Wednesday, December 31, 2014

R.I.P. Papa Gilmore

This is not how I wanted to close out the year.

Edward Herrmann, the Gilmore Girls beloved patriarch, passed away today. He was 71.

An Emmy-winning actor (for a guesting stint on TV’s The Practice), he reportedly had been battling brain cancer and had been in the ICU this month. His condition sounds like it wasn’t the best, unfortunately: Evidently, he had been on a respirator, and since he hadn’t shown any signs of improvement, his family decided to take him off it.

So sad.

His TV daughter, Lauren Grahamsaid via tweet that her “friend Ed Herrmann was the kindest, classiest, most talented man. It was an honor and a joy to know him, a devastating blow to lose him.

He surely will be missed.


2014: The Year in Review, Pt. 2

And now...without further ado, here’s the second part of my traditional look back at the year that was.

2014...’twas a good one.

But here’s to an even better 2015!

10 Best Films of the Year (in alphabetical order):

Gone Girl
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Top Five

Honorable Mention: Pride

Best Directors: Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Supporting Actors: Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer)

Best Supporting Actresses: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Rosario Dawson (Top Five), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Actors: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Tom Hardy (Locke), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Miles Teller (Whiplash)

Best Actresses: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Photos: Open Road Films (Chef); (Nightcrawler).

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Waiting on Alice

So, uh...when are most of us going to get to see Still Alice in theaters?

For weeks now we have been hearing about this film and about how good and Oscar-worthy Julianne Moore is in it, and yet it seems it is still playing in beyond-selected cities.

The film stars the four-time nominee as a happily married wife and mother of three children (including Kristen Stewart), right. She’s a scholar at the top of her game who, alas, starts to forget words...things....

Early onset Alzheimer’s – what a bitch.

The drama, of course, comes from seeing Alice and her family cope with her diagnosis.

Check out the trailer now, and look for Still Alice in theaters next month.


RyGos Hits a Snag

Looks like we will not have to worry about Ryan Gosling hanging his acting gloves any time soon, after all.

Following the très froide reception that his directorial debut, Lost River, enjoyed at last summers Cannes Film Festival, the decision has been made not to release the film in theaters stateside.

The film, however, will see the light in the new year.

Right now, the plan is give it a multi-platform home entertainment release in the spring.

Yo, RyGos – lemme know if I can lick your wounds. I would be happy to fall on that sword....


Once Upon an After Time

Fourteen years ago, Rob Marshall came virtually outta nowhere (well...from the theater world), with Chicago, and delivered an eventual Best Picture winner that – I will declare – left us all rather riveted.

IMHO, that film was remarkable because A) it simultaneously introduced me to a musical I never knew before and made an instant fan out of me, and B) it stated that the guy was one to watch. Except the Best Director nominee then went on to serve us three turkeys in a row (Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine, and the Pirates fourthquel)....

No joke, I got to thinking Marshall would go down the way of M. Night Shyamalan (y’ know, one great film and that’s it) until two Mays ago, when the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods started to come together.

I thought, perhaps, this would be his redemption. And it is.

Into the Woods is Marshall’s much-awaited return to form, and a ballsy one at that, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his track record. While the director has had a few more critical and commercials misses than he has had hits, I am happy to report this one’s one for the latter column. He is, if anything, a risk-taker, and I reckon the success he is enjoying with this one is no small measure due to the fact the material at hand, from everything I’ve read about it, was a doozy to adapt.

Cuts that may give fans of the Tony-winning musical pause – cuts that were discussed at length in the months leading to the film’s Christmas Day releasehave been made, but by an expert James Lapine, who together with Sondheim birthed the Tony-winning musical, handled the screenplay. And Sondheim himself reportedly was quite involved in the making of the film, even writing new songs for it. The goal, Marshall and Lapine explained during a town hall with the cast last month, was to make it all more cinematic.

Whatever they did, I liked!

And how could I not when Into the Woods features an all-star cast led by Meryl Streep as the Witch, the fabu-creep caster of a spell dooming the Baker and the Baker’s Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) to a life without children. I should say that Corden, a Tony winner and the new Late Late guy, and Blunt are these so-incredible revelations; he for his undeniable star quality, and she for her impressive singing ability.

