Monday, October 14, 2019

Norma Rae (1979) Review: Films and Capitalism



In preparation for a discussion I’m leading on films and capitalism, I decided to watch “Norma Rae.” The 1979 Best Picture nominee tells the tale of a North Carolina town that successfully unionizes against a steel mill company thanks to the partnership of a Jewish union organizer and an uneducated single mother.


To call this a passion project for star Sally Field and director Martin Ritt would be an understatement. Field, stuck in the dungeon of sitcom-land (things I learned in my research here: Sally Field once was quite a hottie as the surfer chick “Gidget”), had just gone to the Actor’s Studio and studied under Lee Strasberg and was starting to get attention for the made-for-TV film “Sybil.” After nearly every other actress turned down the part (including two of the actresses she would defeat in the Oscar race that year), Field jumped on the part as a chance to prove herself. Her director, Martin Ritt, had been black-listed in the 1950s and was devoted more than before to make films with something to say. Ritt found a kindred spirit in Field who first met him at an anti-nuclear rally. Field, in turn, would call working under Ritt the best acting experience of her life and collaborate with him twice more.

The film is also enhanced by DP John Alonzo's grainy photography and most of the film (particularly the factory scenes) were shot on a hand-held camera.

The film’s authenticity was enhanced through location shooting. While they weren’t able to film at the actual location of the strike in North Carolina, Alabama was trying to attract film productions at the time, which happened to be a serendipitous stroke as they settled on the small Alabama town of Opelika which had been dealing with its own labor issues at the time after the town had gone from a largely agricultural center to a primarily industrial base. While some extras came from nearby Auburn University, many of the factory workers appeared as background and Field said that in her climactic holding-up-the-sign scene (as shown above), that she could feel their energy and sorrow as she was walking to her arrest.


The film’s narrative is largely constrained to the events of real life but that doesn’t mean that real life was particularly disappointing in this case. The film teases out a romance between Norma and organizer Reuben but in real-life the age difference was too big for it to enter either of their minds. At least we’ll always have the skinny dipping.  Norma instead is paired romantically with a good-natured guy (Sonny, Beau Bridges) who is …um, how shall I say this delicately without feeding into southern stereotypes… a simpleton who seems a little slow for a woman who’s suddenly reading books and might be the first person in town who can answer the trivia question “Do Jews have horns?”


Because that’s how they do in the South, apparently, the two get married one date into their courtship, and it’s genuinely unclear midway through the movie if Beau Bridges is her true love (although, really, why marry Beau when his brother is such a stud?) or simply a distraction en route to a certain loud-mouth Jewish Mr. Right. It’s a convincing enough misdirect that when their marriage is at a breaking point and Sonny makes the perfect gesture to let her know he’ll be by her side through thick and thin despite not particularly caring about unions, it’s the emotional high point of the movie. It’s not exactly George and Kelly Anne Conway levels of political division, but much of the movie’s conflict is about how the people at the top try to sow divisions at the bottom so it'll do.


The bad guys who run the factory try promoting Norma to give her a taste of power in hopes she’ll forget about the people she’s supposed to be helping and pretty much admit that this is their evil plan. Then they try sowing discontent among various groups along racial and socio-economic lines. Isn’t this pretty much what Karl Marx warned about?


I originally classified films that critique capitalism with the subgenres of films that might posit their villain as someone who perverts capitalism; films that attack an entire industry; or films that attack the institution of capitalism itself. The third category, which I believe is the most damning critique of capitalism, suggests that human nature devolves under the pursuit of money over material wealth.


There’s a lot to stylistically admire and Sally Field’s portrayal of Norma Rae (or rather the real-life activist Crystal Lee Sutton composited with approximately four other characters due to issues with Sutton not selling her life rights) is quite a firecracker of a performance. But as a film that explores the root of capitalistic evils (or just plain evil in general), “Norma Rae” is a film about the triumph of the human spirit, but it certainly flattens its villains. Why exactly are the factory foremen determined to not change with the times? The degree that their hostility is determined by historic inertia, religious prejudice (the Jewish union organizer is so loud about his religious affiliation, it’s not really clear whether he’s asking people to hate him for being Jewish and if that’s part of his baiting), or a desire to protect their wealth (that’s the root of capitalism) is pretty variable here. That would be worth answering but the general principles are worth exploring here.

Pursuit of Happyness review






The tagline of "Pursuit of Happyness" was basically "story of a poor guy trying to get a job" when it came out which seemed a little (as the millennials say) basic.

After watching it, it hit me that there aren't that many movies about a guy who desperately needs a job trying to make something happen. Even if this was an actual film genre that had been steadily populated throughout the years, this story would stick out for its specificity.


The protagonist Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a father weighed down to the breaking point with bills to pay and a son to care for. His backstory isn't filled in that well which might be intentional because little of it adds up. How did he get the job where he sells obscure medical equipment and why doesn't he impress his bosses enough to ask for a raise with that? Why didn't he take advantage of the free education that came with his service in the navy? Why did he choose to live in the country's most expensive city? In real life, Chris Gardner's first wife came from a wealthy family and she introduced him to high society life where he was mingling with Danny Glover and Samuel L Jackson. Why didn't he try to use some of that social capital?


Nitpicking aside, we're asked to accept that Gardner is an unexplained sort of poor which sort of works if we consider that we likely won't know the backstories and explanations behind every homeless person who approaches on the street for a spare dime.


In order to invest us in this character (much like a positive-leaning biopic), the film wants us to identify with his greatness primarily through his bravery. In reality, Gardner made a cost-benefit analysis and might have even came to the wrong conclusion for all we know: Sacrifice six months of pay for a 1 in 20 chance of landing a job as a broker when you have a kid to support and a landlord on your back? In reality, Gardner had a small stipend ($1000 a month in 1983 which would probably be more by present-day standards) and the training program at Dean Witter offered jobs to almost anyone who passed the test. And while the movie is enhanced by seeing a guy go against such odds, there's already plenty of natural drama built into the man's situation. He has to go homeless, attempt to sweet talk clients when he has no experience making sales, and play nice with his bosses who don't understand his stresses.

