Sunday, November 28, 2010
Leslie Nielsen, most recognized for his comedic roles in the Naked Gun spoofs, Airplane, and George Romero's Creepshow, has died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 84. But despite all the laughs that Nielsen was known for, it was his "serious" role in Forbidden Planet as Commander J.J. Adams that we here at Love & Squalor will always remember him by.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
At the core of Tangled there is less fairy tale romance than a relatively straightforward delving into the mother/daughter relationship. Where Disney tales have frequently bypassed the parents, killed them off, or painted them either jealous shrews (Snow White, Cinderella) or embarrassingly weak (Jasmine, Belle); Tangled is more nuanced. Gothel is possessive in a way that feels alternately doting and abusive. In a way, she does love Rapunzel. She cooks for her, tends to her needs, encourages her in-tower pursuits, and will travel for 3-days simply to pick up seashells so that Rapunzel can grind them into paint. You have to admit, it's a far cry from making her scrub the floors ten times a day in rags. At the same time, however, Gothel is verbally (and eventually physically) abusive. She's controlling, quietly mocking, and manipulative. Rapunzel believes that Gothel cares for her, and Gothel does; if only because Rapunzel is the only embodiment of the magical component she requires to live her life the way she wants to. Their relationship is complex, though it evolves into something maniacal and dangerous. For adults, the glib, easy breezy psychology is a sort of treat. There's a weightlessness to Tangled, an airy levity that permeates the narrative even in its darkest moments. The magic, though, is that this is accomplished without too many sacrifices to the maturity of the story. Clever dialogue and smart banter abound in Tangled, and when juxtaposed against two fabulous, silent sidekicks, the balance of kid to adult is pitch perfect.
Friday, November 26, 2010
It should come as no great surprise that Aguilera is not really an actress. There are points at which she really just tries too hard, and her enthusiasm is simultaneously an orgy of the cheesy and obnoxiously, embarrassingly cloying. As our protagonist, her character receives the most screen time, though her character is woefully underdeveloped. In essence, what we know about Ali is that she's a go-getter, talented, and the sort of naively comfortable exhibitionist who doesn't have a problem not wearing a bra while slumming on the sofa of a straight male with an out of town fiance. There's little else. Her success comes easily, though it's suggested she has hardship in her past. Ali is less a character than an energy. Tess is less a character than a plot device. Tess is there to act as obstacle, mentor, and whining mechanism. Through Tess and her ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) we are constantly reminded that while the cabaret is a big bowl of cherries on the outside, the reality is the economic pits. The talkie bits, too, those are the real pits. The dialogue in Burlesque is the sort that can only be delivered by a self-aware actor. Cher and Stanley Tucci are in the know. As the venue's diva bitch, Kristen Bell seems to have some semblance of a clue as well. With Aguilera and Gigandet, it's hard to tell. They seem to be having a good time, but there are occasions where they're just too sincere. Their sincerity, while manipulated well into silliness by Antin, has sort of the effect of watching a sexually precocious preteen construct a dialogue between their Barbie and Ken dolls. Which is to say, sometimes it just feels wrong in a way less knowingly camp and more just creepily insipid.
My two biggest problems with Burlesque were these: the first that the film offers up a pair of downer ballads that seem to make no sense in context (do people go to a burlesque act to hear the griping of its aging grand dame? I don't. It's not unheard of, I suppose, but really just lame), the second that its male eye candy, Cam Gigandet, seriously looks like a sketchy date rapist. That's him just above. Look at that guy. He squints too much, his uniform is a vest with nothing underneath, he has hideous tattoos and an unflattering haircut. He literally looks like he got his game from the the Pickup Artist and might throw a roofie in the drink you ordered. Yeah, I just don't trust that guy. Some men look good in eyeliner. Cam Gigandet is not one of them.
So, Burlesque is not a good movie. It could, however, be your brand of good-bad movie. For some, it will evolve into a comforting place to be revisited while sick at home or mildly depressed. For others, it'll be a loathsome piece of nonsensical detritus. For me, it was a good movie to watch on an otherwise uneventful evening; one that could be laughed at and with (though more of the former) without too much trouble, and one with a song or two that will likely wind up on my iPod. It is what it is, and that's all there is to it.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I'm finally showing my age. There was a time when I could get behind any comic book movie, no matter how ridiculous, a time when I thought I would be one of few, if any, female comic book writers. If you weren't convinced before that Wilde.Dash was the cooler half of Love & Squalor, you will be now, when I admit that I own every season of Justice League and Batman the Animated Series, not to mention a few of the separate DC movies and the X-Men series from the 90's. But this...this I cannot get behind. I thought this Green Lantern had a budget, I thought it had a charismatic star (Ryan Reynolds), and one of my favorite unintentionally yet constantly evil actors (Peter Saaaaaarsgaaard) in the role of the bad guy. All I see is boring, boring, and boring, mixed with some painfully dorky effects.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It's pretty easy to predict what movies I'll see. As Wilde.Dash pointed out earlier in her Jane Eyre trailer post, anything involving history and English novels is a good place to start. I also have a rather insatiable fascination with fairy tales (the dark, nasty ones), particularly Little Red Riding Hood. Yet Catherine Hardwicke's poorly budgeted CW take above may be the final breaking point, no matter how hard I try to forget the disastrous Twilight and focus on Gary Oldman. Watching it, I can only think about how amazing it would be if Cuaron or Taymor had this project instead. "Breathtaking Vision?" Doesn't quite seem like it.
