if they’re maybe not a reason to see a film all by themselves. They’re the people who might put you over the edge, though, of something you’re debating seeing. My dad loves character actors, and I have inherited that love from him, along with the sometimes obnoxious ability to recognize faces and oftentimes even manage to put names to them. Obviously, we have a different generation of second- and third-stringers about whom we get excited, but I think that the role (haha, get it?) of “character actor” is a really important one in the grand scheme of Hollywood, and so I think we ought to salute some of these folks!

As such, here are some of my favorites. I’ve actually been agonizing over this list for about a month, and I just can’t look at it anymore. I have probably forgotten someone awesome, but you know, if they haven’t jumped out from my brain at this point, maybe they’re just not going to. Anyway, to the list! I’ve listed the movies in which I have seen these individuals, and bolded my favorites.

Melanie Lynskey

Ms. Lynskey might be the reason this entire post is happening. I love love LOVE her. She is totally talented, utterly charming, and just plain awesome. She’s usually the the sister or the kind-hearted sidekick, and she’s usually funny, but I’d recommend Away We Go for a truly dramatic, albeit brief, turn. Did you know that she’s actually a Kiwi? You would never guess from her excellent accent work.  Seen in: The Frighteners, Ever After, Coyote Ugly, Sweet Home Alabama, Away We Go, Up in the Air.

 

Michael Wincott

Wincott was kind of the go-to bad guy back in the 90s. Like, Mark Strong 1.0, or something. Except (and I love Mark Strong) with a much more awesome voice. And possibly better swordsmanship (these things are important to the music major/ fencer, see). Actually, hmm. That’s a tough call. Oh, sorry; where was I?  I first saw Mr. Wincott in Costner’s Robin Hood, but really took note of him as Top Dollar in The Crow. He’s had a pretty varied career, actually, mixing up the action with the dramatic. I kinda miss him, really. Don’t some of these up-coming superhero flicks need villains still? Hey, Hollywood! Bring back Michael Wincott! Seen in: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Three Musketeers (1993), The Crow, Before Night Falls, The Count of Monte Christo (2002).

 
Dan Hedaya

Seriously, I defy anyone to say that they don’t love Dan Hedaya. The guy has been around forever and has done just about everything, and he’s awesome. He generally plays slightly sleazy characters, sometimes truly bad guys, but more often stooges. His absolute best role, I think, is as Cher’s dad in Clueless, where he keeps the sleaziness (because he’s a high-powered lawyer) but also manages to be a pretty great dad. That’s talent. Seen in: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, The Addams Family (1991), Benny and Joon, Maverick, The Usual Suspects, Clueless, In & Out.

 

 

Joan Cusack

What does one really need to say about Joan Cusack? She is probably one of the most well-known, yet unsung actresses working today. Sure, she seems to tag along with her (more famous) brother an awful lot, but she’s still a talented comedienne, usually to be found playing the quirky friend, sister, assistant … whatever, as long as she’s kooky. My favorite movie of hers is Runaway Bride, but she is utterly unforgettable as the villain in Addams Family Values. MAL-I-BU. BAR-BIE. Seen in: Sixteen Candles, Say Anything, Addams Family Values, Grosse Point Blank, In & Out, Cradle Will Rock, Runaway Bride, High Fidelity, School of Rock.

 

Larry Miller

Larry Miller also generally tends towards slightly sleazier (if funnier) characters,  but is perhaps best loved for playing a dad in 10 Things I Hate About You. He seems to appear in numerous Gary Marshall films, often uncredited, and is always memorable and funny, regardless of how small a role he may have. Seriously, if you need to identify this guy to anyone, just say “Ok, so you know the scene in Pretty Woman where Edward takes Vivian shopping, and then he tells the store manager that they need some more sucking-up?” and they will know instantly who you’re talking about. Yeah, that guy. Seen in: Pretty Woman, Necessary Roughness, 10 Things I Hate About You, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries, A Mighty Wind, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, For Your Consideration.

 

Also worth mention:

In compiling this list, the question of whether or not certain individuals were, in fact, character actors came up, and after several conversations, my husband and I have sort of determined that there are degrees of character actor-dom. Oftentimes, there are character actors who (finally?) manage to move up in the ranks, into the true B-list or even A-list categories. As such, I’m going to mention a few of these types of actors, who are no less beloved, but have maybe made a bit more of a name for themselves over time.

Semi-graduated

These guys are well-known, often have more “starring” roles, but still haven’t entirely managed to crack the true upper echelons of the acting world: David Straithairn, Bill Nighy, Mark Strong, Tom Wilkinson.

Graduated

And a few who are now bonafide stars in their own right: Jane Lynch, Stanley Tucci, James Cromwell (pretty much THE A-list character actor), Steve Buscemi.

 

Well, readers? Who’s your favorite “that guy”?

