Day One: 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON

It’s here! The time has finally arrived to celebrate that marvelously golden man, Oscar. For an entire month, Turner Classic Movies network puts on a grand gala tribute to the winners of that coveted statuette, and for six years we’ve joined the party.

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Please join my co-hosts Aurora (aka @CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, Paula ( aka @Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, and me this weekend as we showcase bloggers’ works on this glorious subject. For Day One, here is today’s lineup:

Danny of Danny Reviews (twitter @danny_reviews ) perseveres as he chats about MOTION PICTURES (“CHARIOTS OF FIRE” and “THE KING’S SPEECH” : FILMS ABOUT PERSEVERANCE) 

Paddy of Caftan Woman details the BEST DANCE DIRECTION Nominee: SHE (1935) for that category’s first year as an Academy Award. twitter: @CaftanWoman

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Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog (twitter: @MovieBlogger61 ) outlines his picks for 10 EMBARRASSING ACADEMY AWARD MOMENTS .

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Daniel of Movie Mania Madness (twitter: @dsl89) honors the 39th winner for Oscar’s Best Picture, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.

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The Gal Herself of One Gal’s Musings takes a look at 1954’s Best Actress Competition with A STAR IS ROBBED: THE 1954 BEST ACTRESS RACE. 

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Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood (twitter: @Home2Hollywood ) reviews how the Academy Awards Ceremonies celebrated with humor and Hope: THE ACADEMY AWARDS AND PLENTY OF HOPE.

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Ruth of Silver Screenings (twitter: @925screenings ) goes deep on the Oscars’ origins and answers the question, WHY DO WE HAVE THE OSCARS?

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The Story Enthusiast laments over the CLASSIC FILM STARS WHO NEVER WON AN OSCAR.

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Dan of Top 10 Films (twitter: @top10films ) lists the TOP TEN HORROR SUCCESSES AT THE OSCARS. 

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Finally our last entry in today’s offerings, Gill of Real Weegie Midget Reviews (twitter: @realweegiemidge ) extols the talents of OSCAR WINNING ACTRESSES IN RETRO ROMANTIC COMEDY MOVIES.

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Enjoy reading all of these superb contributions in Day One of our blogathon event. We encourage you to leave glowing feedback for these writers- share the Oscar love! Tomorrow, pop over to Aurora’s site for Day Two entries, followed on Sunday at Paula’s site for Day Three.

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day 3: paula’s cinema club

Thanks so much for joining us this weekend! Be sure to watch the 90th Oscars Ceremony on ABC this Sunday, March 4th 8pm ET.

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Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out the first Awards at a dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929 to honor movies released from August 1, 1927 – August 1, 1928. The first Academy president, Douglas Fairbanks, hosted and presented in the ceremony held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The brainchild of MGM studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was formed in 1927 as a non-profit dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Some might argue about some of those achievements, but there is one thing that is sure to impress classic movie and Hollywood fans – when the music plays to open this year’s Oscars on March 4, 2018 it will be the 90th time the film industry honors achievements in movies.

Here are the 1929 Winners and Nominees

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If you take the time to look through all of the moments in 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversy any number of which may spur debate from film aficionados. That’s where we come in. For the sixth consecutive year, I am joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club aka @Paula_Guthat to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Given Oscar’s special anniversary and all of the memories, we hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest outing yet.

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As you know, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 23rd installment on February 1. This year the network is presenting the movies based on the categories in which they were awarded or nominated. February 1st will honor Best Original Song Winner and Nominees and the festival kicks off with Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) will end the 31-Day presentation on March 3, the day dedicated to Best Picture Winners.

Since both TCM and the Oscars bring to mind our beloved host and favorite historian, Robert Osborne, we thought we would kick off our Blogathon with his words about the 31 Days of Oscar marathon…

“One thing seems to stir the souls of our Turner Classic Movie loyalists like no other: the 31 Days of Oscar salute.” 

Blogathon Details

Rather than hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon for the entire month of February, as we’ve done in the past, we will host all entries the weekend before the Oscars this year. That is from Friday, February 23 through Sunday, February 25, which leaves Oscar weekend free for last minute movie watching. We’re also combining all topics this year and simply presenting them over the three days. Any Oscar-related topic is fair game. We are not limiting this event to classic film fare as we’d like to see entries covering the entire 90-year history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated here are the categories we have used in the past…

  • The Actors
  • The Directors
  • The Motion Pictures
  • Oscar Snubs
  • The Crafts (music, costumes, etc.)
  • New Idea – Oscar Controversies

Most of you know the drill, but as a reminder, adhering to the following is necessary:

  • Let us know what your desired topic is by leaving a comment on any of the host blogs
  • Include the title and link to your blog in the comments area
  • Advise if you have a date preference – Friday 2/23, Saturday 2/24 or Sunday 2/25
  • Include the event banner on your blog and in the entry post to help us promote the event

Restrictions – just two:

  • Please do not submit previously published posts
  • No duplicates will be accepted to ensure we cover as much of Oscar history as possible

We look forward to hearing from you and to reading your entries. As many entries as you want, actually, so get to it!

