Thursday, June 29, 2017
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Adam's list 31-50
31. Juno 32. Day for Night 33. Citizen Kane 34. Grand Hotel 35. Hannah and Her Sisters 36. Murder on the Orient Express 37. Bonnie and Clyde 38. Love Actually 39. Prairie Home Companion 40. Slacker 41. Breaking Away 42. Stand by Me 43. The Princess Bride 44. City of God 45. LA Confidential 46. Big Lebowski 47. Office Space 48. Crimes and Misdemeanors 49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 50. Saving Private Ryan
Ball of Fire is too often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be with Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, a young Dana Andrews and a fine supporting cast. Road to Perdition is a bit uneven as a film, but it does have Paul Newman in his last great film role along with Tom Hanks, Jude Law, the always dependable Stanley Tucci, and of course Daniel Craig, showing his range four years before he became Bond.
We both included comedies in our picks, and you’ll continue to see them in my selections. As we have discussed in the Cinema Lounge, comedy skill often isn’t considered “serious acting” but actors themselves will tell you how hard it is. Anchorman is an excellent choice. Will Ferrell is always good at picking projects he doesn’t have to get all of the laughs. The fight scene alone makes this one deserving, with Tim Robbins as the PBS anchor (“No commercials,no mercy.”) Luke Wilson, and Ben Stiller.
Fargo, No Country for Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou? or countless other Coen Brothers films are also terrific choices, but that does not take away from the stellar ensemble work in Lebowski. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are the standouts, but the film gives so many other fun performances for them to play off of, from Peter Stomare and his nihilists, Julianne Moore in her Viking outfit, David Huddleston as the other Lebowski, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the slimy yes man, and of course John Turturro as “The Jesus.” The more you go back to rewatch the films the more these other actors stand out. Speaking of the late, great Hoffman kudos for including Almost Famous. You’ll see that on my list later,
Aside from its groundbreaking role in film history, Bonnie and Clyde boasts an abundance of talent. Beatty and Dunaway (now also linked due to the Oscars mishap 50 year later) both give you the charisma and depth you expect from your stars. Estelle Parsons deservedly won an Oscar for her turn as Clyde’s sister-in-law. The film put Gene Hackman on the map and brought notice to a then little-known stage actor named Gene Wilder. Michael J. Pollard also garnered an Oscar nomination as CW Moss, another member of the Barrow gang, and Dub Taylor is equally good as Moss’s father. This brings me back to how I define an ensemble in the first place, where many actors play their part in making a great movie. It’s the big names we notice at first, but one of the joys in going back and seeing these films again is experiencing the smaller, but no less crucial performances.
Orrin: How to define a great ensemble is coming to me as I mill through this exercise.
There are films which tend to deflect star power into something where a lot of people have a chance to shine like a Robert Altman film (The Player wouldn't fall into this as Tim Robbins gives such an enormous performances, but the rest of his films do), Grand Hotel or Little Miss Sunshine. 12 Angry Men technically has Fonda as a lead but it's really everyone's film in a way. It's also a film in which one could argue that Ed Begley gives the most commanding performance.
There's also great chemistry and the way certain stars bounce off each other. Juno has a lot of great ways in which people bounce off each other. The uber-hip Ellen Page character contrasts extremely well against the famously gruff J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney (and by the way, thank you for spelling out that name so I don't have to look it up) fits perfectly as a pragmatic middle ground in an understated role. Similarly, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are roughly the same age and have generally played hippish yuppie types but there's a tension between them and their ultimate mismatch grows evident.They are a parallel to the Janney-Simmons pairing on the surface but a relationship isn't just about a surface-level match.
I also tried to highlight casting choices that are innovative or bold. My pick Dreamgirls featured three big gambles among its five main principles: Beyoncee, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy and they were all extraordinarily successful. I agree that the three leads of Ball of Fire are great but I particularly like how they managed to cast seven actors of the older generation that meshed so well as the seven professors (which Hawks intended to be an allegory of the Seven Dwarves).
As for Salt of the Earth, the film was directed by blacklisted director Herbert Beiberman and a blacklisted screenwriter in 1953 which naturally meant it had no chance of getting distributed or funded by the studios it only played in 13 theaters despite great reviews. The film, about a mining strike, was co-produced with the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers and had only two union actors, Will Geer and Mexican Rusaura Revueltas who was deported mid-production. The rest of the cast was miners and locals (all of whom are surprisingly competent) and some of them were invited to review the dailies for accuracy and help out with production in other ways.
You asked about Slacker. It’s the film that put writer-director Richard Linklater (whose work you will see again on my list) on the map. He follows a series of strange people in Austin, going from one person to another. It’s different from an Altman type of piece because there’s no larger story, and the film, for the most part, does not go back to characters it leaves. These include an anarchist, a conspiracy theorist and a young woman trying to sell what she claims is Madonna’s pap smear. The actors were unknown then and remain so 26 years later. But each one of them present a vivid, fleshed out person who you enjoy spending a few minutes with. You get a brief glimpse into their world and then move on to the next one.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
Netflix has been releasing series at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace which is why many will likely have missed Sense8 but the ambitious series from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) and J. Michael Stracynski (Babylon 5) has a lot of ambition and would surely gain notice in a less crowded television landscape.
