Tag Archives: Emma Stone

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?

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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.

Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress

In recent years, you can burn out on online Oscar debates before the nominees have even started writing their speeches yet but in 1995 all I had was Siskel and Ebert and Entertainment Tongith. I was 13 years old and hadn’t seen most of the movies but the way they talked about Oscar night, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I laughed through Letterman’s monolgue (probably pretending to get some of the jokes), had strong opinions on Pulp Fiction and Shawkshank Redemption without having seen either one, and celebrated when my two favourites (The Lion King and Speed) each took home two statues. Awards season has been like Christmas for me ever since.

Now, I watch all the movies or at least as many as I can. No category is too minor for me and have sat through more shiity movies than I can count just because they were nominated for best Costume Design or Makeup. I don’t always agree with the winners and have found myself yelling at the tv more than once but I’m back every year with a renewed- and delusional- hope that this time justice will be done.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall- The JudgeWhiplash script

Ethan Hawke- Boyhood

Edward Norton- Birdman

Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher

J. K. Simmons- Whiplash

This category has been one of the surest bets of the night for years now. Recent winners include Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds, and Jared Leto for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club. Even before the nominations were announced, no one had a chance against any of these guys and with J. K. Simmons as an undisputed frontrunner, this year is no exception.

He deserves it too. I finally got around to seeing Whiplash a couple of days ago and was on edge almost every time Simmons was on screen. He’s intimidating even when he’s not being overtly mean and scary even when he’s making you laugh. Best of all, he’s unpredictable, which is more than I can say for the Best Supporting Actor race this year.

It’s not that his competition is completely unworthy. I’m not sure anyone in the world is more irritating to me than Ethan Hawke is but even I had to admit that he was likeable and believable as the still maturing father in Boyhood. He’s in most of my favourite scenes in the movie- my personal favourite being his awkward safe sex talk. And of course there’s Edward Norton, one of the better performances in one of the best acted films of the year.

How Mark Ruffalo was even considered for a nomination is a complete mystery to me and I’m still not sure I understand how it happened. Channing Tatum would have made more sense.

Finally, I have nothing bad to say about Robert Duvall. All other things being equal, he’s by far the best actor in this category but there’s only so much that even he could do to elevate the hokey writing and uninspired directing in The Judge.

J. K. Simmons wins. Anyone else would be a huge upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Lately this has been the Academy’s chance to show us how much it celebrates diversity, doing its best to make up for an obvious caucasian bias in the other acting categories. Recent winners include Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Monique for Precious, Octavia Spencer for The Help, and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.  The list of nominees this year are not nearly as diverse- or as interesting- as it had been in recent years.Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette- Boyhood

Laura Dern- Wild

Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game

Emma Stone- Birdman

Meryl Streep- Into the Woods

I think we could have done better.

Dern, for Wild, seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m not sure I heard even a hint of speculation that she’d be nominated. I don’t get it.

Neither Knightley or Stone are able to stand out in their own movies, let alone among the other nominees. Knightley plays an important part in The Imitation Game and we learn a lot about Alan Turing from his relationship with her character but the movie belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch and to give anyone else in it an acting award would be bizarre. As for Stone, I thought she seemed to struggle with the demands of all the dialogue that she had to memorize in Birdman. She mostly rises to the occasion and has some fantastic moments but she’s really not in the same league as Michael Keaton or Edward Norton.

Meryl Streep’s nomination makes sense. She can’t help being amazing in almost everything and has some of the best scenes in Into the Woods. But do we really want to see her up there again acting like she had no idea she was going to win? She’s already been honoured three times for better performances.

This leaves, by process of elimination, Patricia Arquette. I’d have no problem with a win for her and Boyhood was possibly my favourite movie of the year. I still struggle with the idea of calling this the best supporting performance of the year since Richard Linklater went to great lengths to try and make us forget that we were watching a performance. Her work in the film is still impressive and she’s likely to take home the Oscar.

For an asshole’s discussion on the parts available to women in Hollywood, click here.

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.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I walked out of Birdman last night feeling exhilarated, confused, and unqualified to review it.

The film, nominated for seveon Golden Globes including Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Director), follows (literally, through most of it) Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a fictional ex-movie star most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman as he tries to re-invent himself as a Broadway star in a play that he wrote, directs, and stars in. The production is shaping up to be a disaster throughout rehearsals as it’s star must not only deal with his own demons but also with his eleventh-hour replacement co-star who threatens to steal the spotlight (Edward Norton), a high-maintenance actress afraid of spoiling her one chance to be in a Broadway show, his high-strung lawyer (Zach Galifanakis), and his resentful daughter who is straight out of rehab.

Whenever possible, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inamitu gives the appearance of one long continuous take as he follows his actors from backstage to Times Square to a nearby bar. Some of this was accomplished through fancy editing tricks but the film’s stars apparently would have to shoot up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time. That and the complex choreography of the walk make what would otherwise be a pretty talky movie feel action-packed. Even those with little interest in cinematography and editing are likely to be impressed. And the cast, with Keaton and Norton being clear stand-outs, seem grateful for the challenge.

I feel shy about reviewing Birdman because it’s more surreal touches involving Thomson’s frequent arguments with the voice of Birdman in his head left me scratching mine. Many scenes are ambiguous and are probably meant to be but sometimes left me feeling like I wasn’t understanding what was going on. But mostly, I feel shy to review it because few seem to be able to escape its brutal honesty as it takes aim at Hollywood, Broadway, critics, bloggers, Twitter, awards season, and self-importance in general. I felt like I was being dared to love this movie- or to hate it- only so it could mock me for it. The script and acting feel refreshingly honest even as it seems to question its own ability to do so. Keaton and Norton contribute to the multi-layeredness, both playing parts that are so close to their real-life public personas.

My review of this is all over the place. Sorry about that. I’m still not sure what to make of this movie. I can tell you that you I doubt you’d regret watching it. And that (I never thought I’d say this) someone should nominate Michael Keaton for an Oscar. Even if the makers of Birdman would laugh at them for it.

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?