Until then here’s to Oscar, to TCM and to YOU! Happy Blogging!

Participating Blogs and Topics

Caftan Woman – 1936 Best Dance Direction Nominee, Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from Merian C. Cooper’s SHE (1935)

Blog of the Darned – 7 Films that Should Have Been Nominated for Best Picture

One Gal’s Musings – The 1954 Best Actress Competition

Silver Screenings – How the Oscars Began

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Embarrassing Oscar Moments

Old Hollywood Films – Janet Gaynor’s Three Oscar Wins

Hometowns to Hollywood – Wings (1927)

Critica Retro – The Trouble with Thrillers

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Oscar-winning Actresses in Superhero Movies

Moon in Gemini – Forgotten Winners and Nominees

Cracked Rear Viewer – Claire Trevor in Key Largo

Once Upon a Screen – Why Barbara Stanwyck Should Have Taken Oscar Home in 1942

Danny Reviews – Chariots Of Fire (1981) and The King’s Speech (2010), Best Picture films about perseverance

 

It’s here! 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Day One

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The anticipation is over! Today we bring you the first day of the 6th annual What A Character Blogathon, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreenings.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Quirky and silly roles in the service industry like the frustrated hotel manager or the reliable and sharp-witted maid, a supportive sidekick, the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite scene-stealing performances of a film. We invite bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Now let’s begin!

Ruth of Silver Screenings brings us THE BEAUTIFUL REFUGEES OF CASABLANCA . She focuses on the lesser-known players in the iconic film in stunning imagery.

Real Weegie Midget Reviews talks about IAN MCSHANE whom he describes as “always been there in movies, on TV and now making his God-like presence known… from cheeky British Chappie to “Dallas” to God-like parts.”

Jack Deth, as guest blogger on Paula’s Cinema Club, describes the “wise ass to the stars” DANIEL STERN, “creating multiple personae for cinema and television, while holding on tightly to his gift of dry, wry. sarcastic and occasional wise-ass humor.”

Steve Bailey of Movie Movie Blog Blog offers a glimpse into “one of those actors whom most people probably wouldn’t recognize by name, but as soon as they see him on-screen, they say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that guy before.”  BRUCE ALTMAN, UNHERALDED SUPPORTING ACTOR.

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest explores EUGENE PALLETTE, “simply a marvelous actor in any role.”

Chris of Blog Of The Darned profiles CHARLES LANE, “Specializing in crabby authority figures, Charles Lane was the go-to guy when film or TV producers needed a mean miserly lawyer, judge, tax collector, banker, or landlord.”

Paddy of Caftan Woman hears the “full, rich baritone – a round voice, a pleasing voice – a voice in control of itself” of JOHN ALEXANDER We know that voice!

Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood road trips via Minnesota to review CLINTON SUNDBERG 

Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In takes us on a ROAD TO MADNESS, exploring the many character roles of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

A Person In The Dark reviews “a real pro” who worked both stage and screen, from the silents to the sixties, REGINALD DENNY.

Movie Mom provides her take on THELMA RITTER For her, “Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminate the story’s themes.”

Thoughts All Sorts shows love for A Strong Character in MARK STRONG.

More to come! Return back here throughout the day for more entries.  As our weekend of What A Character! Blogathon continues, explore Day Two with Aurora at ONCE UPON A SCREEN and Day Three with Paula at PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB.

 

31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON- Day 2

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Taking the baton from fellow co-host Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, who brought us the initial round of blogger contributions yesterday, today I pick up on the second day of the 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon. Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club will pick up the final day tomorrow. Explore all three days for three days for the best in the blogger biz for everything Oscar.

Just a reminder, this is our 5th year hosting this event in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies network’s month-long event to honor the Academy’s Oscars. TCM is showcasing this year’s special programming in alpha order. Click here for more info: TCM’s 31 Days Of Oscar

Now, onto today’s lineup!