The film is primarily known for Will Smith's Oscar-nominated performance and the moment when his son Jaden was introduced to the world (as Chris's son). But it deserves quite a bit more credit than that.

I watched this film in preparation for a talk I'm leading in a week about capitalism and movies. My thesis was originally that there are some films that have standard pro-capitalist bents and some films that challenge the assumptions of capitalism as the best possible distribution system of wealth.

From the synopsis I assumed that this would simply be spreading the gospel of capitalism. This is a story, after all, about a guy who analyzes his options, and ultimately decides that doing flawless work in subservience to his bosses would be the best way to rise to the top. From a standpoint of the main character's narrative, yes, the film is an allegory for the benefits of working your way up the corporate ladder and buying your time.

However, reading this film through a more modern-day lens where critical race theory and privilege (whether socio-economic or other) is a big factor in how we talk (not that I agree with all of it), the film doesn't shy away of the ways in which Gardner is held back from a system that penalizes him from the cyclical pattern of poverty he was born into. Wherever you stand on the "race explains everything" line, it's undeniable that if he was born into better circumstances, he would have better been prepared to deal with his employers. Everything from his arrest for parking tickets to the discomfort he might have with his array of bosses who were born into wealth highlights it's not a particularly fair meritocracy despite the fact that he succeeds anyway.

With Gardner's happy ending, the film has its cake and eats it too. Or does it?


















Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency Season 2: A very belated review





As someone who has historically not been an enthusiastic novel reader, Douglas Adams stands as one of the few people to open me up to the delights of the form. Whether it’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series or Dirk Gently, his delightful absurdity is sprinkled nearly everywhere in the book whether it’s the larger plot points (the answer to life, the universe and everything being 42, an alien race torturing people through bad poetry readings) or clever dialogue (“flying is throwing yourself at the ground and missing”).



The idea of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (I’ll have to add an IIRC caveat, I’m too lazy to look this up) is that the protagonist is a thoroughly amoral and lazy detective who calls himself a “holistic detective” so that he can bill anything he does to the case. Since everything’s related to everything, there’s no telling that anything he does isn’t related to the case.



He manages to capture the whimsical absurdity of Douglas Adams’ book series. The TV series takes on a more mystical approach while keeping the absurdity confined largely to the character of Dirk character himself (Samuel Barnett). Gently is a classic cuckoolander with recently-fired bellhop named Todd (Elijah Wood, hitting the same beats of schlubby directionless as “Wilfred”) as the straight man keeping him in check. Both series have been populated with a wide array of characters with the most Dirk-like being a female holistic assassin named Bart (Fiona Dourif) who takes casual violence to such extremes that the gore is placated by (what TV Tropes refers to) as crossing the line twice. Others like black wing officer Hugo Friedkin (Dustin Milligan of “Schitt’s Creek”) have the lone character trait of being a little dense. Mildly humorous but mostly blah. At least there’s a variety of tonal flavors in this awkward-yet-charming character stew.



The key emotional relationship is between Todd and his sister Amanda (Hannah Marks) and while two young adult siblings bonded by their shared directionless (“Casual” and more recently “Lodge 49” have done it well), the two have an affable chemistry. It also helps that the relationship is complicated by random chronic illness and Amanda having superpowers making her more than just another audience surrogate.



Both seasons of the show are serialized and zany but don’t necessarily match the profound zaninesss, say, of the source material. The second season, which I saw recently, revolves around a traumatized child in rural Montana (as ideal for a fish-out-of-water vibe as any Western state) with telekinetic powers who creates an entire imaginary world that has been operating on its own for thirty years.



The mystery unravels gently enough for the slower viewers (AKA me) not to get lost in all the technobabble. As such, there’s some catharsis when the loose strings get tied together at the end, but it’s mostly about watching zany characters navigate tight situations in a way that’s a bit more fun than the average serialized crime story.   




The second season’s chief villain, Suzie Borden (a nod to Lizzie, perhaps?), is a bored housewife with a rebellious teenage son, who gets a little taste of supernatural power and goes to town. She’s curiously sympathetic at first: One can easily see her as the mildly put-upon housewive trope getting her revenge against society for putting her into a box and stripping her (and perhaps all domesticated women) from their dreams. However, our audience sympathies cleverly switch when we learn that while Suzie sees herself as Carrie (a movie I recently reviewed), her peers see her as more in line with a plastic from Mean Girls.



Like many ensemble series, the level of interest in what’s on screen changes with whether we’re following a good character and a good storyline. Suzie’s one of the bigger draws here.



The series’ first season was such a freaky lightning in a pan that it’s pretty impressive for lightning to strike twice as it did here.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Megalist: All movies over the last 20 years which starred 3 Oscar Winners or More


I've started to notice that the formula for a good movie is to have two stars in it. Very not often do you see films investing beyond that unless it's a mega-ensemble film like Bobby, Murder on the Orient Express or something along those lines. 

I did one of those megalists where I made the criteria films with three Oscar winning actors in the cast excluding Oscar recipients (although honorary recipients are just as worthy, and I will die along those lists). This is not a 100% accurate measure of stardom, and I included people before they won the Oscar or in films for which they won their Oscar (i.e. Shakespeare in Love, A Beautiful Mind) so Larry Crowne (which has a small role for Rami Malek) is essentially a two-star film with a break out star. Lastly worth nothing, a handful of Oscar winners (Judi Dench, Jon Voight, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper) are not particularly selective with their roles and don't demand (or maybe simply aren't afforded) top roles, so they normally squeeze into casts in all sorts of places.

Still it's (slightly) interesting to read.



