Monthly Archives: June 2011

Musical moment


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. MEL BROOKS! Yes, there are many different numbers I could have chosen, but what can I say? This one always cracks me up. (Plus I have this weird Gene Wilder thing.) Enjoy!

The movie: Young Frankenstein
The song: Puttin’ on the Ritz

Also for Shelley, wherever he may be. 🙂

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In Celebration: 6 favorite Daniel Craig/Rachel Weisz films


I am not very often surprised by celebrity news, probably because it is actually difficult for people always in the public eye to pull off anything off the radar. However, two of my favorite actors have managed just that. Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, after a fairly quiet period of dating, reportedly got married last week in NYC. So, congrats to them! Here are some of my favorite movies of theirs. I realize that I’m behind the ball with them and should probably add some movies to my Netflix queue, but this list is a fun mix of high and low, I think, and I’d recommend anything here.

The Brothers Bloom (Weisz): If you are a fan of quirky, weird little ensemble pieces, this is absolutely the movie for you. The cast is awesome: Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi; and the story, about two con-men brothers who decide to run a scam on a eccentric, wealthy young woman is full of everything: humor, romance, action, and poignancy. Seriously, check it out. In a neat bit of trivia, I just realized that all four leads have at least been nominated for an Oscar, with Brody and Weisz both having a win. Cool, huh?

Casino Royale (Craig): Casino Royale is, in my opinion, one of the best Bond films to date (and yes, I’ve seen them all). Daniel Craig silenced all the naysayers with his sensitive, thuggish, and truly human portrayal of the super-spy, and the action and story were also first-rate. If you haven’t seen this one, you’re missing out.

Definitely, Maybe (Weisz): Seriously cute movie. Please see my capsule review here.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Craig): Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you. I said “favorite” films, not “best” films, though, didn’t I? And I love this one. Angelina Jolie rocks it as an action star, and it’s just a fun, blockbustery, popcorn movie. And there’s Daniel Craig as the hunky opposition. Win!

The Mummy (Weisz): I realized, in doing IMDb checks for this post, that this was actually Weisz’s breakout role. It’s also a popcorn flick, and one of my absolute favorites. I haven’t gotten around to a proper post yet, but I’m a big Brendan Fraser fan. Anyway, The Mummy is the best of the series, if you haven’t seen it. Good action, fun plot and characters, a lot of great humor, and Weisz delivers one of my all-time favorite lines. If you’ve seen it, you know which one I mean.

Munich (Craig): Yes, I had to get serious at the end, here. Munich is an absolutely incredible film. Directed by Spielberg, it’s based on the real story of five men selected by the Israeli government to eliminate members of the Black September terrorist group, who were responsible for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. The cast is outstanding; in addition to Craig, there’s Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds, and Geoffrey Rush. It’s riveting from beginning to end, and was nominated for several Oscars, although it didn’t win any.It’s a very sobering film, but well worth the watch. This is Bana’s show through and through, but it’s also ample proof that Craig has real acting chops.

What about you? Any favorites I left off?

Capsule reviews

I have actually managed to watch some movies recently, but I’ve been slow in getting reviews up. So, I went for capsules, and now I’m all caught up! What about you? Have you seen anything good lately?

Kinsey (2004)

Normally, I don’t have a lot of interest in biopics: there’s a lot of talking and not much action. In their defense, though, they do usually showcase superior acting, and Kinsey is definitely no exception. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney (seriously, why doesn’t this woman have an Oscar yet?) and Peter Sarsgaard all inhabit their characters brilliantly. Kinsey is the story of Albert Kinsey, a scientist who turns to sex research upon realizing that Americans are woefully ignorant on the subject, and ultimately turns notions of sexuality on their heads. Neeson is powerful and touching as the titular character, who is brilliant and driven, but also at times extremely socially awkward. Linney, as Kinsey’s wife, is the heart of the film. She is a strong and “progressive” woman who supports her husband’s research, even when it affects their own relationship and lifestyle. As Clyde, one of Kinsey’s assistants, Sarsgard is an eager youngster who shifts effortlessly between sly worldliness and charming naivete. The crux of the film, really, is the way in which Kinsey’s research shapes and changes all three of these characters. It’s a really interesting story, funny at times, touching at others, and surprisingly enjoyable to watch. Great supporting performances by John Lithgow, Oliver Platt, and Tim Curry, along with a cameo by the late Lynn Redgrave make this a truly A-list piece of work.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Speaking of all talk and no action, I’m late in seeing Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Again, it was not a movie that appealed to me, but I decided I should see it, since it seemed to be kind of a big deal. I have to say that I was surprised in some areas and disappointed in others. Overall, I thought it was an interesting film, but not the brilliant work that it is often characterized as.
Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a fading movie star who is in Tokyo to endorse Suntory whiskey. He’s possibly the most world-weary character you will ever see on screen: he’s completely jaded about his career, his marriage, and life in general. His saving grace is that he loves his children, but work keeps him from seeing them often. During his week in Japan, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a newlywed without any idea of who she wants to be. She’s come to Japan to tag along with her husband (Giovanni Ribisi), a photographer, but she’s left on her own to aimlessly spend her time. Bob and Charlotte strike up an unlikely friendship, and spend the week indulging in harmless fun. Naturally, they do some soul-searching, and maybe learn a few things about themselves as well.
I really liked some of the themes of this movie. I found it fascinating that the two main characters could be so very different in terms of age and experience, and still find common ground. Bill Murray does an excellent job here; Scarlett Johansson, not so much. A better actress might’ve given the character a little more depth, but instead of meaningful thought coming through, one mostly got the impression that ScarJo was merely trying to “look thoughtful” much of the time. The direction and cinematography are attractive, but ultimately I think that the film doesn’t have the depth it strives for. Still, if you’re interested in Bill Murray as an actor, Lost in Translation is a must-see.

