Tag Archives: Emma Stone

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, a tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs thought of a great way to become relevant again: he challenged current champion Bobbie Jean King to a game. No, not just challenged her: assured the world that he would win, because he was male, and that was enough. Bobby Riggs probably didn’t truly believe in most of the chauvinistic slogans he chanted, but he knew they’d get him attention in the era of “burning bras” and “women’s libbers”, and he was right. He was a Kardashian of his time; he knew how to work the media and how to gain attention for himself. It just so happened that the women’s movement generally, and women’s tennis particularly, needed exactly this kind of opportunity.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-posterSteve Carell does an excellent job of making the buffoon Riggs more than just a brash loud mouth; in fact, Carell was probably my favourite part of the film. And that’s maybe a little sad considering this really should have been Billie Jean King’s story to tell. And to some extent, it is. It’s just that I thought Emma Stone’s version of her was pretty beige. She’s more than just a prominent pair of glasses with a side of closeted lesbian.

But at least the film is layered and tries to establish the game within the context of its time, not just within the characters’ lives but societally as well. The film may bear the name of The Battle of the Sexes but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to know that the most interest part of the conflict happened off the court.

This film hit theatres in a very timely fashion – a reminder of how incredibly not very far we’ve come. Now that it’s available to rent, why not watch it as a drinking game, and take a shot of female empowerment every time a Grand Slam title champion is referred to as a “little lady.” On the press circuit, the real Billie Jean King reminded us that at the time, a married woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name. But here we are in 2018 (happy new year) and you just know this movie didn’t get made without someone getting sexually harassed. In 40 years, what will the #MeToo movie say about us?

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TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 1

I got TIFF Bingo! I never get TIFF Bingo!

I get close every year but I’m always missing something. Either I didn’t see enough foreign films or didn’t eat enough vegetables. And even for TIFF Bingo, I refuse to ARRRR!

But TIFF victory was mine this year and let me spend my next 3 posts telling you how I pulled it off.

3 Films By Female Directors

Battle of the Sexes– Okay, so only half of the directors are female but judges say… Still counts! Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes tells the behind-the-scenes story of the now-famous exhibition match between Women’s Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It’s a hard movie to google or even mention without hearing about how this is the movie we need in these troubled times. “We could use more of those values today,” Dayton quipped while introducing the film. (While the directors deny that the 2016 election had anything to do with their interest in the project, its hard not to see the parallels between the 1973 match and the first Presidential debate last year).

Dayton and Faris’ film, written by Slumdog Millionaire’s Simon Beaufoy, relies a little too heavily on their positive message. It’s as if they felt that they were excused from making a smart movie jsut because most of us can agree that, yeah, sexism in general is bad and that King should be allowed to sleep with whichever gender she chooses. Battle of the Sexes has some serious pacing problems throughout the first half and Carell’s scenes tend to drag. And for something that’s billed as a “comedy”, it’s not very funny. Thankfully, things start to come together once King and Riggs start promoting the match and, by the end, the entire Princess of Wales theater was cheering for King to “whoop his ass”, as one audience member put it during the Q&A.

Stone and Carell are well-cast and do right by their characters, even if they both have done better work in better movies. Stone, in particular, nails King’s conflict with her own sexuality and the scenes between her and new lover Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) are the best in the film. So the script and direction are uneven but it’s enough to make all of us cheer for King by the end and the men in the audience howl at the screen in outrage at the old timey sexism of the early 70s as if they’ve never heard women described as “irrational” before. It’s just not enough to make anyone remember Battle of the Sexes on nomination day.

Euphoria-  Writer-director Lisa Langseth cast Alicia Vikander in her first lead role in 2009’s Pure and Vikander has never forgotten who gave her her big break. She took a break from winning Oscars and starring in franchise films to produce and star in her old friend’s English-language debut.

Vikander’s Ines and Eva Green’s Emilie are sisters who rarely speak to each other. When the two reunite for a mysterious road trip, Ines is shocked to discover that Emilie has taken her to a country retreat that specializes in assisted suicides. It turns out that Emilie has been secretly battling cancer for the last 3 years and has decided to end her suffering. Her euthanasia is six days away and she has chosen to spend her final days eating her favourite foods and reconciling with her estranged sister.

