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Heath Ledger (#110 of 10)

On Trend Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

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On Trend: Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

Warner Bros.

On Trend: Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

I made it to Gravity right on the button. Seeing the film on my own time (and dime), as opposed to catching a press screening, I ordered the tickets online and arrived precisely at the 7 p.m. start, at one of three Manhattan theaters that were showing the movie in IMAX 3D—on opening night. Which is to say, I was very, very late. Even before we entered the auditorium, my partner and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be sitting separately. And, sure enough, after rounding the corner of the entryway, and seeing the jam-packed stadium seats, it was clear we wouldn’t be gripping the same armrest when Sandra Bullock hurtled into space like a boomerang. Any open, acceptable seats had coats and bags on them as place holders, or, in a few cases, the firm hand of someone who seemed to be eyeing me with a silent dare: “Touch this seat, and you’ll be wearing the nachos my husband’s buying right now.” I found my partner a half-decent seat in the third row, far right. But, eventually and inevitably, there was only one last option for me: the front row.

On Location Downton Abbey‘s Highclere Castle

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On Location: Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle
On Location: Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle

Along with the tail end of Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) faithful Labrador, Isis, it appears at the start of the opening credits of each Downton Abbey episode: That spectacular English manse that gives the series its name. In real life, the home of the well-to-do Crawley family and their entourage of servants is Highclere Castle, and it rests in Hampshire, on England’s southern coast. The Jacobethan centerpiece of a 1,000-acre estate, Highclere offers a setting of seemingly limitless shooting potential, with baroque state rooms, hallways, and pristinely primped courtyards ready to house all manner of high-society intrigue. On the hit show, created by Julian Fellowes (who also scripted Robert Altman’s Gosford Park), characters regard the home as a bona fide entity, as if those regal archways and amply-adorned walls could actually breathe. It’s an age-old cliché, but the estate is very much its own character on Downton Abbey, and moreover, it’s the character that unites all others. Of course, it serves as the embodiment of the ever-looming issue of Lord Grantham’s heir, representative of all that’s to be gained by whomever carries on the Crawley lineage. But it’s also the common ground between the aristocrats and the help, as all see the good of the house as the greater good. Downton is, to an extent, its own nation, with devoted citizens both upstairs and down.

15 Famous Movie Psychopaths

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15 Famous Movie Psychopaths
15 Famous Movie Psychopaths

In Bruges badass Martin McDonagh returns this weekend with Seven Psychopaths, the sophomore feature from the Irish multihyphenate and a good source for onscreen nutjobs. Colin Farrell leads the cast of not-quite-sane characters, who include two dognappers played by Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken. Still, we’re thinking this new septet of psychos has nothing on the filmic crazies that have come before, particularly the lot we’ve assembled for this list. You could repeatedly scour cinema history and return with a new batch of lunatics every time. For now, here are 15 that linger strongly in the memory, a rogues gallery that runs the gamut from clingy patient to schizo serviceman.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

Not sure there’s much more to say here than I did two years back ago when I called this for Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight except that this is probably one of two categories where The King’s Speech most deserves to win. Christian Bale, for eating, regurgitating, then shooting up The Fighter’s scenery, has lapped up nearly every supporting actor accolade since the start of the awards season. Oscar loves a showboater, and unlike his co-star Melissa Leo, Bale seems to have kept the drama on screen. I’m not sure the momentum he’s mustered can be toppled, even by some slightly unhinged awards speeches that suggest playing Dicky Eklund wasn’t exactly a stretch for the actor—though we knew that already from the way Bale talks to his mother. I know, it’s been less than a month since industry awards revealed that The Social Network was probably never our Best Picture frontrunner, but even then the only honor Geoffrey Rush has wrestled from an unkempt Bale’s twitchy fingers, not counting SAG’s ensemble award, was a prize from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association. Oscar loves a saint, but in the supporting categories at least, they love losers even more.

Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2009 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

Even if people wanted to vote for a critics darling like Josh Brolin (Milk) in this category, to do so might seem akin to failing one of the Joker’s social experiments from The Dark Knight. Hell, I’m even afraid of giving my should-win vote to anyone other than Heath Ledger for fear I’ll end up with a pencil shoved through my eye.

Trickster Heaven, Two-Faced Hell: The Dark Knight

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Trickster Heaven, Two-Faced Hell: The Dark Knight
Trickster Heaven, Two-Faced Hell: The Dark Knight

Two images to begin, the first poetic, the second emblematic.