Pop Culture Pundit takes a look at the brilliance of PURPLE RAIN: A Traditional Musical With an Anti-Traditional Score.

CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch presents Jeff Lundenberger as guest blogger as he goes deep in the Best Actress field of 1950 with, And The Winner Is…

Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews discusses the beauty and bleakness of existence in The Diving Bell and Butterfly (2007)

Wolffian Classic Movies Digest explores the unforgettable oblique angles and visual styles of Cinematography in THE THIRD MAN.

Weegie Midget swoops in for a caped landing with Best Actor Oscar Winners in Superhero Movies!

Blogged Of The Darned enjoys life’s banquet in 3 Beekman Place- The Art Direction/ Set Design of AUNTIE MAME. I promise you won’t starve to death when reading this one.

I will continue to add more posts later today so check back for more blogger bliss! And to all the participating writers and readers alike, Aurora, Paula and I cannot THANK YOU enough for your continuing support!

…Kellee

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Bloody Snow Drifts in Rare View: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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Quentin Tarantino simply put, “gets it.” Not just a great filmmaker who ranks at the top of any list of the best of them, this writer/director is a true film fan, too. So when he set out to make his eighth film, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t let a leaked script draft get him down. He takes it up a notch by not only shooting it in a format rarely seen in the last half-century, but he also takes it for a spin with a good ole fashioned roadshow.

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) gives us a Reconstruction era whodunnit in glorious Ultra Panavision 70 mm format. Everything old is new again for Tarantino (and us) when he gives a retro fit to his story of what happens when a bounty hunter, a hangman and a prisoner get snowed in along with others in a blizzard along the stagecoach trail in rustic Wyoming. Like other films shot in this beautiful screen experience like BEN-HUR (1959) and IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963), he wanted to present his latest film in the widest cinematic experience (aspect ratio of 2.76 to 1) to a limited number of screens across the country just prior to its wide release, even including a musical ‘Overture’ and ‘Intermission.’

I even heard tale of a special program souvenir*, just for the lucky roadshow attendees. Just when I didn’t think I could possibly be one of those lucky few as I am located smack-dab in the middle of the country, far from what is typically a ‘chosen city’ for such engagements, lo and behold we found a participating theater a mere 30 miles from our town. This is again thanks to the unique and strategic planning of Mr. Quentin Tarantino and Weinstein Co. distribution.

Unlike such roadshow engagements of the decades past which only targeted the very biggest of select cities, this time the roadshow was expanded up to one hundred theaters. Which undoubtedly was a hefty expense to equip and train projectionists to this rare 70mm technology for all the locations not already fitted. (I imagine this would be needed for quite a few of them). But just imagine how this additional expense has now benefited these venues for future filmmakers to hopefully continue this idea?

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Now back to that HATEFUL EIGHT. I promise not to give away major spoilers here. Like other QT films, this one certainly did not disappoint. It possesses the same masterful storytelling, colorful characters, distinct style, a splendid score, and a signature wealthy dose of violence. And he slows down the pace just enough so we can get cozy with this snowed-in tale.

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What’s fascinating about Tarantino’s choice for that antique lens of Ultra Panavision, most of the film is not of exterior shots (although the exterior scenes filmed about 30 miles outside of Telluride are truly stunning with that ultra wide screen). Instead, most of the film takes place in a single room, with some inside a stagecoach. In other words, for a film that could easily convert into a stage play, it’s incredibly intimate. For a super wide format, it’s almost claustrophobic to get so chummy with your characters. This closeness snugly builds tension yet keeps the mystery taut.

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In addition to the unraveling story that unfolds like an Agatha Christy mystery peppered with enough brutal moments to make SCARFACE blush, the musical score is also a compelling feature that cannot be ignored. Leave it to Tarantino to convince the one and only Ennio Morricone to compose the theme song and original score. Yes, the same legendary composer to create iconic sounds from those legendary spaghetti westerns for Sergio Leone. Morricone hasn’t done a western score in decades (even though I don’t think I’d label this film as a western, per say). Due to time constraints, Morricone created the theme, nearly half-hour of original score, plus he added some unused material he originally created for THE THING (1982). It’s an appropriate choice considering the isolation of the winter blizzard and the haunting tone of the unraveling mysteries.

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I’d be remiss to not address the choices and performances of this cast, as QT’s films are known for their unique characters portrayed adeptly by each purposeful actor choice. It’s nice to see one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson take the lead in this latest Quentin Tarantino vehicle. They’ve partnered together on six films and it’s no secret that the brotherly love and respect is there. Jackson’s performance is strong as Maj. Marquis Warren, the bounty hunter. He keeps us guessing and that’s exactly what his character needs to do. Kurt Russell is perfectly suited as ‘the hangman’ John Ruth. Beyond his bigger-than-life characterization, his facial hair is practically a role in itself.

