Archive for December, 2010

A note on Tom Hardy and the film ‘Bronson’

December 24th, 2010 No comments

Back when The Wrestler was released two years ago I read this quote describing Mickey Rourke in the film; “A harmonic convergence of player and part that happens only once in a blue moon.” That’s from David Ansen of NewsWeek. Once in a blue moon?  Ansen must’ve missed Tom Hardy in Bronson, released in the same year.  If Rourke’s performance is a blue moon then Hardy’s is Halley’s Comet.

It’s a one man show! Starring Britain’s most violent prisoner and most expensive mental patient. He stands before a captive audience, breaking the forth-wall as he addresses us directly and announces, “I’ve always wanted to be famous.” But he can’t sing, ball or act so his options are limited. Yes,  he has a violent streak, he’s had it since childhood, so it’s a life of crime for Michael Peterson (who later adopts the moniker Charles Bronson).

When Peterson is first arrested it’s for a relatively small crime; he steals 18 quid from a post office and then is sentenced to 7 years.  The sentencing is comedic, in fact a lot of this film is comedic. It’s a tragicomedy that just happens rank among the most violent films.  In fact, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn shows tremendous skill in implementing an almost Kubrickian sensibility in both his visual style, his surreal approach to violence and  his ability to extract raw performances from his actors.

But how does a man go from sticking up a post office for 18 quid to being the most violent criminal in Her Majesty’s Prison Service? I think it looks like simple boredom. But he is presented to us as a man who loves prison. He loves his “hotel room,” as he calls it, and he loves to strip down naked smear himself in butter and go bare-knuckle to riot-gear against a slew of prison guards. And Hardy presents this to us with such bravery and uncompromising dedication that you believe every second.

There’s an amazing moment where we cut back to the stage, as is done regularly throughout the film, where Bronson is split like Two-Face. One side is himself. The other side is made up to be a nurse from the mental hospital at which he attempted to kill another patient. He whips back and forth, recreating a conversation – “when’s my trial!?” Bronson screams. “There isn’t going to be a trial.” The Nurse responds. “But I want my hotel room back.” – It’s a marvelous and inventive way to move the story along quickly, mixing again this surreal style with a bitter comedy and inspired theatrical performance.

Bronson ends up being a surprisingly innovative biopic that some critics have dismissed as just being “a pointless exercise in morbidity.” But such an over-simplification of this film is board-line criminal.  Refn’s bold profile of a violent man doesn’t shy away from the brutality of his life, but he does undercut the violence with his brilliant use of music, mixing rock, opera, classical and The Pet Shop Boys.

This is just another instance, in a long list of examples, that proves most awards are jokes.  Sean Penn won the Oscar this year for his role in Milk. It’s a very good performance, but doesn’t belong in the same category as Hardy’s performance. It’s the equivalent of ignoring Charlotte Gainsbourg at the Oscars last year. But to hell with award shows simply recognizing studios trying their damnedest to promote their films to increase their box-office after spending a mint on an awards campaign.  Awards can be a kiss of death to some.  What has Gooding, Jr or Berry or Bullock or Paltrow done since their awards?  Sometimes the award can be a mark of the end, not the beginning. Hardy’s performance here marks the beginning of a very exciting career and it will exist now as one of those fringe performances that wasn’t promoted relentlessly to the public.  It is one you need to discover years later on Netflix on the recommendation of a rambling, lowly, fringe writer….

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Rambling about The Fighter from the comfort of my home…

December 24th, 2010 No comments

Another benefit to being on the fringe,  Academy screeners! They send out DVDs packaged by hundreds of assistants all over Hollywood so voting members (which unfortunately I am not) can decide on the top award while dealing with all the home distractions. So, with the hype swirling and anticipation peaking, I put in The Fighter.  I’ll start by admitting I had no idea who Micky Ward was before this film.  Maybe it’s because I was only 16 when Micky was starting his comeback and, him not being a fully developed female high school sophomore, I didn’t care to know who he was. And maybe because when I watch SportsCenter I listen to baseball, basketball and football (soccer every four years like a good American) and ignore all else. I could name all the boxers I know quite quickly – Ali, Foreman, Dempsey, Leonard, Liston, LaMotta (thanks Scorsese), Tyson, Holyfield, de la Hoya, Douglas and…. and I think I’m out.  Not being a huge fan of boxing didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Raging Bull, Rocky, or Million Dollar Baby, and didn’t for The Fighter either.  But still, other distractions did play a role in this viewing.

