Friday, April 28, 2006

My 10 Favourite Female Characters in Film

Woman. We are so much better than men. ‘Tis all that needs to be said. Here are a selection of leading ladies in cinema that I really admire, because I feel that heroines are far too overlooked.

01. The Bride (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill)
Branded the yellow haired warrior, embodied in Uma Thurman’s oh-so-chic figure, Black Mamba jumps from continent to continent, avenging her merciless attack and the seeming loss of her baby, speaking Japanese fluently, exercising immeasurably guile, and just looking cool. She can throw knives and karate kick her way out of any situation, better than any female I know, no matter how many opponents, but one fleeting look at her presumed dead daughter, and she is reduced to human weakness by the one thing not trained in – motherly devotion. That is humanity. Cool humanity.

02. Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter)
Leading the yawningly mundane life with perfect contentness until she meets Dr Alec Harvey, Laura Jesson is the epitome of one time English flower come desperate housewife. As she continues with her clandestine meetings with the doctor, Laura rejuvenates her happiness of youth. But like all things in life, nothing lasts forever, and that Laura comes to accept that is a testament to her brilliance. It would have been so easy to run away with Alec, or tell him to stay, but Laura does what she knows is best for them, even if it costs her momentary happiness.

03. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
Audrey Hepburn is the screen Goddess that have brought us many memorable characters such as Eliza DoLittle and Sabrina Fairchild, but her most brilliant creation is, in my opinion, her interpretation of Holly Golightly. An high-class call girl, confused by herself in a whirlpool of human desire and aspirations, Hepburn plays all the polarising forces of Golightly, from her “people’s person” side at parties, to her sensitive, insecure side when she’s with her man George Peppard, showing that, in most cases, the brunette beauty, world wise smarts and pipe tobaccoed image; ‘tis nothing but a well-created façade, hiding a woman that is as worried about love as we all are.

04. Wei Minzhi (Wei Minzhi, Not one Less)
As the young, inexperienced and thoroughly unglamorous child living a thoroughly unglamorous life, Wei Minzhi creates a very genuine and sad character that is eternally ennobling to watch. Her sheer determination to just earn that tiny reward is one of her best qualities, but the thing that makes her character most accessible to me is how she captures the hardship of life for all children growing up in rural China, and how she refuses to feel sorry for herself, until the very end, when there seems to be no hope left.

05. June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line)
Reese Witherspoon plays the singer-songwriter-country music star that grabbed the attentions of Johnny Cash, but proved a hard win, forcing him to quit his narcotic dependence and violent self-destruction before she’d consider him. June Carter Cash never had it easy – her first husband left her for another woman, and divorce in those days was completely loathed (witness the rudeness she receives in the convenience store), but her feminist self-respect brought her above any signs of self-pity as she ploughed on ahead, and found true love, and both earns and gives to the respect of Johnny Cash.

The next strong females….
06. Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce)
07. Ilsa Lund Laslo (Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca)
08. Annie Hall (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall)
09. Cathy Whittaker (Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven)
10. Louise Harrington (Laura Linney, P.S…)

I adore Lizzie Bennet, but I wasn't overly taken with Knightley's performance as her. No Scarlett Johansson characters. Sorry, but this isn't a gallery of "Who's Who" of sluts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mellifluent melody.

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Weep. So beautiful.
OK. Love film music, so will write short soundtrack reviews of films beginning with a certain letter. Today’s letter: H.

Options, looking at my Zen Creative (which incidentally, is like so, 2003):

- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Hollywood Cool (compilation of film songs)
- House of Flying Daggers
- Hustle and Flow

My grades, respectively, are B+, B, A, B and D-.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets score (John Williams)
Opens with crowd-pleasing tune of Hedwig’s Theme, but slightly different than usual. John Williams can ape his own Raiders of the Lost Ark-style background cues (as in Fawkes the Phoenix), or have a brief dalliance with Star Wars, as shown in The Flying Car, as well as new styles, as demonstrated in the brisk, jokey, march piece of Gilderoy Lockhart, or the chiming trumpets and regulated pizzes of Introducing Colins. The slightly sinister edge kicks in with Knockturn Alley, where oboes and clarinets dance around each other, only to crescendo with a variation on Hedwig’s Theme. In terms of suiting the pictures, this score is the best of the four, but as a sit down listen, it comes after the third score, which benefits from more variation. Nonetheless, Williams and his orchestra have brought us a gentle listen, good for a relaxing too.
Best tracks: Gilderoy Lockart, Knockturn Alley.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Patrick Doyle)
Here, Doyle had to take over from John Williams, as he turned down Potter so that he could do Memoirs of a Geisha. On top of that, Mike Newell wanted to introduce original songs into the Yule Ball scenes, so Doyle had to write a couple of rock songs too. He’s proved himself capable of the challenge, as Magic Works is appropriately slow and sultry, This is the Night is oddly catchy (if not really Potter-ish) and Do the Hippogriff is really catchy! In terms of compositions, Doyle has gone for the slow strings over anything truly earcatching. This works well in intentionally sad tunes such as Cedric and Another Year Ends, as well as the two gorgeous waltzes: Potter Waltz and Neville’s Waltz, which both play true to the character’s personalities, but for vital pieces such as Voldemort, I do wish he’d been a little more daring, and tried to actually scare us. Voldemort is a baddy, you know.
Best tunes: Do the Hippogriff, Potter Waltz (listen to the lovely piano part under the strings)