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Both Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray, ‘the little man’ and Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, ‘the sheriff’ are unforgettable, quirky and entertaining for comical relief. Before I describe ‘the prisoner’ Daisy Domergue, I must confess my bias in regards to Jennifer Jason Leigh that will likely be unpopular. I just don’t like her. Ever since FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), I’ve consistently found her to be unattractively and annoyingly unappealing. But here she plays a part where my bias works out. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Daisy is a very unlikable, annoying and unattractive character. I’ve never thought she wasn’t a good actress though. So yes, I’ve finally witnessed the perfect role for JJL. (I’ll expect the hate mail to start pouring in now.) The rest of the cast is equally great and I loved seeing Bruce Dern (as Gen. “Sandy” Smithers aka ‘the confederate’) continuing to work his magic, following his career resurgence after NEBRASKA (2013).

While many would describe this film as a western, I hesitate to do so after screening it because that category is too limiting. I think of it as more of a suspenseful mystery, taking place in the Reconstruction era along the Overland Trail in southern Wyoming. When I think of a western I think of a protagonist of moral fortitude pitted against one or several evil-doers. But as the title alludes, perhaps it’s all eight characters that possess a ‘hateful’ edge of antagonism and not so much of the protagonistic nature.

Ultimately, it’s all of these factors- the story, the cast, the music, the characters, the cinematography, and even the special attention to details like the roadshow experience combined- plus Tarantino’s writing that will make THE HATEFUL EIGHT a fan favorite and a timeless classic to come. I for one am grateful that Quentin Tarantino is not just a solid filmmaker, but a true film fan in the classic sense.

*(By the way, I never got that special program.)

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THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)

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Before Matthew McConaughey was giving stand-out and Oscar-worthy performances in films such as DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) or in the popular HBO TV series “True Detective” yet after he was better known as that rom-com actor who seemingly took on a new career as a beach dude obsessed with constantly showing off his tauntly toned torso, there was a promising role that hinted of better days to come. Prophetically, Brad Furman’s LINCOLN LAWYER (2011) was released 3 years prior to McConaughey’s role as the pitchman for Lincoln Motors.

Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011) was in many ways a turning point for Matthew McConaughey. While he was successful commercially with romantic comedies and other light films, he hadn’t made very many successful dramatic roles since playing another defense attorney in A TIME TO KILL (1996). In the past few years, McConaughey has undergone a dramatic career transformation thanks to taking on more serious and indie film roles, starting around 2011 with roles like off-beat Mickey Haller as the defense attorney who utilizes a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car as a means of business meetings, in addition to transportation.

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Haller is accustomed to odd, low-paying jobs like defending a biker gang. He generally assumes his clients to be guilty and prefers it that way. At least he knows where he stands. But he agrees to take on a high-profile case of assault from a very wealthy family. His client Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) stands firm that he is innocent of brutally beating a prostitute. Meanwhile, via the assistance of his investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) this case leads them to revisit an old case where a man named Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena) is serving a life-sentence for murder, in a strikingly similar fashion. Based on Martinez’s response to the evidence, Haller doubts Roulet’s innocence and sees a parallel pattern. He questions whether Martinez is actually innocent after all.

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Things get complex in the process of researching the clues that bring Haller to question his own moral compass. This is no longer a simple case. Roulet throws him curveballs along the way. We also get introduced to several side characters that oft challenge him in this journey of his own morality vs. winning a case, including his ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei), the state’s earnest district attorney Ted Minton (Josh Lucas), cantankerous detective Lankford (Bryan Cranston) and betraying bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo).

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To me, THE LINCOLN LAWYER has some distinctly noir qualities. Haller in many ways acts like a private dick, more so than a defense attorney. I like that we see all the steps in his process from the initial client meeting, to prison visits, to his gathering of evidence, to the courtroom drama and all the interactions in between. We see him as a flawed individual with a drinking problem- hence the need for Earl the very likable and loyal driver (Laurence Mason), who wrestles with whether he’s uncomfortable as the good guy or comfortable as the guy who helps the bad guys. He irritates the police because he outsmarts them yet doesn’t follow their rules and he’s respected by the non-upstanding citizens, yet he doesn’t belong to either side. In addition, Roulet’s mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) reminds me of Mary Astor’s character in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) in ways I can’t quite put my finger on without also revealing some spoilers.