Shakespeare’s Comedies: Much Ado About Nothing


Where tragedies end in deaths, comedies end in weddings, especially where Shakespeare is concerned. In fact, the more, the merrier! We get two in Much Ado About Nothing, which was adapted fabulously for the screen by Kenneth Branagh in 1993. Much Ado, particularly treated by Branagh, is an excellent introduction to the form and style of Shakespearean comedy … the only thing it really lacks is cross-dressing. Still, outside of that particular convention, the rest of the tricks that the Bard usually employs are here: a playful game, mistaken identities, the “romantic” lovers and the less conventional ones, a “villain,” a dramatic turn, some bizarre “rustic” types, and the eventual happy ending.

Don Pedro and his entourage, including young Claudio, rogueish Benedick, and “reformed” villain, Don John (Pedro’s brother) are on their way to Messina to quarter with Leonato. Their arrival is anticipated by Leonato’s household, including his daughter, the lovely young Hero, and her cousin, Beatrice, who is Benedick’s counterpart in wit. You can already see the match-ups happening, right? Claudio and Hero fall in love, while Beatrice and Benedick mock them, until Don Pedro has the idea to trick the two clever people into falling in love with each other, with great success. Of course, however, the course of true love never ran true, and so Don John, sickened by all the happiness and merriment, sets out to upset the party. One of his henchman engages in an amorous encounter, orchestrated to be witnessed by Claudio and Don Pedro, with Hero’s serving woman, whom he calls “Hero” in Claudio’s hearing. Drama ensues, Claudio publicly denounces Hero on their wedding day, Hero’s death is staged, friends become enemies, and it’s all a big mess.

Enter the rustics, Dogberry and his sidekick, Verges. They happen to overhear Don John’s minions boasting of their trick, and take it upon themselves to arrest the gentlemen and turn them over to Leonato. Meanwhile, Claudio is remorseful at the supposed death of Hero, and a plan is derived to have him marry another of Hero’s “cousins,” who will really be Hero herself. In due course, everything is revealed, Don John is revealed as a villain, Beatrice and Benedick’s love is revealed, and Much Ado ends with the requisite weddings and dancing.

In writing all that out, I realize how convoluted and complicated it sounds. But when you’re watching Branagh’s film, you might not care that you don’t quite catch every little twist, because the whole thing is just so lovely. The film is set in the sunny Italian countryside, the cast is handsome, and there’s some great use of color (nearly everyone wears white except for the rustics, who are sort of dusty and grey) to really hit the right mood of joy and playfulness. We are reminded throughout, even when things get serious, that it really is all “much ado about nothing.”

And about that cast: I would call it 99.9% brilliant, but I actually differ slightly from most people in the casting I feel is problematic. We’ll get to that in a minute. Beatrice and Benedick are some of my absolute favorite characters in Shakespeare, and accordingly, Branagh saves them for himself and his (then-) wife, the lovely and absolutely fantastic Emma Thompson. Truly, the two of them have never looked as gorgeous as they do here, and I can’t imagine anyone, anywhere, any time mastering the banter between these two characters any more successfully. The young lovers are played with youthful earnestness by Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard, and they are no less convincing in their sweet innocence. Particularly if all you know of Beckinsale is her inclusion in second-rate action-y flicks, I would recommend watching this film. There are some acting chops there, I promise.

Denzel Washington and Richard Briers are excellent as Don Pedro and Leonato, respectively. And here’s where we get to everyone’s problem with this film: Don John is played by Keanu Reeves. Yep, Theodore “Ted” Logan, doing Shakespeare. And here’s where I differ from popular opinion. I think he does just fine.  Don John is a pretty taciturn and sullen fellow, really. While you could play him with scenery-chewing savagery, it’s not really necessary, and so I think that Reeves’ expressionlessness works for him here. The casting that I have a problem with is Dogberry, played by Michael Keaton.  Part of the problem could be bigger than Keaton – the Dogberry scenes don’t fit in to the play as a whole as well as, say, the rustic scenes in Midsummer Night’s Dream (which we’ll get to later, I promise), but particularly, Keaton is just sort of manic, mumbly and hard to follow. Every time I watch this movie, I am tempted to fast-forward through his parts. Whatever he’s trying to do with the character, it comes off as less funny and more … slightly off-putting. But don’t let that deter you!!

Seriously, this is a beautiful movie, and the major acting (Branagh/Thompson and Beckinsale/Leonard) is of the highest caliber. I think it’s hard to analyze the comedies through the same lens as the tragedies, because they’re really supposed to be light and fluffy. As complex as we think a Shakespearean comedy is today, it was pretty much the equivalent of a rom-com in Elizabethan times. There could have been some satire going on, maybe certain characters were supposed to evoke certain social stereotypes of the day, but mostly, these plays were just cheap entertainment for the masses.  At any rate, I think that Much Ado About Nothing holds up really well, thanks to Mr. Branagh’s excellent treatment, and as an introduction to Shakespearean comedy, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

Hot Patootie, indeed!