Hollywood Cool (various)
For any type of a music fan or cinephile, this is an absolute must-have. It is basically a compilation of “cool songs from the cool films.” Such titles include Kill Bill, Donnie Darko and American Beauty. Whilst the selection of tunes are heavily rock-orientated, and some of the selections border on odd (Woohoo as the best tune from Kill Bill? Someone had trouble acquiring the rights to Battle Without Honour or Humanity, methinks), there are some great songs here, including Under Pressure from Grosse Point Blank, and Just Dropped In, from the unforgettable sequence in The Big Lebowski. There’s deep stuff – We Haven’t Turned Around (American Beauty), cute – I Want Candy (Napoleon Dynamite), and earcutting – Stuck in the Middle with You. Some fall off the mark – Peaches (Sexy Beast) is complete tripe, but you that can just be Clubbed to Death (The Matrix). Very cool.
Best tracks: Under Pressure, Too Young, Love on a Real Train

House of Flying Daggers (Shigeru Umebayashi)
This composer’s efforts don’t shine as much as they could when compared to their gorgeous score for 2046, but this is still a solid effort, sounding quite similar to Japanese composer Takamitsu’s work on Ran. Using many Chinese instruments such as pipa, erhu and sihu, they create tension, romance and atmosphere, all with just the same style, with little deviations in tempo or dynamics. The Peonyhouse is a great little tune, but sadly only lasts a minute. Ziyi Zhang lends her vocals moderately well to the Beauty Song, but the best vocal work done here is by Kathleen Battle, on the last, heartbreaking songs, Lovers, which is beautiful and poetic in equal measure, much like the film.
Best tracks: Lovers, The Peonyhouse, Taking Her hand

Hustle and Flow (various)
Misogynistic? Check. Racist? Check. Without a doubt, one of the worst collection of “songs” of all time, the only saving grace being Terrence Howard’s sturdy vocals. Oscar winning It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp is by no means a good song, but annoyingly catchy, and you’ll find yourself humming along to the chorus line. Hustle and Flow is also quite good. The rest just isn’t. Rap and hip hop have always just been synonymous to me with “people who don’t have good voices and can’t play their instruments,” and this is epitomized here.
Best tracks: Hustle and Flow

The best of these soundtrack…
01. Under Pressure (Queen, Hollywood Cool)
02. Too Young (Phoenix, Hollywood Cool)
03. Gilderoy Lockhart (John Williams, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
04. Love on a Real Train (Tangerine Dream, Hollywood Cool)
05. Lovers (Kathleen Battle, House of Flying Daggers)
06. Potter Waltz (Patrick Doyle, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
07. No Way Out (Shigeru Umebayashi, House of Flying Daggers)
08. Stuck in the Middle with You (Stealers Wheel, Hollywood Cool)
09. Knockturn Alley (John Williams, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
10. Harry’s Wondrous World (John Williams, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Film review: KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949)

When possible Duke Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)’s mother dies, she leaves him a dying wish of being buried in his aristocratic family’s plot who have shunned her all her life, he sets about getting it done. Imagine his fury and dismay when they say no. 

He sets about getting revenge, as well as winning the heart of the mercenary woman he loves through murdering each of the eight d’Ascoyne family members that stand between him and a title, riches, and everything that he feels he's entitled to.


Magic Banana Awards, 1998

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Film
Gold: Run Lola Run
Silver: Great Expectations
Bronze: Get Real
Runners up: A Bug’s Life, Shakespeare in Love, All the Little Animals, The Mighty, Sliding Doors

Quite a good year for films, with four of the films making my top 80 of all time. Surprisingly, in my whole selection, only one film is an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, and that was the one that won.

I loved Run Lola Run for its sheer originality and thrill. Great Expectations with a smart new spin on a good novel, and Get Real is one of the most beautiful, painfully sad films about love that I have ever seen, and, after Brokeback, ranks as my best film about gay/lesbian relations. A Bug’s Life was Pixar shining again, and Shakespeare in Love was enjoyably, funny, and offered some insight into the making of a great play. Whether any of it was true or not is irrelevant.