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The plot has some nice twists and creates notable tension as it builds via plot details I’ve purposefully omitted to avoid spoilers. The cast is solid but I would’ve enjoyed seeing more character development into their back stories. It’s Matthew McConaughey’s performance that really stands out overall. And despite his southern drawl in a LA setting, it somehow works because this guy knows how to bring it.

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This was my contribution to Movie Rob’s and TenStarsOrLess.com’s AUGUST ARGUMENTATIVE, the month-long blog series highlighting films focused on courtroom based features. Be sure to explore their blogs this month for more contributors.

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SPY (2015) is the Gal Pal, Snort Fest

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Melissa McCarthy has accomplished more than offering up a light comedy this summer, much more than a silly spy spoof. She’s headlining a continuation of a recent trend of feminism and female empowerment in film via her latest comedy vehicle, in Paul Freig’s SPY (2015).

After screening SPY, I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that the same writer/director who brought us BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) is the man behind this film. In addition to bringing on several of the same actors, that same genuinely funny humor is present here. It was very clever, with moments of graphic realism for a touch of ‘gross-out toilet humor’ and basically, I laughed my ass off- out loud- which is always a good sign.

SPY mostly follows the basic predicatable formulas as you might expect in a Hollywood spy parody. Not as wild and whacky as CASINO ROYALE (1967) and while there is one scene in particular that screams  Austin Powers it follows much closer to a true Bond film in spy theme. It’s what you might expect if you took the clever writing from BRIDESMAIDS and popped in Melissa McCarthy as the lead and just let her go ‘do her thing.’ McCarthy takes charge by showing us again her natural range in comedy. We see her subtle ways of self-depricating narrative to her explosive moments of ‘fired up’ action.

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Melissa McCarthy is introduced as Susan Cooper, the CIA trained agent/analyst with ‘ears inside the head’ of Jude Law, the dashing CIA agent Bradley Fine. The highly successful duo work like a masterfully choreographed dance until Fine is taken out of commission. Fine’s assassin (Rose Byrne as Rayna Boyanov) threatens to take out all the remaining field agents. So with great reluctance they place Cooper in the field (as the only agent who knows the intel very well yet wouldn’t be recognizable by their target.) The adventures kick off soon as Cooper starts going with her instincts, unleashing her ‘inner agent’ self and starts kicking ass all over Europe.

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Besides McCarthy being down-right hilarious, a key highlight is the comedic chemistry we experience in pairings with her co-stars. Scenes with Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Peter Serafinowicz, and Miranda Hart are especially snort-chuckle inducing. I honestly don’t know how Statham and Byrne were able to keep straight faces delivering their lines.

Another plus for me is the characterization of Cooper as the female lead. What a refreshing rarity to not only see a female in the lead of an action comedy, but also to see her portrayed as intelligent, savvy, and she doesn’t look like a half-starved-to-death, supermodel freak show. When the verbal spars are exchanged on screen, (like between Byrne and McCarthy) even the insults are not solely focused on the typical fat-shaming sort, as usually seen with any plus-sized comedian (who looks closer to the average American than the eating disorder look that Hollywood often prefers).

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The female bonding throughout and equality of pairings is like a breath of fresh air for the Hollywood norm. McCarthy’s role as Cooper shows more depth and authenticity- we can relate to this lady (well, that is if we had mad skills as a CIA agent, but one can dream). In addition to the chemistry and performances, the witty writing is what makes this comedy click.

SPY has all the elements that worked well in BRIDESMAIDS plus it better showcases Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious talents, which I predict will continue to skyrocket her career. With the more recent crop of films depicting improved female roles, empowerment and friendships, such as:  BRIDESMAIDS (2011), THE HEAT (2013), BABY MAMA (2008), HOT PURSUIT (2015), and even MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), I for one would be thrilled to see this trend continue.


 

Spy (2015).

Direction and Screenplay: Paul Feig.

Cast: Melissa McCarthy. Jason Statham. Miranda Hart. Jude Law. Rose Byrne. Peter Serafinowicz. Raad Rawi. Jessica Chaffin. Sam Richardson. Katie Dippold. Richard Brake. Bobby Cannavale. Carlos Ponce. Michael McDonald. Julian Miller. Alessandro De Marco. Björn Gustafsson. Ben Falcone. 50 Cent. Allison Janney.

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Finding No Faults in SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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I’m a sucker for an over-the-top, blockbuster disaster movie. The mega budget versions of this film genre seemed to initiate in popularity in the 70’s with films like AIRPORT (1970), THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), and EARTHQUAKE (1974). Then they kicked off again in the 90s and transitioned into the 21st century with films like TWISTER (1996), INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004) and 2012 (2009). Quick to follow there were parodies [like AIRPLANE! (1980)] and campy B flicks [like the recent super cheesy “Sharknado” TV movies] that found equal popularity, too.

Oh sure, these films are easy targets for film scholars and critics. And yeah, the more recent crops in this field certainly have more adrenaline-infused CGI on the screen than articulate dialogue, by a landslide. But like my favorite Hostess cupcake with a cold glass of milk, sometimes you just crave a guilty pleasure of sugary junk food. Which brings me to Brad Peyton’s SAN ANDREAS (2015).

Bigger-than-life Dwayne Johnson portrays Ray, a super-dad and rescue expert/helicopter pilot who is facing the emotional battles of his family being torn apart by the scars of the tragic death of their youngest daughter. From the very first scene, we see that rescue operations of staggering magnitude are a relatively stress-free, piece of cake for Johnson compared to his unresolved issues at home. These issues have created an emotional divide between Ray and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) who plans to divorce him and  move in, along with their twenty year-old daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), with wealthy boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). They say a person’s true character is revealed in moments of crisis. In Daniel’s case, we later see his in vivid detail.

Earthquake expert Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) in the midst of epic disaster

Earthquake expert Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) in the midst of an epic disaster

It doesn’t take long for earthquake expert Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his team to discover up-close that their breakthrough technologies of predicting earthquakes are soon realized- in previously unknown fault areas in Nevada, then again even closer to home (yup, along the San Andreas fault line). Of course Ray is pulled into the rescue action as multiple cities are horrifically devastated.

As if a 9.6 earthquake wasn't enough, here comes the tsunami

As if a 9.6 earthquake wasn’t enough, here comes the tsunami

But interestingly, while these heavily populated cities are being demolished by record-breaking quakes, tremors and tsunamis, most of Johnson’s sole focus is rescuing his family. His expertise and leadership help others along he and Emma journey to connect with their daughter, but ultimately his only goal is protecting them. Smart thinking on his part because he succeeds in ways much more than life-saving rescues, he finds a therapeutic closure to conquer his haunting demons.

Ray and Emma have some major issues to resolve- and it takes an earth-shattering crisis to break down these walls

Ray and Emma have some major issues to resolve. And it takes an earth-shattering crisis to break down these walls.

(L-r) CARLA GUGINO as Emma, ALEXANDRA DADDARIO as Blake and DWAYNE JOHNSON as Ray in the action thriller "SAN ANDREAS," a production of New Line Cinema and Village Roadshow Pictures, released by Warner Bros. Pictures. from Warner Bros media pass

Sometimes it takes a quake to save a family…(L-r) CARLA GUGINO as Emma, ALEXANDRA DADDARIO as Blake and DWAYNE JOHNSON as Ray released by Warner Bros. Pictures

There are many parallels you’ll notice between SAN ANDREAS and other disaster films:

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In Roland Emmerich’s 2012 the premise is a main character (John Cusack) who is recently divorced from his wife (Amanda Peet) who moved on to another more emotionally available and stable man of means. In both films, the main male figure is struggling in some way which creates a wall in the marriage, but wants to reunite with his ex/or estranged wife and is a good father who in the end is willing to battle any obstacle to save his family. There is also a parallel in a significant character that is a scientist/expert in his field who plays a pivotal role in the discovery of the crisis and assists in communicating the stats of the play-by-play details= Paul Giamatti’s Lawrence in SAN ANDREAS vs. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Adrian Helmsley in 2012.

The Day After Tom

In Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow… again the male figure has become emotionally unavailable which has created a division in the marriage. This time, the kid is older (son played by Jake Gyllenhaal) so the romantic focus shifts more to the son and his love interest, as they experience surviving the disaster together. There’s a similar love interest parallel in SAN ANDREAS between Blake and a nice Brit chap Ben (Australian Hugo Johnstone-Burt). But it’s still the dad (played by Dennis Quaid) who battles to save his family, against all odds. This time the scientist/expert in his field is the main male figure himself (Quaid).

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In Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day… this formula is slightly tweaked with a ‘double date’ approach. Fighter pilot Will Smith’s Capt. Hiller (parallelism in job description as Johnson’s Ray character) is sorta the male lead but so is Jeff Goldblum’s David. This time, David is the scientist/expert in his field and estranged from his wife but wishes and later succeeds in reuniting. No kids between the two but there is a family for Capt. Hiller, minus the ‘official commitment’ which is resolved eventually. Both Capt. Hiller and David save the day in the end.

