Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fighter- The Pride of Lowell and then some…..

This is definitely going to attract nominations and has.  Golden Globe nominations include best picture, best director: David O. Russell; best actor- Mark Wahlberg; best supporting actor- Christian Bale; best supporting actress- Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.  SAG has weighed in with outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture, best supporting actor: Christian Bale; best supporting actress- Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.  And what a cast it is….. Sugar Ray Leonard plays himself as does Mickey O’Keefe, Sergeant of the Lowell Police Department who ran his own gym and was involved in Micky Ward’s training.  Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward, Christian Bale as his older brother, Dicky Eklund, Melissa Leo as their mother and manager, Alice Eklund.  Then there are the sisters: seven of them.  A regular Greek chorus, sort of.  They all hang around and repeat what Alice says or say what Alice wants to hear.  They travel in pack.  One of the sisters, portrayed by Jill Quigg, is from South Boston.  Her other acting credit is Dottie in Gone Baby Gone.  I read that Amy Adams listened to a recording of Jill’s voice in order to get the accent correct.  She did a good job.  Another sister was portrayed by Kate O’Brien.  That would be Conan’s sister.  The other actresses all had more regular acting credit.  So, we have this wonderful cast that can speak with the local accent well enough to pass muster with the very picky theater goers in Eastern Massachusetts.  Hurdle one cleared cleanly.  What’s next?  The story……

The story is based on the lives of Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, two brothers whose avocations, and at certain points, vocations, is boxing.  I will attempt to avoid spoilers, though this is a true story and certain knowledge is hard to put aside.  First, some clarifications and background:
·         Alice Eklund was married to a man named Eklund with whom she had 7 children (Dicky and six girls)
·         Alice and Eklund parted ways.  Alice and George Ward became domestic partners.  They had two children together, Mickey and a girl.
·         Yes, I treat the girls as a group, they move, think, speak and act as one.  It’s very funny.  You’ll enjoy it.
·         Dicky Eklund did fight Sugar Ray Leonard, lost the fight by unanimous decision.
·         At the beginning of the movie, Dicky is training Micky for his next fight.  At the same time, Dicky is under the impression that HBO is filming him as part of the story of Dicky’s comeback.  In reality and in the film, HBO is filming Dicky for a documentary called “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, MA” that aired in 1995.  I anticipate seeing this as my friend Joanne has a VHS copy of it..... what are the odds?  Also, the guy walking his dog across the street from Charlene’s house is her pastor (Joanne’s, not Charlene’s).
·         Micky meets Charlene and they become a couple at the start of the movie.  As a couple, they are formidable.  Or perhaps, Charlene is formidable. 

The writing of the story was cohesive.  Direction was good.  The movie flowed, no jerky moments from one to another, no strange dialogues in which actors wait for each other to stop speaking in the middle of very heated arguments.  (That drives me nuts…… heated arguments are just that and no one is polite enough to hear the other side out patiently.)  Oh, and a great catfight.  The soundtrack had lots of rock and roll.  The movie started with “How You Like Me Now?”, not a current favorite because it’s on a commercial for something that annoys me, I think.  But, there’s lots of other music and it’s entertaining.  More importantly, it fits. 

Overall, the movie has all that it takes to be a great movie.  Enjoyable from the first to the last frame.  Great story, well acted, cinematography was unnoticeable- therefore great.  Direction was deft.  This movie had the chance to go very, very bad in the wrong hands.  Just on local accents alone.  Instead, it worked very well.  Christian Bale was stellar as Dicky Eklund.  Mark Wahlberg was good as Micky Ward.  Melissa Leo was outstanding as Alice Eklund, Amy Adams was excellent as Charlene.  Jack McGee as George Ward was so natural that if I met him on the street, I’d call him George.  To me, it’s the third best film I’ve seen this year, after Winter’s Bone and Inception.  Black Swan comes in fourth, I think.  With more to be seen:  The Kids are Alright, The King’s Speech, True Grit, the final rankings are far from done.  Suggestions are welcome.  I do highly recommend seeing this movie in the theatre.  It is under two hours (barely) not including the usual
previews and whatever else your theatre may subject you to.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My take on 2010 movies

I'm overly delinquent on posting movie reviews (with apologies to my friend, Jane). Getting our son ready and off to college, getting used to being an empty-nester, and going back to work took much more time than I anticipated. But I have had occasion to see several movies since my last post and want to offer my opinion on them. In no particular order:

Inception: the best special effects movie of the year. It should clean up in the Oscar technical awards category. Leonardo DiCaprio is the most consistent actor of his generation, giving us another multi-layered performance as Cobb. The premise of the movie (the human mind can be entered through dream invasion, and ideas can be stolen) sparked memories of George Orwell's iconic novel "1984". Definitely on my top ten list for 2010.