Director
Gold: Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run
Silver: Peter Weir, The Truman Show
Bronze: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
Runners up: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line)

Yeah. Large scale work for Spielberg and Malick, but gold would have to go to Run Lola Run’s mastermind.

Actor, Leading Role
Gold: Ben Silverstone, Get Real
Silver: Jim Carey, The Truman Show
Bronze: Ian McKellan, Gods and Monsters
Runners up: Christian Bale (All the Little Animals), Kieran Culkin (The Mighty)

Ben Silverstone was the heart of Get Real. He stole the show with his innocence and bravery, and we completely empathised with him. Jim Carey, so used to being branded a cheesecakey actor, astonished in a serious role. It seems to be a good year for young actors, as Christian Bale shone as a mentally impaired boy, finding friendship in nature, and Kieran Culkin shattered hearts with his turn as a kind-hearted but crippled genius.

Actress, Leading Role
Gold: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love
Silver: Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth
Bronze: Gwyneth Paltrow, Sliding Doors
Runners up: Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary), Franka Potente (Run Lola Run)

All three medals go to very deserving performances. Gwyneth Paltrow was brilliant in her half-dramatic, half-comedic performance in Shakespeare in Love in a relatively un-Awards friendly role, and made up for Joseph Fiennes’ bland performance. But she was also great in a low key film, Sliding Doors, where she tackled her double role with perfect skill, creating two completely different characters. That said, Cate Blanchett was the very embodiment of Queen Elizabeth I. I also liked Cameron Diaz’s comedic turn.

Actor, Supporting Role
Gold: John Hannah, Sliding Doors
Silver: Ed Harris, The Truman Show
Bronze: Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth
Runners up: Tom Wilkinson & Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare in Love)

John Hannah was so lovely as the perfect boyfriend that I feel it would a sin not to reward him. He was then even better in the latter half of the film, when the slight ambiguity of his character started kicking in.

Actress, Supporting Role
Gold: Joan Allen, Pleasantville
Silver: Laura Linney, The Truman Show
Bronze: Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice
Runners up: Imelda Staunton (Shakespeare in Love), Lynn Redgrave (Gods & Monsters)

Not much to say here. Kind of a weak category.

Writing, Original Screenplay
Gold: Shakespeare in Love (Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard)
Silver: The Truman Show (Andrew Niccol)
Bronze: Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer)

It was a tough fight between Shakespeare in Love and The Truman Show for the first spot. The latter had a great premise with some deftly written characters, but in the end I opted for Shakespeare, because it was a beautiful blend of romance, comedy, drama and history.

Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Gold: Get Real (Simon Shore)
Silver: Gods and Monsters (Bill Condon)
Bronze: Out of Sight (Scott Frank)

Music, Original Score
Gold: A Bug’s Life (Randy Newman)
Silver: The Horse Whisperer (Thomas Newman)
Bronze: Pleasantville (Randy Newman)

Cinematography
Gold: The Thin Red Line (John Toll)
Silver: Run Lola Run (Frank Griebe)
Bronze: A Civil Action (Conrad L. Hall)

Editing
Gold: Shakespeare in Love (David Gamble)
Silver: Saving Private Ryan (Michael Kahn)
Bronze: Run Lola Run (Mathilde Bonnefoy)
Next year: 1997. Or 1996. Maybe.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shaw.

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"You Misunderstand him, mama...."

Jane Austen’s timeless novel of misunderstandings, pride, and narrow-mindedness is taken by Joe Wright and his capable team of Working Title to bring us the love story of Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy, two people who couldn’t be more right for each other.

The story takes place in Georgian times, when the rule of entail means that, with five daughters, the Bennet family inheritance is likely to be passed on to the closet living male, the dim-witted, sycophantic Mr Collins. Things start looking good when the sweet-tempered Mr Bingley joins Longbourne, and instantly takes a liking to Jane, the oldest daughter. The introduction between Lizzy (the second daughter), and his friend, Mr Darcy couldn’t be more different though, as Mr. Darcy rudely snubs Lizzy, and she makes a vowel never to dance with him. But through various circumstances including Mr Collins, the ambiguous Mr Wickham and Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley, the two characters are brought closer and closer together.
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As many Working Title titles, from Bridget Jones’ Diary, to Notting Hill, all contain traces of Austen, it seems only fair that their interpretation of her greatest novel should rank amongst their best films. And I would like to think of the film as an “interpretation” rather than an “adaptation,” because, on the whole, there are many things in the film that I expected differently, having read the novel. Mr Collins, for example, played with restrained humility here by Tom Hollander, could have been more of a toady. The change of setting of Darcy’s first proposal in the rain, was also a pleasant surprise, as, on the big screen, the rain just adds that extra oomph to the anger felt by Lizzy. So, on the whole, though the film has not been as true as it could to the novel, I’m willing to overlook most of this, as by adding these touches, the story has been made accessible for the 20th century.