No surprise that SAN ANDREAS sought out formula parallels that worked well in Emmerich’s mega hits. But unlike unsuccessful disaster films that only aim to highlight the roller coaster ride of destruction, SAN ANDREAS took it up a notch by positioning the disaster in the background (but the effects are spectacular) and placed first priority on the story of this family.

Super dad Ray's (Dwayne Johnson) driving goal is to save his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario)

Super dad Ray’s (Dwayne Johnson) driving goal is to save his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario)

Specifically, we see performances of heart-felt emotion and gritty action from Alexandra Daddario and Dwayne Johnson. I got the impression they were attempting to make Daddario’s Blake as a more wholesome and grounded version of Megan Fox’s Mikaela character of TRANSFORMERS. Despite that comparison, and thanks to Daddario’s stronger acting skills, I think Daddario has a greater potential in her acting career.

As for Johnson, he continues to prove he can handle more than a bulky shell of an action figure. This guy shows muscle in comedy and even some emotional range to boot. If SAN ANDREAS is my Hostess cupcake, “the Rock” Dwayne Johnson is the creme filling.

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ALOHA (2015) means hello and goodbye

Aloha poster

I was all set to take a couple of my kiddos to the summer disaster flick SAN ANDREAS because it seemed to be a movie of commercial and mass appeal across multiple ages. But we soon realized my true mistake was in accidentally picking the 3D version (which simply won’t do for my vertigo affected eighteen year-old) so with time constraints, we opted for Cameron Crowe’s latest, ALOHA (2015).

While ALOHA wasn’t my first pick, it seemed to be ripe with a splendid cast so worth a viewing. When asked by my fourteen year-old as we walked in as what this film was about, I told him I couldn’t say, based on the trailer. As we walked out, I asked him what he thought of it. He said he wasn’t sure. As for me, I knew what he meant.

ALOHA in its deep Hawaiian themes, is what I call a meandering film. The course of the story takes us on an uncertain stroll of several plots. We come in without a clear structure. Director/screenplay writer/producer Cameron Crowe likes to play it loose and off-beat as we’ve seen from his many films like SAY ANYTHING (1989), JERRY MAGUIRE (1996), and Oscar-winning ALMOST FAMOUS (2000).

The several stories layer like petals of a pineapple flower. The real focus as we attempt to sort out the various plots is left on the characters.

ALOHA_CooperandStone

Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone make an arrival as the odd, albeit highly attractive, couple that somehow works

 

-Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest plays the sometimes military/sometimes private contractor whose reputation precedes him, in both good and bad history. His past reflects a man whose singular obsession and superior talents lie in the heavens of astrophysics since boyhood. With severe injuries from serving in war, sketchy relationships in private contracts and a changed landscape of space pursuits since the 2008 defunding of NASA replaced by civilian billionaires, he arrives to a tarmac of somewhat questionable welcomes.

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Krasinski steals scenes with his non-verbal guy code

 

-He’s come home to his past in Hawaii, the US Space Program in Honolulu- a past of the girl that got away (Rachel McAdams as Tracy Woodside) who now has a family of her own on the military base but these two still have unresolved matters. Her charming family includes the silent husband John Krasinski as John ‘Woody’ Woodside who says a mouthful with no words (and steals scenes in the process), a thirteen year old daughter (Danielle Rose Russell as Grace) with a savvy for the hula like a true native and a younger son (Jaeden Lieberher that cute kid from ST. VINCENT as Mitchell) with a google-like knack for Hawaiian folklore.

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Her character may be almost too good to be true, but Emma Stone’s performance is truly top-notch

 

-He’s been assigned a watchdog, the quirky Air Force fighter pilot Allison Ng (the magnetic Emma Stone), who is essentially his babysitter as he proceeds in negotiations with sovereign King of Hawaii for airspace rights as they plan to launch a satellite with questionable intentions. She’s a fascinating character in the film although she’s so interesting her character seems almost unbelievable. For instance, who utilizes a highly trained female fighter pilot as a glorified babysitter? She’s a mix of super nerdy, ultra-strict military protocols, strong moral compass and Hawaiian superstitions (due to her being one-quarter Hawaiian as she insists with her big pools of blue eyes, fair skin and strawberry blond hair) and sometimes she even relaxes her jet-fueled energy by cutting a rug with billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) who is financing this entire project.