In an extended Q&A, which as far as I can tell is just as long as a regular Q&A just where guests sit in chairs, Langseth denied that her new film makes any kind of statement one way or another on assisted suicides. To her, the film is really about two sisters. Euphoria has plenty of intriguing ideas about its fictional retreat but it’s the relationship between Ines and Emilie that drives the film. And it’s that relationship that fails to convince. It’s a shame too because Vikander and Green are completely believable as sisters. From the very first scene, their chemistry works and their body language alone raises questions about their shared history that Langseth’s script doesn’t offer very interesting answers to. The two actresses try their best to breathe life into characters that never really come together on the page but it’s just not enough. The climatic scene is so beautifully acted and directed that it almost makes up for the film’s many faults but it only winds up driving home what a missed opportunity the whole thing was.

Angels Wear White– I don’t love that my first two films of my post on Female Directors at TIFF were so uninspired. Thank God for Vivan Qu.

Angels Wear White is the second feature from Chinese writer-director Vivian Qu. Unlike Battle of the Sexes and Euphoria, it takes its time developing complex and believable characters. While working at a quiet seaside inn, eighteen year-old Mia witnesses the assault of 12 year-old Wen by a prominent male member of the community.. Despite possessing physical evidence that could jump start a police investigation that’s getting nowhere, Mia is reluctant to get involved. It soon becomes clear that she has reasons of her own for keeping her head down.

Angels Wear White is a multi-layered look at the exploitation of women by powerful men and how some men of privilege can easily escape the consequences of their actions. It’s a film that trusts its audience to be outraged by the outrageous instead of manipulating its audience to feel a certain way. I highly recommend Qu’s latest film. I only wish that I had stuck around for her Q&A.

So, there you have it. Three films by female directors. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes details of my TIFF Bingo victory.

SAG Awards

The 2017 awards season heats up as the SAG awards declare its winners.

hidden-figures-d2253fe9-c421-4a79-bce3-f3a344eae3aeOutstanding performance by a cast was won by Hidden Figures, edging out fellow nominees Captain Fantastic, Fences, Moonlight, and Manchester By the Sea, which was the most-nominated movie at the SAG awards but won absolutely nothing.

 

 

23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

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Denzel Washington took home his first SAG award for his work in Fences, which denzel-washington-7d58843b-c112-4664-9626-c3247cc5cbf3means Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea got shut out, as well as Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, and Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. This is a rare exception in the Casey Affleck train. Do you think it’s likely to be repeated?

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Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land topped Amy Adams for Arrival, Emily Blunt forEmma Stone The Girl on the Train, Natalie Portman for Jackie and Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. This makes her the frontrunner for the Oscar, with Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman possible upsets.

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viola-davis-23699bb3-331e-456a-b72f-4cd76124e741Viola Davis won  for supporting actress for Fences over Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. She’ll be pretty unstoppable come Oscar time. I applaud her bold performance even though I radically disagree with her presence in the supporting category at all.

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet

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Mahershala Ali took the supporting actor trophy for Moonlight, besting Jeff Bridges for mahershala-ali-694ef816-f229-4b29-a4ef-756b3ffc8d94Hell or High Water, Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, and Dev Patel for Lion. This is the right move and I hope it repeats itself.

 

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Hacksaw Ridge won outstanding performance by a stunt ensemble in a motion picture over fellow nominees Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Jason Bourne, and Nocturnal Animals.

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Lily Tomlin received the SAG Lifetime Achievement lily-tomlin-30c3e284-59c0-4c49-bfc0-7888e8f6bc1dAward, presented by Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. Amid the many political speeches of the night, including digs against Donald Trump and his insane ban on Muslims, Tomlin quipped What sign should I make for the next march?

 

 

 

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jan 2017

So, what do you think? Best dressed? Biggest upset? How did it stack up to your expectations and how will it affect your Oscar pool?

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La La Land: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please check it out over here. I wrote it all the way back in September, fresh from seeing it at TIFF, and I’ve been waiting all this bloody time just to talk about what for me is the best film of the year. I was absolutely giddy for this movie, how it made me feel, how it made me think, how it whisked me away into something both surreal and familiar. We exited the theatre from La La Land and rushed on to the next (I think it must have been Lion) but between the two, I wept. I wept for heartbreak, and for beauty, because La La Land abounds in both.

If you’ve kept reading, then you know by now that La La Land, for all of its romance, does not have a traditionally happy ending. But are the characters unhappy? Mia and Seb separate in part because their ambitions overshadow their love. Was this the right move? Do they have regrets? Certainly they’ve both gone on to achieve the success they so coveted. Mia is married, la-la-land-1with children. When she sits in Seb’s club at the end, we are treated to an alternate version of events in which they manage to stay together. Do they wish that this was so? Do they still love each other? Have they moved on?

One of Chazelle’s unspoken themes must be “Is it worth it?” – is it?

During their courtship, the movie takes cliches about love and makes them true: love lifts them, they dance on air, they sing from rooftops. Did this feel organic to you in the movie? I often felt that when things felt intense to them, they broke out into song as a metaphor for feelings that are too fervent to verbalize. When words fail, they’d sing, or dance, which is often the way we feel in our excited little hearts when we’re first falling in love (reminds me of a certain scene in 500 Day of Summer).

Sean noticed that when the relationship got rocky, the movie got a little more boring, and frankly, a little repetitive. The songs are reused. But in time he felt like that was sort of the point: that the newness and wonder of the relationship had worn off, that they were beyond the first crush and settling into patterns and habits and less passion. The film itself reflects it. Did you find new meaning in songs as they were revisited? During the second half of the film, during the relationship’s demise, there is noticeably less music, which means less joy, less intensity. Their world goes a little drab when the shine has worn off. Did you miss the music when it was gone? Certainly when it returns in that final scene, it’s a heart breaker.

Originally Chazelle imagined that Miles Teller and Emma Watson would fullfill the lead roles. I can’t picture Teller ever being right for the part. Watson left the project so she could do another musical, Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling ended up turning down the opportunity to play the Beast so he could do this instead, with frequent collaborator, Emma Stone. Chazelle has stated they were hired together intentionally, because they’re a modern-day version of an old-Hollywood couple, frequently working together and already having an established chemistry. Do you think anyone else could have pulled off these roles? Do you think either of them has a legit chance at an Oscar?

Seb states that jazz has to be experienced. He’s disgusted by people who use it as ‘background music.’ It’s a special language that he teaches her and she comes to appreciate. He takes full advantage in the final scene, telling her he still loves her using only his music, and he plays so passionately that she can see how he wishes things had been different. However, there’s an interesting part in the movie, the “sellout” phase where Seb is playing jazz in the background during a scene. Is this where it all went downhill? What would you say was their final straw?

Chazelle has deliberately taken this musical off the backlots and grounded in modern-day Los Angeles. The opening number, though originally not my favourite, helps set the tone. This is the world in which they live, but both are outsiders among that set. At the end of the number, Gosling gives Stone the finger before driving off. The offramp used in this number is the same one they used in Speed, where they had to jump the gap. Lots of real locations were used in the film – even Seb’s apartment is an actual apartment, not a set. Let’s not forget that the movie isn’t called Mia or Seb, it’s called La La Land: the city is also a character. City of stars, city of dreams. Did the locations help give the movie a sense of reality to you?

The one criticism I’ve heard from this movie is that it never addresses the true roots of jazz: does La La Land “whitesplain” jazz? Is it racist in its portrayal? Did Damien Chazelle fail us by casting white actors in a movie about jazz? Then I wondered – wouldn’t Whiplash have faced the same controversy? It’s another movie about jazz starring two white dudes, but I don’t recall

hearing any hooplah over it [turns out the criticism was there all along]. Of course it’s not for me to say, but I can understand how it might sting a little to have an art form that was “invented” by African-Americans, music by black people for black people, to be told by white people. Not to say that jazz belongs to any one people, but if these are the only stories being told about jazz, then maybe the stories belong to the people who truly wrote them. And it does feel regressive in 2016 to see a white man play jazz, and a white woman dance to it, while people of colour make up the blurry background characters surrounding them, out of focus, besides the point. What do you think – is there cultural misappropriation going on here? Is Ryan Gosling a “white man saviour” in his quest to save jazz?

