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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Descendants Ascends to Oscar-Worthy Status Thanks to Big Performances in Small Roles

The Descendants works so well probably because of its small moments. They ring true. Like when George Clooney wakes up in the middle of the night and has a short talk with Sid the good-hearted but slightly dim friend of his daughter. We don’t get sudden wisdom from Nick, but we do learn a little more about him - and Clooney's character. When Clooney bids goodbye to Judy Greer—who after a check on IMDB seems to have appeared on every tv show in existence in the last five years—in a key late-movie scene, he has a special way of parting that makes you smile (sweet revenge). And when you think early on that this might be another troubled teen story who hates her father, it’s quite the opposite. She’s the most normal one in the story and wants to love her father. Alexander Payne has produced by far his best film here, worthy of a best picture nomination—in addition to nominations for Clooney and Shailene Woodley (who my colleague tells me is on a teenage soap opera). The casting agent deserve kudos here for a range of excellent characters from the grandfather (the estimable Robert Forster) to Nick (Nick Krause) to cousins who include where-have-they-been actors Beau Bridges (with long hair like his brother Jeff now) and Michael Ontkean. I think I met him once 25 years ago - more on that in another post - after the debut of a movie he did with Harry Hamlin. The final scene works incredibly well to take us past the death of the wife who has been in a coma the whole movie. As opposed to the ending in Martha May Marcy Marlene where we have no idea what's happening, we're comfortably settled in with the King family at the end of The Descendants.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Martha Marcy Is Well-Done Filmmaking, but for the best film about cults...

Before going to Martha Marcy May Marlene, I thought I would be seeing a film similar the powerful early '80s sleeper called Ticket to Heaven. (Rent it if you haven't seen it.) And in a couple ways - the power of the cult leader, trying to bring the person out of the spell - it was similar. But in many ways it wasn't.   Where Ticket to Heaven shows the whole gut-wrenching process of the person being consumed by the cult, Marcy May starts with her (the phenomenal Elizabeth Olsen) already well in. The film then goes back and forth between those scenes and the scenes after her sister picks up her up, with the sister and her husband (the suddenly ubiquitous Hugh Dancy) in a fancy lake house. The film is very well-done and feels pretty true, except for perhaps the one violent scene. There's tension just oozing out of all pores of this film, including of the sexual variety. I can't say it's a great film; it chooses an ending similar to Cache, Michael Haneke's film with Juliette Binoche. But I can recommend it as interesting and worthwhile. Don't forget Ticket to Heaven.  That's the one that will stay with you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Warhol Screen Tests and Dean and Britta Make Beautiful Music Together

The National Gallery is just an amazing place. We were joking last night that you could do a lot worse than just hanging out there every weekend. Yesterday we saw an amazing concert/film - Dean and Britta formerly of the group Luna were commissioned by the Warhol Museum in Pitttsburgh to write 13 songs for 13 of the 400-plus "screen tests" that Warhol filmed back in the '60s. They went through most of them and chose 13 of the "personalities" who most hung out at the Factory, Dean told us yesterday. The CD is out and I'm getting it. We saw Lou Reed as the world's coolest Coke drinker to the tune, "Not a Young Man Anymore." The gorgeous Jane Holzer brushing her teeth to "Knives from Bavaria." The tragic Edie Sedgwick primping to "It Don't Rain in Beverly Hills." And Dennis Hopperf finally breaking down and smiling to "Herringbone Tweed." Though none of us recognize the young Hopper until Dean told us it was him after the song. The perfomance was brilliant and if Dean and Britta come around again, I will let you know. The Warhol Exhibit also elicits many emotions and some of the screen tests can be seen there. But what was great about the music was that it allowed you to watch the whole screen tests which really do reveal characteristics about the Factory regulars (and yes, all beautiful people).  On Sunday, Dec. 4, there will be a film about Warhol at the National Gallery. Check the whole schedule here.   They do a wonderful job and yes, it's all free!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

European Union Filmfest Shines Spotlight on Finland and the U.K.

The European Union Film Showcase at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring runs through Nov. 22 and continues to be one of the best film festivals that this area has to offer. I saw my first film of the festival last night - Kid With a Bike by the Dardennes Brothers. It was very well-done and should get a release to theaters that show foreign films. The brothers deal in realism so this tale of an 11 year-old boy abandoned by his father is not always pretty, but it always feels right. Thomas Doret gives a fresh performance as Cyril and Cecile de France as his foster guardian proves likeable and believable. Two Finnish films have gotten some buzz here - The Good Son, which plays today at 5 pm and Le Havre, the latest film by indie-fav Aki Kaurismaki. The latter film has finished here but hopefully will get a release. I have bought a ticket for the closing night film on Monday, Nov. 22, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a new adaptation starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and John Hurt. The director, Tomas Alfredson, and Oldman are scheduled to appear at the closing night. The film has garnered wonderful reviews in London. Two other much anticipated films from the U.K. playing here are an adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea (Rattigan is also represented on Broadway right now) with Rachel Weisz and Tom Huddleston (Nov. 17); and David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method with Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightly (Nov. 18).  See the full schedule here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

That's Entertainment! Gatsby Returns to Ken Cen in All Its Splendor and Glory

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his own illusion. It had gone beyond her; beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Sometimes, I guess, you can go home again. The Washington Ballet has brought back its successful rendition of The Great Gatsby, choreographed by Septime Webre, its artistic director. He has constructed thia ballet/show/spectacle with such originality, enormous talent and passion that you can't look away. Smartly, Webre has brought back the top-notch live jazz band and the incomparable talents of Will Gartshore - now that's a narrator! - and E. Faye Butler - her "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" again brings down the Eisenhower Theater house. Female tap dancer Quynn Johnson even gets a spectacular solo in the second act. What makes the evening so grand is that Webre puts all this talent within one of the greatest frameworks of the English language. The story works with scenes colorfully and lavishly played out, from Gatsby's Charlestonish parties to teas and lunches in Manhattan to the frightful scenes on the highway and at Gatsby's pool. The music also succeeds, in a conglomeration of new tunes by Billy Novick and old ones from Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin - we were all humming What'll I Do on the way out - and Duke Ellington among others. It seemed even better than its premier a year and a half ago.
Tickets are still available - it runs through Sunday and is highly recommended. I'm no expert on the dancing, but I am pretty good on pace, creativity, theatricality and a good story. And Gatsby has it all. One wishes it could stay with us longer. I need to go read the book again! (for the 10th time?)

Are there any better last lines in fiction than... 
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further...And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."