There are a few other characters of interest including ill-fitted yet humorous Alec Baldwin as General Dixon and Danny McBride as Colonel ‘Fingers’ Lacy. Bill Murray was a joy in this fairly small role because, let’s face it; he could do nothing but attempt to hand-knit a Hawaiian shirt for thirty minutes straight on the big screen and I’d find it utterly delightful.

Ultimately, the muddled mix of plot paths forces us to examine the characters more closely which does provide entertainment. That is if you accept and submit to this trip without any desire for a clear compelling structure or end in sight, you may find the stroll worth the journey. I bid Aloha to ALOHA- because I left right where I began.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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Imagine this. This bubbly optimist who enjoys all sorts of cinema- from the silents right up to the latest blockbuster- goes to see the latest entry of Mad Max. I’ll fully admit that a bleak dystopian view of the future is generally not my cup of tea. But I kept my mind open this Memorial Day weekend upon screening George Miller’s MAD MAX FURY ROAD (2015), because I’ve heard so many glowing reviews.

I should’ve listened to my pal Karen Noske who advised fellow optimists to skip the Mad Max reboot and go straight to Disney’s TOMORROWLAND (despite its less than glowing reviews). After leaving MAD MAX FURY ROAD, I felt like a victim of PTSD. Yet in the most campy-gone-wrong way, if that’s possible. To keep in line with my post-traumatic state, I shall share with you all the reasons I disliked this film, plus a few positive reasons the film earned my respect (I am an optimist after all)- in bullet points.

I’ll lead with the few merits… (note there may be a few hints at spoilers)

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  • Charlize Theron. (She was the true lead of this film. Her performance was the one thing that seemed authentic and worthy in this futuristic flick. She was the actual “Max” here.)

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  • Positive view of women. This film cast a lot of women in speaking roles and portrayed them in realistic, tough and overall positive perspective. Happy to hear women have a future, Mr. Miller, even beyond mother’s milk.

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  • More over, it’s a positive view of older women. What a refreshing thing to see mature women- shown in all their deeply wrinkled (no plastic or botox here) beauty. And these ladies are TOUGH. Kicking ass- clever fighting, use of weapons, throwing punches and getting punched back just as hard. Basically, mature women being treated as equals in an action flick as I’ve never seen before.

Now for what didn’t work for me…

MadMax_Muzzlefor Tom

  • Tom Hardy articulates like a modern Popeye. He barely speaks throughout the film and when he does, it’s a mix of a 6-packs-a-day growl or he throaty whispers under his breath. I understand the sex appeal factor (especially when mixed with an Australian or Brit accent), yet surely at some point soon this trend that really kicked off heaviest with Christopher Nolan’s Christian Bale Batman trilogy must hit maximum velocity, right? I’m worried screenwriters will be out of jobs at this rate if the lead actors no longer need any lines, simply gargle some gravel after turning into a human chimney then mutter incoherently.
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the happy couple, fast friends

  • The quickest case of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve ever seen. At one point a red-headed female ‘breeder’ discovers the same man that just moments prior had tried to violently kidnap her, along with the other women in her party hidden in their escape rig. What does she do? Immediately falls head over heels, of course. Her attempted captor recently discovered his boss’s promises of a glorious afterlife was a bunch of rubbish. So loyalties flip and they’re all pals now that his cult abandoned him.
  • The over-the-top tone isn’t just campy, it’s RIDICULOUS. The parts that try too hard to be shocking seem more laughable than effective. The humor is lost because it tries too hard, as well- the few times its attempted. You could say there’s innovative visual effects and unique design but that often gets overshadowed by the ridiculous factor again.

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For example, it feels like you step into an 80s MTV video every time they cut to a red-jumpsuited guy tethered to a Fury Road vehicle whose only purpose is to rock out on an electric guitar, as the barbaric battle ensues in constant motion. To set the musical mood, or perhaps to compete with the tune of deathly road rage, there are also about four men banging on enormous drums atop another vehicle.

So the future doesn’t look very bright in this battle for basic resources via any violent means possible. But hey, if you’re a woman and you’re not being used as a breeder or for mother’s milk, you might have an equal fighting chance to be just as violent and messed up as anyone else. Otherwise, you can always rock out like you’re in a 1979 or a 1985 Beyond Thunderdome version of a MTV video. That is, if you can’t stop rolling your eyes as I did at how utterly ridiculous this reboot really is.

a surprisingly feminist film

a surprisingly feminist film

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