It was about dinner time, the wife and I just put Bean down for a nap, the food is on the table and we get ready to see what people are calling the best movie of the year. They are raving about this. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype, it is December after all and with the award season upon us you’re going to see a lot films bragging about their dubious nominations for SAG and Golden Globes (Alice In Wonderland Best Picture? Seriously?).  The Fighter has four SAG Award nomination, six Golden Globe nods (that’s right, people keep giving Melissa Leo nominations, damn it.)

We come into Micky’s life after he’s already made a name for himself as a boxer and is slumping.  He just lost four fights in a row and he’s being considered a “stepping stone,” which in boxing terms means he’s the guy you want your boxer fighting so your guy can move up the ranks.  His brother, Dicky Ecklund, has already seen his glory days; he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (the Leonard from my list above).  But now all Dicky has going for him is Micky, an HBO documentary crew, a crack addiction and a Cambodian crack whore that he always seems to be tangled up with when Micky needs him most.  I should digress briefly

real Dick Ecklund / Bale as Ecklund

to just echo what everyone is saying; Bale deserves, actually deserves, an award here. He and David O. Russell both deserve the nods they’re getting, but Bale’s award is going to be for his entire body of work.  He’s a tremendous actor and has been snubbed enough. And, like in this film, he always seems to be at his best when he’s emaciated (see The Machinist and Rescue Dawn).

The Mungin fight ends, Ah! I have time to grab more wine, shouldn’t take long, so I get up, go to the kitchen and grab the bottle.  I pour the glass, but before I sit, real quick, to the bathroom and I’m back.  It’s at the this point we find Micky getting an offer to train full time in Vegas.  He needs to sort of “break up” with his mother and brother who are his manager and trainer respectively.  For extra support he brings his new girlfriend Charlene, played by Amy Adams.  I loved Amy Adams in this role. She’s gone from the very innocent girl in Catch Me If You Can and Junebug to this tough talking bartender who can match attitude and grit with the apparent harem of hookers living in Micky’s house.

Needless to say, the “break up” with the family doesn’t pan out and Dicky swears he can get enough money keep Micky in Lowell and train year-round.  But, remember, Dicky is on crack. So his idea to pimp out his Cambodian girlfriend and rob the johns in order to raise money is ill-conceived at best and fails, resulting in a small falling out with the family and Micky contemplating retirement.  This is just about the low-point for the family.  Micky has a broken hand, isn’t fighting or talking to his mother, Dicky is in jail and just found out the documentary they did on him wasn’t about boxing but about his crack addiction. Oh, and it looks like Charlene doesn’t want to be around sad-sack Micky any longer.

PAUSE! The kid woke up.  Okay, rough wake-up, so we calm her down, get her fed and then try to entertain her with toys while we resume the movie.  To avoid spoiling more I’ll sum up.  The Fighter ends up being an uplifting film with tremendous heart.  It teaches us that even at rock bottom you need to remain tenacious and that you need to continue to support your family even if your mom is the easiest, most fertile white trash in Massachusetts and your brother is a crack head.  There is a tremendous value in loving and being loved unconditionally and with that sort of support behind you, you can always pull yourself up.  It’s a good message. And I always like David O. Russell’s work, I don’t think he’s made a movie I didn’t like.  His dedication to accuracy during the fights was brilliant and I applaud he choice to use old Beta to tape the fights. I read that he choreographed each bout by recreating the tapes of Micky’s actually fights and recorded them with the help of directors and cameramen from HBO Sports.  They’re best boxing scenes since Raging Bull and the best aspect of the entire picture.