The Social Network: the best movie of the year. The public's fascination with Facebook was heightened with this look at the "inception" (the devil made me use the word) of the revolutionary social network. Jesse Eisenberg was the perfect casting choice to play Mark Zuckerberg (the resemblance between the two is uncanny). Andrew Garfield shines as Eduardo, the sympathetic conscience of the movie. I must also mention Justin Timberlake's performance as Napster founder Sean Parker - I found this performance engaging and indicative of how truly multi-talented Mr. Timberlake is.

The Fighter: Number two on my list after The Social Network. Mark Wahlberg's portrayal of Micky Ward is engaging - you simply have to root for Micky to step out of his brother's opaque shadow and become a fighter in his own right. As much as the movie is about Micky Ward, the movie includes a powerhouse performance by Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Micky's half-brother who had a perpetual 15 minutes of fame (in his hometown of Lowell, MA as well as in his own mind), but threw a promising career away in favor of becoming a crack addict. While I applaud Mr. Wahlberg's performance, the movie belongs to Christian Bale. It is a shame that the performance will only garner Mr. Bale a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for his performance is the best acting performance I've seen this year. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams also give Supporting Actress-type performances in this gritty movie.

The Black Swan: To sum up the movie in two words - Natalie Portman. Ms. Portman's performance of a newly appointed prima ballerina who descends into paranoid madness should win the Best Actress Oscar. As a former ballet company member and current ballet teacher, I could relate to the intensely competitive world Ms. Portman's character, Nina Sayers, lives in. The quest for perfection in dance (as in most other pursuits in life) ultimately becomes Nina's downfall. Mila Kunis also shines in this movie as Ms. Portman's self-conjured rival. It is a very dark, disturbing movie, not really a dance movie at all, but a character-driven look at madness that just happens to be set in a dance environment.

Robin Hood: If you've seen Russell Crowe in Gladiator (wonderfully directed by Ridley Scott), then there is absolutely no need to see this movie. I was extremely disappointed with the direction and acting from a duo that created one of my all-time favorite movies, the aforementioned Gladiator.

Cyrus: John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill gave two engaging performances as the love interest (Mr. Reilly) getting to know his girlfriend's son (Mr. Hill). Restraint in both performances made the movie that much more eloquent.

Toy Story 3: My son grew up with Woody and Buzz, and just like Andy in the film, my son went to college this year. I will admit I've never cried at the movies as much as I did seeing this film. This movie summed up so many emotions for me: joy at seeing my son graduate high school and become a college freshman, sadness that he would not be a part of my day-to-day life once he left for college, and extreme pride in the wonderful adult he has become. Even if you are not a Pixar or Disney movie fan, please watch this one - it is a beautiful story.

The Kids Are Alright: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo give excellent performances in an up-to-date look at a modern blended family. Until I saw Natalie Portman in "The Black Swan", I anticipated that Ms. Bening would finally win her Oscar. That may still happen...

The Ghost Writer: I am in the minority in my house with my applause for this movie. Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan give great performances as a ghost writer who is hired to clean up a former British Prime Minister's memoirs. The darkness of the film serves to enhance the mysterious events which befall Mr. McGregor's character.

127 Hours: James Franco's tour de force performance as Aron Ralston, a hiker trapped in a canyon by a huge boulder (his arm is lodged between the rock and the canyon wall) is memorable. The mix of emotions that lead to Aron's radical solution to escape his predicament are beautifully portrayed by Mr. Franco.

The Town: Ben Affleck deserves applause for his restrained direction of this look at the life of bank robbers living in a small town known for its sheer numbers of bank robbers. Jeremy Renner shines again in his supporting role as Jim, Mr. Affleck's character's sidekick. The grittiness of the sets, the uneasiness and guilt in Doug MacRay (Mr. Affleck), the desire of Doug to try to escape the confines of his criminality, make this a film worth viewing.

