Oscar Predictions 2015

It’s a few hours before the Oscars go live, and my roommates and I are hosting a small party. The best part (in my opinion) about award show parties are taking bets about who will win. I say “bets” but there is absolutely no money involved, just the pride of getting it right!

So here is a breakdown of who I want to win in each category vs. who I think might actually come home with a statuette. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen every nominated film, but I try my best every year. So some of my predictions are based on having seen the film and others are based on keeping up with media reception. We’ll see how this pans out for me…

Best Picture

There are some real stunners in this year’s best picture round. Some years I have scoffed at what gets nominated and counted among the best, but there are several deserving films this year that I’d be thrilled if they won. However–

Caitlin’s Choice: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I loved this film. It blew me away in so many categories. And I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Academy’s Choice: Boyhood. Honestly it could be a toss-up between Boyhood and Whiplash, but a lot of people could not stop talking about the bold choice of filming over more than a decade to produce Boyhood. Sometimes the Academy rewards these daring choices, particularly when a well-respected director such as Linklater is at the helm.

Best Actor

Caitlin’s Choice: Michael Keaton for Birdman. A major part of the reason Birdman is so memorable for me is because of Keaton’s meta performance that was at once brilliant and brutal.

Academy’s Choice: Steve Carell for Foxcatcher. Now, I haven’t seen Foxcatcher but Carell’s performance is apparently a stunning transformation for the happy-go-lucky comedian we’re used to seeing. Again, I often think the Academy rewards these bold choices, particularly when an actor might go unrecognized thereafter (not a very comedy heavy roster at the Oscars).

Best Actress

Caitlin’s Choice: Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. For a film that got largely snubbed this year, Gone Girl could not have a better representative that Rosamund Pike. Her performance in that film is next level crazy and altogether riveting.

Academy’s Choice: Julianne Moore in Still Alice. Honestly, I think Moore is due for an Oscar. Sometimes it feels like the Academy gives awards to actors and directors for a film because they recognize they dropped the ball on other nominations. Not that Moore’s performance in Still Alice isn’t worthy of this particular nomination (because it is) but there are more factors in play here that a single film.

Best Supporting Actor

Caitlin’s Choice: Edward Norton in Birdman. Norton nearly stole the show in every scene of the film. He shines in Birdman, and his character seemed to force the other players to keep up or be left in the dust. Give the man an Oscar.

Academy’s Choice: Edward Norton in Birdman. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, but I’m really hoping this is true. Norton just seems like the right choice–J.K. Simmons won a Golden Globe for his role in Whiplash, so I’m not counting him out, but sometimes that’s how awards season works.

Best Supporting Actress

Caitlin’s Choice: Emma Stone in Birdman. If you’re sensing a pattern with my choices, then you would be correct. This is also probably why the Oscars are not decided by me as it would be incredibly one-sided. I’m also going to admit to a huge bias towards Emma Stone in general; she is one of my favorite actresses and Birdman was a great dramatic role for her.

Academy’s Choice: Laura Dern in Wild. I honestly cannot explain why I think this will be. It’s just a gut feeling, which would be horribly misplaced but that’s who I’m going with nevertheless.

Best Animated Feature Film

Caitlin’s Choice: Big Hero 6. I’m a sucker for a Disney film, but Big Hero 6 is also a well-balanced film that could easily garner the win.

Academy’s Choice: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Again, I have no logic to back this up, just a knee-jerk reaction when looking at the nominees.

Best Director

Caitlin’s Choice: Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman. I think Inarritu was innovative in his storytelling and pulled phenomenal performances from his actors. I’d love to see this man win the Oscar but he did win a Golden Globe so it might not happen. Sometimes the two awards do overlap, but it always seems unlikely.

Academy’s Choice: Richard Linklater for Boyhood. I just think this is the likely winner, as much for the films he wasn’t nominated for as for this particular film.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Caitlin’s Choice: The Theory of Everything screenplay by Anthony McCarten. If you’re adapting Steven Hawking you’re bound to be a winner, right? I’d like to see this film win for something, even though it is nominated quite a bit, I suspect it might get overlooked in favor of other films.

Academy’s Choice: Whiplash screenplay by Damien Chazelle. This film is a heavy contender in many categories but I think this is one of the moments when it will be rewarded by the Academy.

