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The Simpsons a few weeks back did one of their episodes where they present a different story in each act. They’ve tackled Greek myths, fairytales, and tall tales over the years, among other topics. The loose theme this time centered around woman characters as Lisa and Marge get a mani/pedi (I guess after twenty seasons they’re running out of ideas even for these one-off episodes).

And surprisingly the first story they presented was that of Elizabeth I. But not the actual history. Instead they went with the version as presented in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the widely-panned 2007 Elizabeth sequel that still managed to land Cate Blanchett a Best Actress nom and won the Best Costume Oscar.

Isn’t that odd? The Simpsons maintains some of Kapur’s pretty large dramatic licenses and borrows the film’s imagery, including Elizabeth in a suit of armor on horseback and a flaming English ship sailing into the Spanish Armada. So here’s the fairly well-known story of a famous figure but The Simpsons chooses to play off a box office flop that only made about $16 million domestically. Does that mean next year we can expect vignettes based on Soul Men? Body of Lies? Pride & Glory? Forgot about all of those, didn’t you?

Anyway, the piece was pretty funny with Selma as Elizabeth, Homer as Sir Walter Raleigh, Marge as the lady in waiting, and Moe as the Geoffrey Rush advisor character. The other stories were Snow White, MacBeth, and The Fountainhead of all things. Random. Here’s a clip from the Elizabeth portion:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Hulu – The Simpsons: Spanish Armada“, posted with vodpod

Full episode here until its Hulu window expires. And in other vaguely Oscar-related/Simpsons linkage, here’s a video with Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa) and Ellen Page.

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A few months ago, a friend asked how I decided what movies to watch.  I gave a typically rambling answer that, I’m sure, didn’t entirely answer the question.  But it did get me thinking about the movies on my Netflix queue and how they got there.  So here is a reason I watch movies.  Maybe it will become a series.  This installment: Jessica Alba.

When I first started thinking about this idea and what I would write, I came up with a number of things, hopefully I’ll get to them all.  But writing about watching movies because of Jessica Alba is fitting for two reasons.  First, when I was debating getting Netflix a few years ago, I distinctly remember that the ability to see all of the movies in which she appears was one of the more compelling reasons I came up with.  Second, apparently everyone is under the impression that I am obsessed with Jessica Alba.  Sure, she’s featured prominently on my list of most attractive celebrities for almost a decade now.  But it creeps me out a little bit that most of my friends would not be surprised if they found out I was arrested for stalking her.

Let’s take a little walk through some highlights of her filmography, shall we?

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The Reader was my second-favorite film from 2008.  Which I hope doesn’t make me a shill for the Hollywood establishment.  But since I liked it so much, I figured I should at least respond to John’s eloquent (as always) post.  Specifically his problems with how they treated Hannah’s illiteracy.

I agree that it is a problem if you think the reveal that Hannah can’t read was supposed to be a shocking twist.  For me, though, I thought it was more a big secret for Michael than for the audience.  I also didn’t think Hannah’s illiteracy was used to explain or defend her crimes.  Rather, it fit in with one of the major themes of the movie: life sucks.

Honestly, I didn’t think The Reader was a Holocaust movie, using any definition of the phrase other than a movie in which the Holocaust plays a role.  What affected me most was the idea that sometimes life just puts us in bad situations.  That there isn’t always a happy ending.  Michael’s entire life was screwed up as a direct result of his dalliance with Hannah.  And in turn he screwed up his daughter’s life (and probably messed with the lives of countless women).

Sure, the film says that if Hannah could read she probably wouldn’t have gone to the SS.  But that’s not an excuse, it is an example of how sometimes life leads you down a crappy path.  And yeah, if Michael had pointed out that Hannah couldn’t read, maybe that would have changed the outcome of the trial.  Maybe not.  Either way, it wouldn’t have changed what actually happened.

Similarly, I don’t think Hannah finds redemption by learning how to read.  Unless you are making the argument that reading leads to redemption by helping her realize the magnitude of her actions, or to humanize herself, which is why she kills herself.  In which case, OK, you would have liked to have seen something else?  I don’t think the film ever pardons Hannah.  Michael doesn’t.  I don’t think Hannah was emerging from jail a new woman.  And it isn’t like when Michael visits the Holocaust survivor, she forgives Hannah at all.

I know people are upset that The Dark Knight and The Wrestler didn’t get nominated and have focused their anger on The Reader, the surprise nominee.  But I’d suggest that Frost/Nixon should be viewed as a weak link.  Or ask yourself, did anyone really love Benjamin ButtonThe Reader hit me harder than any of those movies.  To me, it was a bleak, bleak look at how sometimes people don’t live happily ever after, that sometimes you can’t fix things, and sometimes one person screwing up things can affect multiple people down the line.  I don’t think the film is trying to address or make a statement about the Holocaust any larger than that it continues, directly or indirectly, to affect people’s lives today.

In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves.  In this installment, Scott Prendergast was kind enough to answer our questions about Kabluey, released in July 2008 and available on DVD.  Here’s a brief look at our thoughts on the film.

Golden Grouches: As writer, director, and star (and I’ve read where you said it wasn’t necessarily easy to convince potential producers that you should take the lead), it would certainly seem like you had significant control over how Kabluey went into the can.  Were there any limitations preventing the final cut from being what you hoped for, or was the end result how you envisioned it would be when you first set out on the project?

Scott Prendergast: There were ALL SORTS of limitations preventing the final cut from being what I had hoped for.  But I realized that no movie ever lives up to the initial hope/dream/idea.  And that’s not always a bad thing.

There are financial limitations (we don’t have enough money to blow up a car), time limitations (we don’t have enough time to shoot all 4 seasons), availability limitations (Zsa Zsa Gabor can’t play the lead).