Them alone are worth the price of admission, trust. But....

Since the original musical is a mash-up of fairy-tales that (subversively) explores what probably happened after the beloved characters we all know got their happy endings, the film also features Lilla Crawford as a sorta-super-sassy Little Red Riding Hood who comes across Johnny Depp’s oh-so-jazzy-but-dangerous-no-less Wolf; while another youngun, Daniel Huttlestone, follows his winning turn as Gavroche in Les Misérables, with one as Jack, the boy who encounters his greed up the beanstalk. The invaluable Anna Kendrick co-stars as an ambivalent Cinderella, with Chris Pine as her Prince, a charming, if insincere kind of fella.

Up-and-comer Mackenzie Mauzy is a most-tragic Rapunzel, while Jake Gyllenhaal Billy Magnussen is her blinded-by-love Prince.

The film’s first half is pretty flawless. Mr. and Mrs. Baker propel the plot, since they are tasked by the Witch with gathering all these magical objects, which leads them to encounter just about everyone else (all of whom, btw, are eagerly journeying toward their own happily ever afters, their every song revealing fears, doubts, and delusions we never imagined before...)The second half isn’t bad, by any means – but it definitely does vibe differently because now the story unfolds predominantly in the wood (a fantasticscape that can’t help but feel somewhat monotonous) and takes us into this uncharted territory that includes death. (Feel free to gasp.)

And you know what? It was all hella wondrous.

The destination may have been unknown (for a fairy-tale), but, with a company like the one Marshall assembled, it was a near-perfect ride.

If only Depp and his Wolf had been more useful....

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: Walt Disney Pictures.

Woman of the Room

Next year is gonna be a good one for Salma Hayek.

The Academy Award-nominated actress – lately better known these days for being the fashionable wife of François-Henri Pinault – is set to pull a bit of a Liam Neeson and become a big ol’s action star of a certain age once her Everly finally sees the light of day.

Hayek plays a yakuza prostitute in the movie – a yakuza prostitute who rants on her mob boss-ex-boyfriend and is thus sentenced to death by overkill after she becomes trapped in her apartment, where she must field assassin after assassin, all sent to end her.

Everly, if memory serves, is due out in February. Check out the trailer now.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Fhotties Engaged

Aww...y’all must have been real ducking – ;) – naughty in 2014 ’cause you clearly did not get what you wanted for Christmas this year.

And by that I mean, guys, you ain’t getting Sofia Vergara, and, ladies, sorry, but that sexy Manga-beast, Joe Manganiello, is this much farther outta reach.

Why? ’Cause those two f---ing hotties just went and got engaged.

She sure bounced off from her last guy fast, huh. Some of you shall recall just a year ago she was still engaged to civilian Nick Loeb. I mean, the Modern Family scene-stealer and the Magic Mike XXL star first got to dating last summer!

Oh, who am I to judge. When you got it goin’ on – as these two clearly do – you better go with it. Which is what the actor did on Christmas Day, when he reportedly popped the question.


Update: Loeb has told Us Weekly that he could not be happier for his ex.

And now we know.

A Most Perseverant Man

To say that a film, especially one released during the holiday season, is a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit adversity has become such a cliché, but the expression must be trotted out when discussing Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.

The film, about Olympic track runner-turned-World War II POW Louis Zamperini, is precisely that, if predictable so, too.

It is one of those “epic” stories Hollywood has a knack for putting out this time o’ year. Inspiring...a reminder that we are a species capable of many things extraordinary.

And Jolie, for the most part, delivers, on only second foray behind the camera (her first was the 2011 title In the Land of Blood and Honey, a romance backdropped by the 1990s Bosnian War). Unbroken is, beat by beat, a strong film – featuring a mesmerizing leading-man turn by up-and-comer Jack O’Connell – about the resilience of a quite-remarkable individual in the face of a very particular difficulty.