Best Original Screenplay

Caitlin’s Choice: The Grand Budapest Hotel screenplay by Wes Anderson, story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness. I don’t anticipate many wins for this film, though I appreciate that it got nominated in a few categories. Best original script would be a good thing to see Budapest take home though.

Academy’s Choice: Foxcatcher written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman. Another one of my gut feelings.

There are several other categories including Best Song and Cinematography, but with the remaining categories I either didn’t see enough of the films or don’t have strong feelings about them one way or the other. However this is where I stand on the heavy hitting categories, and I hope you enjoyed reading my predictions. Who are you rooting for tonight?

Thanks for popping in!

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Top Ten Movies of 2014

Oh heavens, these lists are complicated to make!

What makes the ranking is partly due to whether or not I think it’s a “good movie” and partly due to sheer enjoyment in the theater. So today, you’re getting a taste of the serious film critic and a bit of the fan-girl who walks out of the theater crowing, “That was AWEsome!”

1. The Skeleton Twins

I saw this movie for the first time last January at Sundance and was so impressed with the performances of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The room was full of electricity and that experience was one of the best I had at the movies all year. A great dark comedy about family drama.

2. Gone Girl 

Another packed theater where the emotions of the whole audience were palpable. I already knew how the movie would end, but I was still riveted the whole way through. Rosamund Pike deserves an Oscar or at least a Golden Globe for her powerhouse performance as Amy Dunne.

3. Interstellar

One of the best original science fiction films in years. Stunningly beautiful cinematography and a real achievement for Nolan as a director. It’s not a perfect film by any means but it was one of the most compelling movies I saw all year.

4. Fury

This movie made me a David Ayers fan. I think for many moviegoers this film flew under the radar and didn’t get a ton of attention, but for me Fury was one of the most heart-wrenching, brutal, stirring, and honest films I saw in 2014. Or in any other year.

5. Birdman

Birdman is a movie that grew on me, to the point that a film I was kind of “meh” about when I first saw it is now on my top ten list. If you enjoy meta movies about the film industry, then here is a dark and quirky film for you to feast on. I’m hoping to see some statuettes given to the wonderful people who worked on this film during awards season: everything from sound design to editing to the acting was on point.

6. The Lego Movie

Because everything really is awesome, and you know it too! Such a fun movie to see in theaters. Or a fun movie to watch period. The obvious creativity coming from this film is what makes The Lego Movie so exciting, even months later.

7. X-Men Days of Future Past

This is one of those movies that makes the list because of the ecstatic experience I had in the theaters. The recent X-Men movies have been inventive and on point in a way that the genre needed. Plus for me as a fan, seeing one of my favorite lesser-known characters on the screen–Blink–was a big moment.

8. The Fault in Our Stars

Now I realize what I am about to type might be somewhat controversial (so don’t hate me): I liked the movie better than the book. So rare, but it does indeed happen! Plain and simple, the movie made me bawl and the book did not make me shed a single tear. The book is still wonderful, but for me the movie was just a better experience.

9. Snowpiercer

There’s just something gripping about this movie. Snowpiercer is at its best the first time you see it. Look too close and the flaws start to become more obvious than you’d like. But that first roaring experience trumps the later doubt.

10. The One I Love

If you are a fan of “The Twilight Zone”, The One I Love is a modern twist on those science fiction thrillers. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss both give stellar performances that assert their range and capability as actors.

Honorable Mentions:

What If

An adorable romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan about the dynamics of a falling for someone when they’re already in a relationship. Quirky, relevant, and witty What If was one of the best romantic comedies I have seen in a long while.

Frank

Michael Fassbinder stars in this offbeat, trippy independent film about a musician who wears a paper mache head. Sounds weird and it is weird, but in the best way possible.

Well, there you have it, my best of list for films in 2014. Now I should also mention that I haven’t seen some of the stunners that are still making the rounds like Big Eyes, Into the Woods, or Wild. I’d like to see all these films and more, but I can’t judge what I haven’t seen yet.

What were some of your favorite films last year?

Thanks for popping in!

My Best Friend is a Nutcase; You’re Gunna Love Her

Have you ever met someone who is so full of charisma that you’re afraid they might burst? I have and her name is Dara Cameron.