Father of the Bride (1950)

I was a huge fan of the 1991 remake of the Father of the Bride. Steven Martin was great as the put-upon dad, and Kimberly Williams was an absolutely charming ingénue. However, as you might expect, neither of them can really hold a candle to Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the original.
Stanley Banks (Tracy) is a typical middle-class father whose world is turned upside-down with the news that his adored daughter, Kay (Taylor) plans to marry. What starts out as a “small” wedding turns into a major production, with a price tag to match. Stanley tries to go with the flow, but his attempts to be a part of the process beyond just footing the bill are all comedically flawed in some way. In the end, it’s really the story of a loving father letting his daughter go, and acknowledging that she’s grown.
Spencer Tracy is absolutely perfect as the long-suffering Stanley. He’s got more expression in one lifted eyebrow than most actors can manage in an entire monologue, and he’s just a fabulous straight man. Even though he’s the problem at times, you feel nothing but sympathy for him as he’s steam-rolled through the entire wedding process. Taylor is, of course, luminous as young Kay, but she’s got a bit of a spine, too. It’s necessary in order to prove to Stanley (as well as the audience) that she really is becoming her own woman, and that it’s time for him to let her go.
All in all, there’s nothing really special or outstanding about the original Father of the Bride; it’s just a really cute little movie with first-class stars. It sets out to entertain, and it does so. There are moments of hilarity, moments of poignancy, and it’s enjoyable throughout. A must-see for classic movie fans, especially if you’re into Tracy or Taylor.

15 Movies Meme


1. Movie you love with a passion: Singin’ in the Rain. It’s my favorite movie ever. It’s absolutely perfect. Have you seen it yet? Really? What are you waiting for??

2. Movie you vow never to watch: Titanic. No, really. When it came out, it was just so overhyped, to the point of being ridiculous, that I swore I would never see it. And you know, I’ve never regretted that decision. I know all about it. It’s not like I really need to see it. As much as I like Kate Winslet, I’m sure there are better films of hers that I’m missing out on.

3. Movie that left you speechless: Easy Rider. This one was on the AFI list, otherwise I’m sure we would never have watched it. Seriously, it was … awful. I don’t mean like bad movie awful, but just bleak and sad and “wow, humanity sucks” awful. Plus that too-long tripping on acid scene just seemed sort of unnecessary.

4. Movie that you always recommend: Amelie. Please see this post. And then go watch it already, geez.

5. Actor/Actress you watch no matter how crappy the Movie? Russell Crowe. Duh. I don’t feel the need to explain this to you. Peruse the blog a little bit. You’ll figure it out.

6. Actor/Actress you don’t get the appeal of? Hugh Jackman. I sort of get it? He’s hunky if you like the type. But I think he’s a mediocre actor, I don’t like his singing, and he’s just the smarmiest ever. He’s the Smarminator. Smarmy McSmarmerson. Ugh. Pass.
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7. Actor/Actress Living or Dead, you would love to meet? Emma Thompson. Ordinarily, I don’t really want to meet celebrities. I prefer to leave their real personalities a mystery. But in Ms. Thompson’s case, I truly believe that she would be fun and down-to-earth, and we could discuss Jane Austen for HOURS, and be best friends forever. Emma, if you’re out there, call me!

8. Sexiest Actor/Actress you have ever seen? Robert Downey, Jr. I know, another shocker. I generally don’t really think of people in “sexy” terms unless I am in fact in a relationship with them. As much as I might like looking at some celebrities, I really just like looking at them, and it’s not so much about … naughty thoughts. Tee-hee! Except for RDJ. He’s special. And by “special” I mean “mind-bogglingly hot”.