Louis Zamperini – Louie – was just another son of immigrants living in America. Nothing special about the Depression-era kid until one day, under the guidance of his older brother, he began on his winning course from ne’er-do-well to uplifting legend about whom books would be written and films would be made (this offerings based on the definitive biography by Laura Hillebrand). Louie went from running around misbehaving all over his Italian family’s adoptive California hometown to running in the 1936 Olympics. He went to college, where he set a mile record. And he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in ’41 and was deployed to the South Pacific with a group of young men (including Jai Courtney) that, for whatever reason, Jolie showcases as if she were Bruce Weber on an Abercrombie & Fitch assignment. No doubt, the film is gorgeously shot, and a beautiful thing to behold, visually speaking – but that was an interesting choice.


In 1943, Louie and a crew of 10 more were tasked with flying a search-and-rescue (unfortunately, on a plane that wasn’t up to snuff). It, of course, went down hundreds of miles from land, into shark-infested waters. Louie survived, for more than a month, along only two other men (portrayed by Frank’s Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock, from FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show).

On Day 47, he and Gleeson’s character (Wittrock’s died at sea two weeks earlier) were captured by the Japanese. As Louie put it, it was a good news/bad news sitch: they were being rescued, but the ordeal was from over.

Weeks of interrogations and beatings followed, and, eventually, the two were taken to separate POW camps where no one knew they were (no one even knew he was alive for like, two years). At his new home, Louie was singled out for a special kind of blandished punishment by his captor, the bamboo stick-wielding Mutsuhiro Watanabe. The Japanese pop star Miyavi plays the man o.k.a. the Bird, and he imbues his part with a level of ruthless entitlement rather necessary to match O’Connell’s sense of defiant nobility – which makes me think this was another good find by La Jolie....

Louie stayed at that camp until the end of the war, even when he couldve, well...not. No, not by taking the easy way out but by selling out America and playing into the Japanese propaganda machine, something which we are told he was offered after being allowed a radio broadcast (on account of his Olympic celebrity). He chose to stay and he was put through the ringer by the Bird day in and day out and helped his fellow prisoners (including Garrett Hedlund, whose character was the de facto leader of all the POWs).

Unbroken is that film, alright – but Jolie, while beyond-effective on this particular job, I thought, was much too didactic. Her action sequences are stellar, but she sprinkles all these tug-at-your-heartstrings flashbacks and peeks inside Louie’s psyche that, I should say, more often than not come off as clumsy.

So thank goodness for her two stars. They certainly do elevate her grand-in-scope-yet-Lifetime-y approach and make this one a saga worth watching.

My Rating ***


Saturday, December 27, 2014

There’s Bessie

Get ready to meet Bessie.

Bessie Smith.

As announced last summer, Queen Latifah will play the blues singer on an upcoming HBO biopic.

Bessie, directed by (lesbian) helmer Dee Rees (Pariah), will chronicle the story of Smith, from her turbulent personal life (she was married to a man...but she had a female lover) to her transformation into one of the most iconic singers of the 20th century.

A premiere date is still TBD, but ya know you’ll be watching....


Friday, December 26, 2014

2014: The Year in Review, Pt. 1

Well played, 2014 – you had so much to offer, movie-wise, I am trying something new this year...from the third city in which I have lived this year.

Yeah. It’s been a plentiful year as well, speaking to the personal.

And I likey.

But back to the subject at hand. I am splitting my now-traditional look back at the year that was in two.

Happy 2015.

Best Supporting Abs: Zac Efron’s in That Awkward Moment and Neighbors

Good Abs, Bad Movies: Kellan Lutz in The Legend of Hercules and Kit Harington in Pompeii

Best Aging Hair and Make-up: Tilda Swinton’s in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Vainglorious Hair and Make-up: Tilda Swinton’s in Snowpiercer

Best (Dirty) Look: Reese Witherspoon’s in Wild

Best Kept Secret: Matt Damon’s role in Interstellar

Best Line: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” said by Jack Bannon, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Keira Knightley at different points of The Imitation Game

Best (Meta) Villains: New York Times critics, as depicted in Birdman and Big Eyes

Let’s Feature More: Swarthy leading men like Amr Waked (Lucy) and Manish Dayal (The Hundred-Foot Journey)