Keira Knightley received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as the literary hero Elizabeth Bennet, in a relatively unbaity role, as, compared to recent Best Actress nominees, she does very little crying, sighing, or worrying. Although I wouldn’t hurry to say it was deserved, one thing is for certain: it is her performance here is her best work by far. As Lizzy, she is playful, tomboyish and witty, and, if she did giggle too much, this is redeemed by the poignancy to which she plays the caring sister, loyal friend, and clever daughter. Matthew “Spooks” MacFayden is less capable as Mr. Darcy, underplaying the aloofness and giving somewhat of a wooden performance. As the sardonic Mr. Bennet, Donald Sutherland gives a moving performance, shining especially in the final scene, and Brenda Blethlyn uses her fussy mother neuroses to hilarious degree as the effortlessly annoying Mrs Bennet. Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander and Judi Dench offer fine support, though Jena Malone is both too grating and too American as Lydia.

There is a gorgeous yet understated way in which costume designers, art decorators and the director of photography have brought the look of the Georgian middle class to us. The Bennet household, for one, delicately juxtaposes paintings and floor rugs with Mrs. Bennet’s signature untidiness, and the opening sequence, in which Lizzy is followed around the garden, and the colours in the sky are captured on screen, is a feast for the eyes. Special kudos to Jacqueline Duran for her excellent costume design, which is appropriately earthy and simple, yet helps each of the actors shine in their personas. And to close this winning bundle, expert pianist Dario Marianelli calls on his Purcell and Beethoven influences to score the film, fuelling much of the romance, tension and atmosphere.

As a great fan of the novel I feared that I may be too strict on the film, but it truly is a very enjoyable experience. Whilst it might not be quite as exquisite as Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, it sits up there as one of the better Jane Austen adaptations to come along in a long time. Go in without wanting to scrutinize every detail, and you will find a joyful love story, funny, sweet and relevant in equal measure.
B+

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Magic Banana Awards: Look Back.

Meh, felt like doing a tally.

People with the most wins/nominations:
Don Cheadle – 4 (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 runners ups)
Patricia Clarkson – 4 (1 bronze, 3 runners up)
Renée Zellweger – 3 (2 Golds, 1 Runner up)
Alexander Payne – 3 (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Runner up)
Philip Seymour Hoffman – 3 (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 runner up)
Audrey Tautou – 3 (1 silver, 2 runners up)
Uma Thurman – 3 (1 silver, 2 bronze)
Jamie Foxx – 3 (2 bronze, 1 runner up)

People who get nominated for different things: (you know how I love me some multitaskers)
Clint Eastwood – directing, acting
Ethan Hawke – writing, acting
Alexander Payne – writing, directing
Dan Futterman – writing, acting
Wes Anderson – writing, directing

Films with the most wins/nominations
Brokeback Mountain – 10 (6 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze)
Far from Heaven – 8 (4 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze, 2 Runners up)
Almost Famous – 8 (3 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze, 2 Runners up)
The Hours – 8 (3 Bronzes, 5 runners up)
Mystic River – 7 (4 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 bronze)
Erin Brockovich – 6 (2 Gold, 4 Silver)
Capote – 6 (2 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze)
House of Flying Daggers – 6 (2 Golds, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze)
Road to Perdition – 6 (2 Gold, 4 runners up)
A Beautiful Mind – 6 (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 4 Runners up)
Finding Nemo – 5 (3 Gold, 2 runners up)
Million Dollar Baby – 5 (1 Gold, 4 Silver)
Punch-Drunk Love (2 Silver, 3 runners up)
Amelie – (2 silver, 1 bronze, 2 runners up)
Love Actually – 5 (1 bronze, 4 runners up)
Dirty Pretty Things – 4 (2 Golds, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze)
Gosford Park – 4 (1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 runner up)
The Incredibles – 4 (1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 runner up)
Kinsey – 4 (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 bronze, 1 runner up)
The Royal Tenenbaums – 4 (2 Bronze, 2 Runners up)

My Magic Banana Awards, of 2005-2000.

Film
Gold: Brokeback Mountain
Silver: Together
Bronze: Finding Nemo
Runners up: Capote, Turtles Can Fly, Erin Brockovich, Punch-Drunk Love, The Closet, Million Dollar Baby, Far from Heaven


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Director
Gold: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Silver: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Bronze: Robert Altman, Gosford Park
Runners up: Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River)

Actor, Leading Role
Gold: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Silver: Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Bronze: Haley Joel Osment, A.I.
Runners up: Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things)

Actress, Leading Role
Gold: Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
Silver: Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Bronze: Charlize Theron, Monster
Runners up: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), Audrey Tautou (Dirty Pretty Things)

Actor, Supporting Role
Gold: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Silver: Clifton Collins Jr, Capote
Bronze: Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass
Runners up: Peter Sarsgaard (Kinsey), Peiqui Liu (Together)