First: A nighttime shot of the Gotham City terrorist known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), his head stuck out the side window of a swerving and careening police car. The wind whips through his hair, stringy green locks blowing wild. His eyes are closed expectantly, lasciviously. Per his trademark behavior, it would hardly be a surprise if he were to flick his tongue around, wetting his lips and lapping up the chaos he’s created, even in the molecular abstract. The sound dies away as the shot (all too brief) goes on—this is the power of cinema: to put us in a headspace other than our own; to focus our attentions to a finely honed point; to experience, for lack of a better descriptor, the sheer bliss of being alive, even though the world burns.

Movie Geeks United!: Remembering Heath Ledger/Reviewing Oscar Noms

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Movie Geeks United!: Remembering Heath Ledger/Reviewing Oscar Noms
Movie Geeks United!: Remembering Heath Ledger/Reviewing Oscar Noms

Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure to guest on the latest episode of the popular Blog Talk Radio podcast series Movie Geeks United!. Primary topic of discussion was the Oscar nominations, though the show begins with host Jamey DuVall and company paying heartfelt tribute to the late Heath Ledger.

Not Quite There: I’m Not There

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Not Quite There: <em>I’m Not There</em>
Not Quite There: <em>I’m Not There</em>

Todd Haynes has always struck me as less filmmaker than conceptual artist—a man with grand ideas whose mind works faster than 24 frames per second, the screen never quite able to contain the weight of his brain. He’s a man working in the wrong medium, like Tarantino striving to be an actor before thankfully realizing his talent lies elsewhere. Haynes’ spirit is simply not conducive to the formal requirements of film. But because Haynes doesn’t suck at moviemaking the way Tarantino sucked at acting, he’s unaware that he can scale to greater heights. If Haynes can demonstrate this level of artistic quality in his experimental-posing-as-accessible films, just imagine what he could do guest-directing a Wooster Group production, exhibiting at the Whitney Biennial. For Todd Haynes has a masterful eye for lush set design and sharp cinematography, for period costumes and jarring camera angles, all readily on display in I’m Not There, his tribute to the “many lives” of a fellow visionary, the legendary Bob Dylan. Unfortunately, what works for music—or painting or poetry, or any of the abstract arts for that matter—rarely works for the screen. After all, how does one shoot a concept?

On the Circuit: I’m Not There

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On the Circuit: <em>I’m Not There</em>
On the Circuit: <em>I’m Not There</em>

Imponderably hyperactive and indomitably hyped, I’m Not There is the indie/arthouse version of a summer blockbuster. Instead of Autobots and Decepticons, we have Bob Dylan deconstructed into a pop culture transformer, and co-writer/director Todd Haynes as the thinking man’s Michael Bay. The result is a high-concept spectacular that will geek out fanboys of Dylan and Derrida alike, a souped-up semiotics lecture, both bookishly erudite and blusteringly superficial, that is more simulacrum than synthesis of the avant garde biopic. Don’t get me wrong, though: as someone who enjoyed Transformers, I was just as entertained in the moment by this seductively shape-shifting account of Optimus Zimmerman.

Never one to be accused of modest vision, Haynes uses six actors to take on six versions of Dylan, though judging from the results it’s about three more than he really needed. For me the most stimulating embodiment is Marcus Carl Franklin as a young black prodigy aspiring to be Woody Guthrie. Despite rambling through the same cornpone mystical South from O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Big Fish (there’s even a mythical whale that swallows our musical Jonah whole), Haynes gets at something via Franklin’s teddy bear demeanor, which grants him access into black and white households alike. Here the film establishes several major themes: Dylan’s hunger for stardom and his acumen for cultural appropriation, and how others seek to possess and mold his charismatic presence in their own image. The former theme is left underdeveloped while the latter gets beaten to within an inch of its life over the two hours that follow, mostly via the film’s other teddy bear performance by Cate Blanchett.

Ride Lonesome

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Ride Lonesome
Ride Lonesome

Whether or not you love it as a movie, the financial success of Brokeback Mountain undeniably represents a sea change in mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, as least as enacted on movie screens by handsome young stars in denim. But actor and comedian Jerome Cleary isn’t too impressed with the accolades that have been heaped on costars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. In his editorial “Hollywood’s Straight Jacket,” posted on The Advocate’s web site, Cleary expresses discomfort with the idea that we should applaud straight actors for convincingly playing gay people when homosexual actors playing straight have not only gone largely unrewarded over the decades, but have had to pull off their alchemy in secret, so as not to let a hostile public know they were gay in the first place. Cleary asks: