Monday, May 23, 2011

Late Night Trailers: The Muppets

There's finally a teaser trailer for The Muppets.  There's too much Amy Adams in it where there should instead be Statler and Waldorf, but that's ok.  It doesn't matter.  There's almost nothing Jason Segal could do to this movie that would make me not want to see it.  Unless, you know, he animated Muppets and made them into The Smurfs.  That would be the Worst Thing That Ever Happened.  In caps, yes.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vincentennial St. Louis: 100 Years of Vincent Price

We all know that I have major STL pride, being born here, residing her, and working to help the city revitalize itself and all that jazz. But there's one reason that makes St. Louis way cooler than the rest of you: the illustrious and hilariously creepy St. Louis native Vincent Price. In honor of his 100th birthday, Cinema St. Louis is running Vincentennial, a collection of some of his fan favorites including Theatre of Blood, The Pit and the Pendulum, Laura, Witchfinder General, House of Usher, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Director Roger Corman will be on hand Saturday (tonight, May 21st) and Sunday night for screenings of The Tomb of Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death. I will see you there!
Click here for schedule, prices, and more. Most screenings are free!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mixtape: Ring Me Back, You Bitch

In which life's a bitch and we're pulling on our tracky bottoms, breaking out of the coucil flats, and dancing until we're through being 15. Twenty-one songs to blow out your speakers, inspired by Andrea Arnold's film 'Fish Tank.'  Listen and travel where Biggie meets Animal Collective, to the left, or here.  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stylista: Emma Recchi from 'I Am Love'

Last year's I Am Love was a piece of modern cinema working towards an antiquated classicism, a sensibility that allowed it to be both simplistic and miraculously intricate.  The film was a collaborative partnership between director and actor, a story built from the ground up over 11-years out of a kaleidoscopic array of source material from Flaubert to Visconti to Milan itself, each piece falling into place naturally.  As Russian transplant turned aristocratic matriarch Emma Recchi, Tilda Swinton is the film's racing heart.  Emma is elegant, classic, and shrouded in the smartly tailored, brightly colored garments that seem to inform the scene's art direction even as they're inspired by it.  In pure text book style, Emma's wardrobe ignites with her passion,  alighting in tangerine and coral red in the moments she experiences eye-opening encounters with love or food.   Designed solely by Raf Simons for Jil Sander, the clothes do more than simply assign a color palette to Emma's emotional life, they situate the character - and the film itself - within a postured social strata, an established mode.  They are tradition itself, referential of an age where starlets were dressed by Givenchy and Fellini built worlds around a Cristobal Balenciaga sack dress.  This is not fashion, it's clean, pure style for the ages.

I've wanted to post this for nearly a year now, so glad I could finally collect all the right bits and pieces.  I fell in love with the film, with its immaculate cinematography, and with the idea of orange pants though there's little doubt my 5'4" skeleton would only make it look like I should be picking up garbage on the side of the road.

1. Christian Louboutin 'Mago' cap-toe pump  2. 3.1 Phillip Lim embellished cotton blend dress  3. Tiffany & Co. silver bead necklace  4. Topshop peach round sunglasses 5. A.P.C. Chambray shirt  6. Mulberry 'Bayswater' leather bag  7. Cimarron 'Jackie' orange skinny leg pants 8. Kelly Bergin silk gauze t-shirt  9. Thakoon plunge front dress    

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Late Night Trailers: Immortals

Somebody's been reading my diary, the one with the big purple unicorn on the front that has the heart shaped lock on it that explodes with glitter when you open it. The one that holds all my most secret fantasies, including a movie about Theseus, starring Mickey Rourke, and directed by Tarsem Singh (who directed my beloved The Cell and The Fall). The gods have answered my prayers. And no...I don't care if it looks like 300.