Actress, Supporting Role
Gold: Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda
Silver: Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain
Bronze: Amy Adams, Junebug
Runners up: Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain)

Writing, Original Screenplay
Gold: Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)
Silver: The Closet (Francis Veber)
Bronze: Punch-Drunk Love (P.T. Anderson)
Runners up: Dirty Pretty Things (Steven Knight), The Incredibles (Brad Bird)

Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Gold: Brokeback Mountain (Diana Ossana & Larry McMurtry)
Silver: Capote (Dan Futterman)
Bronze: Sideways (Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor)
Runners up: My Sassy Girl (Jae Young Kwak), Before Sunset (Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan & Richard Linklater)

Music, Original Score
Gold: Finding Nemo (Thomas Newman)
Silver: Brokeback Mountain (Gustavo Santaolalla)
Bronze: Lemony Snicket (Thomas Newman)
Runners up: Birth (Alexandre Desplat), Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman)

Cinematography
Gold: Brokeback Mountain (Rodrigo Prieto)
Silver: A Very Long Engagement (Bruno Delbonnel)
Bronze: Road to Perdition (Conrad L. Hall)
Runners up: The Man Who Wasn’t There (Roger Deakins), Good Night, & Good Luck (Robert Elswitt)

And that’s that.

Filmmakers I adore... Audrey Hepburn.

Considered a style icon by many, with her oh-so-chic hairstyles and trend setting dress sense, Audrey Hepburn is considered a true movie star. I usually dislike talentless “actresses” who parade around on screens due to their beauty, but Hepburn is luckily not like that at all. If anyone can act, it is her.

I had seen her in a lot of films, but it really took me my first viewing of Roman Holiday to recognise her. As the young princess finding her way round the dusty streets of Rome, she gave one of my favourite performances of all time, effortlessly exuding elegance, a quiet intelligence, and grace. What’s more, her transformation from a princess into ordinary nobody was completely convincing, not overplayed at all, and all her charm was completely winning as she waltzed around Italy with an unabashed innocence. With that, the writing, and her brilliant comic timing, this won her an Oscar, and it was her first serious film role.

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What followed was a starring role as the eponymous Sabrina Fairchild in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina. Here, she played a woman, who at first was in love with William Holden’s playboy, but a few years in France later, she began to succumb to the charms of his brother, Humphrey Bogart. In Roman Holiday, she had had great chemistry with Gregory Peck, who was closer to her age. Here, Humphrey Bogart was 30 years her junior. But the chemistry was still unmistakeable, and their romance was not at all forced, over or underplayed. It was an odd romantic pairing, but it paid off surprisingly well, showing that Hepburn could shine, whoever the leading man.

Her next role was as Natasha in War and Peace. It was a long film, and it certainly tested my patience, but again, Audrey was sublime. Her transition from the purity of youth into wisdom of age was spot-on. It also helped that she looked exactly like how people had expected her character to look like.

One of her definitive genres were the light-hearted costume romps, which were fun whilst they lasted, but ultimately, didn’t linger in the mind for long. Amongst these were Funny Face, Paris When it Sizzles (where she again starred alongside the man who many considered to be the love of her life- William Holden), and How to Steal a Million. Some would argue that My Fair Lady belonged in this genre, but here I would disagree. Having worked on it for my school play this year, I have come to love this play. Professor Higgins and Eliza Dolittle are two famous play/film characters and their slowly forming romance is the key aspect of the story. In the film, Audrey and Rex Harrison are perfect together, and she, as the low class flower girl come English flower, is sublime. Extra brownie points earnt for the delivery of “Just you wait, ‘Enry Iggins, just you wait!”

Some non-comedic roles from Audrey Hepburn that I enjoyed include her turn as a blind woman, being followed by three men who want an item she holds in Wait Until Dark, as well as her work as a nun caught up in a moral dilemma in The Nun’s Story. Two characters in film that the audience truly grow to care about.

One of her most underrated performances was as a schoolteacher caught up in a web of vindictive lies in William Wyler’s then-taboo The Children’s Hour. As the one who suffers the most, she uses her large eyes to a shattering decree, and her relationship between Shirley MacLaine’s possible-lesbian is sensitively portrayed. Though her character is not given a whole lot of baity dialogue, she still manages to create a true character, and one that the audience feel for.

Two of her more light-hearted films that I greatly enjoyed were Two for the Road and Charade, though the latter sadly was Cary Grant and Walter Mattau’s show. The film of the 60s that belonged to her and nobody else was the 1961 romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Holly Golightly is a roller coaster of human emotions – at parties, she flirts and chats with her quintessential 60s chic and wit, but when alone, she can be paranoid and neurotic. Hepburn tackles this tricky role with all the right elements – class, humour, grace and that touch of vulnerability that all comes spilling out in the rainy scene with the cat. Without a doubt, one of the iconic, if not best, performances of all time. Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part, but would it have worked? Nah.

