December 28, 2008

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

**** out of ****

"You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games," says the film's title poster, but George and Martha are likely the worst hosts in the world. Not only do they invite guests over in the middle of the night, they ridicule each other with no restraint, scream and curse at one another, go for wild car rides, berate their guests, and attempt to lure their guests into bed. These factors result in one really bad night but make for one really great film.

In the film, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (also married in real life at the time) are George and Martha, a dueling pair who return from a party one night at the home of her father, the president of a university. As they bicker, Martha informs George that she has invited a new professor and his "mousy, slim-hipped" wife over for drinks. When they (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) arrive, George and Martha initiate a bitter battle of games, ultimately revealing the skeletons in everyone's closet and exposing the guests to an all-night treat to their way of life.

Performance in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is one of its highlights, and the acting is first-rate. Elizabeth Taylor, who earned her second Oscar for this unexpectedly unglamourous role, stuns as Martha, the catty wife of George, an associate professor in the local college's history department, whose own games are enacted exquisitely by real life hubby Richard Burton. George Segal and Sandy Dennis, as Nick and Honey, are no shrinking violets, though, and they hold their own against the two titanic lead performances (quirky Dennis nabbed the film's other acting Oscar). The film's character development is incredible, and, for example, while viewers think George seems downtrodden at the beginning of the film, he turns out to be perhaps the most powerful and vicious by the end, and Martha, who "wears the pants" through most of the film and has most of the bite, ends up whimpering in his arms. In the meantime, drinks bring out the character in Honey, and Nick reveals himself as he bites back against George and Martha. All in all, these four characters drive the film, and they enthrallingly entertain.

Ernest Lehman's screenplay is well-done, basically a faithful copy of the original Edward Albee play with the inclusion of a new scene or two (and the deletion of a word or two for Hollywood). "Virginia Woolf" is clearly all dialogue and little action, and I am still stunned at the amount of verbal vomit launched by all parties in the film. If I could go back and count the lines, the number would be exorbitant. While the bitter bantering never tires in the first half of the film, the pace begins to drag by the second half, starting around the car ride once they left the house. This roadhouse scene, new to the film, was included to keep viewers' attention, but the house is at the heart of the film and the source from which George and Martha draw their power.

The film's innate theatricality, at least, remembers the stage play from which it is derived. In fact, the art/set direction's faithfulness is apparent, and through Haskell Wexler's beautiful cinematography, many shots maintain this loyalty. One of the best shots comes near the end of the film, where, from a high angle, the four main characters are shown standing at different points in the room, and this particular shot adeptly returns the film to the stage. In addition, the cinematography also matches the mood quite well - much of the talking in the living room is met with comfortable, lengthy shots, while a scene such as the violent one in the roadhouse uses close-ups and is handheld.

In addition, Mike Nichols does well for his first directorial effort, and his work proves he was on the forefront of modern Hollywood. While much of "Virginia Woolf" maintains the cinematic quality of classic Hollywood, its dark tone and ugly realism place it in a new category, undefined at the time.

Meanwhile, the theme of the film itself is interesting and cutting-edge for classic Hollywood. George points out the "truth and illusion" in life, and this contrast between the two structures the film. George and Martha spew venom back and forth at each other and play endless games to belittle the other... or so viewers think. In fact, they are, but they also stride the boundary between reality and illusion, attacking each other in those respects as well. Consider: George is constantly castigated for the truths of his life, and he reciprocates at the end of the film by going for the throat (figuratively, this time), torturing Martha with the truth about their son. Nonetheless, all of their games are laced with truth and illusion, and who knows which is which. This, therefore, becomes the meaning of the film. In addition, the game-like song "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," sung several times in the film and its title, brings laughter at the beginning of the film and tears at the end, thus recounting the transformation from illusion to truth in the film.


December 27, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds

*** out of ****

Everyone has been called a nerd, a dork, a spaz, or a geek at some point in his or her life. I think this particular aspect is what makes "Revenge of the Nerds" so great among 80s comedies―its universality, which still rings true today even though the 80s have saturated its content. Plus, it is pretty hilarious.