Let’s Not Again: Have Michael Fassbender wear a papier-mâché head for the entirety of a movie like they did in Frank

Most Game: Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater

Most Kick-ass: Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow

Most Shut. The Front. Door!: Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac: Volume I

Most Underrated (tie): Draft Day and Edge of Tomorrow

Most Surprising: Guardians of the Galaxy

Most Welcome to the A-List: Chris Pratt

Most Welcome Back: Godzilla

Worst Trend: Unfunny comedies (Walk of Shame, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Sex Tape)

Can’t Wait to See More of – Female: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle

Can’t Wait to See More of – Male (tie): Domhnall Gleeson, from Frank, and James Corden (Begin Again)

Best Soundtrack: The Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1

Best OK Movie Made for the Fans: Veronica Mars

Worst Movie: Jersey Boys

Photos: Universal Pictures (Neighbors); Magnolia Pictures (Frank); Fox Searchlight Pictures (Belle).

The Unsung Hero

Oooh, Cumberbitches – our boy is so going to the Oscars next year.

As a nominee, natch.

So I finally saw Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, and lemme just say it: Wow.

Directed by Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), Cumberbatch delivers a career-high performance as Alan Turing, the Father of Computer Science and one of, if not the unsung hero of World War II.

Turing, y see, was the brilliant British mathematician – and more – who cracked the German “Enigma Code” and, thus, the ordinary man (well...the guy was quite the genius) that played an extraordinary role in ensuring that the war went the way of the Allies instead of that of the NazisHe also was one the thousands of men who were prosecuted in England at the time for being gay. Convicted of “gross indecency” post-war, he endured a year of chemical castration treatments (his choice over prison) before committing suicide, at the age of 41, in 1954.

FYI: Turing received a posthumous royal pardon last year.

It must be said and not just alluded to: the Cumber-stud embodies the heck outta Turing. The actor clearly was/is passionate about the remarkable man he got to portray on the silver screen, having gone on the record to say that the only pardon that should exist should be one coming from Turing himself for that which was done to him.

Alas, that was never possible, and it obviously isn’t possible.

Lest you think it, The Imitation Game isn’t a quote-unquote gay film. But it is a celebration of a (gay) man. (At least, it very well should be.)

Perhaps echoing the albeit modern-day sentiment that a person is not just who s/he sleeps with, screenwriter Graham Moore has devised a story structure that unfolds like a spy thriller. Granted, the real-life events upon which the film is based were just that: after all, eccentric-prodigy Turing was a regular, “simple chap recruited into service of king and country by a suffers-no-fools old-school commander (Charles Dance, whom you’ll know as Tywin Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones), to work with a group of fellow, all-rather-smart civilians that included chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode, from TV’s The Good Wife), Turing’s charismatic polar opposite.

That – being smart enough to help the Allies win the war – is what Turing did and, indeed, a great part of who he was. Nevertheless, Tyldum & Co. elegantly delve into the more secretive aspect of his being, and that is what gives this film its epic scope. Without Turing, millions more would have died, more cities would have been leveled, and the world might be a much different place.

Keira Knightley is featured in the film as Joan Clarke. She was the only woman admitted into the task force, and, more importantly, Turing’s closest confidante. She serves as our proxy to understanding Turing in ways no one else around him genuinely did or tried to; as depicted in the film, their relationship was as simple (she knew him) as it could have been complicated (she could have resented him for sort of leading her on, romantically speaking – but she did not).

No. The Imitation Game is an everyman film. It is the story of man – as it is repeated throughout the film – no one imagined anything of but who went and did the thing that no one could imagine. It is a yarn worth spinning and spun really well to boot.

My only gripe is – gasp! – with Cumberbatch’s acting. Much like he does on the BBC/PBS joint Sherlock, he makes unlikeable incredibly likable. However, there are a couple of instances there toward the end where I can see him acting.

I know, I know. That is what he is doing....

But look. He does do a superb job in the film.

All I’m sayin is I just wish I hadn’t noticed him coloring between certain lines is all. It was kinda like seeing wires on a ballerina. It betrayed the achievement.

My Rating ***1/2