My early Oscar predictions (to be amended, if necessary when nominations are announced): Best Picture - The Social Network, Best Actor - Colin Firth, Best Actress - Natalie Portman, Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actress - Melissa Leo, Best Director - David O. Russell

I have not seen The King's Speech or True Grit, but will post reviews after watching them.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, New Year. Grab some popcorn and keep going to the movies!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter's Bone- Best Movie I've Seen This Year

This film, one hour forty minutes long, is so engrossing that it feels as if it is so much longer, but in such a good way.  When it’s done, you emerge from the Missouri Ozarks having been transported there and wishing you could just get inside that film and be Ree Dolly’s protector.  I have watched it twice.  The first time was so mesmerizing that I didn’t want to pull myself out at all.  The second time I made notes so I could actually write this review.  To me, this is the best movie I have seen this year.  It has knocked Inception off the block.  And I love Christopher Nolan’s work.  But this had it all.  Story, first and foremost.  Acting.  Acting so wonderful you forget it is acting.  It looks like a documentary, almost.  Costumes.  Cinematography.  Casting.  The casting- it is so well done that, well, see my sentence about almost a documentary.  It was filmed on location in Missouri and that has added the realism to it.  And to bring it all together, the music, used sparingly, is divine.  It starts with a haunting a cappella song “Way Down in Missouri”  lullaby.  In another scene about halfway through the movie, Ree Dolly, a 17 year-old young woman, the center of the story who has had to grow up so much faster in an area where everyone grows up fast, enters a home.  In the living room, there is a woman singing and she is accompanied by a banjo, guitar and fiddle.  It’s a birthday party for someone, there are men playing poker at a kitchen table.  I just want to go in and sit down and listen to the music for the rest of the night.  “Oh excuse me, don’t mind me, I’ll just sit in this corner here.  I don’t want to be in the way.”  Do you think anyone would notice if I just climbed into the movie?  It reminded me of the first time I saw/heard “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”.   Debra Granik, the director has done a wonderful job of putting together all the elements and produced a very fine film indeed.  The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival.
But, Jane, you say.  What is the movie about?  Oh, it’s about a 17 year old girl/woman, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) in the Ozarks who has to take care of her family as her mother, Connie (Valerie Richards) is basically catatonic, her father is one of the best meth cooks around (more in a moment) and her brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) is 12 and her sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) is 6.  Dad, one of the best meth cooks around, had been arrested for just that very thing and to make bail, he put up the house and land (great 100 year old trees, just aching to be cut down).  Of course, the minute he made bail, he high-tailed it and hasn’t been seen by his family since.  Then the sheriff shows up looking from him.  He explains to Ree what will happen if good ole Dad doesn’t show up next week for his court date.  Of course, nobody had any idea that the house and land were part of the bond deal.  Ree says she’ll find him and sets out to do so.  However, everybody in the general area is somehow involved in the meth trade.  And everybody around is somehow related, one way or another.  The first person that Ree goes to is her uncle Teardrop (played magnificently by John Hawkes).  He refuses to help her.  There is so much at stake in this community.  No one wants to talk to anyone.  There is a Code of Silence.  One never knows who to trust.  And Ree is an unknown factor.  But Ree eventually homes in on the people who have the information she needs.  At this point, I would go further, but it be spoiling this excellent movie for you.  And that I will not do.  If you see one movie I recommend this year, see this one.  It is available on DVD now.  It is a gem of a movie.

SAG Nominations are In!

THIS JUST IN: Screen Actors Guild nominations!  It may be getting cold outside and the weather people were predicting a nor’easter for Boston on Sunday but Hollywood is heating up!  I have come to enjoy this time of year, I think, in the way baseball aficionados enjoy the playoffs and the World Series, the die-hard Pats fans turn out to tailgate and watch the Patriots play the post-season, whatever it is the fans do to incite the Celtics to do what eventually earns them yet another banner in the Boston Garden.  Without further comment, here is the list of movie nominations.  (Oh, wait, one comment:  Winter’s Bone received TWO well earned nominations!  Yes, I’m about to write my review.)


Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
JEFF BRIDGES / Rooster Cogburn – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)
ROBERT DUVALL / Felix Bush - "GET LOW” (Sony Pictures Classics)
JESSE EISENBERG / Mark Zuckerberg - "THE SOCIAL NETWORK" (Columbia Pictures)
COLIN FIRTH / King George VI - "THE KING’S SPEECH" (The Weinstein Company)
JAMES FRANCO / Aron Ralston - "127 HOURS" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
NICOLE KIDMAN / Becca – “RABBIT HOLE” (Lionsgate)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE / Ree Dolly – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
NATALIE PORTMAN / Nina Sayers – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
HILARY SWANK / Betty Anne Waters – “CONVICTION” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
CHRISTIAN BALE / Dicky Eklund – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
JOHN HAWKES / Teardrop – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
JEREMY RENNER / James Coughlin – “THE TOWN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
GEOFFREY RUSH / Lionel Logue – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Charlene Fleming – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HELENA BONHAM CARTER / Queen Elizabeth – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)
MILA KUNIS / Lily – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
MELISSA LEO / Alice Ward – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HAILEE STEINFELD / Mattie Ross – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
WINONA RYDER / Beth Macintyre