9. Dream Cast? My big-budget, blockbuster adaptation of Macbeth, which would involve the following: Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Gerard Butler, James McAvoy, Geoffrey Rush, Derek Jacobi, Emma Thompson, Sophie Thompson, and Phyllida Law. Directed by Kenneth Branagh.

10. Favorite actor pairing? Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. They are the platonic form of chemistry. They are so subtle, so charming, so perfect. No wonder they made nine films together. Wish it had been more.

11. Favorite movie setting? San Francisco. I was originally going to say I didn’t have one, but then I thought about how much I love San Francisco, and love seeing it in movies. Those long streets filled with townhomes that slope down to the sea … the Golden Gate Bridge … Lombard Street … Aaah.

12. Favorite decade for film? The 1940s or 50s. I can’t choose. Don’t make me! Here are some films from those decades: The Philadelphia Story, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Meet Me in St. Louis, It’s a Wonderful Life, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Roman Holiday, Giant, Gigi, Ben-Hur, North by Northwest. See what I mean?

13. Chickflick or action movie? Tie. I don’t really consider the two to be polar opposites. I enjoy a good girly movie, and I love a good action flick. I love Angelina Jolie because she’s a chick who does action movies. They’re all equally bad or entertaining.

14. Hero/Villain/Anti-hero? Villain. I just love a good bad guy. Think Alan Rickman in Die Hard, Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma. Charisma, intelligence, that sly confidence … I think that actors always seem to be having a really good time when playing a villain. Plus, they’re typically more interesting characters.

15. Black and white or color? Color. It’s just utilized so creatively, sometimes. Black and white evokes a certain nostalgia, and I do enjoy it, but I love movies where color has meaning, or where it’s super-saturated to give a sort of fantastical vibe, or just when it seems to add to the realism.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)


You know the phrase “hot mess”? That describes this movie. I know, I know, I’m way behind on my eighties “classics,” but hey! Better late than never, right?

Dangerous Liaisons is about eighteenth century French aristocrats who play games of the heart in order to entertain themselves. Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont (John Malkovich) are two “professional” players who engage in a battle of wills and seductions, with tragic outcomes. Apparently, they were once lovers, and so their games seem to be in avoidance of any true feelings between the two of them. The Marquise challenges the Vicomte to seduce a beautiful young innocent, Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) out of revenge: another former lover (who left the Marquise for a former lover of the Vicomte’s) is planning to marry the virginal, convent-educated Cecile. Thus, the Marquise wants her spoiled beforehand. Meanwhile, the Vicomte has challenged himself with procuring the affections of Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is famed for her chastity and devotion. In a subplot, the Marquise arranges for Cecile to fall in love with Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny (Keanu Reeves) in order to further foil both the Vicomte and her old lover (whom we never meet). Both seductions are carried off, with surprising and ultimately tragic consequences.

Forgive the complex plot points, but take a look at all those names. The main draw of this period piece is its talent: Close, Malkovich, and Pfeiffer were at the top of their game, and Thurman and Reeves were rising stars at the time. Despite the ridiculousness of the story, and some rather clunky dialogue, everyone performs quite admirably. Malkovich is the star here. He’s perhaps not as handsome as one would expect for a legendary lover, but that makes his conquests all the more interesting. He smolders and oozes through this picture, and really only shows us his heart at the very end of the film. Close is also outstanding and matches Malkovich in intensity. If I had to pick a weak link, it would probably be Pfeiffer, but only because Thurman and Reeves are not given much to do besides stand around and look pretty while being somewhat vapid.

Overall, everyone keeps you entertained. Pretty people in pretty places wearing pretty period costumes allows one to forgive quite a bit. This particular story has spawned various television miniseries and movies. As a matter of fact, there was Valmont the following year (1989), starring Annette Bening and Colin Firth. Might have to check that one out. And of course, for the teenaged set, there was Cruel Intentions with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillipe. I haven’t seen any of the others to compare, but I will re-iterate that this one was kind of a mess. Looked great, and was well-acted, but somehow just didn’t seem entirely cohesive, and the screenplay left a little to be desired. It came off like a bad romance novel, and when you’ve got actors like Glenn Close and John Malkovich delivering your lines, well, they deserve better. Still, it’s an entertaining enough movie, and I’d say that if you’re a fan of any of the stars, it’s probably required viewing.

Trailer: Neverland

I could go on a rant about how the Pan story has been done to death, but instead, I’m just going to say the following. Rhys Ifans as “Jimmy” Hook, and Bob Hoskins reprising his role as Smee. Oh, and Anna Friel as a lady pirate. Dude. I’m in.

Review: Thor (2011)


Hunky “superhero” (god, in this case)?: Check.
Comely damsel, somewhat in distress?: Check.
Appropriately oily/underhanded villain? Check.
Easily arrived-at moral? Check.
Lots of shiny colors, action, explosions?: Check.