The content itself is amusing, for certain―two buddies from high school (Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards) go off to college and find themselves constantly terrorized by the nerd-hating jocks, all of whom are Alpha Betas. (They would be ― get it? "Alpha males.") When the Alphas burn down their house, the freshmen nerds are ousted to the gymnasium until they can find somewhere to live. When a select group of nerds, including our heroes, are left out (though pranked into rushing Alpha Beta), they bond together to create a new chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda, a consistently African-American fraternity. In order to find respect on campus, the nerds―I mean, tri-Lambs―must gain the respect of their superiors, outwit the Alphas and their sister sorority the Pis, and win the climactic Homecoming Carnival, which would solidify their position as new leaders of the Greek Council.

The performances are not necessarily going to nab any Oscars, but the characters are certainly well-constructed and identifiable in viewers' experiences. Even if they are a bit stereotyped, they are all still enjoyable. (Meanwhile, making a hilarious appearance, and likely my favorite, is former football player Bernie Casey as U.N. Jefferson, the head of the tri-Lambs' national chapter.)

Probably one of the best aspects of the film is its straightforwardness, omitting unnecessary details and carrying viewers from the beginning when Gilbert and Lewis move off to college all the way to the important events that affect them until Homecoming. The narrative never delays (yay, screenwriting), and this consistency helps the film remain enjoyable for viewers from start to finish.

I love the film's score and soundtrack, as well. The songs, notably including "Burning Down the House" and "Thriller," are 80s fun, while the early Thomas Newman score will leave its impression on viewers' minds for hours afterward. (Test it: How long will it take to remove Poindexter's solo from the Homecoming Carnival from your head?)

All in all, "Revenge of the Nerds" is likely to cause a lot of laughs with funny, stereotyped performances and occasional (by modern standards of political correctness) offcolor humor, although some of the raunchiness and language might cause you to hide the kiddies. While groupable among many other 80s comedies, such as "Porky's" and all of those John Hughes films, and kind of dated, "Revenge of the Nerds," again, stands out with its universality. I am a nerd. You are a nerd. Everyone is a nerd. And we are here to stay. (We will just forget sequels II, III, and IV, for the love of God.)


In the News/Random Musing: SAG Nominations '09

Ah, and now the Oscar race intensifies. The Screen Actors' Guild has released their nominations for the best actors of the past year in cinema, and with this second phase of awards season, pundits begin sweating as they anticipate the selections of the AMPAS, which will finally come next month. In fact, many of the SAG voters will also vote for the Academy, so this round of nominations becomes crucial for those guessing next month's Oscar nominations. For now, let us analyze SAG's decisions and consider what the future will bring, courtesy of the Academy...