Mia and her friends are resplendent in primary colours because they’re young, and they dream in technicolour. She’s dressed in emerald, saphire, yellow. At the end of the movie though, she’s wearing white. She’s supposedly made her dreams come true, but she’s leached of colour. What’s that about?

TIFF: La La Land

Damien Chazelle has bested himself, and everyone else. With just 3 feature films to his name, he has established himself as a visionary, an innovator, a pusher of boundaries, a seeker of beauty.

Sean was immediately aflame with praise. He wasn’t just finding a spot in his top ten of the year for it, but dusting off old standbys in his all-time list to make room.  And let me remind you that this is a musical. Not normally Sean’s cup of tea. Sean needs one of three La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)things to love a movie: sports, explosions, boobs. La La Land has none of those. It has singing and dancing and old-fashioned romance. Yet Chazelle has breathed new life into the genre, with riots of primary colour, energy so vivid you can taste it, and music that evokes deep troughs of emotion. And by ‘breathed new life’ I mean that he’s actually found a way to bring great musicals from cinema’s past into modern times. Forget made-for-Broadway musicals like Chicago or Into The Woods, their theatre sets turned into movie sets – it’s more reminiscent of Singin In The Rain. La La Land takes place in the streets of Los Angeles and Chazelle takes advantage of its sprawling landscape, and its glittering skyline.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in the two lead roles, don’t just burst randomly into song. You very quickly get to sense that they sing when ordinary words just won’t do. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actress, both a little down on their luck when the meet. The song and dance make up their courtship. The pair do not meet-cute; they meet-ugly several times until it takes: toes tap, together. New love is exhilarating. You feel as though you could sing your lover’s name from the rooftop, as if you could dance on air. It just so happens that in La La Land, they do these things literally. And it’s glorious. The fluid, ethereal dance steps will remind you of Fred and Ginger. Chazelle weaves magic, and a touch of fantasy, into their story, and even though you may never have waltzed among rs-248320-emma-stone-ryan-goseling-la-la-land-sing-dance-trailerthe stars in your sweetheart’s arms, you sort of know how it feels. But this great passion never lasts. It tapers off. Songs repeat. Sean felt himself longing for the exuberance of the beginning of the movie, and realized that was the point. Seb and Mia were missing it too.

If you’ve watched the gorgeous trailer, you’ll recognize the song that Ryan Gosling sings. The lyrics go: “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” But the movie reminds you that L.A. isn’t just a city of stars, it’s a city of dreams, and Seb and Mia are there to chase theirs. They haven’t come to Los Angeles to find love, but to find meaningful work. To become famous and\or successful. La La Land is about following your dreams, and it’s about the cost of following those dreams.

So Sean, whose movie reviews often consist of just three words (“It was good”) can’t shut up about this film. He’s fumbling to find the right words, but he knows he hasn’t just seen a good film, but experienced something unforgettable. I, on the other hand, have been oddly silent in the 24 hours since we saw it. Not for lack of trying, it’s  just that every time I open my face to speak, more tears fall out of it. And lest you start to worry that this is some tragedy wherein Ryan Gosling ends up shot, it’s not. These aren’t just tears of sorrow, but of joy and of wonder. This movie has made me feel. It has made me feel all the feels. I can’t even make it through this review with any dignity. La La Land is why I go to the movies. It’s unselfconscious and unabashed, a cake among pies, and as soon as I’ve finished weeping, I want another slice.

 

If you’re as desperate as I am to keep reading (and talking! and weeping!) about this wonderful movie, please visit our discussion section – SPOILERS – be warned.

 

Irrational Man

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a burned out, impotent philosophy professor who’s looking for the will to live. A fellow teacher (Parker Posey) throws herself at him and a pretty and 45-Irrational-Man_1promising student (Emma Stone) engages him mentally, but he’s still, shall we say, unresponsive, until he starts plotting a hypothetical murder.

Joaquin and Emma have an easy rapport that’s eminently watchable, when the dialogue’s not getting in the way. The story is partially inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about a university student who commits murder to prove that he is morally superior to other people. But both Dostoevsky’s student and Woody Allen’s professor are only pretending that murder would be to help others, or the world in general. In fact, it’s a pretty selfish pursuit, even when purely cerebral. Can thoughts of murder really be a “creative 635725682661364214-11-1600x900-c-defaultendeavour”, or is that just the typical justification of an unfulfilled philosophy professor?