Yep. As you can see, Thor fulfills all requirements for a summer blockbuster/comic book hero origin story. We’ve got our hunky (and surprisingly likeable) hero in young Chris Hemsworth, whose physique nearly puts all those guys in 300’s to shame, newly minted Oscar winner Natalie Portman as a refreshingly nerdy love interest, a wonderfully sly villain (Tom Hiddleston, more on him later), and all of the other stuff you expect from your first summer blockbuster of the season. That includes some slow-moving exposition, a rather Swiss cheese-like plot, a disappointing final fight sequence (see: Iron Man), and plenty of teasers and lead-ins for not only a sequel, but the upcoming Avengers film as well.

Thor (Hemsworth) is the blustery, loves-to-fight elder son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), head of the Norse gods of Asgard. Yeah, they’re gods. That this is weird in the realm of mutants, rich eccentrics with expensive toys, and accidents with scary chemicals/substances is a favorite topic of conversation at Banana Oil HQ. Anyway. Thor is poised to be named Odin’s official heir, but his father decides that he is too headstrong and hasty to be king just yet. When Odin’s old enemies, the Frost Giants, apparently break a long-standing peace, Thor immediately runs off to take them all on along with his pals Sif (Jaime Alexander), the warriors three (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, and Josh Dallas), and his younger brother, Loki (Hiddleston). As you might expect, it doesn’t go well. In a fit of pique, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth, at least until he learns some humility.

On Earth, Thor bumps into Jane Foster (Portman), her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, mentor-ish), and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings, nearly stealing the show).They’re studying what I think turns out to be the Bifrost, which is the Asgardians’ means of traveling between worlds (this is never made entirely clear). Naturally, they all get dragged into Thor’s attempts to get home, SHIELD’s attempts to figure out what Thor (and his hammer, Mjolnir)’s deal is, and the eventual Asgardian showdown. And Thor and Jane fall in love. Of course.

MEANWHILE, Odin collapses and Loki takes over the throne of Asgard. What follows is a complex plot to start war with the Frost Giants AND make sure that Thor stays out of Loki’s way, permanently. But of course, none of that comes to pass, and at the end of the movie, peace is restored (for the time being), Thor is reinstated, Odin’s alright, and we’re all set up for half a dozen more movies.

Did you get all that? It’s kind of a lot. There’s a ton of exposition, and Thor is rather a bit longer than a lot of the superhero films we’re used to. Having said all that, though, it’s pretty enjoyable, due mostly in part to the acting.

Hemsworth managed a whole lot better than I expected and was really quite funny and charming, particularly as the non-reformed Thor of the early parts of the film. Portman brings a little bit more personality and humanity to the usual superhero’s gal trope, Skarsgard is always enjoyable, and Kat Dennings is really fun, providing the snark and witty asides. Anthony Hopkins is phoning it in, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and Colm Feore, as the king of the Frost Giants, is appropriately evil. Idris Elba as the powerful guardian of the Bifrost, Heimdall, is excellent. It’s always fun to see Clark Gregg as SHIELD’s Agent Coulson, and fans with sharp eyes (haha, get it?) will be excited to see a brief appearance by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye (he’ll feature more prominently in The Avengers).

The best part of the story, and its biggest problem, in my opinion, are one and the same: the marvelous Loki. Tom Hiddleston walks away with this movie. He is by turns sullen, sly, touching, and really rather creepily evil, and he’s riveting every time he’s on screen. It’s a great performance, and I hope to see more of Hiddleston in the future (He’s in Midnight in Paris, the trailer I posted recently). The problem, though, is that the story really doesn’t do him justice. I’ll try not to give too much away, but Loki’s plot is ultimately confusing and inefficient, and his motives are … well, stupid. I guess I can’t say much more than that.

It’s become slightly common for superhero movies to be fun and exciting and then sort of fail in the climax, and this one is no exception. Director Kenneth Branagh does a pretty good job throughout, but I would say that the last 20 minutes or so are a disappointment. It’s as though some bigwig came in and reminded him that this was all a set-up for future movies, so he needed to wrap it up and just leave certain things open. But, as blockbusters go, it’s still a fun one. Perhaps a tad on the long side, given that Thor’s origins are a bit more complex than some, but for the most part you don’t mind. It’s shiny and fun to look at, it’s funny quite often, and the acting is, across the board, much better than a lot of superhero movies. I’d definitely recommend it, and it gives me a little more hope for The Avengers, due next year. It’s definitely “worth a look.” 😉

Oh, and a friendly reminder, since there were people in the theater with us who obviously didn’t know the rules: it’s a Marvel film. It will probably be worth your while to stick around after the credits. Just sayin’.