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
RICHARD JENKINS / Walter Vale - "THE VISITOR" (Overture Films)
FRANK LANGELLA / Richard Nixon - "FROST/NIXON" (Universal Pictures)
SEAN PENN / Harvey Milk - "MILK" (Focus Features)
BRAD PITT / Benjamin Button - "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON" (Paramount Pictures)
MICKEY ROURKE / Randy - "THE WRESTLER" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Oh, my... DiCaprio has been phased out and replaced with Richard Jenkins... I thought "Revolutionary Road" would be the darling of the year, but I become blind when biased... (However, the Academy might reward him anyway for his patience, if you know what I mean. *wink*) "The Visitor" seems to have received good critical reviews, at least, and Jenkins was picked out in the film's strengths... Meanwhile, everyone else rides over from the Globes, and the "Comedy/Musical" nominations are ignored, as is frequently the case. (Also, although it has a slim chance of nabbing the award, "The Wrestler" may be the dark horse film of this awards season, or so it seems. I had never heard of it beforehand, actually.)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANGELINA JOLIE / Christine Collins - "CHANGELING" (Universal Pictures)
MELISSA LEO / Ray Eddy - "FROZEN RIVER" (Sony Pictures Classics)
MERYL STREEP / Sister Aloysius Beauvier - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
KATE WINSLET / April Wheeler - "REVOLUTIONARY ROAD" (Paramount Vantage)
Hathaway is making a really strong showing in both sets of nominations, and it appears that she will succeed in nabbing her first Oscar nom. Like the actor section, the actress nominees also find almost all of themselves carried over from the Globes' drama section, save for Kristin Scott Thomas, who is replaced by Melissa Leo, who comes from a film that debuted at Sundance at the beginning of this year. Since many SAG voters also vote for the Academy, Leo could be like the Laura Linney of last year and pop into the Oscar nominations as a surprise contender. Meanwhile, Streep could finally collect another award if Kate Winslet does not actually become the darling of the awards' year, as I believe she will.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOSH BROLIN / Dan White - "MILK" (Focus Features)
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. / Kirk Lazarus - "TROPIC THUNDER" (Paramount Pictures)
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN / Father Brendan Flynn - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
HEATH LEDGER / Joker - "THE DARK KNIGHT" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
DEV PATEL / Older Jamal - "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Thankfully, the Guild recognizes Tom Cruise's obsoleteness and has replaced him with worthier nominations from "Milk" and "Slumdog." Downey continues to be a surprise, though worthy, contender, and Ledger continues to ride the wave of what could be voters' pity. While this is a somewhat oversimplified and unsympathetic comment (for which I will apologize in advance to those I offend), he did turn in an admirable, memorable performance. However, I still think Hoffman is going to find success in this category.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Sister James - "DOUBT" (Miramax Flms)
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Maria Elena - "VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA" (The Weinstein Company)
VIOLA DAVIS / Mrs. Miller - "DOUBT" (Miramax Films)
KATE WINSLET / Hanna Schmitz - "THE READER" (The Weinstein Company)
Finally, for this section, Marisa Tomei has been omitted (unsurprisingly), and Taraji Henson from "Benjamin Button" has become her replacement. This category will prove tricky for Davis and Adams - while they likely both turned in great performances, history shows that two actors who are nominated together in the same category tend to cancel each other out, allowing for the success of another actor in voting. (Think about it: Judy Holliday for "Born Yesterday" in 1950? (Bette Davis ≠ Anne Baxter) John Wayne for "True Grit" in 1969? (Jon Voight ≠ Dustin Hoffman) Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls" in 2006? (Adriana Barraza ≠ Rinko Kikuchi). NOTE: While these performances were all meritorious, I just wanted to note this effect in Oscar history.) Anyway, again, if Winslet does not get Best Actress, she will get this one. She has been nominated far too many times to let a double nomination year leave her empty-handed. (However, if she wins Best Actress, watch for Cruz to nab it; voters will not have forgotten her since "Volver.")

In summary, watch for this set of nominations to repeat for the Academy voters. Meanwhile, I, personally, will wait with bated breath for next month's Best Picture nominees.


Random Musing: Great War Movies

Now this is a list! I commend Yahoo! users for their diversity... Their selections for the greatest war movies employ depth and breadth uncharacteristic of some other lists I might mention... First, a good deal of their choices are almost equally culled from classic Hollywood as well as modern Hollywood. Just look at the representatives: "Gunga Din," "Sergeant York," and "All Quiet on the Western Front" are all great selections from the classics, and "Platoon," "Black Hawk Down," and especially "Saving Private Ryan" (respectably, their #1) are all splendid choices from more recent cinema. I even love that the selections did not discriminate against foreign cinema, with such films as "The Battle of Algiers" and "Das Boot" appearing. Even the lesser-known Billy Wilder P.O.W. film "Stalag 17," featuring Oscar-winner William Holden (for his role in the film), was not forgotten! (And thankfully 2001's "Pearl Harbor" was...) Meanwhile, I found it interesting to notice the participation of wartime films ("Schindler's List") and historical epics ("Braveheart") in the list, although their inclusion remains feasible enough nonetheless. All in all, this is a worthwhile list, and one that I would greatly recommend for your enrichment.

See the link again after the jump. (Hey, the "read more" has to do something.)

For the complete list (with photos!), take a look here. You will not be disappointed.


December 26, 2008

The Bishop's Wife

*** out of ****

"The Bishop's Wife" is a cheery 1947 holiday film that seems to be a takeoff of the previous year's "It's a Wonderful Life," but it fails to stand up to its predecessor. While the performances are charming, the film itself is greatly aged in comparison, and its themes are hardly as timeless. Unfortunately, there is something less engaging about David Niven than Jimmy Stewart as the memorable George Bailey.