THE FIGHTER (Paramount Pictures)
AMY ADAMS / Charlene Fleming
MELISSA LEO / Alice Ward
JACK MCGEE / George Ward


THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)
ANTHONY ANDREWS / Stanley Baldwin
JENNIFER EHLE / Myrtle Logue
COLIN FIRTH / King George VI
DEREK JACOBI / Archbishop Cosmo Lang
GEOFFREY RUSH / Lionel Logue
TIMOTHY SPALL / Winston Churchill

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Columbia Pictures)
JESSE EISENBERG / Mark Zuckerberg
ANDREW GARFIELD / Eduardo Saverin
ARMIE HAMMER / Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
MAX MINGHELLA / Divya Narendra
JOSH PENCE / Tyler Winklevoss

The lists can be found at the Screen Actor's Guild website.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Golden Globe Nominations are out!

First of all, I must share this thought with you.  One of my favorite musicians, now deceased, is John Hartford.  He is a delightful writer, at times quite humorous.  He wrote a song once about golden globes and it didn't concern movies.  He wrote another song, called No Beer In Heaven, that on one occasion my then 88 year old grandmother thought was good enough to dance to (she was a pistol, she lived to 96).  So we danced and danced.  That was a very good night indeed.  So, thanks Hollywood Foreign Press for the annual reminder of some very good times.

The movie nominations that I care to discuss are:
The Fighter:  Haven't seen it yet, but then, it's not out yet.  7 nominations.
Black Swan:  See post just before this.  4 nominations.
Inception:  See post in July.  3 nominations.
The King's Speech:  Out next week.  6 nominations.  Looks like limited release.
The Social Network:  5 nominations, including Best Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.  See post.
Alice in Wonderland: 2 nominations.
Burlesque:  1 nomination.
The Kids are Alright:  4 nominations.
RED: 1 nomination.  Loved it, but not award material. Except for Helen, she's always award material.
The Tourist: 3 nominations.

What do all those movies above have in common?  They were all nominated for Best Picture.
Other films with nominations:

127 Hours: 2 nominations.  See post.
Blue Valentine:  Don't worry, you didn't miss anything.  Out 12/31.  2 nominations.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps:  1 nomination.
The Town: 1 nomination.  WHAT!  Oh, Jeremy Renner.  Of course.  (See post)
Barney's Version: 12/24/2010 release with Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Jake Hoffman (yes, his son), Minnie Driver), based on the story by Mordechai Richler, one of my favorite Canadian Authors. 1 nomination
Love and Other Drugs: 3 nominations.  Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress.  In case you were wondering.
Casino Jack:  A story inspired by Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist.  The nomination goes to Kevin Spacey.
Frankie and Alice: 1 nomination.
Rabbit Hole: 1 Nomination.
Winter's Bone:  Only one, sole, solitary nomination for one of the best films I've seen this year.  It won at Sundance.  Oh.  Review to come..
Animal Kingdom: 1 nomination.
The Easy A: 1 nomination.  I didn't know they had a category for that.  Just kidding.

So that, my friends, are the nominations for the Golden Globes- movies.  Interesting field.  I can hardly contain my patience to see The King's Speech and The Fighter.  Colin Firth, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale.  Then there is Casino Jack-  the preview I just saw with Kevin Spacey looked delicious.

It's Movie Time!

Black Swan: Definitely Dark

I had the wonderful opportunity to view “Black Swan” this evening.  There was absolutely no doubt I would enjoy this movie.  I would enjoy it if I was blind as the score is written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of my top five faves (Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Springsteen and I’ll leave the last for you to guess).   The premise of the movie is based on Tchaikovsky’s (from now on, he’s the big T), Swan Lake.  Just saying Swan Lake has the leitmotifs running through my mind.  A leitmotif is a signature "melody” allotted to a character.  It can then be intricately woven into score in many different ways and times.  It’s a device to tell the story symphonically.