I don’t expect everyone (ok, much of anyone else, really) to know this, but long before he started making Oscar-winning films, Russell Crowe did some stage work down there in Oz. And one of the things that he did was feature, for a while, in a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think that it was actually a musical production of the show, rather than the “staged alongside the film” versions that are popular these days. Now, I’ve known about this for a while, but just today, I came across video. And guys? You gotta see this. The quality is not great, of course, but Mr. Crowe is unmistakable, first as Eddie, and then as Dr.Scott. Hot hot HOT, not to mention FUNNY and, well, just awesome.

So, in the spirit of Halloween, when RHCPers come out to play, I give you … Russell Crowe, the early years. I suppose it might not be entirely SFW, since there are people running about in underwear. Consider yourself warned.

Casting couch: Superman, part II

Check it out, folks. Because I am a total idiot when it comes to Photoshop, I didn’t even want to attempt to do a number on my casting choice for Superman, Mr. Bana. However, Ruth@FlixChatter is a Photoshop wiz, so she took over the job, AND has done some additional casting! Please go take a gander at her post; between the two of us, we’re gonna kick this Bana for Superman Campaign into high gear!

Future blockbuster: Average Joe (Working title?)


A little while back, Ruth@FlixChatter participated in another movie blogger’s “Fantasy Movie” activity, in which various bloggers created a movie – they cast it, plugged in a director, wrote up tag lines and plots and, in Ruth’s case, did everything short of write the dialogue! Hers, which you can read here, was the best of the bunch, I thought, and I am still sometimes disappointed when I recall that it is not a real movie that I will be able to see next year.

Anyway, that activity reminded me of a movie that I “made up” several years ago. All that I had at the time, really, was a concept. I couldn’t think of an appropriate star to save my life, and so I never got much past the initial idea. So I started thinking about it again, and fleshed it out a bit, and, well, I’ve decided that the time has come to share it with you. Be warned: it’s pretty bare bones. I’m just the idea girl — somebody else would have to come along and really make it hum. Hollywood, take note.

Continuing on yesterday’s theme … you know how, in Superman, it’s always been rather patently ridiculous that all Superman does is put on a pair of glasses (pretty much) and then he’s Clark Kent, and for the most part, nobody ever notices that they look exactly alike? It’s the flimsiest of disguises, really. Well, that’s sort of the basis for Average Joe. It would be a not unpredictable, but enjoyable superhero genre spoof, with the requisite amount of rom-com thrown in. So! Premise: What if there was a guy who looked exactly like a superhero, but actually wasn’t the alter ego?

That guy is Joe. Joe is kind of your stereotypically nerdy computer programmer. His dream job is designing video games. He’s a comic book nerd, a sci-fi geek, the works. He’s also sort of unaccountably hunky, not that he knows it, and is a dead ringer for his city’s resident Superdude. (Ok, I haven’t come up with good names. Sue me.) Now, since Joe is such a total geek, there are very few people who have noticed this … pretty much only his two good friends, with whom he works a thankless job, programming software for a corporation that does … something boring. It’s not important. Those two friends are, of course, the cute-but-geeky girl-next-door type (who naturally has a thing for our hero) and the snarky sidekick best friend.

To further the romantic angles of the plot, Joe and Company’s boss is a corporate ice queen who knows nothing about computers, but with whom Joe is, of course, smitten. She treats him horribly, he never thinks of anything witty to say, and the audience knows that at the end of the movie, Corporate Ice Queen will have her come-uppance, and Joe and Cute Geek Girl will ride off into the sunset on a Segway. Like I said, we’re going for comedy spoof here, so I want the cliches working overtime.

We of course need a Superdude, and a villain. Superdude is a pretty straightforward hero – strong, brave, basically oblivious to the world around him … a little vain, perhaps. Our villain needs to be your standard evil genius megalomaniac out to rule the world. I want him to be kind of laughable, but with a very real streak of menace.

That should do it for our characters. With me so far? Good, ’cause now comes the fun part. Casting!!

Back when I thought of this movie, I had never even heard of my hero yet. I wished in vain for someone good-looking but kinda dorky who could pull off being both the geek and the hero. Lo and behold, even though I first “met” him a couple of years ago, it was only very recently that I realized he was really the perfect Joe.

He’s a handsome, handsome geek. He’s funny, charming, sweet, and he’s got “superhero”written all over him. He’s even already participated in a few genre spoofs, and so I just know that he’ll be perfect. Can’t you guess? C’mon … you’re not thinking…

Yep. Mr. Fillion it is. If you are familiar with his work, I don’t think I need much more of a pitch. This is his vehicle, make no mistake. I just didn’t know it 5 years ago when I first thought up this idea. How fortunate that he came along!