Love: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

One day in fourth grade I entered the art room at my school and the lights were off. The windows had been sealed with black paper and cardboard, and only a tiny candle flickered in the middle of the room. The walls had been covered with brown paper, and my class of eight year-olds sat in awed silence at the change in our routine, excited to learn just what we might be doing that day. The teacher handed out small branches, sticks, and leaves with a cup of black paint, and instructed to us watch the shadows made against the wall, to imagine, to sit in silence and listen. She told us that we were in a cave, and had us close our eyes and feel the cool texture of the cave floor, to smell the dampness on the rocks. She held up posters of cave paintings and told us stories about the animals and why they were there. And then she let us loose on the walls.
Werner Herzog attempts a similar invocation of primitive imagination in his new work, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The film, sponsored by the French Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, follows a team of scientists and the filmmakers into the Chauvet cave, the lesser known but better protected cousin to the Lascaux cave, which has now been closed to the public due to the formation of mold on its walls. The Chauvet cave walls are perfectly preserved, the exquisite 40,000 year old paintings of horses, rhinos, mammoths, and lions bright and alive beneath a layer of protective deposits on the walls. Bones litter the floor, some now morphed into blobs of sparkling white crystals as stalactites and stalagmites form on top of them.
Herzog’s camera lingers on the images repeatedly, a nice change from similar films that jump around without ever letting you get a good look at the subject. Even without the ability to bring in the right equipment due to space and preservation constraints, the lighting is perfect as it sweeps slowly across the paintings hypnotically until it feels as if the painter’s original torch light is revealing his finished work all those years ago. This film is particularly suited to 3D and makes use of the technology to suck you into the virtual experience. The soundtrack, reminiscent of but more bare boned than Philip Glass, bolsters the otherworldly aspects that Herzog so desperately wants us to feel.
But that desperation is the downfall of what could have been an incredible experience. Once Herzog got the permissions and worked through the technology challenges, his job was an easy one. The paintings themselves are beautiful and haunting; enough of an existential nudge to any viewer of the film to take a step back and examine the world and their lives. But Herzog doesn’t let it go. He tells instead of shows. He peppers the film with lingering camera shots on the scientists looking forlornly at the camera. He inserts the sounds of beating hearts in melodramatic fashion. There is little history, science, and philosophy pulled from his group of experts, their only contributions so uninformative that I can’t even remember a detail to share with you here, the narration so leading that it often feels as poorly researched as an episode of Ancient Aliens (History Channel films also had a part to play in the production of the film).
Herzog narrates the film, his rhetorical questions about the nature of dreams and the meaning of the paintings often nonsensical and shallow, as if he were a first year philosophy student wrangling with material he’s struggling to explain. This is most painful in the “postscript” to the film, a diatribe against nuclear power that focuses on a crocodile park in France that is heated from the steam of a nearby plant. You expect him to report that the steam is creating an environment in which the paintings cannot survive downstream. But instead he shows pictures of albino crocodiles, and asks what the crocodiles might think about the paintings once their enclosed zoological habitat will expand to reach the caves (it seems highly unlikely that the French government would be interested in doing such a thing).

The mire of meaningless  babbling about spear hunting and nuclear crocodiles aside, the paintings speak enough for themselves. The film is stunning to behold, a chance to see something that few, if any of us will ever have the privilege of experiencing, brought to us by a filmmaker who even at his most pretentious knows how to manipulate light, space, and camera to make magic.

