Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Milking A Cow Named Intolerance

Milk

In film, as in life, timing is everything. In a year where Barack Obama became the symbol of progressive change worldwide, Gus Van Sant’s latest film, Milk, show that change often comes at a harsh price. It is also a blistering reminder that in the wake of California’s controversial Proposition 8, that we still have a long way to go in regards to social harmony. Taking place over a period of 8 years, Milk shows Harvey Milk’s ascension from Gay Rights Activist to becoming California’s first openly gay public official.

After moving to San Francisco with his partner Scott (James Franco), Harvey is gets his first taste of activism while battling a local merchant’s association. When Harvey starts to notice local hate crimes are going unpunished, he takes to the streets to get his message out. As Milk’s political aspirations grow bigger, so does the strain of his relationship with Scott. Aided by a dedicated campaign team that includes young activists Cleeve (Emile Hirsch) and media savvy Anne (Alison Pill), Harvey starts to make strides in both the gay and straight communities. Yet Harvey soon realizes that political success comes with several drawbacks. Most notably Dan White (Josh Brolin), a fellow city official whose unstable nature will ultimately lead to the demise of both the Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Milk is a biopic that delivers on several levels. I knew nothing about Harvey Milk prior to seeing the film, yet I found myself captivated by this groundbreaking section of his life. The first thing that struck me was that Van Sant, after directing several films where he experimented with form and sound, went back to telling a rather straightforward narrative. This allows you to focus more on the performances rather than the style. Which is a good thing in this case because the performances are stellar across the board. Sean Penn is brilliant as Milk; he not only immerses himself in the character but also forces the supporting players to raise the bar as well. James Franco gives a great subtle performance as Scott. Emile Hirsh brings just the right mix of youthful exuberance and political angst to his role. As Dan White, Josh Brolin skillful peels away the layers of his character to show how White reaches the point he does. Regardless of your stance in terms of gay rights, Milk succeeds at providing an interesting glimpse into the life of a man that fought for what he believed in. While Milk is a fantastic film in its own right, it resonates even more when you look at our current social climate and what it took to get us here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clint's Torino Not Fond of Foreign Drivers

Gran Torino


Every wonder what Mr. Wilson from the Dennis the Menace cartoons would be like in real? Well you need not look any further than Gran Torino. The second film to be released in 2008 from actor director Clint Eastwood, the first being Changeling, is a look at one man’s attempt to overcome prejudice from within in order to save a community. Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a retired Korean War vet trying to live out the rest of his days alone in peace. His wife has recently passed away and both of his sons, and grandchildren, cannot stand him. To make matters worst, Walt has a penchant for spewing crude racist remarks despite living in a predominately ethnic community. The only person who is not turned off by Walt’s fiery tongue is a persistent priest (Christopher Carley) whom Walt cannot seem to shake. When Thao (Bee Vang) is persuaded by a local gang to steal Walt’s prized car, a 1972 Gran Torino, Walt’s solitary existence is changed forever. After spending time with Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her), Walt is forced to not only confront the local gang but his own past as well.

Gran Torino’s story is very familiar, yet somehow manages to feel fresh enough to satisfy. This is partly due to the fact that the film functions in a rather heightened reality. The majority of characters in the first half of the film are cookie-cutter stereotypes. Which is fitting as it personifies how Walt views the world around him. It also serves as a platform for Walt’s racist tongue to let loose. The terminology that comes out of Walt’s mouth will either make you cringe, or cause involuntary laughter due to how outlandish they are. It is only when Walt starts to spend time with his Hmong neighbours that Eastwood reduces the stereotypes and starts to show his characters through a more human eye. Some of the best moments in the film arrive when Walt starts to interact with his surrounding neighbours. Sure the bond between going in the all the obvious directions Walt and Thao felt natural despite goes in the all the obvious directions, yet that does not hinder the genuine feel of their relationship. Speaking of relationships, I was actually more intrigued by Walt’s father daughter style relationship with Sue. Partly because Sue was such a confident character, I enjoyed watching her engage in a battle of wits with Walt. I would even argue that Walt’s evolution in the film has more to do with Sue than Walt.

