Friday, February 27, 2009

The Most Popular Actress in the World

How did Angelina Jolie become the most popular movie star in the world? To answer this question, I first looked at her Filmography. She’s done some terrific work in Gia, Girl, Interrputed and A Mighty Heart, but that’s not enough to put her at the top of everyone’s list, even if she has an Oscar to her credit for Best Supporting Actress.

I believe her popularity has more to do with her dark side. Jolie has a rep as a bad girl – drugs, naughty trailer sex with Billy Bob, drinking vials of blood, tattoos all over her body, steamy lesbian past, brother open mouth kiss on red carpet, on and on.

Of course her looks don’t hurt. She is considered by many men (and women) to be the most beautiful person in Hollywood. Her bee-stung lips are the envy of many women who have to pay for collagen injections to get the same look. (Yes, you, Melanie!)

And she also has undergone quite a transformation, which is always intriguing. In 2001, she stepped out of the limelight to become involved in humanitarian work in Cambodia and became a Goodwill Ambassador. She has 17 children.

Finally, she’s in a high profile relationship. She’s married to US Magazine’s multiple winner of Sexiest Man of the Year, Brad Pitt. The courtship began (during or) after the filming of Mr. and Mrs. Smith – a time when Mr. Pitt was married to America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. Controversy sells magazines.

When you put it all together, it starts to make sense. It’s a relatively easy formula for nearly anyone to master:

Oscar winner + Bad Girl + Gorgeous + Goodwill Ambassador + potential affair and subsequent marriage to Brad Pitt = The Most Popular Actress In the World.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Woody writes. Penelope soars.

Woody Allen is not the cinematic force that he used to be. Match Point, for example, is basically a copy of the far superior Crimes and Misdemeanors, released in 1989.

But Woody Allen had a run from 1977-1992 that I would put up against any filmmaker except maybe Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy, After Hours, Color of Money, Goodfellas, Casino were released from 1976- 1995).

Here are the films:

Annie Hall 1977 (BEST PICTURE)
Interiors 1978
Manhattan 1979
Broadway Danny Rose 1984
The Purple Rose of Cairo 1985
Hannah and Her Sisters 1986
Radio Days 1987
Crimes and Misdemeanors 1989
Husbands and Wives 1992

I think the reason he was so successful is because he is such a gifted screenwriter. He knew how to compose an original story and write witty dialogue. The best actors all wanted to be “in a Woody” because he could flesh out such interesting characters.

He knew how to write women’s roles, how to write the angst of relationships and how to capture New York. He could do those three things better than anyone.

So far, five actors have won six Academy Awards in Allen films – Diane Keaton, Michael Caine, Diane Weist (twice), Mira Sorvino and last night, Penelope Cruz.

Woody Allen is a strong director, but it’s his words that make him special. I have great respect for Woody Allen the filmmaker. He transitioned from broad comedy in Take The Money and Run and Bananas to a deft mix of comedy and drama in movies Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

As long as he keeps making movies, I’ll keep seeing them. Something in my gut tells me his best work is behind him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

25 Best Directors?

Entertainment Weekly just published their list of the 25 Greatest Active Film Directors.
1. Steven Spielberg
2. Peter Jackson
3. Martin Scorsese
4. Christopher Nolan
5. Steven Soderbergh
6. Ridley Scott
7. Quentin Tarantino
8. Michael Mann
9. James Cameron
10. Joel and Ethan Coen
11. Guillermo del Toro
12. David Fincher
13. Tim Burton
14. Judd Apatow
15. Sam Raimi
16. Zack Snyder
17. Darren Aronofsky
18. Danny Boyle
19. Clint Eastwood
20. Ron Howard
21. Ang Lee
22. Paul Thomas Anderson
23. Paul Greengrass
24. Pedro Almodóvar
25. Jon Favreau

Here are some names that didn’t make the list:
Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Spike Lee, John Lasseter, Brad Bird

Woody Allen made Annie Hall
Wes Anderson made Royal Tennebaums
Spike Lee made Do The Right Thing
John Lasseter made Toy Story
Brad Bird made The Incredibles

I appreciate the list. It’s good for discussion. But it’s a bad list.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscar As Temperature Guage

Okay, this will be my trilogy as it relates to Slumdog Millionaire posts. If you're interested in any of my past musings, they can be found here and here.