Then there are what we’ll call “personnel” limitations.  Like, the director of photography goes insane and stops taking his medication.  Or one of the producers is a maniac and wants to direct the film himself.  Or one of the actors is barely hanging onto reality.

These are all generic examples.  We had our share of troubles on Kabluey – but you always have troubles.  SOMETHING always comes up.  And you realize that making a movie is all about DEALING with the problems in a creative way that will not derail your vision for the movie.

And of course the director is usually wrong about something.  Like, it’s not actually that charming to have a 5 minute close up of the teddy bear.  Or the music he wrote for the film is awful.  Or the film is just too long and the test audiences hate it.  Or the footage just doesn’t add up to the same story told in the script.

So again – you are working with what you have – and creatively improvising to make something in line with what you had originally hoped for.

Kabluey ended up being about 75% of what I had originally hoped for.  But there are so many things in the movie that I LOVE that were not in the script.  I was asked to write a few scenes – and I did it begrudgingly – and those scenes turned out fantastic.

It’s all about rolling with the punches and creatively improvising.

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I know 2008 is a distant (bad) memory, but much like last year’s Margot at the Wedding diatribe I wanted to circle back and get a few things off my chest. It’s funny how it worked out- this site managed five posts dedicated to the entire Best Picture slate (and none for The Reader or Benjamin Button) but got up multiple posts for films like The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, and The Visitor. We know how to be relevant, eh?

The Reader‘s big category nods still bother me (to the extent that one can still be bothered by Oscar nominations in May), especially if it was at the expense of The Dark Knight or The Wrestler. It’s still a decent film but not all that effective at what it sets out to do.

Plus Kate Winslet is going for her third major award for her work in this film, as she is up for an MTV Movie award! And she’s competing against some familiar 2008 Oscar faces! She’s taking on Anne Hathaway again, though for Bride Wars instead of Rachel Getting Married. And Angelina Jolie- but for Wanted. Oh and Kristen Stewart for Twilight! Taraji P. Henson (Button) rounds out the list.

But let’s step back and reflect on this again: The Reader has been nominated for an MTV Movie award (but will lose to Twilight)! Its themes clearly resonate with the tween set.

ANYWAY

To me, the film has three distinct elements: the relationship between Hannah (Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes), the implications of Hannah’s involvement in the Holocaust, and the power of literature. Apparently the Weinsteins tried to play down the pedophiliac aspect but to me it was the best part of the film. Their awkward relationship, the way he becomes totally involved in her, and the repercussions that last for decades all really grabbed me. A sexual relationship with an older woman at the age of 15 isn’t going to affect every kid for the rest of his life but it’s entirely likely that it could. By young adulthood Michael is distant in all his social relationships. And when he is unexpectedly confronted with Hannah’s past it’s devastating.

The Holocaust elements have some good ideas. Who do we blame individually when a whole society commits and atrocity? And how does that society move on? It’s a fascinating question that helps propel the film even when it falters. The line from Michael’s classmate about how Hannah’s trial is proceeding only because a victim wrote a book about her crimes – that this is selective prosecution – is brilliant and I was dismayed when the film didn’t dig much deeper. But then Michael’s trip to a concentration camp completely crosses the line into Holocaust porn, one of the most egregious examples I’ve ever seen.

And then there’s the whole message about literature and literacy that couldn’t have fallen more flat. My discussion about this will go at the end due to spoilers, but suffice it to say it nearly entirely killed the movie for me. I couldn’t have cared less about the bond of literature between Hannah and Michael.

Quick Oscar notes. Kate Winslet is terrific and it’s nice she finally got her win. She’s excellent here though I wouldn’t have voted for her. I hope her win doesn’t go down as one of those “make up” or “lifetime” Oscars but it may since she was better in every other film I’ve seen that she’s been nominated for. I loved David Kross, who learned English for the role. He would have made an excellent supporting actor nomination. The picture, director, and adapted screenplay nominations are all hogwash. Cinematography is a fine nomination, especially since Roger Deakins needs a nom every year, right?

The end here is spoilery, but let’s face it if you haven’t seen The Reader by now you aren’t going to. You probably forgot about its existence.

It’s amusing that the “big secret” of the film is not that Hannah was involved in the Holocaust, as I had assumed walking in (in which case it would have been a horribly kept secret). Instead it is that she is illiterate. So. What. The film has gall to try to explain some of Hannah’s crimes using her illiteracy: note how she never would have taken the job with the SS if she hadn’t have been promoted at an earlier job to a position that required reading skills. If you want to make a film about an individual’s culpability in the midst of a civilization committing a terrible atrocity then do it- it could be very interesting. But literacy couldn’t be more irrelevant. Does her inability to read mitigate or exacerbate Hannah’s crimes in any way? Of course not.

And then she learns to read! Hooray! What redemption! Except that it matters not at all. Y’know, because of the Holocaust and all. Here’s a hint: if you’re going to make a film about the redemptive power of literature, DON’T REDEEM THE HOLOCAUST! Redemption from Holocaust requires a lot more than reading.

But Hollywood is self-centered likes to be reminded of the Importance of Art so it ate this film up. And I’ll stop before this turns into a post appropriate for the mouth-breathers at Big Hollywood.

I’m pleased as punch to announce a new (hopefully) semi-regular feature here on Golden Grouches.  Interviews!  The yet-to-be named series focuses on movies with relatively small theatrical releases, and we’ll be discussing, among other things, the challenges these types of films face in the writing and filming processes.  We already are wrapping up a few, so be sure to look for them soon.

If you have any suggestions for films to include in this series, please feel free to e-mail us at GoldenGrouchesATgmailDOTcom.

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