When I first met Dara she was wearing some Daisy Duke level jean shorts, a crocheted halter top, and some suede ankle booties all of which made her look like this tall, voluptuous, hippy goddess. Her long auburn hair was stacked haphazardly into a bun, her amber eyes were framed by thick cat-eye liner, and God-almighty was she loud. She scared the crap out of me.

I was intimidated by how authentic and confident this woman was. We were both in a new place, having moved out to California to get our Master’s in film studies, but she seemed utterly at home in her new locale as if she’d been practicing to live in Orange County her whole life. She said something when a group of us film scholars met up for coffee (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but I’ll guarantee you it was funny) and I realized this beautiful, hilarious human was going to be my best friend.

Navigating the aisles of Ikea.

Navigating the aisles of Ikea.

Two years later this is an undeniable fact. We have gone to tarot card readings together. We have traveled abroad together. We have shared many a dressing room. I have gone to see some of her first stand-up routines. And she has learned to understand me when I get so excited or upset that I reach a pitch most humans can’t comprehend. I’m truly blessed to count this girl among my best friends.

Dara and I at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: she wore a wig and called herself Liz French just for giggles.

Dara and I at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: she wore a wig and called herself Liz French just for giggles.

And now, you lucky devils, you get a chance to meet Dara yourselves.

Ever the gypsy at heart, Dara is embarking upon a cross-country journey where she will reenact famous movie scenes and watch the favorite films of strangers in return for some quality couch surfing. Naturally, the proper medium to catalogue this endeavor is a blog. Enter, MoxiePixieRealGirl: A Gypsy’s Guide to Film, Fantasies, and the Open Road.

The most fascinating thing for me is how she’s approaching the interactive nature of this trip. She’s hosting polls on her site so you can have a say in what zany thing she does next.  Her first stop is Washington D.C. and some of the poll options were “Frolic through the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pond  like the reunion of Jenny and Forrest” from Forrest Gump and grab some drinks at the bar that St. Elmo’s Fire was based on.

She’s basically living out a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, cinema style.  And it’s all  going to work because she’s Dara Cameron, one of the most charismatic people on the planet.

So why am I telling you all this? Not only is Dara a gifted writer with a natural wit and a strong knowledge of film–which are both reasons enough to tune into her blog–she also needs your help for this adventure to begin.

In order to pay for gas, food, and the occasional lodging Dara has launched a KickStarter page.  If you’re intrigued enough by what I’ve written here, please go check out her KickStarter, or at least her blog.

Link to her kickstarter page.

Link to her super awesome blog

Dara just set up her KickStarter page today and has already got $90.00 to her end goal of $500. I realize that donating money to a girl you’ve never met might sound a tad nutty but if you’re in the mood for a vicarious adventure then this is the girl you should back.

I hope you get a kick out of this chick as much as I do!

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

As soon as Sin City came out in 2005, audiences were clamoring for a sequel. In the mean time, many Hollywood  films jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon in an effort to capitalize on the success  and aesthetic of co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. 300 (2006), The Spirit (2008), and Watchmen (2009) are the most immediate heirs, though arguably the only success of the bunch was 300 as the other Miller vehicle. After nine years, audiences have finally been given the Sin City sequel they craved. Yet Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a pale shadow of the original Sin.

Much like the first film, A Dame to Kill For weaves together four stories of some of Basin City’s most morally ambiguous heroes. Two of the stories follow Miller’s content from his corresponding graphic novel, while Miller added two additional narratives to the mix to round out the film.

The two arcs from the graphic novel play the best on screen. The flow between Marv’s (Mickey Rourke) bloody confrontation with some yuppie frat boys and the larger narrative of Dwight’s (Josh Brolin) tangled love affair with Ava (Eva Green) feels more natural than their counterparts.

Rourke was perhaps made to play Marv with his innate brawler’s swagger. Brolin is less successful as Dwight; his attempt at cold-killer eyes yields an overall flat performance. But the real star of A Dame to Kill For is Eva Green, or more specifically her breasts. As my friend Marissa so blithely pointed out, Green’s breasts get more screen time than either Christopher Meloni or Jeremy Piven.  They’re marvelous breasts, but was that really necessary? Green’s performance was striking above and beyond her nudity. She firmly stakes her claim as ruling neo-noir femme fatale.