The narrative of "The Bishop's Wife" concentrates on an angel, Dudley (Cary Grant), who comes from heaven around Christmastime to guide Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven), who has prayed for guidance in the construction of a new cathedral. However, that is not quite his purpose, so Dudley begins to correct the issues surrounding the bishop, specifically the unhappiness of his neglected wife, Julia (Loretta Young), who is ostracized by his obsession with building the cathedral. Eventually, Dudley must rectify the bishop's problems by redirecting his attention toward his wife and his work and away from his obsession. However, a conflict arises when Dudley faces a problem of his own: developing a human trait. When Dudley finds himself growing too attached to Julia, the bishop must work to overcome his material obsession, redefine his faith, and reclaim his love for his wife.

While I am a proponent of judging a film on its own merits, "The Bishop's Wife" seems to have been carefully conceived in the shadow of "It's a Wonderful Life": An angel comes from heaven to help a misguided man rediscover what is truly important in life, and the protagonist battles a devious rich person while his wife stands on the sidelines and maybe even suffers. While Loretta Young turns in an appealing performance for her strong character (she meanwhile won the Oscar for Best Actress for "The Farmer's Daughter" that same year), David Niven is just not as enjoyable, and perhaps this is why the film suffers in the face of "It's a Wonderful Life." Niven is a sort of dry religious figure who cannot match the universality of "Wonderful Life"'s George Bailey, an everyman who spends his life selflessly helping others, including his family, friends, and spouse. When Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey hits rock bottom, we watch pitifully as he struggles, and we cheer when he reclaims the meaning of true happiness. Niven floats through the film misguided while Cary Grant as Dudley ameliorates his life. In this way, Dudley is the more well-constructed character in "The Bishop's Wife," and Cary Grant does his role justice. In addition, certain other roles besides Julia and Dudley are done justice ― Gladys Cooper as snobby old Mrs. Hamilton, for example, acts superbly and stands up well to the others.

Anyway, the Christmas season works wonders for the film's setting, and the holiday mise-en-scène enables its transmittable cheeriness. Meanwhile, parts of the narrative feel like fluff (ice skating, anyone?), though others are particularly hypnotic ― note the incredible use of editing to show Dudley's powers as he decorates the tree or as he plays the harp for Mrs. Hamilton. Editor Monica Collingwood did a great job, and it stuns viewers today with its ingenuity for classic Hollywood.

Thus, in the face of 1946's initial failure but enduring triumph "It's a Wonderful Life," 1947's "The Bishop's Wife" looks like an aged carbon copy, and its Oscar nomination for Best Picture becomes questionable. However, it is a hidden charm for the holiday season and watching it on Christmas Eve is a must.


In the News: Eartha Kitt

The world lets out a purr in mourning...

The notoriously sultry Eartha Kitt passed away Thursday (Christmas Day) of colon cancer at the age of 81. Born in South Carolina in 1927, Kitt rose to fame as a cabaret singer and earned the nickname "the most exciting woman in the world," courtesy of Orson Welles. Kitt made her feature film debut in 1958 opposite Sidney Poitier in "The Mark of the Hawk" and also played the lead female role in "St. Louis Blues" with Nat "King" Cole the same year. While not recognized as much for her appearances on film, Kitt found greater success in other entertainment areas, snagging two Emmys, as well as further Tony, Grammy, and Emmy nominations. In the late 60s, she became recognizable as Catwoman on TV's "Batman," replacing Julie Newmar. Following her success on television, anti-war statements made at the Johnson White House found her escaping to Europe for several years among allegations of anti-patriotic sentiments and investigations by the FBI and CIA. In later years, Kitt found great success and new audiences on Broadway, starring in such shows as "Timbuktu!" and "The Wild Party," and on film, probably most memorably as the voice of Yzma in 2000's Disney release, "The Emperor's New Groove."

Miss Kitt, you will be missed.

For a more detailed account on the life of Eartha Kitt, click here.