Sometime I saw an ultra-shoddy, made for TV “biopic,” The Audrey Hepburn Story, in which studio producers bastardised such a Goddess by allowing, of all people, Jennifer Love-Hewitt to portray her. Hewitt had none of Hepburn’s qualities, and I guess the only reason they cast her was because she was a petite brunette. The rest was a complete joke. Sad to think that that is what Hollywood is coming to nowadays, but meh, we’ll always have DVDs.

Best Films
01. Roman Holiday
02. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
03. Sabrina
04. Charade
05. The Children’s Hour

Best Performances
01. As Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
02. As Princess Anya in Roman Holiday
03. As Susy Hedrix in The Nun’s Story
04. As Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina
05. As Karen Wright in The Children’s Hour

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Love Letter to Pixar.

(I'm really looking forward to Cars, so I thought I'd get myself in the spirit by talking about the genius that are Pixar.)

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Ah, Pixar. Where would I be without you? Your films have all resonated comic genius and are amongst the most entertaining that I have ever seen. OK, so you work with Disney, but your genius redeems that. Instead of settling for boring, sugary Disney messages, you deliver better ones, creating films that strike a chord with adults and children alike. Plus, who can overlook the brilliance required to bring to us the parallels betqeen, say, the toy world and the human world? Underwater and land? And the pictures! What pictures! From the aquamarines of Finding Nemo to the red cape-motif of The Incredibles. With your invincible mix of stunning 3D animation, hilarious writers and the great voice >
actors you manage to secure, I’ll be watching your films for always.

From Best to Worst (or, in Pixar’s case, from fantastic to good)…

Finding Nemo (A). Like, duh. Beautiful, funny, sweet and clever, this is one of the best films of all time.
The Incredibles (A-) Superheroes had never been so interesting.
A Bug’s Life (A-)
Toy Story (A-)
Monster’s, Inc (A-) For all the Pixar films, this I feel is the most "Disney." Nonetheless, the heart is in the right place, and it is just so cute!
Toy Story II (B) Still good, but I prefered the first.

I’m really looking forward to Cars!
And for those who can't wait, a few more things to tickle your fancy...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Magic Banana Awards, 2000.

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Random thought – Erin Brockovich is kind of like 2000’s Capote in terms of Oscar nominations: 2 for acting, 1 for writing, 1 for direction, and one for film. And the one that it won was for the Lead Performance! And it was a biopic. Odd, no?

Anyway, before I start, I would like to defend my first choice. I really, really, adore Erin Brockovich, for its message, soul, and storytelling of redemption. And for all those who disliked Julia’s performance, could anyone really not reward her? It’s not often Hollywood gets to award a “star,” and you don’t get any starrier than Julia. Disagree all you want, but awards such as these can only encourage the star to work better.

So, without further ado:

Film
Gold: Erin Brockovich
Silver: Almost Famous
Bronze: The Princess and the Warrior
Runners up: Battle Royale, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Meet the Parents, Dancer in the Dark, Gladiator, Mission Impossible II

My review of Erin Brockovich can be found here. I loved Almost Famous in its heart and carefree enjoyability and A-list cast. The Princess and the Warrior was one of the most distinctive films I’d ever seen. Battle Royale and Mission Impossible II were two great action movies, and Meet the Parents and O Brother Where Art Thou were funny.

Director
Gold: Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Silver: Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich
Bronze: Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous
Runners up: Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), Ridley Scott (Gladiator)

Love Ang, hate Crouching Tiger. Also, everyone gushes about how Soderbergh made great films in one year, but he only really made one. Traffic was boring to the extent of Syriana (retire, Stephen Gaghan), and the only reason I’d ever watch it again is because apparently Topher Grace and Clifton Collins Jr are in it. It was just so dull.

Actor, Leading Role
Gold: Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot
Silver: Patrick Fugit, Almost Famous
Bronze: Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
Runners up: Frankie Muniz (My Dog Skip), Dan Futterman (Urbania)

Jamie Bell was simply brilliant in his naturalness. His Billy was a hard task to tackle, but Bell portrayed him with appropriate amounts of gutso, determination and humanity. That he was so young only adds to the talent. Patrick Fugit was adorable in his wide-eyed naivety at entering the rock and roll scene, and Javier Bardem was great. Frankie Muniz totally broke my heart, and Danny Boy tackled his sick role with appropriate sickness.

Actress, Leading Role
Gold: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Silver: Franka Potente, The Princess and the Warrior
Bronze: Bjork, Dancer in the Dark
Runners up: Renee Zellweger (Nurse Betty), Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love)

Julia was great. Great, great, great. Franka’s performance went pratically unnoticed but it was brilliant. I loved Renee’s comedic turn in Nurse Betty. Maggie Cheung’s performance was like, the one good thing about In the Mood for Sleep.