If you look at the year thus far, it sucks. It sucks as our personal lives are concerned. The market sucks. The job market sucks. Unemployment is the highest it's been in 17 years. No one trusts financial institutions. Etc, etc, etc. So if you use the temperature of the society to help select this year's best picture then Slumdog Millionaire makes perfect sense: an underdog who rises above everything to make a slew of money and save the love of his life.

I have been harsh on this film in the past. And I have been judged harshly because of it. And I'm not necessarily saying that it has somehow turned a corner for me, but I am saying that it's not wrong for people to love this film. Especially now.

First and foremost, a movie should provide escape. During times of great sorrow (the Great Depression, World Wars) people have turned to movies to make everything okay. Or at least feel okay. It is during these times that movies wield their greatest power. They make people feel normal during extraordinary times. Better yet, they make people feel empowered.

While I still believe and will continue to believe that the Oscars should be judged objectively, I will not dismiss the idea that our outside lives rule our decisions. And come Sunday, if it makes the country feel better that the Academy has awarded an underdog story, so be it. If Slumdog becomes our modern-day Seabiscuit, and mentalities are somehow changed because of it, you'll get no gripe from me.

Is it a lot to think that one movie can do all that? Yes. It it wrong to hope that a movie can do all that? No way. Right now, we need all the help we can get.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I’m not a fan of Titanic, but…

I’m not a fan of Titanic (Sorry Ray.) It feels clichéd and sappy and I was disappointed that it won best picture in 1997. But wait, I looked back on the nominees for 1997 and it’s not such a surprise:

As Good as It Gets, James L. Brooks, Bridget Johnson and Kristi Zea, producers (TriStar)

The Full Monty, Uberto Pasolini, producer (Fox Searchlight)

Good Will Hunting, Lawrence Bender, producer (Miramax)

L.A. Confidential, Arnon Milchan, Curtis Hanson and Michael Nathanson, producers (Warner Bros.)

Titanic, James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers (Paramount and 20th Century Fox.)

Ok, if those are the five nominees, who would I give it to? Not As Good As It Gets. That movie drags in the middle and feels like a TV movie of the week. Not The Full Monty. It’s ok, but not even close to best picture material. Good Will Hunting is a good picture, but a little on the predictable side. That leaves L.A. Confidential and yes, that would have been my choice for Best Picture because it so beautifully captured the smarmy underbelly of L.A. in the 1950s. And of course the acting is uniformly terrific across the board from Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger to Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.

But Titanic would have been my SECOND pick. (Piper may never let me contribute to the blog again and who could blame him?) Titanic would win second place because it was the most ambitious film of 1997 – recreating the sinking of the titanic. And, over-the-top acting aside, James Cameron did a pretty damn good job of making me feel what it must have been like to have been on that boat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When did you lose faith in the Oscars?

For me it was 1990.

That's the year Dances with Wolves beat out Goodfellas. Not only that, first-time Director Kevin Costner beat out Martin Scorsese, quite possibly the greatest director of all time in one of his greatest achievements of all time.

I look back on other upsets over the years and I can overlook them. Or at least I can learn to live with them.

But Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas? Somebody help me out here. I want one of Piper's thousands of readers to defend Dances with Wolves and tell me how it was superior to Goodfellas. I am standing by. Literally I am waiting for a reply.

And you know what, not one of you is going to stand up for that one. These movies are in different stratospheres. And the Oscars can never undo it. Unless they say they made a mistake. Now that would make for good drama.

What do you think? When did you lose faith?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Two Clooneys

On a flight from Nashville to Kansas City, my traveling companion began watching Leatherheads on his laptop. He was using headphones, but I didn't need to hear it to know what was going on. This is a terrible movie and George Clooney is playing the goof again. He's clenching his jaw and rolling his eyes and gesticulating out of control. Much like he did in Intolerable Cruelty and to a a lesser extent in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Clooney also has another character up his sleeve. The smooth, calm, collected, uber-cool, somewhat smug guy he played in Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck and Out of Sight.