December 25, 2008

Quote of the Day: A Christmas Story

*Merry Christmas to you and yours!!*

"'Fra-gee-lay'! Must be Italian!" ~ Ralphie's "Old Man" (Darren McGavin) noting the word of warning on the box containing his "major award"

*see it at the :27 mark*


December 23, 2008

Song of the Day: Sooner or Later

*MILESTONE: The 100th post!!!*

...and how better to celebrate than with a new post topic? Having had this song stuck in my head earlier today, I thought it would be fun to share it with my readers. It is one of my favorite songs written specifically for a film -- the Stephen Sondheim-penned and Oscar-winning "Sooner or Later," performed by Madonna in the 1990 Warren Beatty film "Dick Tracy."



Random Musing: Anna Karenina

I will begin this post by informing you readers that I am a huge fan of the Swedish Sphinx, Greta Garbo. She is one of my favorite actresses of all-time, and I spent several whole weeks a few summers ago desperately searching for her (pricey) film collection. Recently, in the course of my studies here at Vanderbilt, the time for spring semester course selections came, and to my total pleasure, I happened to see a class called "The Adultery Myth in Literature and Film: 'Anna Karenina.'" Have you ever before taken a class solely for one reason? That is what has guided me to register for this course -- Greta Garbo's appearance in the 1935 film version of "Anna Karenina"...

I can say I have had success with this before -- I took a first-year writing seminar my freshman year called "New York, New York" just because movies were part of the coursework (and look where it got me -- film studies major!). Concerning "Karenina," I could not turn down such an opportunity as this course provides -- a study on my Swedish love, Garbo. Granted, I would also accept studying the 1948 film version of "Anna Karenina," starring the stunning Vivien Leigh, but the possibility of Garbo captures me like no other.

And thus, here is the problem: the possibility of Garbo... I have not seen the syllabus yet, so I can only hope we will be watching the Garbo version of "Anna Karenina" in this course. While the course seems literature-heavy (the novel itself is a whopping 800-something pages), I am certain that with the course's title, we will be watching several film versions in order to analyze them. I can only hope that Garbo is among them.

...And if not, I can make it happen.


Scene of the Day: It Happened One Night

In this scene, one of my favorites from Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night," Peter Warne (Clark Gable) teaches Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) how to hitchhike. As an "expert," he humorously shows her three different styles of using the thumb to get a ride, but then he fails miserably in practice with all three. After his defeat, Ellie decides to show him how to really get a ride, so she reveals her leg to passers-by, one of whom stops immediately and skids to a halt in his excitement.

Please watch this hilarious, memorable scene with me now.

*watch it from the beginning to the 2:36 mark*


Random Musing: The Academy Awards Trivia

Because Oscar season looms on the horizon, I know everyone, including me, has begun to buzz. On a related note, since I happened to lay eyes on the most wonderful book in the world tonight in a bookstore, my partner Andy and I have been playing a game where he asks me every trivia question in the world he can possibly find on Wikipedia relating to 80 years of Best Picture Academy Award winners, and I tell him the answer based on my own memory of them. (There is some incredibly fascinating trivia in this list, by the way... Who knew the milestones of such films as "Cimarron," "Mutiny on the Bounty," and "Marty"? However, "In the Heat of the Night" as a "mystery"...?)

For a look at the trivia, click here. Test your own knowledge, and see how well you do! (For someone obsessed with Oscar history, I held my own... Sometimes...)


Quote of the Day: Shrek

"Do you know... the muffin man?" ~ the captive Gingerbread Man from "Shrek"
"The muffin man!?" ~ the villainous Lord Farquaad
"The muffin man."
"Yes, I know the muffin man... who lives on Drury Lane!?"
"Well... she's married to the muffin man."
"The muffin man!?"
"She's married to the muffin man..."

*Not a very HQ video, but see it at the :03 mark*


December 18, 2008

Quote of the Day: Romy & Michele's High School Reunion

"Besides, didn't you have a thing for Sandy in high school?" ~ a very blonde Romy White (Mira Sorvino)

"I did not have a 'thing!' I did not have a thing! I did not have a thing... I was very much in love with him. Very much in love, and there's a difference. There's a difference. There's a difference..." ~ a moody Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo) in "Romy & Michele's High School Reunion"

*see it at the 8:22 mark*


December 17, 2008

Scene of the Day: BUtterfield 8

Today's "scene of the day" is one of my favorites of all-time. The opening scene from 1960's "BUtterfield 8," starring the iconic Elizabeth Taylor, features her, a model named Gloria Wandrous, wandering around the apartment of recent sexual conquest Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey). She drinks brandy, slips on a slinky nightie, and ogles herself in the mirror. Because her clothes had been ripped the night before, she dons his wife's lavish fur coat. When she suddenly looks down at a dresser and discovers Liggett has left her money like a hooker, she becomes infuriated and angrily writes "NO SALE" in lipstick on his mirror.