1998:
Shakespeare in Love: Gwenyth Paltrow*, Colin Firth, Geoffery Rush, Judi Dench*
Enemy of the State: Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King
Big Lebowski: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
A Thin Red Line: Sean Penn, George Clooney, Adrian Brody
1999:
Talented Mr Ripley: Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
American Beauty: Kevin Spacey,* Chris Cooper, Allison Janney
Cider House Rules: Michael Caine*, Charlize Theron, JK Simmons
Insider: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plumm
Tea with Moussilini: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Cher
Cradle Will Rock: Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
2000:
Traffic: Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro*, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Viola Davis
Finding Forrester: Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin
Almost Famous: Frances McDormand, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin
Nurse Betty: Rene Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Allison Janney
Men of Honor: Cuba Gooding, Robert DeNiro, Charlize Theron
Requiem for a Dream: Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto
2001:
Royal Tenenbaums: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow
Shipping News: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench
Beautiful Mind: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly*, Christopher Plummer
Ocean’s 11: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Casey Affleck
Miss Congeniality: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Regina King
Iris: Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent*, Kate Winslet
Hannibal: Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman
Bridget Jones Diary: Rene Zellweger, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent
2002:
Adaptation: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper*, Tilda Swinton
Hours: Nicole Kidman*, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Allison Janney
Catch Me If You Can: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken
Gangs of New York: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jim Broadbent
Insomnia: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hillary Swank
Banger Sisters: Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, Geoffery Rush
Nicholas Nickelby: Anne Hathaway, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent
Panic Room: Jodi Foster, Forrest Whitaker, Jared Leto
2003:
Cold Mountain: Nicole Kidman, Rene Zellweger, Natalie Portman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
21 Grams: Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, Melissa Leo
Legally Blonde 2: Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King
Mystic River: Sean Penn*, Tim Robbins*, Marcia Gay Harden
Runaway Jury: Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Rachel Weisz
Intolerable Cruelty: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffery Rush
Something’s Gotta Give: Jack Nicholson, Dianne Keaton, Frances McDormand
2004:
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Marlon Brando
Ocean’s 12: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts, Casey Affleck
Finding Neverland: Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie
National Treasure: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Christopher Plummer
Manchurian Candidate: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight
2005:
Batman Begins: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman
Bewitched: Nicole Kidman, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine
Miss Congeniality 2: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Regina King
[Empire Falls: Helen Hunt, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward]
2006:
Good Shephard: Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro, Eddie Redmayne, Joe Pesci
Prairie Home Companion: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones
Superman Returns: Kevin Spacey, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando
All the King’s Men: Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet
Inside Man: Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer
2007:
I’m Not There: Cate Blanchett, Chrstian Bale, Heath Ledger, Julianne Moore
National Treasure 2: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren
Elizabeth the Golden Age: Cate Blanchett, Geoffery Rush, Eddie Redmayne
Darjeeling Limited: Adrianne Brody, Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman
American Gangster: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr
Charlie Wilson’s War: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
In the Valley of Elah: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon
Ocean’s 13: Al Pacino, George Clooney, Casey Affleck
2008:
Four Christmases: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight
Dark Knight: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger*, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Burn After Reading: Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, JK Simmons
Revolutionary Road: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCpario, Kathy Bates
Doubt: Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
2009:
Nine: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench
Brothers Bloom: Adrian Brody, Rachel Weisz, Maxmillan Schell
Men Who Stare at Goats: Kevin Spacey, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges
Everybody’s Fine: Robert DeNiro, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo
State of Play: Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Viola Davis
2010:
Valentine’s Day: Anne Hathaway, Jamie Fox, Shirley MacLaine, Kathy Bates, Julia Roberts
Red: Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss
Inception: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard
Little Fockers: Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Barbara Streisand
2011:
The Help: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer*, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Viola Davis
Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides: Penelope Cruz, Geoffery Rush, Judi Dench
Carnage: Jodi Foster, Kate Winslet, Christophe Waltz
Midnight in Paris: Marion Cotillard, Adrian Brody, Kathy Bates
Crazy Stupid Love: Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei
The Ides of March: George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei
Larry Crowne: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Rami Malek
Iron Lady: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman
2012:
Dark Knight Rises: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard
Django Unchained: Jamie Foxx, Christophe Waltz*, Leonardo DiCaprio
Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis*, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones
Amazing Spiderman: Emma Stone, Sally Field, Chris Cooper
Les Miserables: Anne Hathaway*, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne
The Company You Keep: Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper
2013:
Last Vegas: Roberto De Niro, Michael Douglas, Mery Steenburgen, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline
The Butler: Forrest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr
American Hustle: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro
Wolf of Wall Street: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean DuJardin, Matthew McConaughey
Stand Up Guys:  Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino
2014:
Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine
Grand Budapest Hotel: F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Adrian Brody
Night at the Museum 2:  Robin Williams, Rami Malek, Ben Kingsley
X-Men Days of Future Past: Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin
Hunger Games Mockingjay 1: Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman,            Amazing Spiderman 2: Emma Stone, Sally Field, Chris Cooper
Noah: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
The Homesman: Tommy Lee Jones, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep
2015:
Big Short: Christain Bale, Marissa Tomei, Melissa Leo
Hunger Games Mockingjay 2: Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Knight of Cups: Christain Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
2016:
Bridget Jones Baby: Rene Zellweger, Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson
Hail Caesar: George Clooney, Francis McDormand, Tilda Swinton
Jungle Book: Ben Kinglsey, Lupita Nyongo, Chrisopher Walken
Magic in the Moonlight: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden
2017:
Murder on the Orient Express: Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman
Kingsmen 2: Halle Berry, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges
Going in Style: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin
2018:
Mamma Mia 2: Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Cher
Book Club: Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Keaton, Jane Fonda
The Favourite: Olivia Colman*, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Top 30 Actresses in Moviedom circa around 2016


I was digging through some old files and noticed I ranked the top 30 actors and actresses:

There were four clear contenders for the top spot. The two Cates (Blanchett and Kate Winslet) are the go-to actresses for auteurs and in nearly twenty years of high-profile acting  have displayed a seemingly endless range for Oscar-caliber projects. Blanchett is penalized a little because she’s so chameleon-like and doesn’t have any star persona. Winslet is penalized a little because she wasn’t on any particular hot streak before Steve Jobs (which got her an Oscar nomination but which no one really saw) as evidenced by the disaster that was Jason Reitman’s Labor Day.

Lawrence is on fire, as Alicia Keys wrote a song to attest, with two franchises she’s successfully helmed and more Oscar nominations than any  25-year-old really needs. However, she could be in danger of being ghettoized if she chooses to do all her tentpole films with David O Russell. For non-DOR fans, she is soon to fall off their radar as the lack of success Joy had in finding an audience showed. There’s also some debate about whether she can master an older woman but that’s based on whether you think she pulled Joy of f (she mostly did).

That leaves Charlize Theron, who is acertifiable action star. She’s been recognized as a high-caliber actress for a dozen years now, has the hardware to show for it, and has a certain edge to her screen persona that sells. With sheer talent and appeal, I’m comfortable naming her #1.



1.      Charlize Theron
2.      Cate Blanchett
3.      Jennifer Lawrence
4.      Kate Winslet

5.      Meryl Streep-Universally considered the best actress of her generation, Streep continues to take risks and interesting choices while also doing broad appeal films like Mamma Mia, Lemony Snicket, It’s Complicated, Prime, and some might say Ricki and the Flash (in theory, this film should have broad appeal). She’s aging gracefully and is a threat to get an Oscar nominated nearly every year

6.      Scarlett Johansson-Although she’s never been Oscar-nominated, she’s come close enough a few times that she’s considered high-calliber. She also has several Golden Globe and BAFTA nominees and has been an established actress for a dozen years. She’s a certifiable action star, and on the art side, has made boundary-pushing choices whether Lucy, Her or Don John’s Addiction. It says a lot that a younger director like Joseph Gordon-Leavitt thought she could handle a mature role.

7.      Julianne Moore-She’s obviously hot because she just won an Oscar and consistently brings in great preformances. She’s been in romantic comedies, art house films, and adaptations BUT she’s #7 and not in the top 5 because occasionally her best performances are for obscure films. She won an Oscar for Still Alice but did anyone see Still Alice? Free Held, Maps to the Stars and, in the past, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio didn’t even get widescale distribution.

8.      Amy Adams-The female answer to Leonardo DiCaprio. She has the make and temperament of a character actress but she has shown the ability to hold her own as a lead (she outacted Jennifer Lawrence  in American Hustle) and her filmography is so full of good films, she brings John C Rilley or Phillip Seymour Hoffman  to mind.  Man of Steel brings Tentpole Credentials and going back to 2007, so does Enchanted. She also has done comedy like Talladega Nights or The Muppet Movie pretty aptly.

9.      Naomi Watts-How often she appears in film is relative but her talent alone groups her in the top tier. Like Nicole Kidman, she’s chameneon-like in accents and although this is three years ago, The Impossible was very Dicaprio-like in the rigor of the shoot.

10.  Rooney Mara-Although her filmography is relatively short (not as short as Hailee Steinfeld or Soisre Ronan), she has made strong marks in everything she’s in. Even small supporting roles in Social Network or Her garnered her attention. She has about a 50% chance of winning an Oscar for Carol but even if she doesn’t, she’ll likely be back.

11.  Keira Knightley-Authentic English actors and actresses always get a boost in bankability because so many period pieces (even things not explicitly set in England like Troy or Merchant of Venice) that require an English thespian. On top of that, Knightley is hip and cool and has a modern sensibility. She could easily fit into a Diablo Cody or Noah Bombauch work (Begin Again or Seeking a Friend for the End of the World might not have been written explicitly by those two but they were in that mold). Plus, she can swashbuckle AND sing.

12.  Anne Hathaway-An Oscar winner at the right age to play a wide range of parts, her public persona is a bit polarizing. She did do action in Get Smart and sang in Les Miserables. Even though she’s been on SNL, her comic chops are not particularly strong IMO.

13.  Rachel McAdams-Introduced to Hollywood in a villainess role in Mean Girls, she’s tackled a wide range of parts working with Terrence Malick, Woody Allen, Thomas McCarthy and kicked ass in Sherlock Holmes and a Most Wanted Man. Turned a best supporting actress nomination in a competitive field. She’s also a very strong romantic lead.

14.  Sandra Bullock-The female counterpart to Matthew McConaughey in that she was seen mostly as a romcom type of actress with a bubbly personality but her 2009 Oscar gave her a makeover and the follow-up Oscar nod in Gravity gave her a lot more leverage in being taken seriously.

15.  Emma Stone-This might just be me  but I have trouble not seeing her as a teeny-bopper sor tof star even though we’re apparently 5 years removed from her high school roles in Easy A and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. She’s had a respectable turn in the Help, starred in two of Woody Allen’s most invisible films and her big Oscar-nominated turn in Birdman (which I’m pretty sure would not have materialized if she wasn’t acting in the eventual BP winner) was still that of a teenager. I think it might still be a while until she’s taken seriously as an actress who can play 30+.

16.  Judi Dench-If you need a senior citizen, she’ll work in nearly every film, but IIRC, she’s getting to the age where she might have to stop acting soon. I believe I’ve heard her eyesight is going.


17.  Jessica Chastain-Two Oscar noms in the past five years and a very close call last year for a nominaion as well. Not to mention she’s been in four Best Picture nominees-The Martian, Zero Dark Thirty, Help, and Tree of Life- in that time period as well. She’s also won a Golden Globe and two NBR awards. With Interstellar, The Martian, Zero Dark Thirty, and a Most Violent Year, she has a very good track record of interesting film choices

18.  Helen Mirren-Very versatile actress and  not as old as she looks (she’s 70), but she gets relegated to senior citizen parts even though she gives those senior citizen roles a surprising sex appeal. She still gets awards buzz here and there (Woman in Gold and Trumbo in this year alone). Also worth noting, Woman in Gold got $33 million domestically  at the box office. Extremely impressive for a film no one’s ever heard of.

19.  Alicia Vikander-It’s hard to properly rate someone who’s been in the public spotlight for exactly one year. Man from Uncle, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl ere all great performances and she could even win an Oscar and just won a SAG award, but it’s just one year. The longer you’re in the public eye the better chances you have of working up a fan base.

20.  Nicole Kidman-The first time I wrote a list like this in 2009, she was #1 and she’s still just as good but a lot of her films are not wide-release. Her best role in the last half-decade, Paperboy, was mostly enjoyed ironically by people. The Oscar campaign for that role was something along the lines of  “Let’s give an Oscar nom to someone in a bad movie for once!”

21.  Soisre Ronan-I tend to group her, Haile Steinfeld and Carey Mulligan together in the same boat. Women who got Oscar noms at young ages and subsequently got set up with expectations as the next big thing. Of the trio, Ronan has had the biggest cult. Carried Brooklyn to a BP nom this past year.

22.  Kristen Wiig-Some might disagree but she wasn’t as well-known on SNL as Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Those three were known as Hollywood royalty. Wiig had the most screentime of anyone on SNL in her later years, but there was a good chance if you didn’t watch SNL during those years, you wouldn’t have known she was on. Since leaving, she’s had a game-changing megahit in Bridesmaids, has taken value-added supporting roles in nearly every comedy to come out, and has won critical acclaim in a wide variety of indie films.

23.  Emily Blunt-This is more wishful thinking because somehow I don’t think Blunt is quite A-list yet, but I see no reason why she shouldn’t. I don’t even understand why she wasn’t nominated for Sicario. She can play a brooding, introspective star, she can do dramedy (Sunshine Cleaning, Devil Wears Prada), she did period (Young Victoria), and she has edge.

24.  Reese Witherspoon-Wild was one of the best performances of any actor last year IMO and she deserved an  Oscar, but she’s so ingrained as the ingénue that it’s sometimes hard to see her outside of that typecast. Even Walk the Line had her playing a version of that Southern Ingenue. It’s also been well over a decade since she became a tentpole star with Legally Blonde.

25.  Claire Danes-Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, James Gandolfini and Kyle Chandler have enjoyed extremely successful movie careers since their star-making TV roles have ended. I predict when Homeland ends, Danes will be an A-lister in the movies.  As far as I can gather, she’s only been in one film in the 2010s (a Sundance entry) but that should change when Homeland ends. Anna Faris and Kerry Washington are two others I believe will explode in film when their TV shows end.

26.  Carey Muligan-Her casting in the Great Gatsby when it was hyped up in the pre-production phase says a lot about how prized she is among casting directors. She’s the right age to be cast in young women roles.

27.  Marion Cotillard-Being from England is a big plus. Being from nearly every other country is an impediment, but Cotillard has done extremely well for herself acting in such high profile films as Public Enemies, Midnight in Paris, and Inception and shone in MacBeth this year.

28.  Kerry Washington-She had a long career as a character actress (Ray, Mr and Mrs Smith, Last King of Scotland) before being cast in a highly visible TV show which should give her a big boost when Scandal ends. She’s even done great work in the movies while on Scandal (Django Unchained)

29.  Rosario Dawson-She’s been consistently in good roles for the last 13 or 14 years and has done multiple genres.

30.  Ellen Page-Has a hip and cool edge (Whip It, Juno) but could use a better agent.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

If I picked the Emmys 2018-2019 (Comedy categories)

Comedy Shows: 
AP Bio
Arrested Development
The Good Place*
Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Miracle Workers
Trial and Error
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Arrested Development" concluded their runs this year with the back halves of seasons that ran over two years. "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" is a more episodic show that lives or dies based on the quality of the episodic plot and it had a pretty high hit-to-miss ratio as it approached the end. "Arrested Development" started off clunky and didn't have as much stunt casting to rely on. Some might have even preferred the up-in-the-air status of things at the end of the fourth season, but the show managed to really focus on the labyrinthine plotting and organically earn its happy ending. Right after watching "The Good Place", I felt like the season dilly-dallied too long in Australia but looking back that seems like a minor blemish. The show world-builds like an adderrol-addled toddler playing with legos but it has such a plethora of quotable lines and pretty much every character on screen is memorable in some way.

Actor:
Adam Clayton-Holland, Those Who Can't
Daniel Radcliffe, Miracle Workers
Glenn Howerton, A.P. Bio*
Ramy Youssef, Ramy
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave

Howerton's transition from ensemble player in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to headlining his own show is the epitome here of how to retain popular elements of your screen persona and do something fresh with them: He's still a bit psychopath and unfeeling and is every bit the know-it-all as Dennis Reynolds but somehow it's just different. My runner-up here would be a close call between the TV veteran Danson and Ramy Youssef. Even though Youssef is playing a version of himself reading his own script (something that could lower the degree of difficulty) there's a lot that's affecting about his performance.

Actress:
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtt
Geraldine Viswanathan, Miracle Workers
Kristen Bell, The Good Place
Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll*
Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Rachel Brosnahan, Marvelous Mrs Maisel

It's hard to ignore Bloom, Brosnahan, Kemper or Bell because those shows are great female-driven comedies that put those actresses front and center. Brosnahan has had an incredible journey from the lower rungs of comedy actor obscurity so she's been quite rootable. Allison Brie is another great pick and I might have included here but I felt the second season of "Glow" was a fast turn towards boring and I'm not sure if she did anything new. Bell is a close-runner up here but Natasha Lyonne really dos an excellent job of channeling her low-filter id-driven screen persona and creating a comic lead out of it. Lyonne's character is so simultaneously kind-hearted and rude, watching her is an examination of  the more superficial elements of typical cordiality.

Supporting Actor:
Chris Redd, SNL
David Cross, Arrested Development
Mikey Day, SNL
Rob McElhenney, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Steve Buscemi, Miracle Workers*
Tony Shalhoub, Marvelous Mrs Maisel

One of my favorite characters on TV is Jason Mendoza but I think it's the way the character is written more than the actor. In contrast, Shalhoub is being fed the most stereotypical blather by Amy Sherman-Palladino and he still finds a way to turn it into something substantive. SNL nominations typically award people for having a hit political impression that catches but Redd and Day really deserve a lot of praise for doing a lot of the grunge work and carrying their weight so early in their careers. It's kind of a six-way tie between the four non-SNL guys with Buscemi taking it by a nose.


Supporting Actress:
Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development
Catherine O'Hara, Schitt's Creek
Kristin Chenoweth, Trial and Error
Juliette Lewis, Camping*

Lyric Lewis, AP Bio
Meredith MacNeill, Baroness von Sketch Show

This is a wealth of talent in this category with a wide range of variation. O'Hara has long been a fan favorite (and a real Emmy nominee this year) and you either love her or hate her snooty character on "Schitt's Creek" which is a testament to the actress. MacNeill is one of a very talented quartet but she really sticks out for her knack for physical comedy. Shawkat was the most dynamic character on "Arrested Development" this past season and you have to give it up for anyone who can simultaneously hold the affections of a septugenarian AND their first cousin. Lyric Lewis is one of a murderer's row of characters on "AP Bio" including a trio of teacher friends whose banter is so well-established they could convince the audience that pizza slapping is a thing. Lewis has slightly more sass than the others and plays best off of Durbin (Patton Oswalt). However, I'm going with Juliette Lewis who has been chugging along since getting Oscar nominated as a teenager, is wicked fun as a thorn in Jennifer Garner's side on "Camping."

Guest Star Actor:
Adam Scott, The Good Place
Jason Matzoukas, The Good Place
Jerry Minor, Those Who Can't
Joel McCrary, Trial and Error
Michael McKean, The Good Place*
Norm Lewis, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Norm McDonald, The Orville

Lest you think Jason was a Season 2 presence, he appeared in the Season 3 finale to show off his refinement and help pump out babies. His delivery on the line "Hi, I'm Derek" is pretty much all he needs to be placed in this category. For those who need a refresher, McCrary was a judge with a prominent singing voice whose accident got him reduced to a near mute that only Peckers can here; Norm Lewis was the Broadway performer who introduced Titus to the Cats hoax; and McDonald is a member of the Orville's engineering staff who also happens to be an amorphous blob of slime (not making that up). Generally, a good one-off guest star is one who makes an immediate comic impression with something off-kilter that sticks out and McKean's worrisome apologeticness lends itself to some very good scenes.

[Update: Luke Kirby of Marvelous Mrs Maisel won this category]

Guest Star Actress:
Amy Sedaris, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Elizabeth Alderfer, AP Bio
Maria Bamford, Arrested Development
Maya Rudolph, The Good Place*
Mindy Kailing, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Susie Essman, Those Who Can't
Tami Sagher, Russian Doll

I was so happy for Tobias to be able to hold on to DeBrie a little longer and I practically fell in love with Elizabeth Alderfer myself, so there are a lot of appealling choices. For those who can't recall, Susie Essman is a loud-mouthed hustler at Smoot High and Tami Sagher was the secretary to an Orthodox Rabbi who somehow manages to withstand Natasha Lyonne's patience for a good while. In terms of omissions, SNL hosts often go in guest categories but I didn't really think this was a stand-out season with any highlights in terms of who they bought in. Perhaps Emma Stone would be closest if this category weren't so packed. Maya Rudolph takes the cake here because not only is she a distinct comic character whose every line is quoteworthy, she looks like she's having tremendous fun being there.

[Update: Jane Lynch of Marvelous Mrs Maisel won this category]

Dialogue/Writing:
Arrested Development
BoJack Horseman
The Good Place*
Miracle Workers
Trial and Error*
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I'm going to throw a bone to "Trial and Error" considering it didn't get picked up for Season 3 (who knows, it might get life elsewhere?) and give it a co-win. The sheer absurdity of East Peck really works itself nicely into much of the loopy dialogue (particularly Dwayne) and the show enjoys a lot of fun play off the motiffs. I can't leave "The Good Place" behind: I likely can take any random line and throw it in my twitter feed because it's just that consistently good. For "BoJack", I wasn't fond of the "Free Churro" episode and i thought the season didn't have as much significant movement, but the dialogue is always sharp and there were a few ambitious episodes like the one with four Halloweens or the Henry Fondle episode.


Theme Song/Title Sequence:
Baroness von Sketch Show*
The Big Bang Theory
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Lodge 49
Man in High Castle
Orange is the New Black

I didn't see the new "Man in High Castle"  or even know that the show was still running until I checked so that's nice for the theme song. "Lodge 49" is appropriately psychedelic. "Baroness von Sketch Show" just encapsulates who the four women are to the soundtrack of "Dancing Underwater" by Brave Shores


Thursday, September 12, 2019

If I picked the Emmys 2018 to 2019 (Drama)

Drama Shows (in order):
1. Daredevil
2. Maniac
3. Lodge 49
4. Sneaky Pete
5. Orange is the New Black
6. Dead to Me
7. Ozark

Actor:
Charlie Cox, Daredevil*
Giovanni Ribisi, Sneaky Pete
Jonah Hill, Maniac
John Krasinski, Jack Ryan

In truth, I wasn't that impressed by anyone in this category except for my across-the-board admiration at the "Daredevil" cast and that extends to Cox who doesn't come off as an action star but channels the ferocity needed for the emotional climaxes when he faces King Pin. Though not a humongous fan of "Jack Ryan", I think Krasinski's doing great work and part of the reason to tune in to the show is that it's interesting to watch Krasinski do that same screen persona . Jason Bateman was considered but he deserves more credit for creating and directing the show than he does for doing an extremely slight variation of Michael Bluth.

Actress:
Emma Stone, Maniac
Laura Linney, Ozark
Sonya Cassidy, Lodge 49
Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
Linda Cardinelli, Dead to Me*

Linda Cardenelli's Judy is so needy and desperate to connect, she's possibly the clingiest character on TV and it's hard to take your eyes off her.

Supporting Actor:
Wilson Bethel, Daredevil
Brian Cox, Succssion
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Nick Sandow, Orange is the New Black*
Brandon Flynn, 13 Reasons Why
Vincent D'Onofrio, Daredevil

I'm gonna go with Nick Sandow here because it's not easy to love Caputo on paper and yet you end up with such admiration for the guy because he's credibly the very definition of a dynamic character. Justin Foley's arc (coming back from heroin addiction, facing his actions as a bystander to rape, abusive parents, etc) is definitely a demanding role for a teen (or 25, whatever) actor and Flynn's a close second. I didn't even know D'Onofrio could get that big, what a physical transformation!

Supporting Actress:
Julie Garner, Ozark
Sally Field, Maniac
Deborah Ann Woll, Daredevil
Danielle Brooks, Orange is the New Black*
Libe Bearer, Sneaky Pete
Kelly Reilly, Yellowstone

Woll and Garner have been great among multiple seasons, but Brooks had the best character arc and proved once and for all this past season that Taystee is the show's lead character. Libe Bearer plays 16-year-old Carla who has a guarded skepticism well beyond her years. She's on a show with Margo Martindale and supplanted her. I was tempted to put Parker Posey from "Lost in Space" but it was a competitive category.

Guest Actor:
Matt Peters, Orange is the New Black
Michael Lee Kimmel, Lodge 49
Ethan Embry, Sneaky Pete*
Jacob Pitts, Sneaky Pete
Michael Mosley, Ozark
Trevor Long, Ozark

I couldn't even think of that many guys here and certainly not a lot of names. On Ozark, Michael Mosley was the pastor who went psycho on and Trevor Long is Ruth's absuvie dad. Michael Lee Kimmel was the good-looking Asian guy who kept trouncing Ernie in the sales department on Lodge 49, Matt Peters is the iconic source of comic relief on OitNB known as Luscheck, and Jacob Pitts is Marin's oily ex-husband Lance. Ethan Embry, the category winner, is the original Pete Murphy. 

Guest Actress:
Allison Wright, Sneaky Pete
Jordana Spiro, Ozark*
McKenzie Phillips, Orange is the New Black
Henny Russell, Orange is the New Black
Emily Tarver, Orange is the New Black
Jocelyn Towne, Lodge 49

Spiro plays a fiesty bar owner who starts to get entangled between multiple forces wanting different things from her in the same way that all characters in hyper-tense dramas do these days. She makes a romantic spark that's mostly off-limits between Jason Bateman and herself halway believable and her few scenes tell a story of a woman trapped by circumstances I wanted to know more of. Emily Tarver (Artesian McCulloch) is such a tragic character I want to jump into the TV to give a hug to (and that's saying something since the prisoners are so much more in need of help) but her biggest arc is Season 7. Russell and Phillips played the two feuding sisters in OitNB. Jocelyn Towne is the executive in the empty office who looks like Angela Kinsey that had a May-September romance with Dud.

Best Dialogue:
Dead to Me*
Maniac
Orange is the New Black
Lodge 49
Succession

Writing for characters with more inner monologue than outer monologue is the kind of challenge that Lodge 49 and Maniac (with Jonah Hill and Justin Thoreaux's characters face primarily) face the most. Orange is the New Black has to cover a lot of different dialects and subsets of people and Succession is pretty much all dialogue and no plot. Dead to Me has a lot of misdirects layered in the dialogue to keep the mystery secure and there's a lot of nuance in the way Jen and Judy express themselves

Best Dramatic Art Direction:
Umbrella Academy
Maniac*
Daredevil
Supergirl
Lodge 49

Umbrella Academy gets the most points for effort but it's a bit too much of a sensory overload pastiche to feel organic. In contrast, Maniac doesn't go overboard in its sleek and overly sterlized futuristic world but conveys the visuals well. Daredevil is probably at its best in Season 1 establishing the claustrophobic spaces of its universe and, I give Lodge 49 points for the unenviable task of trying to portray a general spirit of abandonment.


Best Dramatic Cinematography:
Yellowstone
Lodge 49
Ozark*
Jack Ryan

Yellowstone is scenery porn but Ozark feels like the camera and its subjects are a labor of love.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Re-evaluating my Summer of 2009 list 10 years later


This is my reaction to a Summer preview I wrote 10 years ago for Examiner.com. I will comment on italics on whether I actually saw the film and how they compared to my expectations

In the first month of Summer alone, most of the heavy hitters have already I arrived. I recommend seeing The Soloist, Star Trek, Angels and Demons, Night at the Museum 2 (it is better than you might expect), and Up before moving onto the newer films:


The Taking of Pelham 123 (June 12th)
The thriller centered on a hostage situation in a New York subway car is a remake of a 1974 film starring Walter Matthau. The vast majority of Denzel Washington roles the past few years involve him as a law official of some sort in some tense situation (see: Déjà vu, Inside Man, Out of Time, Training Day). Pelham 123 takes Denzel Washington, action hero, and places him in a Hithckock-like situation of the ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Did I see this? Yep, on Netflix during its mailing delivery days.
Reactions: More or less what I was expected. Travolta channels a lot of his a—hole character from “Swordfish” and Washington is practically begging Saturday Night Live to hire someone whose main specialty is Denzel Washington impressions because his acting in this particular era was extremely predictable in a series of rote action thrillers (SNL hired Jay Pharoah the following year). The characters are familiar, in other words, and the (recycled) plot doesn’t aim high but is sufficient entertainment.
Bruno (July 10th)
Sacha Baron Cohen brought something truly original when he took to the screen with Borat in 2006. Although a little crude, the cultural collision between the primitive Kazak Borat with the Western world produced results that were sharply satirical, shocking, and flat-out hilarious. The initial problem I had with Bruno is that it’s 2009 and the silliness of homophobia is old news by now. Or is it? Sacha Baron Cohen dresses up as a flamboyantly gay Austrian reporter and, much like Borat, will seek to expose the underbelly of American prejudice. He might be successful or he might spark considerable controversy along the way but for the laughs alone, it will be worth it to find out.