Woody Allen struggles to sound authentic around some of the philosophical arguments, and Joaquin doesn’t do a much better job conveying them. And Allen’s dialogue surrounding the erection difficulty is as stilted and awkward  as only Woody Allen can be – which doesn’t quite sound right coming from Joaquin, even with his 30 pounds of pot belly. Allen’s more adept with the cynicism and the dark humour (not to mention age-inappropriate romance), and when the material’s good, he’s hired actors talented enough to handle it. So this movie is not without merit. It’s also just not very original (even among Allen’s oeuvre) or very necessary, and the unevenness almost drove me batty.

Verdict: quintessential mediocre Allen.

Weekend Round-Up

Project_Almanac_posterProject Almanac – I have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn’t bored by it, but the story is thin. I like the championing of the inventor, but I disliked the very trite time-travel routine, where the same costs and benefits are explored here as have been elsewhere a thousand times before. The kids are likeable enough but you know what? Enough with the “found footage” thing. It’s done. Let’s drop it.

colin-firth-alan-rickman-and-a-lion-feature-in-first-posters-for-gambitGambit – A movie with Colin Firth and Alan Rickman AND Stanley Tucci you want to like. But can you? It’s a remake, written by the Coen brothers, about an art thief who recruits ditzy Cameron Diaz to pull  a fast one on his boss – and then dares to be surprised when it doesn’t quite get pulled off as planned. Firth is solid and has great comic timing but Diaz exists on a level so far beneath him it’s not fair to either. I have the feeling Firth was hoping for The Big Lebowski but ended up in The Ladykillers. Better luck next time, y’all.

San Andreas – The three Assholes who went to see this together are also the same three Assholes planning a trip to shitty, shaky San Francisco next month. Oh sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Lots of wine, we heard, those weird, slopy streets, and just a beautiful coastal drive away from LA. San Andreas is not exactly a boon to tourism. Made it seem a little sanandreasreckless to travel there (let alone live there), in fact. But we survived the movie and as of this time have not cancelled our plane tickets, mostly because Sean couldn’t find the number. I watched this movie totally stressed out, from start to finish. Is there a plot to this thing? I have no idea. WATCH OUT FOR THAT FIRE! Is there good acting in this thing? I don’t know, does dodging debris count? WATCH OUT FOR THAT FLYING CRUISE SHIP! It was a disaster movie so jam-packed with disaster that some leaked out the sides. It keeps you so busy racing from one near-death experience to another that you never have time to question the holes in the movie, because every hole is filled with exploding glass – in 3D!

Dear Zachary: A Letter to his Son About his Father – In 2001, Andrew Bagby was brutally dearzacharymurdered. Soon after, his girlfriend, the prime suspect, announces she’s pregnant and Bagby’s bereaved parents have to interact with their son’s killer in order to gain any visitation with the grandson who looks just like him. This is a documentary Kurt Kuenne who isn’t a particularly talented documentarian, but who was Bagby’s best friend. This is a tribute to his friend, and also to the parents who went to great lengths to make a life for a grandchild born out of tragedy. I was prepared for this one to hurt my heart, but I wasn’t quite as prepared as I needed to be. Check it out on Netflix.

Aloha – Cameron Crowe’s greatest offense is being too successful too early in his career. Does this stand up to Almost Famous? No, it doesn’t. And not many movies would. But would people be giving Aloha as hard a time if it were written and directed by anyone else? This film is imperfect. It drags in places (but has flashes of brilliance to prop things up) and it tries to involve too many, which takes away from the central story, which is the one we’ve put our butts in the ALOHA-Movie-Reviewseats to see. Emma Stone plays Jennifer Lawrence opposite Bradley Cooper (what is it about Bradley Cooper, by the way, that his characters are constantly romancing women he could have fathered?). Anyway, he plays this deeply flawed individual and she plays so pert and perfect you want to punch her right in the googly eyes. But you’re supposed to root for them I think, even though Rachel McAdams makes a tantalizing (and age appropriate, while still being younger) alternative. They exchange some witty banter, some banal banter, look at an atrocious toe, and induce Billy Murray into a dance scene. It’s not a cohesive movie by a long shot, but nor is it as bad as the critics will tell you.  The story wants to be more than it is. The movie is beautiful but straight-forward. There’s very little art here. What we have in abundance is white people, puzzlingly, since it’s set in Hawaii, where the census tells us they’re relatively rare and Hollywood tells if you squint hard enough, George Clooney passes for Hawaiian.