See it after the jump.

*See the "scene of the day" from the beginning to right around the 1:40 mark. The "NO SALE" part of the sequence is left out and would come between 1:40 and 1:41, but it is pictured above for your convenience. Also, I advise you to mute your computer's sound because someone has tampered with the original clip, and it is better enjoyed, even if just the picture. I lament the original version is not available on YouTube.*


Quote of the Day: The Naughty Nineties

*for Andy, who says the answer is "yes" (though Bud Abbott says "absolutely")*

"Who's on first?" ~ a completely confused Lou Costello in "The Naughty Nineties"

*see it at the 1:40 mark and many, many times afterward*


December 16, 2008

Random Musing: The 'Greatest' Characters on Film

*originally posted December 3, 2008*

All that can be said on this topic has been said accurately by Jonathan Crow for Yahoo! Movies: "Any time anyone compiles a 'Best of' list they are practically begging for an argument." How right he is. Upon looking at the list compiled by Britain's Empire Magazine, I was horrified to see that Brad Pitt on "Fight Club" was their idea of the best character ever. Granted, the top 25 does compile a good deal of the most memorable characters on film, but Tyler Durden from "Fight Club"?!? Hardly memorable in the face of #2, Darth Vader. Crow also wrote, "Is Tyler Durden really better than Indiana Jones, James Bond, or Charles Foster Kane?" Point taken. I bet you did not even know that Brad Pitt's name in "Fight Club" was Tyler Durden - I had to look it up! Characters like Indiana Jones and James Bond are instantly recognizable in the memories of people, theme songs and all. So how could Empire compile a list such as this one? I am usually fascinated with lists such as these, but not when it is so horribly subjective. Granted, all "best of" lists are subjective - you win. However, is there a way of making a subjective list objective? For the most part, I think so.

An important UPDATE after the jump!

Crow went on to contribute to a revision of Empire's list with names such as these:

15. Jake La Motta (Raging Bull)
14. Annie Hall (Annie Hall)
13. Will Kane (High Noon)
12. Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd.)
11. Harry Lime (The Third Man)
10. Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)
9. Yojimbo (Yojimbo, Sanjuro)
8. Tracy Flick (Election)
7. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)
6. Colonel Kurtz (Apocalypse Now)
5. Shaft (Shaft)
4. Jake Gittes (Chinatown)
3. Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's)
2. Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid series)
1. The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin's films)
I completely agree with almost all of those. For a magazine like Empire, it is a shame that their top 25 included bottom-of-the-barrel characters (*cough*TylerDurden*cough*) and especially characters from only incredibly recent movies. For a reputable, respectable film magazine, how in the world could they ignore the classics? What about Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch"!? Have you not seen that iconic image of her standing over the subway grate a million times in your life? I am pleased that Crow remembered Holly Golightly from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn with her long, black dress and longstem cigarette holder graces the walls of many girls' dorm rooms here at Vanderbilt (and not just because they can afford Tiffany's).

So my point: Shame on Empire for such a weak list, especially since I saw the great list about the "100 Greatest Performances" a few years ago. Jonathan Crow is right in his disapproval of the list, but I want to offer more suggestions in addition to his offerings to the list. The list itself needs greater range in film history and it needs to be less subjective so that a character like "Tyler Durden" does not make the top of the list. He is the greatest character on film to no one (but Empire apparently).

UPDATE: OK, so apparently this specific post caused quite a stir among my friends. In fact, the stir had little to do with my thoughts on the post and more on arguing for Tyler Durden as the greatest character of all-time, but in a completely different way than the one for which I had been arguing against him. Brad, a friend of mine, argued that Durden was the most well-written character of all-time. However, did anyone notice the way in which I had been arguing against him earlier in this post? I had been saying he was not memorable. Therein lies perhaps the greatest problem of Empire's list: people understand the word "great" in different ways. While I had been reviewing their list as "memorable" characters, friends of mine, such as Brad, had been interpreting it as "well-written" characters. In that case, there are likely a million more well-written characters than Durden (such names as Ethan Edwards, George Bailey, or Charles Foster Kane spring to mind), but it hardly matters. The real change that needs to be made to Empire's list is, therefore, the distinction of the word "great."