Sense8 isn’t doing itself any favors with a tagline as grandiose (from Netflix’s press release) as “a gripping global tale of minds linked and souls hunted.” There’s no denying though, that its a show of high ambitions both in production value and theme.
While there are occasional moments of self-indulgence, the episodic structure and the slow creep of serialized storytelling in Golden Age TV allow Sense8 to deliver on the Wachowskis’ grandiose sensibilities in a way that a film version of this material might not be able to pull off. In other words, this is a serialized series with about as slow of a burn as your average TV drama in this day and age.
It takes some time to get invested in the eight principal characters and an even longer time to understand what these eight disparate stories have to do with each other. At the start, all we have to go on is a dying woman (Daryl Hannah, a lot less chirpy than her Splash role) and a phenomenon of eight unrelated people across the world appearing in each other’s visions and in some cases inhabiting each other’s bodies. Why these people don’t try flying to each other’s countries or even contacting them through facebook/email/skype to double check if they’re just hallucinating is beyond me.
It’s also been noted that these all happen to coincidentally be very good-looking people but that’s how TV goes and there is a tremendous amount of diversity to celebrate here aside from the ugliness demographic: We have a widowed Icelandic DJ (Tuppence Middleton as Riley) living in London whose boyfriend gets her in trouble with a drug purchase gone awry; a closeted Mexican soap opera star (Miguel Angel Silvestre as Lito) who is in love but can’t come out for professional reasons; a diamond thief in Berlin (Max Riemelt as Wolfgang) going after an ambitious heist that will put him in the crosshairs of family politics; a pharmacist in India (Tina Desai as Kala) sentenced to marry someone she doesn’t love; a Korean businesswoman moonlighting as an ultimate fighter (Doona Bae as Sun) in the midst of a family scandal; a transsexual blogger and hacker (Jamie Clayton as Nomi) living in San Francisco; and a bus driver in Nairobi with an affinity for Jean Claude Van Damme (Ami Ameen as Capheus) whose bus route goes through gang territory.
The eighth sensate, Chicago cop Will Gorski (Brian J Smith), has a storyline that puts him more in contact with the big grand mystery. While things are being revealed, the sensates are mostly content to accept their pseudo-teleportation powers and put them to full use by lending one another their fighting moves (Sun), hacking ability (Nomi), wisdom (Capheus), or in the most extraneous example, simply plopping down on the couch and watch a Van Damme film (Seriously, we did not need that scene, Kala and Capheus).
To call this a conventional superhero story would be misleading as no one’s trying to save the world. It’s more comparable to the 1990’s computer game Mist (If I may date myself) where you’re plopped down on an island without even knowing the game objective (and, yes, that was frustrating to 7th grade me. I wanted bad guys to shoot, damnit!).
Each of these stories offer something although there are varying degrees to which they transcend the standard genre conventions of comic-book-inspired superhero storytelling. In the case of Kala, the storyline seems to be borrowed form a Bollywood musical without the song-and-dance numbers, while Capheus’s storyline is reminiscent of the 2002 film City of God which depicts the inevitability of gang violence in Brazilian favelas.
While I’m often suspicious of a film or TV series with “global ambitious,” there is a lot to be said for how thoroughly Sense8 incorporates place into its storylines right down to the genre elements. Each of the characters, whether it’s the culture in Mexico that would make Lito’s coming out difficult or the need to save face that’s prevalent in East Asian business culture (Sun), is defined by their place and time. By and large, these stories all have staying power (Kala’s doomed marriage as a stand-alone story and Will minus the Sense8 investigation might be the exceptions) with varying degrees of success based on the acting and chemistry. The moments between Riley and her widowed father, for example, have much more staying power than what was likely written for those scenes on paper.
Similarly, I was very hesitant about shipping any of the sensates partially because of the ickyness and partially because I was hoping to see a show about relationships larger than simple “Will they or won’t they” questions but the romantic pairings were satisfying because they were so wonderfully abstract and unconventional. As a number of reviews have also noted, the Lito and Nomi storylines offer a highly progressive and eye-opening tale on gay and transgender characters whether the stories are the most well-written on television or not. This is all in keeping with the humanist tone of the series as the characters are generally good guys (Perhaps the most daring storyline belongs to Wolfram in the sense that he’s not a “good guy” by his own acknowledgement) and have interactions with each other that are all beneficial.
This is all enhanced with photography that can be described as gorgeous. A minor complaint, however, is that some of the violence is jarring. The show is admittedly enhanced by storylines that lead to action scenes but some of the characters get very, very violent in a way that literally denies the humanity of others.