The performances in the film are decent on the whole. There were moments when the actors, including Eastwood himself, fall prey to overplaying a scene. Yet it is easy to forgive those minor moments, especially in regards to first timers Bee Vang and Ahney Her. While Gran Torino is not as strong as some of Clint Eastwood’s previous directorial efforts, he does a good job nonetheless. Eastwood crafts a film that keeps you drawn in and connected to the characters to the very end. Sure the dialogue is fairly scathing at times, racially speaking, it does work well in the context of the film. Unlike, say In Bruges, I never once felt that the dialogue was written for purely shock inducing sake.In the end Gran Torino is a satisfying ride despite driving down an overly familiar road.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Globes Remain Golden In Tough Economic Times

Golden Globe Nominations

1. BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
1. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures
2. FROST/NIXON
Imagine Entertainment, Working Title, Studio Canal; Universal Pictures
3. THE READER
Mirage Enterprises; The Weinstein Company
4. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
An Evamere Entertainment BBC Films Neal Street Production; DreamWorks Pictures in Association with BBC Films and Paramount Vantage
5. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros.; Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros.

2. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
1. ANNE HATHAWAY – RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
2. ANGELINA JOLIE – CHANGELING
3. MERYL STREEP – DOUBT
4. KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS – I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME)
5. KATE WINSLET – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

3. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
1. LEONARDO DICAPRIO – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
2. FRANK LANGELLA – FROST/NIXON
3. SEAN PENN – MILK
4. BRAD PITT – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
5. MICKEY ROURKE – THE WRESTLER

4. BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
1. BURN AFTER READING
Working Title/Releasing Company; Focus Features in association with Studio Canal
2. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
Summit Entertainment, Film4, Ingenious Film Partners, Miramax Films; Miramax Films
3. IN BRUGES
Blueprint Pictures; Focus Features
4. MAMMA MIA!
Relativity Media, Playtone, Littlestar; Universal Pictures
5. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Mediapro; The Weinstein Company

5.BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
1. REBECCA HALL – VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
2. SALLY HAWKINS – HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
3. FRANCES MCDORMAND – BURN AFTER READING
4. MERYL STREEP – MAMMA MIA!
5. EMMA THOMPSON – LAST CHANCE HARVEY

6. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
1. JAVIER BARDEM – VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
2. COLIN FARRELL – IN BRUGES
3. JAMES FRANCO – PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
4. BRENDAN GLEESON – IN BRUGES
5. DUSTIN HOFFMAN – LAST CHANCE HARVEY

7. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
1. BOLT
Walt Disney Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
2. KUNG FU PANDA
DreamWorks Animation SKG; Paramount Pictures
3. WALL-E
Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

8. BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (GERMANY)
(DER BADDER MEINHOF KOMPLEX)
Constantin Film Produktion GmbH; Summit Entertainment, LLC
2. EVERLASTING MOMENTS (SWEDEN/DENMARK)
(MARIA LARSSONS EVIGA ÖGONBLICK)
Final Cut Productions Aps; IFC Films
3. GOMORRAH (ITALY)
(GOMORRA)
Fandango; IFC Films
4. I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (FRANCE)
(IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME)
UGC YM/UGC Images/France 3 Cinema/Integral Film; Sony Pictures Classics
5. WALTZ WITH BASHIR (ISRAEL)
Bridgit Folman Film Gang/Les Films D'Ici/Razor Films/Arte France/ITVS International; Sony Pictures Classics

9. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
1. AMY ADAMS – DOUBT
2. PENELOPE CRUZ – VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
3. VIOLA DAVIS –DOUBT
4. MARISA TOMEI – THE WRESTLER
5. KATE WINSLET – THE READER

10. BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
1. TOM CRUISE – TROPIC THUNDER
2. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. –TROPIC THUNDER
3. RALPH FIENNES – THE DUCHESS
4. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN – DOUBT
5. HEATH LEDGER – THE DARK KNIGHT

11. BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
1. DANNY BOYLE – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
2. STEPHEN DALDRY – THE READER
3. DAVID FINCHER – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
4. RON HOWARD – FROST/NIXON
5. SAM MENDES – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

12. BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
1. SIMON BEAUFOY – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
2. DAVID HARE – THE READER
3. PETER MORGAN – FROST/NIXON
4. ERIC ROTH – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN
5. JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY – DOUBT

13. BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
1. ALEXANDRE DESPLAT –THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
2. CLINT EASTWOOD – CHANGELING
3. JAMES NEWTON HOWARD – DEFIANCE
4. A. R. RAHMAN – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
5. HANS ZIMMER – FROST/NIXON

14. BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
1. “DOWN TO EARTH” — WALL-E
Music by: Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman
Lyrics by: Peter Gabriel
2. “GRAN TORINO” — GRAN TORINO
Music by: Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
Lyrics by: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
3. “I THOUGHT I LOST YOU” — BOLT
Music & Lyrics by: Miley Cyrus, Jeffrey Steele
4. “ONCE IN A LIFETIME” — CADILLAC RECORDS
Music & Lyrics by: Beyoncé Knowles, Amanda Ghost, Scott McFarnon, Ian Dench, James Dring, Jody Street
5. “THE WRESTLER” — THE WRESTLER
Music & Lyrics by: Bruce Springsteen

Sunday, December 07, 2008

So Long Will I Love This

I’ve Loved You So Long
(Il y a longtemps que je t’aime)


A few weeks back I mentioned that The Visitor, now on video, was one those hidden gems of 2008 that I feared most people would miss. Well lets hope the same thing does not happen to I’ve Loved You So Long. The film is currently in theatres so be sure you do whatever you can to track it down.

Estranged for 15 years, the two Fontaine sisters are reunited when Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas) temporarily moves in with Lea (Elsa Zylberstein). Having not seen each other since they were young, Juliette must not only get acquainted with her sister but Lea’s husband and two adopted daughters as well. As Lea slowly brings Juliette into her world questions start to arise about Juliette’s past. To give away anymore of the plot would spoil the essence of the film. I will say that this is a profoundly rich tale about tragedy and forgiveness. As the story unfolds you not only understand the choices the characters make, but the ramifications as well.

While there are some minor similarities to the film Rachel Getting Married, it is not apparent until the last few reels. This is due to the fact that I’ve Loved You So Long has its own unique views on family and secrets. I loved that the sister’s relationship was not one of constant bickering and pettiness. Instead the film focuses on each sister’s need to reconnect. Whether it was Lea’s longing to reconcile with Juliette, or Juliette’s reconnection with the world in general, the story never felt forced. Kristen Scott Thomas gives a marvelous performance as Juliette; brilliantly conveying both anger and sadness through the most subtle of nuances. Elsa Zylberstein is also great as Lea; she helps to bring authenticity to the sisters dynamic. The script from writer/director Philippe Claudel is extremely well written. The plot unfolds slowly yet you are constantly enthralled with both story and the characters. Powerful without being trite, I’ve Loved You So Long is a truly engaging film that should not be missed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Only The Lucky Ones Are This Happy

Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky is one of those films that will either entertain and/or drive you mad depending on your view. Directed by Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies), the film focuses on Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a free-spirited elementary school teacher who always sees the glass as half full. After her bike is stolen, Poppy decides to take up driving lessons. Enter Scott (Eddie Marsan), Poppy’s hypersensitive driving instructor. Scott believes in order and structure, which is a direct contrast to Poppy’s extroverted personality. As the two meet every Saturday for lessons, they clash over everything from driving to the world in general. Besides worrying about getting a license Poppy must also deal with two very different sisters, and also find time for love.

While I enjoyed Happy-Go-Lucky there were times when I started to question if the film was actually going anywhere? The film is fairly light on plot, which makes certain scenes feel rather pointless. Mike Leigh spends a lot of time at the beginning having us aimlessly follow Poppy around. It is almost like Leigh is testing the audience’s stamina to see which side we will fall on? Are we patient and optimistic like Poppy? Or are we pessimistic and quick to judge like most of the world? Too be honest, I switched sides at numerous points in the film. The fact that Poppy pretty much stays the same throughout the entire film is inspiring. It would be nice if we could all be that cheerful. Yet there are moments in this film when Poppy blissfully does things that most of us would consider dangerous. The film strives to argue that you cannot truly be happy if live a life consumed with fear and intolerance. While this is true, knowingly putting yourself in harms way is not the best way to show how tolerant you are.

Still, as a comedy, there is a lot to enjoy in the film. Sally Hawkins’ does a great job with what is arguably one of the toughest roles to take on. Sure it is easy to dismiss Poppy as overly joyful, yet it Hawkins’ who must constantly keep Poppy from drifting into the realm of absurd. She manages to keep Poppy a believable character that you cannot help but care for. Not to mention that Sally is a comedic gem; both her physical and verbal timing is spot on. Happy-Go-Lucky is definitely a hit or miss film depending on your tolerance level, yet for the most part I was entertained.