Given the two, he needs to retire the goofball, the clown, the keystone cop. Playing it broad diminishes his good looks and puts his acting on par with mediocre college summer stock theater.

Apparently Clooney is a big practical joker in real life and maybe he wants people to know he doesn't take life too seriously. (Nobody should ever doubt this. He wore a bat suit with nipples, for Christ's sake.) He needs to fight the urge and stick to what he does best. The gray-templed, square-jawed reincarnation of Cary Grant. George Clooney needs to be George Clooney, the movie star.

Final note: I realize that O Brother Where Art Thou was well received. Give credit where it's due. The Coen Brothers.

Final note: Clooney directed Clooney in Leatherheads. He can only blame himself for this turkey.

I Just Don't Know About This One

Maybe it's because one of the first things I see in this trailer is Eli Roth.

Maybe it's because of the line "You haven't seen war until you've seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino."

Maybe it's because of "Nein, nein, nein, nein."

I don't know. I just don't know.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Dardo Award

I love movies. But first and foremost, I'm an advertising guy. What does that mean to you?

Nothing really, but it might explain why I love awards so much.

There has been an award floating about. It is called the Premios Dardo Award. What a great, official name. I like it.

When I saw it making the rounds I said to myself "I want it. I must have it. And I might just kill to get it."

Jonathan Lapper at the most wonderful Cinema Styles was a recipient of it. He seems like a tall man in his posts, but I bet he's lanky. I think I could take him with a nice rusty bike chain.

Fox at the excellent Tractor Facts also received it. You probably don't know this, but Fox is allergic to peanuts. I just bring a bag of those little babies with me, pop them open, watch him swell and then grab the award. It's almost too easy.

Marilyn at the oh so fantastic Ferdy On Films is also a recipient. I don't dare mess with Marilyn.

But then something happened. Stacia at She Blogged By Night actually passed the award on to Lazy Eye Theatre. Turns out I don't have to kill at all, which is kind of disappointing really.

Here's what the Dardo recognizes.

"given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

Of course I am honored. And of course I have built a little shelf that rests nicely on my shoulders and ties around my waist, but not too snug, that holds the Dardo award for all to see. I've even purchased a couple of spotlights to highlight it in all the right places.

Stacia and I crossed paths not too long ago. And I've been better for it. If you get a chance, stop by her digs and take a gander at her wares. You'll quickly discover why she's a big winner as well.

Anyway, here are the rules.

The rules:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award."

So I don't know that I will pass on five. That's not to say that five blogs aren't worthy. Hardly. And honestly, I debated for a while on whether I would even acknowledge this award because I would have to in turn pick some other blogs. Each blog that I frequent serves a different purpose for me, much like movies that I watch. They create moods and drum up different emotions. Some are short and sweet and some dig deep. Some are funny. Some are serious. It's really a wonderful thing, this film blogosphere.

But if I must pick, then I will pick.

1. Burbanked Alan and I take the same approach to writing about movies. It's not so much in writing reviews, but taking aim at a section of a movie. Or a trend in movies. To me film blogging isn't just about conveying thoughts, it's about creativity. And no one understands this more than Burbanked.

2. The Cooler I've recently discovered Jason at The Cooler and man I'm glad I did. Jason's reviews are wonderfully written and thought provoking. I usually skip a review if I haven't seen the movie, but when Jason writes it's about so much more than just the movie that I still find myself engaged. What's more, it's always a pleasure to have Jason weigh in on a subject. It always leads to great debate.

3. Fletch at the Large Association of Movie Blogs a.k.a The LAMB. What Fletch has done with this association still amazes me. It's more than just a network. It's a place to play. To participate. And to keep up with what's going on with everyone else. There are many that keep this thing going, including myself sometimes, but there would be no LAMB without Fletch. Just a few days ago, The LAMB introduced its 240th Film Blog. If you're interested in seeing the great wide film blogging world out there, you should join.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top 5 Tuesdays (T5T) Is Seeking Revengence

What does it say about me that I love revenge films as much as I do? Does it say "don't wrong me unless you want me to seek you out and put you down like a sick little puppy and then hang over your dying body, gloating until you take your last breath?" Or does it say "hey, the guy just likes revenge flicks." Maybe a little bit of both.