Moving on, we’ve got Cute-Geek-Girl, Snarky Best Friend, and Corporate Ice Queen. I’ve chosen (in order): Rachel McAdams, Geoffrey Arend, and Christina Applegate. I think all three have the needed comedy skills, and that they’ll all have the right kind of chemistry w/Fillion. Obviously, we have to geek McAdams up a bit, but I think she and Fillion will be great together. They’re so cute and Canadian! I really kind of wanted Alan Tudyk for Snarky Best Friend, but then I felt that was a little too obvious, and I thought of Arend in 500 Days of Summer. And well, I just love Christina Applegate, and I know that she can be bitchy and hilarious all at the same time.

And finally, our villain. Fillion will obviously play both Average Joe and Superdude. For my villain, I was very much thinking someone along the lines of Geoffrey Rush (who is a genius) in Mystery Men. Crazy, brilliant, a little funny, a little scary. I came to a decision about three or four weeks before the news hit that he will be playing the baddie in the Spiderman reboot, but I’m sticking with Rhys Ifans. I think he can pull it off. For some reason I had Paul Bettany stuck in my head, but I wasn’t sure he could really be what I wanted, and so Ifans seemed to me a natural progression into over-the-top territory. And I guess I’m not the only one who was thinking “supervillain,” so there you go.

Now that our cast is complete, I guess we need a plot. This is somewhat bare bones, as I am not a particularly funny person, and will rely on some good screen writers to plug in the comedy and spoofery. What do you mean, that’s not a word? Be quiet. I’m working, here.

Alright. As we know, Joe looks like Superdude, but Joe is a geek. He works in cubicle drudgery, has no life (probably plays WoW), is completely oblivious to his cute female friend, and falls all over himself anytime his boss makes an appearance. He is also a clutz; this will enable him to generally encounter some kind of difficulty that causes him to leave the room right as some kind of disaster is striking, so that his friends quickly put together the notion that he’s really running off to don his cape and tights to save the day. Perhaps they will try to drop a few hints that they “know,” and he will be clueless, etc. Meanwhile, Supervillain is concocting a plan to take over the city AND discredit Superdude all at the same time. This plan will involve capturing and abducting Superdude, and either making at least one robot clone of him, OR using mind control on him so as to make him into Evil Twin Superdude. Either one. Then, he can turn Evil Twin Superdude loose to destroy the city for him, and will step in at the last minute to “save” the day, thus bringing the city under his reign of terror.

All of this goes according to plan. Evil Twin Superdude wreaks havoc upon the city. His image starts to suffer. Joe’s friends are becoming concerned as well. Joe’s been hard at work on a video game he’s creating that he hopes to pitch to some bigwigs so that he can live his dream, and so he’s been kind of pre-occupied, etc., again supporting the idea that he really is Superdude’s alter ego. To make matters worse, Corporate Ice Queen has started paying him more attention, in part because she, too, has picked up on his likeness to Superdude, and in part to further some kind of career ambitions of her own. She wants to get him to create some kind of program that will somehow allow her to take over the company. (See, this is where real writers come in.) She’s working to bring him under her thumb and alienate him from his friends. The climax of this particular arc will occur when Geek-girl and SBF are out one night, having been blown off by Joe, and then are central in an attack by Evil Twin Superdude. They try to stop ETS, SBF gets hurt, and just like that, they are no longer on Joe’s side.

This is the kick in the pants that Joe needs to realize what’s been going on. Cue semi-dramatic scene in which SBF (in the hospital) refuses to see Joe and Geek-girl delivers the blow: “I saw you, Joe. I know it was you.” Or something to that effect. Now, Joe has a mission. Obviously, he’s the only one that can save the day. Joe has to find Supervillain’s hideout, at which point he has to go through a series of obstacles in order to succeed, save the real Superdude and the city, recover his friends, and be the hero. The catch here is that Supervillain discounts him, since he’s not a “worthy adversary,” and also that the series of obstacles he has to get through are things not based on him being “super” in any way, but are rather things which he can figure out based on his vast knowledge of all things geek. It’s basically like he’s playing a video game, and since that’s his thing, he’s obviously going to save the day.

In the end, everything turns out well and the villain is defeated. Corporate Ice Queen, realizing that Joe is NOT Superdude, dumps him, at which point he realizes what he’s been missing out on, and … becomes a bumbling idiot around Geek-girl instead. Yeah, I think it’ll be more fun to leave that part open-ended, so maybe at the very end, they’ll have arranged a tentative “date” for coffee. He will also have loads of new ideas for his video game, which he will successfully sell. Like I said, I’m not trying to blaze any new trails here … I just think that a really good superhero spoof would be fun.

So … do I have a future in Hollywood? Would you see my movie? Maybe at least at a matinee? Tell me what you think!