Did I see this? In the theater.
Reactions: I was viscerably disturbed and needed to clench my palate so bad that I walked into the theater next door and watched The Hangover afterwards. I don’t know where the line is between watching people have uncomfortable sex and flat-out porn but this was just all too much for me. Whether it was worth some over-arching point, I admit I was nauseating through some of the film, but it’s hard to make the case that America is too homophobic when you’re sexually assaulting them and/or violating their personal space. Sacha Baron Cohen’s humor was still present but pretty far removed.


Moon (June 12th)


I don’t know if I have ever been so intrigued by the movie critic blurbs that are intercut with action scenes during the trailer as I was with this movie. Among the blurbs for “Moon”, “Fantastic! Superb! Do Not Hesitate To Line Up For This One,” “One of those Rare Sci-Fi Gems,” and “Brainy and Thoughtful.” Let’s start with the third one. Summer movies have historically relied on high amounts of escapism and low amounts of thoughtfulness. In the case that a summer film is thought-provoking, it certainly wouldn’t be advertised. Some ambitious science-fiction films like Minority Report, I Robot and The Island have made their way onto the summer slate in previous years with mixed success but they mostly have been marketed as action films. Moon seeks to be more “A.I.” than “Minority Report” and seems to be shooting as high as “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Did I see this? No but in my defense, I don’t know if it was ever playing. It enjoys a status as a cult film and certainly has grown in stature as lead actor Sam Rockwell won an Oscar and this is one of his best performances. 

Away We Go (June 5th)


The film stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a couple looking to find the perfect home to raise their child. It has a definite indie feel. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gilberman describes as, ‘the comedy of quirkiness, in which ''eccentric'' characters are placed on screen to inspire an amused whatever! shrug.” The film intrigues me mostly because of director Sam Mendes. Away We Go is just Mendes’ fifth film (and first film to be made at such a low scale) but he has had many accolades including a best director Oscar for American Beauty. Mendes has an uncanny ability to capture mood and atmosphere whether it’s the underworld of Depression-era Chicago in Road to Peridition, married life in 1950’s New England or the angst of modern-day Suburbia in American Beauty. Away We Go stars two characters straight out of the popular blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, but I have a feeling he can transcend them.

Did I see this? I tried once on TV and might have even tried renting it. I like Sam Mendes’s style and how he commits well to world-building. However, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph overthinking the fact that they’re about to have kids in a way that isn’t particularly comedic or dramatic didn’t feel particularly interesting and after the first couple scenes I gave up.


Land of the Lost (June 5th)

Will Ferrell stars in this big-screen adaptation of the notoriously low-budget television show. A good rule of thumb with remakes is that remaking a film or TV series that was originally good invites comparisons to the original while remaking something that had failed potential to be good is ideal. With one of the best comedic actors of filmdom in Will Ferrell and a most interesting supporting cast of fresh faces including Tropic Thunder’s Danny McBride  (good article on McBride found here) and Lonely Planet’s Jorma Taccone), there’s plenty to be excited about here.

Did I see this? In the theater 
Reactions: Second worst film of the year behind “Bruno.” The film’s jokes per minute ratio is really low unless you count people wandering around in poop or an unruly monkey (voiced by Jorma Taccone) being annoying. At the same time, I hardly know how I could have seen this coming because the trailer was actually quite appealing.




Food Inc (June 19th)
Michael Moore seems to be the only successful muckraker in the world of film in terms of garnering large audiences and critical acclaim (although I have to give Morgan Spurlock some credit for Supersize Me). Hopefully, there's room for one more in this expose about the evils of the food industry. It's been a popular topic since Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" became a best seller and there was even a fictionalized version of Eric's film. In documentary form, however, Food Inc. could have even greater entertainment value and be far more educational. For further reading, see the official site.
Did I see this? By mail order Netflix 
Reactions: I’m not a humongous documentary person (If it’s simply an educational expose about a topic, I prefer reading or watching videos shorter than 90 to 120 minutes), nor am I an expert at dissecting the documentary as an art form. As far as a good example of an art form I’m not generally crazy about, this is quite good. It should be noted that in this year, Michael Moore followed up some of his game-changing world with “Capitalism: A Love Story” which is a mess of a film with no thesis.

I Love You, Beth Cooper (July 10th)
Imagine if the high school valedictorian declares his love for the high school cheerleader in the 8graduation speech? A fairly simple concept for a teen angst film but one with plenty of potential. That's at the heart of this film. The lead Paul Rust has made a name for himself in the world of internet sketch comedy and the female lead, Hayden Panettiere, has a chance to earn her movie star cred with this role.
Did I see this? I listened to the audio book two or three years later on a road trip. Then I saw the movie in parts on YouTube when you couldn’t upload more than 10 minutes at a time.  
Reactions: First things first, the book’s prose is a little on the weak sauce side and the dialogue is a little stilted. The film sticks pretty closely to the book so that doesn’t help. However, this is a really fetching premise and I like Andrea Savage in it (she plays a fairly minor role in it, though).