And for Brad, I intend to watch "Fight Club" by December 31 at 11:59 p.m. CST. Fear not.


Random Musing: Delgo

Wow. I am completely stunned - in a month filled to the brim with the best and brightest films the studios rush to release in time to be considered for Oscar contention, how in the world can a film like "Delgo" even make it out of the starting gate? Funny, it did not. Making almost $512,000 in its opening weekend in wide release, it is now being dubbed the "worst wide release opening ever" and "wide release bomb of the year." Jonathan Crow of Yahoo! Movies configures "Delgo"'s take on 2,160 screens: "That's an average of $237 per screen for the three days. If you figure there were five screenings a day, and assume ticket prices are about $8, that comes out to two people in the theater per showing." How pitiful...

...So how could a film like this do so badly? On the plus side, an all-star cast, including Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anne Bancroft, Michael Clarke Duncan, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Burt Reynolds, fills out the voice talents. On the other hand, 1.) Did you even know this movie was coming out? I certainly did not. Chalk this up to weak marketing through an independent distributor. And 2.) What about the quality of the movie? Or as Jonathan Crow accurately states, "Or lack thereof." 'Nuff said. Oh well.

Ladies and gents, expect to see this film coming soon to a $5 pile at Wal-Mart near you! Meanwhile, let us watch (or not) as it continues hopelessly on in the dredges of the holiday movie season.


December 13, 2008

In the News/Random Musing: Golden Globe Nominations '09

Ok, so they were announced two days ago, but I've been busy, so sue me! Ok, I'm kidding, but here is a breakdown of the nominations and my thoughts on them...

Best Film - Drama
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (No clue... Sounds impressive)
Frost/Nixon (historical drama & Ron Howard - 'nuff said)
The Reader (Sounds moving)
Slumdog Millionaire (Long shot, but getting heavy critical praise)
Revolutionary Road (I expect this will be an awards' magnet - "Titanic" will rise again!)

Best Film - Musical or Comedy
Happy-Go-Lucky (A dark horse by critics' darling Mike Leigh)
In Bruges (Ebert sure seemed to like it...)
Mamma Mia! (gratuitious choice... See this for more details)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody's done better)
Burn After Reading (Hot on the heels of "No Country For Old Men," this looks like a contender)

Best Actor - Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio - Revolutionary Road (For 2 years, I have expected this to be his year)
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk (He tackled a big role impressively)
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (hearing good things...)
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy
Javier Bardem - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (he has an Oscar now...)
Colin Farrell - In Bruges
James Franco - Pineapple Express (no)
Brendan Gleeson - In Bruges
Dustin Hoffman - Last Chance Harvey (always nominating a legend...)

Best Actress - Drama
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married (Interesting...)
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Meryl Streep - Doubt (Never miss a chance to nominate Miss Streep)
Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) (Thomas has been in a LOT of French movies lately - I'm impressed)
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road (Again, for 2 years, like Leo, I have anticipated this to be her year)

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
Rebecca Hall - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky (Strong showing)
Frances McDormand - Burn After Reading (a good shot)
Meryl Streep - Mamma Mia! (Cute)
Emma Thompson - Last Chance Harvey

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder (Wtf?)
Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder (Hilarious)
Ralph Fiennes - The Duchess
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt (Likely candidate)
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight (Peter Travers apparently has listeners)

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt (I adore her)
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (a good shot... Woody writes good characters)
Viola Davis - Doubt
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler (she's still around?)
Kate Winslet - The Reader (if she doesn't win for "Best Actress," she will get this one)

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire (underdog)
Stephen Daldry - The Reader ("Billy Elliott" and "The Hours" were great previous endeavors)
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon (always worthy of nomination, but I don't think he stands out)
Sam Mendes - Revolutionary Road (likely winner - a good first post-"American Beauty" chance)
In summary, I think this will be the year of a "Revolution" for Kate, Leo, and Kate's husband Sam Mendes, although other films such as "Benjamin Button," "Doubt," and "Frost/Nixon" also seem to offer strong showings.