Film is an odd reflection of our lives, the prettier, whiter smiled version of who we are, a concept beautifully articulated in Microsoft’s recent Windows commercials. But even when equipped with Avatar level motion capture or the most inexperienced unknowns, filmmakers rarely make an attempt to sincerely look us in the eyes, let alone succeed with realistic intentions even in the most indie of dramas. That is what we ask for. We don’t want to be reminded of the horrors and boredom of everyday life, content instead to watch the reimagining of our pain in the sawed off leg of a character in Saw or the end of a 20-something, artfully dressed hipster’s love of a pixie dream girl, *cough* (500) Days of Summer. We rely on that escapism to give us those familiar feelings in a fresh box, relatable yet detached enough to keep us interested. But Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine somehow undermines this whole Indie drama format, throwing its normally beautiful and darling actors in the midst of raw pain, unafraid to make them ugly, regular, and really believable (and I’m not talking about the level of transformation seen on Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl with her mom jeans).
It’s not a particularly tense film (although it does have its moments), nor does it rely on a specific plot to drive the story forward. Nothing is tied-up in a nice bow, nor is it really explained. Instead it’s simply a snapshot of a relationship and the lives that fused to create it. Unburdened by the need to create action and emotion, Cianfrance simply allows it to grow organically, and in turn delivers a unique emotional sincerity. Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) are not beautiful actors given a nice make-up job and a bad wardrobe. Nor are they a caricature, playing out what it means to be lower class with smashed dreams with near Vaudevillian melodramatics. Dean is a blue collar guy, a mover, painter, and later a drunk with 80’s glasses and thinning hair. But he’s not uneducated. He’s creative, charming, and beguiling, making it easy to understand the once intensity of the connection they once had. Cindy herself is not just the frumpy lost mother figure that in a better environment might have proved to be the first female president, but a full human being, as rounded out as Dean even when she expresses the common problems that many women experience on a daily basis.
Both Cindy and Dean are connected by their free-spirit natures without pandering to the audience. There’s no drunken karaoke, or watching airplanes, no bursting into song and terrorizing a gas station attendant, or any number of the clichéd, giddy love montages that grace every romantic drama out there (including even the more serious high-browed Sundance favorites ). Instead, what passes between them is entirely familiar to anyone that’s been in love, the small moments that play out on screen realistic yet full of the magic that you cultivate in your own mind from experience, not the magic conjured up in a cool film studio.
When their marriage does fall apart, the effect is equally stunning and engaging, like peeking in the opened window of a neighbor or looking in on your own fallen relationships. Gosling deserves the most credit here, as he never plays Dean with an open hand, expertly balancing his immaturity and frustration without making the audience forget why they’re bothering with him in the first place. Williams is subdued, but actively so, the peak of her emotion building throughout the film until it’s released with a simple, “I can’t take this anymore,” a line that in the hands of most would have come off as ridiculous and false. If the two of them don’t win Oscars this year, I swear, I’m giving up on the whole damn thing.
Blue Valentine is depressing and harrowing because of its lack of artifice. There is no detachment here, no escape, only an expert blend of memory and collective understanding, brilliantly translated for the audience by Gosling and Williams. It’s not fun, it’s not enjoyable, but it is comforting, the perfect film to watch during tough times,to remind you that you’re not alone, a true emotional connection instead of a way to forget it.
The 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival is still on! Check it out.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Still, Morning Glory is a simple, successful entertainment. It hits enough of the right marks to make it a satisfying trip to the theater and it never panders to the Heigl-tested devaluing of our lead character's identity via the all-important romantic entanglement (don't worry, we're not drifting that far from the mold, Becky's boyfriend is there (as Patrick Wilson), but he's on board with her and the chaos). The material is handled with a light touch and delivered by deft hands. Ultimately, Morning Glory is quite simply likeable. It's the pretty girl in class with the 4.0 GPA and the good nature. You can try and hate it, but really, there's just not much to despise.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Really, what happens instead is that we see a fair amount of persuasive argument, a little too serious acting, and we lose track of the film's primary function. What we wind up with is a series of disconnected events that just don't make sense. It's like the script for Planes, Trains and Automobiles was accidentally shredded and a room full of writers with different ideas on the definition of 'humor' attempted to piece together what they thought its purpose was. We shoot from silly to crude to flat out stupid to violent to saccharine, etc, etc. It's a comedy which, while goofy, is just never that funny. There are only a few laugh out loud moments, and a couple of those are already in the trailers. Another one, I've already described to you. The rest is a battle of wills that's ultimately unsatisfying, frequently forced, and far beneath the obvious skill level of both of the actors involved. I love seeing Robert Downey Jr. in comedic roles. His timing is spectacular. But, I think this collaboration would have been more successful had he just stopped by for a four minute stint on "Between Two Ferns."