Love: Bridesmaids

By now you've likely received a memo from the internet.  It read: "dear person using me, if you are a dude, watching Bridesmaids will not result in loss of your balls. Don't be an ass.  Love, the Internet."  You should listen to the internet.  You spend a lot of time together.  While the TV ad spots do a poor job of differentiating the Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids from your generic, "chick flicky" 27 Dresses or Bride Wars (i.e.: pounding a poorly placed P!nk song over cheap physical gags and "eeee, weddings!" we are girls and this is so girly shenanigans) it is a pure, unadulterated comedy for masses both female and male.  You've heard that Bridesmaids is the "female Hangover," perhaps, or that it proves that "women are funny."  Both of these are fairly misogynist generalizations.  That said, yes, this film does bear some resemblance to the Hangover in that it's also a wedding party comedy.  And, indeed, these women are very, very funny. 
If you've read Tina Fey's humorous quasi-memoir Bossypants, you will recount a passage in which Fey elaborates upon the moment that sealed her great admiration for fellow SNL cast member Amy Poehler.  It's an instant in which Poehler, a petite blonde newcomer in the writer's room, asserts her dominance by silencing Jimmy Fallon with a stone cold stare and a balls out declaration of her complete lack of interest in the opinions of everyone else.  Poehler "doesn't give a fuck what you think" and the women of Bridesmaids are right there with her.  This is a wedding party that makes the Hangover wolfpack (with the exception, perhaps, of Ken Jeong) look like pretty boy amateurs afraid to muss up their cropped locks.  The women, led by Kristen Wiig, are ferocious, uncompromisingly gutsy, and (most impressively) surprisingly realistic.  Wiig plays Annie, a down and out baker who keeps waiting for life to level out to rock bottom.  She's lost faith in her talent, is rapidly going broke, lives with a positively vile pair of roommates, and has a sex-based relationship she can't transform into something more stable.  When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be maid of honor, Annie is pitched further into chaos as she is forced to work alongside Lillian's new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), a trophy wife with boatloads of disposable income.  The film details all the dreadful bits of wedding planning with almost zero focus on the happily ever after.  It's a bizarrely honest, if over the top, strange new world of petty jealousies, competition, and emotional/physical strain.  The difference between this and something like Bride Wars?  Everything. 
The focus of Bridesmaids falls on the decline and fall of Annie, the emotional growth of her character, and the parameters of friendship.  When pettiness and cattiness occur, they arise naturally, within context, and are never the root of the plot.  Annie's personal issues with Helen, or her latent abandonment stirrings with Lillian are played as the negative traits of Annie's character.  They are the "warts and all" Wiig strived for, but not, by any means, the defining characteristic.  Director Paul Feig, who should be loved and adored for writing and creating Freaks and Geeks, likes women.  He tries to understand women and frequently succeeds.  He also, to his great credit, sat back and let the improvisational talent rounded up in Bridesmaids run with their own creative ideas.  Wiig and Rudolph communicate beautifully throughout Bridesmaids, delivering none of the stilted, cliche, male-centric chatter most Hollywood screenplays seem to think ladies constantly participate in.  We like these women because they're imperfect, because when they talk they don't merely gossip, because when they hang out they're not simply running lines up to a punchline.  It shouldn't be revelatory, but outside of indie flicks like Please Give, it kind of is.
The result is truly a stellar bit of comedy that gets it right.  Bridesmaids breaks studio rules so perfectly, so expertly, that it nails its concept without ever falling victim to mean-spirited tear downs, bridezilla monstrosities, or excessive girl on girl crime.  It's not a comedy of errors, a romance, or a buddy movie, but  concentrates instead on being plain funny without hating its characters.  The film is an absolute joy to watch and I laughed more consistently in the theater than I have in ages. Wiig, Feig, and the team understands that weddings are a pain, that women are not simply either harpies or sweethearts, that we are not all delicate flowers who can't get a sentence out that doesn't relate to the men in our lives, that we can be unhinged without being irrational, and that, after all, everybody poops.  Bridesmaids is a grab bag of emotions: sweet and winning at the same time it effortlessly crosses of threshold of good taste.  Wiig is, of course, a powerhouse fully committed to Annie, and if she can keep this up she will tear down the empires built by Will Ferrell and company.  The real star, however, is former Gilmore Girls bff Melissa McCarthy who completely sheds the cutesy ways of that show and steals, mercilessly, nearly every scene she's in.   Melissa McCarthy: I salute you.  All roles granted to Zach Galifianakis should now be handed, without second thought, to you.  Hey Hollywood, I've got a pitch for you: buddy movie starring McCarthy and Jane Lynch.  Good plan?  I'd watch it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Love? Squalor?: Thor