goingclearGoing Clear – The more I learn, the less I understand. I didn’t learn anything new (in fact, nothing that’s not on the Wikipedia page), and I think they went a little soft on the former members they interviewed. Has anyone else seen this?

Easy A

This movie Easy-A-Emmais smart and fun but the very first thing it asks of us as an audience – to believe that Emma Stone is a forgettable, undateable nonentity – is an outright lie. I’m sick and tired of movies asking us to ignore the very thing they’re relying on to sell us tickets: the smokin hotness of its star.

Why are we constantly asked to think of a gorgeous woman as an ugly duckling? How dumb does Hollywood think we are? That we somehow won’t see through the ponytail and glasses, or even some simple clumsiness, to see makeover-shes-all-thatthat it was FHM’s sexiest woman all along? A Hollywood script may occasionally call for plain jane, but no producer has ever hired one. Solution? Take a super model, put her hair in a bun, and dress her in paint-splattered overalls. Done.

Nonwallflower Emma Stone plays a virginal Olive, a high school student with an altruistic streak – to help certain male students out, she pretends to slut it up with them, dinging her own spotless reputation, in exchange for mere gift cards. For some reason, though she’s lovely and sassy and genuine, only the audience seems to know this. Even easyA2her best friend deserts her as here little scheme begins to snowball. Although modernly narrated in the form of a webcast, this movie constantly references great(er) teenage movies of the past. Though less angsty, there is a great debt to John Hughes here. And I don’t doubt that despite the high school setting, this movie in many ways is marketed towards the 30-somethings who will get those references. Olive, after all, wise beyond her years – precocious in every way but sexually.

Actually, the most interesting people in Olive’s world are the adults. On the rewatch, I’ve realized that my favourite bits of this movie are her parents, played by the absolutely brilliant Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. It’s almost shocking, amid all the seediness, to see Olive have such happy, healthy parents who clearly cherish and adore her. Her family life looms large, a real tribute to Olive’s generational tendency to have parents tumblr_mgami5KnuX1r60h6bo5_250who are also friends. Especially convincing is the mother-daughter relationship where Clarkson sparkles as the honest, post-hippie parent. Every moment they are on-screen is preposterous and tongue-in-cheekily indulgent. It’s easy to see where Olive gets her cleverness and self-assuredness. If all high schoolers were as grounded as Olive seems, movies like this wouldn’t have an audience to go see it.

Birdman

Birdman opens with C-list celebrity Riggan (Michael Keaton), a superhero has-been trying to reclaim glory as a serious Broadway actor, meditating and levitating before rehearsal of his play. Wait – levitating? Yes. It seems that Riggan has picked up some super powers along the way.birdman

But this movie is so subtly engrossing, its rhythm unrelenting, that I actually forgot this little nugget of information until the next bit of surrealism came our way, presented just as slyly as the first. Some remnant of his Birdman alterego remains, and narrates Riggan’s present tense in a voice reminiscent of Christian Bale’s Batman, driving home the satirical meta-performance at work here. Director Iñárritu gets right up in his grill, nursing long but very intimate shots that show unflinchingly every wrinkle, every worry line ever earned by these actors.

Set almost entirely behind the scenes at St James theatre and shot in long, loooooooong takes that keep the film moving briskly, there’s a beauty and a mystique that really locked me in. Finally  Iñárritu has found his element. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki floats the camera down corridors and ascends smoothly through the scaffolding and the balconies like an unobserved peeping tom. We take our cues from this camera work. We race to find new action, we catch our breath when travelling down darkened hallways. In this way, the movie feels serene yet is in constant motion. The music helps us keep pace and is sometimes so coolly frenzied that musicians forget they aren’t supposed to be seen!