If we were to judge a film simply by its fulfillment, can there be anything more satisfying than a revenge film? Who in the world has never been wronged and then fantasized about a little payback? As universal as revenge is, it's surprising there aren't revenge films coming out every week. But if there were so many, maybe I wouldn't like them as much as I do.

So this Tuesday, give me your Top 5 revenge films. Here are mine in no particular order.

1. Kill Bill Vol. 1 "Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you've lost. They belong to me now."

2. Oldboy "I'm going to rip you limb from limb. And your remains will never be found. Why? Because I'm going to swallow every last bit."

3. The Limey "You tell him, you tell him I'm coming. Tell him I'm fucking coming!"

4. RoboCop "I'm not arresting you anymore. "

5. Revenge of the Nerds "You just got your asses whipped by a bunch of goddamn nerds."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Now That's Composition!

Fortunately, in the ninth year of the twenty first century I seem to be a man of my word. A few weeks back I made some New Years Resolutions. And it seems that I am already making good on some of them. Or at least one of them. In accordance with Resolution #1, I have recently watched A Fistful Of Dollars which was made in 1964.

What? You've never seen it Piper? (ALLOW FOR PROLONGED GASPS)

I have not.

Seriously? You haven't? (MORE GASPS OF THE PROLONGED KIND)

Like I said, I haven't.

And you call yourself a lover of cinema?

Look, get off my back already.

The truth is I've never been much of a 'Westerns' kind of guy. Not really sure why, I just haven't. I'm sure that we all have a few skeletons in our closets as it relates to must-see classics. But what I've found is that in finally watching them, they rarely live up to the years of hype. The "I can't believe you haven't seen it" and "you must run home and watch it this instant" and "your life isn't complete without it" and "it's the most wonderful movie ever." All this praise usually leads to a letdown of the monumental kind. And then I remain silent with my criticism and walk around in a shroud of shame convinced there's something wrong with me.

This is not the case with A Fistful Of Dollars. It's a fantastic movie for all the reasons stated: great action, great scenes, Clint is a baddass, etc. But more than any of that, what really got me was composition. Frame after frame of art. The still of the moving picture. It was magnificent. And it made me realize how this craft is lost in most movies today. Too many fast cuts and shaky cameras. In an effort to appear more real or more different, we have lost the art of making movies. Please join me in celebrating these wonderful compositions.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kate Hudson does it her way.

I like Kate Hudson. (This extends well beyond her acting chops, but that’s another post.) She has this fame and fortune thing figured out. She spends three months on set filming duds like “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” or “ Fool’s Gold” or “You, Me and Dupree” and then she counts her money on the beach in Hawaii with one of her many boyfriends (Pick a name, any name.)

Steven Soderbergh is kind of like that. He makes Oceans 11, 12, 13 to make money and in between he makes more complex films like "Traffic" and "Che" or experimental films like “Full Frontal,” “Solaris” and “Bubble.” Yeah, Soderbergh and Hudson are kind of the same except she goes to the beach between goofy films and he continues to hone his craft.

Sometimes I wish Kate would recommit to acting. Sometimes I wish she would reach a little deeper to find the glimmer of talent that I saw in “Almost Famous.” But then again, there are waves to be caught and pictures to be taken.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Rant About The Rant

Christian was right. He's a serious actor. He's an artist. He has a passion for his craft. And with a big cup of passion, there are going to be some lumps. I'm sure Christian was probably face to face with one of those big Terminators, not one of those small sumbitches, but one of those big T-Whatever Big Number They Put Behind The Letter "T" ones and he was saying something really important and dramatic like "you've been terminated" or "it ends tonight" and then this F@#$ walks onto the F$%#ing set and totally messes with this scene. This deep, emotional scene involving robots and futuristic space crafts and laser guns, directed by none other than that motherf$#@ing visionary McG. You know, the guy who did Charlie's Angels? Wait, of course you know that. Who the F$%# am I talking to? You're a lover of cinema, so of course you know McG. F#@$! I mean who the F$%# is this F#$@ing Director of Photography? I bet he's a nobody. I bet he's never worked on something important like Charlie's Angels before. Does he know who the F#$@ Christian Bale is? He's the motherf$%#ing Dark Knight. He fought the Scarecrow. And F$%#ing won. He dropped a bunch of weight and looked like a skeleton for that one movie and was scary as F$%#. He doesn't need to take F%$#ing shit from anyone. He does F%$#ing art, not that F$%#ing paint by numbers bullshit because that kind of paint by numbers bullshit doesn't get directed by motherf#@$ing McG. If I see that F@$#ing Director of Photography it's over. It's F$#*ing over!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is it a stretch