I didn’t love this movie, though. Could it be the hype? No. Maybe it was because of Melissa Leo. I just don’t care for Leo and she posted negative marks with me when watching this film. Which is fine, some actors just rub audience members the wrong way, I’m sure there are actors you just don’t care for. But, you know how they say when you are in a role with great actors supporting you, you raise your game?  Like when playing with better athletes.  Not here. It’s like putting a 19″ Toshiba TV next to an IMAX screen… your Toshiba doesn’t all the sudden perform better, in fact it’s worse now that you have a comparison.  Leo is the Toshiba. And it made Bale look like an IMAX.

But no, there are movies out there that I love and they have actors I don’t like in the cast.  This isn’t Leo’s fault. I think I didn’t enjoy this movie fully because of home distractions. I never got 100% invested, and that raises the question: how many Academy voters are just watching these movies at home, or at the office or on their laptop on a plane? I think when people vote based on home screenings, tragedies like this can result

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A stream of thought on a King’s Speech tease…

December 16th, 2010 No comments

hanging low the fog coming off the ocean miles off it smells like salt a salty rain that smell of rain just moments away chilling a hot decemeber day hot in december 80 + degrees  i miss colorado decembers hot on the sunset gower lot and an endless meeting endless list of games but tonight a walk a walk through a salty low lying fog headlights blooming im relaxing 915 walk to landmark theater anticipating Kings Speech with much hype they always hype everyone hypes i despise overhyping a film nothing ever lives up to the hype but excited to see firth and rush and carter and the house of leder and the worlds worst vegan for free he donates blood at ucla with movie ticket voucher rewards that i cannot get because of a bone graft less than a year before tonight i am walking through salty low lying blooming beautiful late night la fog to a landmark with the worlds worst vegan and the house of leder to see the king give a speech

ALACK! deception the man in a horrible shade of burgandy cries out this theater is screening the taymor adapted shakespeare finale The Tempest SPRING! up my head and wide  my eyes look to W.W.V and the house is laughing but jokes on him the language of elizabeth will spin his head and how does he a man that loves nothing but bourne agree to this he loves the action the quick dialogue landing firmly on the nose wont watch a black and white and now a psychedelic trip navigated by the woman that helmed titus that i never finished nothing spectacular couldnt hold my interest and frida that somehow bewitched me on first viewing and lost it lost it lost it on each subsequent dvd attempt despite naked selma hayek then the public raping of the beatles anthology jumping from decent segment to atrocious so why not      why not turn prospero into prospera why not see caliban as merely a black slave caked in mud and not the deformed monster that i once while in undergrad envisioned when reading the tempest for the first time i saw caliban a foolish naive villain of sorts that wants nothing more than to reclaim a throne he has rightful claim to but will never sit where his mother sat for he’s a slave to prospera still doesnt sound right and played well by the djimon hounsou from the slave rebellion aboard the amistad amazing but was not directed as the villain that i always hoped to see caliban nor were there any true villian AH! the heart of the issue with this film it is a lack of true conflict conflict being the catalyst of drama conflict being the impetus to story so why ignore conflict ms. taymor why oh you must be distracted think you can distract us with onslaught of visual stimulus my phone vibrated i check Ooo email why not not into the story i lean to the leder he leans to me and i what do you think and he i  forgot how much talking is in shakespeare and i that is sort of his thing and he just laughs goes back to not paying attention to why is ariel now a blue genderless spirit how is prospera this omniscient omnipotent being omnipotent only by commanding ariel who can do anything so why not break the bonds of slavery and suddenly Distraction! russell brand comes not so nimbly over the rocks and spastic and drunk and slurring and aldous snow speaking in iambic pentameter is still aldous snow