For a complete list, including the television series being recognized, click on the link to the Golden Globes site.


Random Musing: Robert Pattinson

What in the world. I have no idea what to even say. He is all I hear about these days. Women go ga-ga for him, the "Twilight" book series, and its film adaptation. What is it about him? ...because I just don't get it. Perhaps it is just for that reason - perhaps it is because he is a creation by women to be their ultimate man.

Ok, so perhaps that thought is a stretch, but maybe that is why men cannot seem to understand this feminine fascination with Pattinson. "Twilight" is by author Stephanie Meyer, and its protagonist, Edward, seems to be the ultimate vampire and male lover ever created... at least, by and for a woman. "Twilight" itself seems to only capture female fans, and they become irresistably captivated by Edward's charms and thus the man playing him onscreen - Robert Pattinson. Add some charm, good looks, and tussled hair to the equation, and you have a sex symbol... for women.


In the News: Van Johnson

Van Johnson passed away yesterday of natural causes at the age of 92. While Johnson was never an iconic actor by any stretch of the imagination, it is still a shame to hear of his death. He hit his big break at MGM thanks to the help of friend Lucille Ball (of "I Love Lucy" fame, of course) and is probably best-known for the films he made for them during and just after World War II, playing the boy-next-door type in "Somewhere I'll Find You," "A Guy Named Joe," "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," and "Week-End at the Waldorf." After being dropped by MGM in 1954 after "The Last Time I Saw Paris" with Elizabeth Taylor, he scored great critical acclaim with Columbia Pictures' "The Caine Mutiny," starring Humphrey Bogart. In later years, Johnson continued to act some, including making appearances on television shows and playing a small role in Woody Allen's 1985 "The Purple Rose of Cairo." His last role was in the 1992 film "Clowning Around."

Van Johnson, we will miss you.

For a more in-depth read on the life of this late actor, see the New York Times obituary.


December 2, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Graduate

*for ReAnne, a cougar-in-training*

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. ... Aren't you?" ~ young, drifting college graduate Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman)
"Would you like me to seduce you? ... Is that what you're trying to tell me?" ~ a sexy, older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft)

*see it at the 1:51 mark, then at the 4:04 mark*


December 1, 2008

Random Musing: Jane Russell

I am uncertain why, but I started thinking about Jane Russell and her "bazonkas" the other day. When I think of Jane Russell (thanks to Scorsese's "The Aviator"), I always think of that one scene from "The Outlaw" where, in a closeup shot, she leans in toward the camera for a kiss - her eyes are husky and her top is falling at her arms, revealing her exquisite cleavage. As I mused on this scene in my head, I suddenly realized - Jane Russell really paved the way for brunettes out there to become Hollywood sex symbols. Think about it: Who had been sex symbols up to that time? Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, (Universal/early Warner) Bette Davis... The list goes on and on. But what was their hair color? Blonde. Granted, brunettes Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell were beautiful actresses in their time, but they never rivaled the sex symbol statuses of Hollywood's platinum starlets. It was not until Howard Hughes' 1943 "The Outlaw" that Hollywood could accept the idea of a brunette as being as sexually appealing as a blonde, and when they did, it took Jane Russell to do it.

But why Russell? I suppose back in the time of classic Hollywood, studio heads thought men considered beautiful blonde women (especially exotic [foreign] women) to be the perfect women, physically and sexually. However, Jane Russell had a beautiful figure, which Howard Hughes went to great lengths to exhibit in his "The Outlaw." According to Wikipedia, "In 1941, director Howard Hughes, while filming 'The Outlaw,' felt that the camera did not do justice to Jane Russell's large bust. He employed his engineering skills to design an underwired, cantilevered bra to emphasize her assets." Apparently it was the first underwire bra of its kind, but Russell apparently did not even wear it, and she still looked great - in fact, great enough that this film turned her into a sex symbol overnight and redefined the image of the ideal woman in classic Hollywood. All brunette actresses have quite a debt to pay to her...