Thor is the next step in Marvel's slow progression towards the on-screen merging of the Avengers in 2012.  Later this summer, they'll take a second with Captain America.  In gathering the team, they're also forming a virtual galaxy of supporting characters and major actors in minor roles.  Where last summer's Iron Man 2 teetered on the verge of being too full of subplots and introductions, Thor takes those numbers and doubles them: distracting you from a mediocre comic book hero with mortal and immortal realms full of folks you know crammed into roles that feel almost like mere cameos.  This is, in some respect, the problem with Thor.  Our hero's origin story balances between two worlds.  On the same eve he very nearly ascends to the throne, our buffed up, blonde poster boy (Chris Hemsworth) gets cocky, screws things up with his people's enemies (the drab Frost Giants), and is cast out of the heavenly, gorgeously CGI'd Asgard by his pissed off daddy king (Anthony Hopkins) until he can grow enough to deserve his powers.  Thor lands via rainbow bridge in a washed out desert town where he immediately manages to get himself tangled up in the life of pint-sized astrophysicist Jane Porter (Natalie Portman) and her team of semi-bored friends.  By my count, what this means is that in less than two hours, we're introduced to approximately fifteen characters (including a sneaky intro to Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye), three very different worlds, Asgardian politics, the continued going ons of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the necessary character growth of privileged, brawny Thor.  That's a lot to manage in any movie.  In a summer blockbuster with a fairly brief running time, it means you're guaranteed a sacrifice or two.    
It should be no surprise, then, that Thor feels abridged.  A lot happens, there's a definite story, but in the meantime the characters are loosely sketched.  This is most noticeable in the case of Thor himself.  Apart from the immortality, Thor's origin story in some ways mirrors Tony Stark's.  Both are entitled and militant, carving paths of accidental destruction in their carelessness.  Of course, Stark is made more complicated by money, excess, and genius.  He himself is not engaged in war, but merely a war monger.  His personal enemies are alcohol and competing corporations.  In the framing of Stark Industries, Tony Stark must have charisma.  Robert Downey Jr., and the film, pull this off.  In Iron Man, Tony Stark becomes a fully dimensional character who we can watch, frame by frame, develop from reporter-bagging playboy to accidental vigilante philanthropist.  Thor, by contrast, is shallow.  He's a one-dimensional alien god whose best qualities are blonde hair, blue eyes, and an apparent grasp of irony.  He battles for good without question, and has an intact moral compass.  His only real problem is that sometimes he's just too gung-ho about the glory of wars he wages to seek out the right enemies.  That said, as superheroes go, he's explicitly not human and just not really that interesting.
The woeful offense, perhaps, is that director Kenneth Branagh and company don't try to hard to make him so.  Instead, they pad his transformation with other characters.  These individuals each serve their purpose, becoming collections  of characteristics or personalities instead of characters.  Jane Porter is nice, smart, and hesitant.  Her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) is there to make an amusing aside every now and then.  Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) is there because his ancestry demands he knows something about Norse mythology.  Thor's ragtag band friends are token female warrior, token Asian warrior, token big overeating warrior, and warrior who stole Branagh's Hamlet look.  The amazing thing about Thor, and what should be cited as its greatest achievement is that in spite of all the skimping, it remains a very easy to consume, uncomplicated piece of entertainment.  Indeed, as I waited for that inevitable bit of Nick Fury at the end of the closing credits, my biggest complaint wasn't that Thor was a jumbled mess, but that it was already over.  It seemed as though the film could have been easily stretched out at least another half hour, that its plot lines had been closed up too easily and that no one in the audience would have complained if it ran the Pirates of the Caribbean standard 2 1/2 hours.  The film is a strange one, a remarkably shallow, overblown fluff of sparkling special effects, ludicrous costumes, and not slimy enough villains (I'm looking at you Tom Hiddleston...was Cillian Murphy not available?).  Yet, for all its faults, it's fun, frequently comedic, and uncomplicated.  Thor manages, somehow, to be the comic book movie version of that restaurant in the old joke:  "the food at this place is terrible..."  to which we respond, "yeah, I know, and such small portions..."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mixtape: Love on a Real Train

A special edition in which we dim the lights, feel the body heat, and get down to that risky business. Saxophone sleaze, post-80's retrofit, and those smooth tracks your mom's favorite radio station has swooned over for 25 years and you can't help but snicker at.  It's a playlist set to score the sex scenes of every movie in which the hair is big, the panties are cut high, and the venetian blinds always seem to let in a dull blue glow. Yes, we've broken out the Double, are tying the cherry stems with our tongues, and drowning in cheese.  Don't see the player?  Hit this....harder. 

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