Actor, Supporting Role
Gold: Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator
Silver: Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich
Bronze: Gael Garcia Bernal, Amores Perros
Runners up: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Almost Famous), Don Cheadle (The Family Man)

Joaquin totally dominated Gladiator. He should’ve won the acting award for Gladiator. Albert Finney excelled in a low-key performance, and Gael Garcia Bernal’s turn was very fine. He was good at acting, too. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Don Cheadle get rewarded simply for existing.

Actress, Supporting Role
Gold: Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
Silver: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock
Bronze: Catherine Deneuve, Dancer in the Dark
Runners up: Julie Walter (Billy Elliot), Frances McDormand (Almost Famous)

Kate Hudson rocked Almost Famous as the band’s muse, Penny Lane. She was bright and cheerful, but also revelled in the sad realisation that she was nothing more than a groupie. Everyone else was good, too, especially Marcia, who could have easily been annoying, but instead was quietly heartbreaking.

Writing, Original Screenplay
Gold: Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe)
Silver: Erin Brockovich (Susanah Grant)
Bronze: State and Main (David Mamet)

Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Gold: Wonder Boys (Steven Knovles)
Silver: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coen brothers)
Bronze: The House of Mirth (Terrence Davies)

Music, Original Score
Gold: Malena (Ennio Morricone)
Silver: Erin Brockovich (Thomas Newman)
Bronze: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Carter Berwall)
Runners up: Almost Famous (Nancy Wilson), Unbreakable (James Newton Howard)

Cinematography
Gold: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Roger Deakins)
Silver: Chocolat (Roger Pratt)
Bronze: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Peter Pau)

Editing
Gold: Almost Famous (Joe Hutshing & Saar Klein)
Silver: Gladiator (Pietro Scalia)
Bronze: Wonder Boys (Dede Allen)

Monday, April 17, 2006

They take his money, when he's in need.

My Review of Heartbreakers

Mercenary mother-and-daughter Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love-Hewitt have cruised their way through life by cheating money out of various men with the tactic of mother marrying rich man, then conveniently catching him with another woman, the strategically placed daughter. This way only gets them so far, when, fresh of such a con with Ray Liotta, their hard earned cash is taken right out of their hands from their dear friends the IRS, and they decide to target the big guns in the form of multi-billionaire Gene Hackman.

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With a tacky premise such as this, it may seem somewhat of an embarrassment to have some talents (and Jennifer Love-Hewitt) involved. But it pays off surprisingly well. Heartbreakers is not a film that tries to be revolutionary in any way, just good entertainment, and that it is. Weaver is hilarious as the old-age goldigger, and Gene Hackman coughs and curses appropriately through his carcinogenic, repulsive richman. But for quality comedic turns, the best is by Ray Liotta, as the resentful ex who refuses to forgive and forget, who apes his own GoodFellas turn, freaky style, with laugh-out-loud consequences. From the younger actors, Jennifer Love-Hewitt is less capable, her constant bitchy act getting somewhat annoying. Her love interest, played by Chasing Amy’s Jason Lee, is more likeable, utterly adorable in his naivety and dedication (some would say stupidity) to his wretched girlfriend, who originally only pretends to be interested in him for his money, but ends up falling for him.

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I’d like to think that Heartbreakers had set out to be more than a generic comedy, and to be a film with a few lessons to teach about love. However, in its 2 hours, it ends up using the standard template. Girls tricks boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl regrets mistake, etc. For that, the film seems pretty average. There are severe plot holes and thinly sketched characters too, plus the fact that the women’s aspirations can fall from billions to millions in the space of seconds – it just doesn’t make sense. There are additional problems that blaze out so obviously that they are impossible to ignore. But for the most part, this is a superior romantic comedy, with some excellent moments. A key one is when Weaver, keen to prove that she is, ahem, Russian, does her rendition of The Beatles’ “Back in U.S.S.R.” There are some snappy one-liners, amusing physical comedy (Gene Hackman dying never seemed so funny). The direction is nothing special, but the stars raise their mediocre material and aim for comedy heaven, often reaching it, in a deeply entertaining, sometimes sweet, movie.
B+
(Off I go to watch it again...)

Witness for the Prosecution

When an old, poorly-healthed judge Wilfrid Robarts is approached one night with a baffling case concerning Leonard Vole, the accused, it is up to him to try and find out what really went on. This job is not made easy for him when he meets the accused’s cold wife, played with ice intensity Marlene Dietrich, who, for some reason, seems to be working against her husband. Who is really telling the truth?