Recently I asked KC Star film critic Bob Butler who should win the Best Actor Oscar and he said either Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn deserved it, but he’d prefer Penn because it was more of a stretch for him to play a gay activist than for Rourke to play a washed-up wrestler.

And that got me thinking. Should “the stretch” factor into the Oscar decision? I’m not so sure. A great performance should be judged on its own merits. Think Paul Newman in “The Color of Money.” However, Robert Downey, Jr. got nominated in “Tropic Thunder” precisely because he stretched to play a black man.

I could argue either side.

Maybe the reason newcomers win Oscars (Mira Sorvino, etc) is because we don’t know if it’s a stretch at the time (Mighty Aphrodite). And later we see the actor in other movies like “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and realize that’s pretty much just how Mira Sorvino talks.

Maybe the reason actors often win for playing serial killers and idiot savants (Charlize Theron and Dustin Hoffman) is the “stretch” factor. I don’t feel like Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall step outside their persona too often, but I put them up there right at the top as two of the most natural actors around.

Stretch or no stretch? I ask you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday - Car Movies

I love a good car chase. And cars in general. So I thought I’d steal Piper’s Top 5 Tuesday and ask visitors to pick their top 5 favorite car movies. Here are some of mine:

1. American Graffiti. Maybe it’s not just about cars, but without cars, it’s not American Graffiti.

2. Ronin. One of the best car chase scenes since Bullit.

3. Bullit. Unquestionably the greatest.

4. The Love Bug. The original. 1968. Dean Jones was cool in a dad sort of way.

5. Tucker. Underrated Coppola film about the failed automobile.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A difference of opinion

“In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.”
-Oscar Wilde

About a week ago I wrote a post saying that Clint Eastwood deserved an Oscar nom for his performance in Gran Torino. That post was met with disdain by Ray, a frequent LazyEye contributor who wrote:

“Brian, are you insane? Clint was better in ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE than this movie. Let's see ... he growls, he snarls, he squints. Basically he recycles William Munny from UNFORGIVEN, except without that character's depth or anguish.

I sincerely hope you're joking with this post. People should not receive Oscars simply for being old or respected.”

It didn’t stop there. Ray went on to write:

“The movie sucks, and Eastwood's performance is by-the-numbers. I'm so glad it's not up for anything major.”

Ray couldn’t let it lie and he weighed in again:

“Any reviewer who, after seeing this movie, says "it combines sentiment and shootouts" is a liar and completely wrong. This movie doesn't have any shootouts ... although it has plenty of sentimentality. The sticky, gooey kind that makes you want to take four showers.

The movie sucks, and Eastwood's performance is by-the-numbers. I'm so glad it's not up for anything major.”

Ray wasn’t done. He came back for one more body shot:

“@ Piper - I want you to disassociate yourself from anyone claiming this film is brilliant. Afterschool Specials have more realistic plotting and character developemnt. 

Anyone telling you that this film is brilliant is actually the Devil taking on human form in order to deceive you. Do not be fooled by their lies!!”

Here’s the thing. I don’t know Ray. He may have Roger Ebert’s credentials but to me, he’s just a guy who didn’t like a movie. (By the way, Ebert really liked Gran Torino.) And then I got to thinking, what if my post had 100 responses and all 100 of them were negative? It still wouldn’t have changed the experience I had in the movie theatre. I walked out satisfied that I got my money’s worth for the price of the ticket.

Did Ray write in FOUR times because he hated the movie THAT much, or was he trying to change MY mind? I really enjoy critical debate but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t really mean that much. Oh and Ray, keep writing. We’re bound to agree on something.