But once again, I have wandered down a side path.  I have lots to say.  Before I get to the actual movie review, I thought it might be a bit helpful if we all knew the story of Swan Lake.  (Trust me, the movie is not a ballet called Swan Lake, it’s a movie about a ballerina who happens to be dancing the lead role and what is going on in her life/head.

I have boiled this down, in my mind at least, to four major characters:
Odette: a Princess, and The Swan Queen
Prince Siegfried:  The Prince (and idiot- you will see why)
Von Rothbard:  The Sorcerer
Odile:  Von Rothbard’s Daughter

Odette becomes enchanted by Von Rothbard and is a swan by day and human by night.  Therefore, she must live by a lake.  As it happens, she lives with a whole bunch of swans who happen to have the same problem and they make her Swan Queen.    The only way to release the spell is to have someone (Prince-like) pledge undying love to Odette.  One day, Prince Siegfried wanders by as Odette has changed from swan to Princess.  He falls madly in love with her due to her beauty and asks her to the ball.  On the night of the ball, Von Rothbard and Odile show up.  Now- you should know that the Evil Sorcerer’s daughter looks almost exactly (it’s uncanny!) just like Odette.  The Prince, being clueless, thinks she is Odette and pledges his undying love to the wrong person.  This has had the effect of dooming Odette to the control of Von Rothbard for life.  Odette explains to Siegfried that she must die to be free so they both throw themselves into the lake.  (Remember there was a lake?)  This destroys Von Rothbard’s powers and the “whole bunch of swans” are released from their enchantment even if it’s too late for Odette and Siegfried. 

Okay.  Back to the movie.  We have Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman)- newly appointed Prima Ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis) new member of the Corps de Ballet and alternate for the Swan Queen, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell) Ballet Master, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) former and just (not by her desire) retired ballerina and Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) Nina’s mother, a former ballerina who gave it all up to have her daughter.  The first thought I’d like to point out is the ballet master’s name, Leroy.  The King.  Just saying.  Now that we know the cast of characters, let’s dish.

The movie takes place from Nina’s point of reference.  (Thanks Joanne, for pointing it out!)  The plot line concerns her appointment as the new Prima Ballerina starring as the Swan Queen, playing both the parts of Odette and Odile.  Nina needs to work hard at this as she has the White Swan down but must mature, develop, let go, feel, etc. for the part of the Black Swan.  Nina works very hard to keep this role, to fulfill the requirements of the Ballet Master.  However, conflicts enter Nina’s life:  her overbearing mother, her colleague Lily.  Nina is troubled and beset as she navigates her way to opening night.

If I write any more, I’d be giving away the movie.

Darren Aronofsky, the director, has put together a fine film.  It is gripping, interesting, and the soundtrack is simply marvelous.  The Hollywood Foreign Press apparently liked the movie,  it gave Black Swan four Golden Globe nominations this morning:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress  and Best Supporting Actress.  I definitely agree.

PS: Ok, #5 is Dvorak- you must absolutely listen to the New World Symphony.  He wrote it about the United States of America.  It is also the source of the theme from Jaws.  Just listen- it really is.  And okay, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Frank Zappa…….

Friday, December 10, 2010

127 Hours: And it felt like that

I saw Danny Boyle's new movie, 127 Hours, last night.  I had been looking forward to this film with some trepidation as we all know what happens to the protagonist's right arm.  I was cheered by the thought that it was only an hour and a half long.  Then the movie started. 

It started with a series of shots of crowds of people.  Lots of people.  Then it focused on Aron Ralston (James Franco) getting ready to go hang out in the desert.  And not answering the phone when his mother called.  And not telling his co-worker where exactly where he was going to trek that day.

Next we see him on his bike.  He's going to beat the best record to get from here to there.  Then he falls.  Thus nature can screw you up.  He gets back up and gets going again.  Then he meets up with two lost girls.  Helps them find their way.  They separate.  He falls down a crevice and gets stuck.  He yells for help.  No one hears him. 

The rest of the movie has Aron trying to free himself, recording himself on his camera, rationing his water, etc.  This short movie felt so much longer than it really was.  I so very much wanted to like it.  There were so many flashbacks, "hallucinations", montages, and weird scenes that just didn't make sense to me that it detracted from the experience.  It was a relief that the movie finally got down to business and Aron freed himself.  Perhaps I am shallow, perhaps other events in my life or my mood affected my view of the movie but I felt it was trying too hard to be "artsy" or something and I think it failed for me on that level.  There was a story and it was a simple one.  I truly adored Slumdog Millionaire and its story.  I think Boyle told that story very, very well.  This time out, he lost me.