Riggan, meanwhile, is crippled by all the nay-sayers in his life: the junkie daughter (Emma Stone), the anxious lawyer (Zach Galifianakis), the guilt-tripping ex-wife (Amy Ryan) – but none more so than that voice in his head that slowly cannibalizes him by the end of the film. When one of his actors is put out of commission, he’s forced to bring on board stage actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who immediately threatens to outshine him. With his own superhero baggage (Hulk, anyone?), Norton threatens to casually steal the spotlight from Keaton as well with a brilliant send-up to Method acting, and a nod toward his own reputation for being difficult on set, but Keaton reminds us why he left the Batman franchise in the first place – dude is a first rate actor when he plays crazy.

The movie is ambitiously self-aware and asks smart-aleck questions like, why bother making a $20 million dollar movie when you can go viral for free? This may not be ground-breaking material but as long as Keaton is in on the joke, the monster egos and insecurities, the fraud and the acerbic wit, it’s all part of a complex self-examination that’s fascinating to witness.

Matt and I saw this movie nearly a week ago and it’s taken me this long to even begin unpacking my feelings about it, and this after an all-you-can-eat-sushi session in which we debriefed and compared notes. As Matt will tell you, the movie is also  Iñárritu’s excuse to poke back at the critics who have called him out on his self-important, self-conscious work in the past (Babel, Biuitiful) even though this movie actually seems to acknowledge that these criticisms may have been valid.

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a pleasure to watch, a puzzle to figure out, and a commentary just begging for feedback. Please, give us yours. Assume spoilers in the comments.

Magic in the Moonlight

Colin Firth plays magician Wei Ling Soo (aka Stanley) brought in to a wealthy family’s home to debunk Emma Stone’s Sophie, a beautiful young medium who Stanley is sure is a swindler.Magic-in-the-Moonlight-onesheet

I want to say that Woody Allen films have been pretty hit or miss with me lately, only I can’t think of any hits. Last year’s Blue Jasmine cast an admittedly stellar Cate Blanchett but other than a great performance, I’m not sure the movie really did anything for me. I was similarly unmoved by Midnight in Paris. His movies for the past  couple of decades have been lighter and less ambitious (not to mention white-washed). This one, as a rom-com, is standard formula, but it does start off with some really great questions of belief. Stanley is a rational man who believes only in what his (5) senses can tell him. The convincing and bewitching young psychic have him doubting his entire existence, and for the first time, he’s feeling happy about life.

Magic in the Moonlight has some great dialogue, which Allen is known for, but also some heavy-handed expository stuff, which I find unforgivable. Allen’s motto of late seems to be quantity over innovation. He’s a very productive writer\director, but what is he presenting that is new? What he shoots is beautiful, but also predictable and safe.

Colin Firth is the Cate Blanchett of this movie, he makes it worth watching. The romantic nature barely concealed under disdain and haughtiness and a dash of intellectualism. Swoon. Emma Stone I was less sure of. I asked Sean, is she very bad in this, or is she always this bad, or is she pretending to be this bad? We weren’t sure. But I was pretty sure that I felt a little creeped out to see Colin Firth kiss her. Now why is that?

Emma Stone, the actress, is 26. But Emma Stone looks quite young and is playing quite young in this film. Hollywood makes no bones about pairing ingenues with daddy types, and either way, I am definitely on team Colin. He could tongue me any day he pleased even though at age 54, he is older than my mother.

So here it is. At what point does what we know about a morally corrupt artist taint the art that he produces? My repulsion to the kiss was not a conscious reaction to Woody Allen: film maker and child molester. But clearly these are serious allegations and so how do we feel when he continues to work out his neuroticism and sexual dysfunction on-screen? I’m not saying that art is confession (although it sometimes is), but I’m wondering at the correspondence between the characters he writes and the crimes we hear about in the newspapers. It’s troubling. Criticism must be within context. A movie written and directed by Woody Allen cannot be considered as wholly detached from Woody Allen the man.  His female characters are never well-developed, and the men in his movies, including ones he’s played himself, are very often emotionally stunted, and almost always chasing after some uncomfortably young tail.

So how do we watch Woody Allen movies going forward? Or should we not?