Julianne Moore (#110 of 26)

Cannes Film Review: Wonderstruck

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Cannes Film Review: Wonderstruck
Cannes Film Review: Wonderstruck

Full as it is with ideas from, and allusions to, Todd Haynes’s other films, Wonderstruck still represents the director’s most dispiriting work to date. This story of children finding themselves through their discovery of art and the past is adapted from Brian Selznick’s Y.A. novel of the same time, so it inevitably bares some resemblance to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, which was also a Selznick adaptation. But the better comparison, ludicrous as it sounds, is an entirely different Y.A. adaptation, one released the same year as Scorsese’s: the execrable Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Haynes, with a film light on dialogue and entirely too reliant on Carter Burwell’s impressive, ever-expanding and changing but nonetheless incessant score, draws on the hollow sentimentality of his premise rather than the emotional specificity of his characters’ engagement with the art and history that saves them.

Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

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Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! <em>Tales from the Darkside: The Movie</em>
Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! <em>Tales from the Darkside: The Movie</em>

In horror anthology movies, the probability runs high that one or more tales will be terrible. It's an affliction to which even the best films aren't immune. While narrative shifts are expected and tolerated, one bad segment can derail an audience's patience and goodwill, sending the film into a death spiral more horrific than anything depicted on screen. Filmmakers used to better their odds by limiting the number of tales being told, or better yet, by crafting their anthologies in the guise of episodic television, where the nature of the beast is measured in terms of a series rather than a single-sitting entity.

Tales from the Darkside plays both sides of this fence; before it made a beeline for the big screen, it ran for four seasons in syndication. Perhaps all that practice on TV made the filmmakers keep its three tales just about even in the quality department. Each mini-movie has the same tally of moments of greatness, grossness, and dullness, giving Tales from the Darkside: The Movie an even-handed feel. Plus, this being a horror film, viewers watching from a future point in time can enjoy spotting the newbie actors who became stars later on, and others whose stars of fame were quickly descending into obscurity.

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress

That the only nomination for Gone Girl, a critically endorsed box-office smash that sparked a slew of think pieces and also happens to be at its core a film about a woman asserting her sense of agency, came in this category while the year's most-nominated film forces Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough into a non-sequitur lip lock is both too perfect and sadly telling. Women just can't catch a break. Even this year, while every observer has seemingly added an extra dash of salt to their beef against the Academy's retrograde tastes and disinterest in multiculturalism, the argument that Oscar's notion of excellence continues to center around phalli remains a distant runner-up to pointing out its Caucasian persuasion. At the risk of getting self-righteous, we've been on AMPAS's nuts over this practically as long as we've been putting them through the wringer: “Does one have to be a raging feminist to suggest that Capote and Brokeback Mountain aren't aesthetically superior to North Country and Transamerica? Or that what distinguishes your glorified Lifetime movie of the week from your serious Oscar contender is whether or not the lead character has exterior genitalia?”

House Playlist Arcade Fire, M.I.A., & Cut Copy

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House Playlist: Arcade Fire, M.I.A., & Cut Copy
House Playlist: Arcade Fire, M.I.A., & Cut Copy

Arcade Fire, “Afterlife”: With the release of their highly anticipated new album, Reflektor, a week away, Arcade Fire has unveiled “Afterlife,” a six-minute meditation on the titular topic. Watch the official lyric video, which employs scenes from Marcel Camus's 1959 film Black Orpheus, below:

Hearth of Darkness Rob White’s Todd Haynes

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Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes
Hearth of Darkness: Rob White’s Todd Haynes

Perhaps the most salient point in Rob White's auteur study of Todd Haynes comes within his discussion of B. Ruby Rich and her statement that Poison (1991), a pioneering film of New Queer Cinema, is “homo-pomo,” which involves appropriation, pastiche, and irony, among others. More importantly, she claims the movement's films to be “irreverent, energetic, alternately minimalist and excessive…full of pleasure.” It's an alteration of the last claim that defines White's book, where he acknowledges that Poison is “witty and playful” (or pleasurable), “but it builds to an intense pathos.” That pathos—and its significance—is where White seeks footing within the oeuvre of a filmmaker who appears to operate with equal parts practice and theory in mind. After all, Haynes studied with prolific film theorist Mary Ann Doane at Brown University, which White sees as a potential influence on Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988), given the film's preoccupation with “female subservience and the honorable authority of the medical profession,” which is a central concern of Doane's classic monograph The Desire to Desire. Also on White's agenda: navigating through the litany of cinematic influences on Haynes's films and carefully investigating the various modes of transgression present throughout much of his filmography. Ultimately, the balancing act is an impressive mix of high and low criticism.