Anybody who knows Agatha Christie will know that nothing is ever how it seems. Just when you think you’ve found a red herring, you find out that you were right along… to then find out that everything was a bluff. Or something. So the plot twists, even for those who are familiar with Christie, will always surprise. And nobody is better chosen to adapt her play than Billy Wilder, one of Hollywood’s best capable, adaptable directors. He classily uses the courtroom backdrop with deft ingénue, creating a film with courtroom drama elements, as well as petty comedy and sizzling suspense, all brought together by the excellent performances.

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As the grumpy defence lawyer with an overbearing nurse, Charles Laughton combines comedy and drama excellently, never failing to make us smile, but also shining at the dramatic moments. Elsa Lanchester, who was married to Laughton in real-life, has great chemistry with him in their light-hearted banter. The other performance in the film that stands out is from Marlene Dietrich, as Vole’s ambiguous wife. As Christine, she uses her wintry persona to perfect effect, creating a character that is as intriguing as she is dislikeable.

A few tiny quibbles. The plot, though interesting, could never happen in real life. Things work out just a tiny bit too conveniently. But overall, this is a finely made, superbly acted, and very gripping mystery. Another hit for Mr. Wilder. Check it out.

Film review: JUNEBUG (Phil Morrison, 2005)

When Art dealer Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz, never better) travels
to the South meet an Artist about his weird drawings, she decides to visit her husband’s family whilst she’s at it. He hasn’t been in correspondence with them for over three years, and why that is is left unrevealed. She meets them – her mother in law (Celia Weston), father in law (Scott Wilson), brother in law (Benjamin Mckenzie), and his perky, pregnant wife Ashley (Amy Adams). Only Ashley extends a warm welcome, as everyone else pronounces Madeleine too clever, too pretty and too successful to be considered family. Her visit brings some home truths that the family had been putting off. Or, waiting for someone to blame on.

There is something about Junebug that will surprise everyone. It’s not the weird opening sequence, where some men randomly shout into space. It’s not the surprise of seeing Schindler’s List’s Embeth Davitz finally get a film role that she deserves. No, it is that you are actually impressed by the acting from The O.C.’s Benjamin Mckenzie (shortened to “Ben” here). As Johnny, he is a definite sourpuss, rude, inattentive to his loving wife, but perhaps, as the film hints, just using his rude exterior to hide a feeling of failure inside. Ben Mackenzie makes his character surprisingly well layered, revelling in the quietly sad scenes – he tries to tape a show about meercats for his wife but can’t, and ends up taking it out on her. As his very different brother, Alessandro Nivola is as good, in his unaffected, cheerfulness. Embeth Davidtz shines too, in a different role as Madeleine, a woman trying constantly to make a good impression, but always failing. Her character is given extra depth during her many scenes during Amy Adams, especially in their snug little session over her nails.

But the film belongs to Amy Adams, the actress that brought the film out of obscurity with her Oscar nomination. In Ashley, we find liveliness, humour and a soul not to be put out easily. Her love for her under-achieving husband is touching and each time he knocks her back, she fights back playfully, covering up her own insecurities, which are all revealed in her tragic hospital scene. It was a performance that could have easily been annoying or repetitive, but Ashley’s spirit is so free, Adams’ performance perfectly heartfelt.
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Not much happens plot-wise, but Junebug is one of those films that are all the better for it. Director Phil Morrison has expertly created a story, with real characters, out of the petty everyday things. Although scenes with the Artist feel a little underdone, though they also play a part in showing the importance of family. Madeleine’s visit proves to be unsuccessful not only because she is disliked by her husband’s family, but because her actions clumsily reveal things about them, things that they’d rather not admit to. That Junebug never properly reaches a conclusion merely adds to the film’s sophistication, but on my part, I probably would have liked to see what happens if Madeline and George went back a year later. Because though Ashley had big dreams, the sad fact is that they probably all would have gone unfulfilled. Everyone has aspirations, and some people can stand in the way of others.

B +

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hormones.

As you may know, I think quite a lot of movie stars are scarily sexy. And I don't wanna grow up! 16! Gar!

So to cheer myself up, here are some pictures of Jake "Adorable" Gyllenhaal. Captions too. And I might do some others. Domonic Monaghan tickles my fancy. As does Ethan Hawke. As does...

Anyway, Gyllenhaal first.
Left: at the premiere of Jarhead, laughing at Peter.

Top right: at some Brokeback show and tell.

Bottom right: As uber-sexy cowboy Jack Twist.




























Left: asking director Kelly something about Donnie Darko, probably, "Why did I agree to do this?!"
Middle: Getting wet in The Day After Tomorrow.
Right: Cheering up Jen after Brad does the dirty. Our Jake's a people's people, and cares for others. Yay.

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Heartbreak. Sob. Oooh, Brokeback Mountain's out on DVD on Monday! Wehay!


Just to remind you, Brokeback Mountain is out on DVD on Monday! Wehay!




Will add some later. But my mind has already drifted to Dominic Monaghan. Hey, he and Jake should do a film together!