a visual barrage an intellectual bore and everything goes exactly to prosperas plan and what conflict what interest what drama what its hardly even a story the way its presented shakespeare must be pissed as i think of it days later it gets worse or maybe i just romanticized the tempest when i first read it and would be just as disappointed if i revisited but i cant no i wont believe that i liked the tempest before i can like it again despite taymor despite aldous snow and despite oh wait there was a shining star in the thats a song by the manhattans by the way the shining star here is that felicity jones  where has she been my whole life she a beauty she that handles the shakespearean prose with a masterful tongue nibble lips and possesses the innocent curiosity that i wanted to see in miranda she matches blow for blow with veteran actors no doesnt match outshines those veterans perhaps im too harsh on the movie perhaps it could be enjoyable if i suspend disbelief suspend thought suspend intellect simply enjoy the spectacle enjoy the prose enjoy felicity because how beauteous this film is o brave new tempest that has such felicity in it

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A note on the ‘Minute to Win It’ & “Plastic Bag”

December 10th, 2010 No comments

For almost two months I have been working for NBC on the show Minute To Win It. We shot several episodes at the end of last month and the highly anticipated (?) premiere was this past Tuesday.  An hour long ‘life changing’ show where tear-jerking moments waxing sentimental are interrupted by brief sixty-second stints of home-grown challenges.  The goal for the contestants? Complete each sixty-second challenge to win 3 Million dollars (upped from the usual one-million for the special holiday episodes).  And as I was watching a contestant gyrate and jump on the glass stage my eyes drifted down to my laptop where I was loading a short film that I saw earlier this year and decided to revisit.

Werner Herzog voices the internal thoughts of the Plastic Bag in Ramin Bahrani’s short film Plastic Bag. It gives us insight into the philosophical thoughts of a piece of trash, or what we accept as trash until we project human emotion on it, and suddenly we care for an inanimate object.  I haven’t cared for a household object like this since Spike Jonze’s lamp commercial for Ikea.

The bag is given an amazingly complex personality, one that holds all the characteristics of an innocent child that must learn the world on his own.  In innocence we often find love, blind unyielding love like the bag has for his Maker. He is happy to be put to use, to have purpose in her life. The happiest moment is when he is filled with ice (a shocking experience) and then gets to rest on the warm injured ankle of his Maker.

He clearly cannot understand rejection.  Expelled with the rubbish he finds himself fighting monstrous Earth-movers in a landfill.  Thus begins his journey.  He must find Her again.  A comparison to Spielberg’s A.I: Artificial Intelligence can be drawn from the beginning, but now it is too obvious to ignore.  Given the idea that love lives with a being until death, and given that neither the robot nor the bag can die, we get an endless search to recapture that amorous feeling.  I hear Guy Fieri exclaim, “You’ve got a minute to win it, good luck.” I look up.

Two sisters spin wildly with ribbon around their waists on a game titled “Christmas Ball Conveyor.” I think this was for 10,000 dollars.   And the bag finds plastic bag prophets that tell him of a place called the Pacific Vortex, where billions of bags in a mass the size of Texas swirl in the ocean.  He ventures now to find the companionship out in the vast waste forming in the sea.

Plastic Bag raises questions philosophical, environmental and theological.  Do we all sympathize with this plastic bag because we all have that yearning for love, is it that “God Hole” that may exist in everyone? Perhaps we all just hope to find purpose and meaning to our existence and that one desire keeps us moving until we either die or accept that meaning is an artificial construct.

The short film is beautifully shot by Michael Simmonds. Herzog’s narration sounds lyrical, it possesses a true curiosity and vulnerability that is necessary to portray a character of this innocence. It’s the exact opposite of how I imagine the legendary Herzog – the sort of director that would pull a gun on his actor, eat a shoe to satisfy a bet.   The direction by Bahrani accomplishes in 18 minutes what master story teller Spielberg couldn’t accomplish with his 2 and half hour mess, A.I.

It’s the sort of film that inspires other filmmakers, full of an intelligent creativity that can find an emotional story in a common grocery bag.  And one of the sisters balances martini glasses on Christmas ornaments – I think for $250,000 – but the martini glasses start to wobble and… to be continued. Whoa. Cliffhanger.

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