Low, in the sense that White has visibly reigned in the academic arsenal, making only glancing references to the likes of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari—names that will be (painfully?) familiar to anyone who's logged hours as a grad student in cinema studies. In this case, the short shrift isn't only welcome, but supplemental to the core of White's analysis, as he refrains from bogging the films down in unnecessary theoretical explications. Though Haynes's filmography is potentially riper for such discussions than others, White's own delicate prose takes its place. For example, White states regarding Superstar that objects are “better described as deathlike than lifelike.” Such an acute approximation trumps paragraphs of theoretical examination. Moreover, the discussion leads to equally proficient conclusions; regarding Poison, the author states that “horror represents the politics of futile protest.” In stridently identifying these tendencies and qualities, White combines the best of critical and academic writing.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it's “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn't miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn't do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I'd emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the Bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don't talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I'm the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we're making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that's possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film's team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I've been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it's short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you're probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

SXSW 2013: Getting Back to Abnormal, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, No More Road Trips?, & Don Jon

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SXSW 2013: <em>Getting Back to Abnormal</em>, <em>This Ain’t No Mouse Music!</em>, <em>No More Road Trips?</em>, & <em>Don Jon</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>Getting Back to Abnormal</em>, <em>This Ain’t No Mouse Music!</em>, <em>No More Road Trips?</em>, & <em>Don Jon</em>

Geeky, admittedly devoid of tact, and first seen on a radio talk show in which a series of African-American callers accuse her of being a racist, Stacy Head makes an unlikely heroine. But that's just what she proves to be, as Getting Back to Abnormal conducts a tour of the racial politics of New Orleans that's as meandering and culturally rich as a second line parade.

The movie—and, it seems clear, Stacy's political career—would never have ignited without a tireless little fireplug of a woman named Barbara Lacen-Keller, an African-American child of the projects who handles constituent outreach for Stacy and serves as her fiercest and best advocate. The four co-directors (Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, and Paul Stekler) bob in and out of Stacy's and Barbara's storyline, but they keep returning to the campaign as Stacy, the first white woman to represent the central city of New Orleans on the city council in 30 years, runs for reelection. Stacy's and Barbara's campaigning and the refreshingly frank, often moving stories they tell to the camera illuminate the chasm that yawns between the races in New Orleans—and the bridges that sometimes span that gap.

Poster Lab: Carrie

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Poster Lab: <em>Carrie</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Carrie</em>

The new Carrie won't be set loose until March of 2013, but MGM and Screen Gems have already boxed and shipped the film's promotional package, just in time for trick-or-treat season. By now, most have likely seen the movie's teaser trailer, which suggests a lot more epic destruction than what was found in Brian De Palma's original. Also newly unveiled is the remake's first poster, a cool little blood-soaked gem that comes with its own foreboding promise.

It's a great new design to hang at a film buff's Halloween party, and it ably evokes the famed image that heralded Carrie 1.0. The blessing and curse of the poster—and, by extension, the film itself—is Chloë Grace Moretz's ever-blooming beauty. It shines its way through all that caked-on plasma, and it makes the one-sheet a bit of haunting symmetry that's stylish beyond its ultra-iconic subject. Still, Moretz hardly has the gangly awkwardness of a 27-year-old Sissy Spacek, and she's not exactly plausible as a meek outcast. More than anything, this image gives a major boost to the growing Moretz brand, which sells the (still just!) 15-year-old starlet as a princess who flips the bird at sugar and spice.