In contrast, the two brand new story lines come off as disjointed and keep the film as a whole from fully gelling. While Johnny’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) arc of a gambler determined to outwit his famous father is a tad sparse on back story, JGL gives a knockout performance that elevates an otherwise lackluster plot point. He also delivers the best line of dialogue in the whole film, “I’m ambidextrous.”  This line further proves JGL’s skill as, typed out, the words are nothing special, but his witty, minutia-driven acting make it an explosive line.

Image politely borrowed from nerdreactor.com.

On the other hand, the additional Nancy (Jessica Alba) arc feels lackluster and drastically disrupts the chronology of the series. Miller reportedly added the extended Nancy story because he was so compelled by Alba’s first performance. And undeniably Alba was fantastic in Sin City. While she still gyrates like a pro, Miller’s new piece seems forced for both writer and star. Considering that Alba factors in to a high volume of the promotional material, her story tacked on at the end is even more of a let down.

According to comic book canon, the events of A Dame to Kill For are meant to come prior to the events in the original Sin City film. This concept is now extremely confusing as Nancy’s story hinges on the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Willis’ presence in this film as the loving specter was superfluous. His absence would have allowed Alba to stand on her own, something her character as well as her acting desperately needed.

Then there’s Old Town. There will never be enough Old Town screen time for me. That being said, even Old Town seemed to have lost some of its grit.  In a world where every single woman is a professed slut, whore, or bitch there is no strength, reclamation, or pride in these words for the women who speak them. More so than before A Dame to Kill For makes its women the victims of its men in word and deed. The powerful, sexy women of Old Town could not even begin to pass the Bechdel Test and that is a damn crime.

Spoiler alert: Jessica Alba’s face gets wrecked by CGI. (image politely borrowed from itsartmag.com)

The signature Sin City style that seemed groundbreaking  just a few years ago now seems too slick and heavy handed. The genius of the first film was it’s stylized restraint–the graphic novel feel without ever becoming too literal. A Dame to Kill For has a classic case of sequel-itus. Miller and Rodgriguez went too far in the right direction so that the aesthetics seem overblown and suddenly wrong.

For example, more color is not better. The original film had specific splashes of color in red or gold that enhanced the dramatic grey-scale feel of the rest of the world. The second time around color is used too liberally–Eva Green’s lips are red in one scene, her coat blue in another, and then her lips are red and her eyes green. Suddenly Juno Temple’s teddy is pink. And Jaime King is in full color for no good reason. The use of color here often lacks a purpose. The pops of color lose their sense of  thematic consistency and more importantly they lose their value as narrative devices.

Maybe it’s just another casualty of high expectations, but A Dame to Kill For isn’t worth the slaughter.

Conflicted Americana in The Steel Helmet

Before The Steel Helmet shows any hint of location or character, the words, “Dedicated to the U.S. Infantry” appear on the screen. Such sentiment gives the initial impression of shiny patriotism, but the film reveals itself to be gritty and complicated in its approach to Americana. The Steel Helmet was the third directorial effort from former soldier Sam Fuller, and exemplifies Fuller’s favored use of controversial themes such as isolationism, atheism, and racism. Despite difficulty with the U.S. Army over perception of the military in his film and accusations of communism from critics, The Steel Helmet would launch Sam Fuller’s career.

The vehicles for Fuller’s success as a writer/director are his characters. The Steel Helmet follows an unprepared group of American soldiers who are tasked with holding a Buddhist temple against a large Communist force during the Korean War. Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans) is the crass, wizened veteran who stumbles upon the untutored patrol and reluctantly commits to helping the unit in hopes of shore leave. Within the troop are Sgt. Tanaka (Richard Loo) and Cpl. Thompson, whose presence as minorities launch Fuller’s dialogue on racism in America.

The Communist Korean Major (Harold Fong) attempts to divide the troop by pointing out the racial injustices in America to Tanaka and Thompson. Both men respond with a blind patriotism—my country may be flawed but it’s my country—that illuminates the issue without properly dealing with the conflict. Even the young Korean boy, known only as Short Round (William Chun), participates in his own from of blind patriotism as he belts out his national anthem, which ironically sounds like “Old Lang Syne.” Fuller seems more interested in pointing out issues in the military and society than having his film offer a solution.

Sgt. Zack is the mouthpiece for all the –isms Fuller brings forward in The Steel Helmet. Zack isolates himself from the group, uses racist phrases like, “gook” or “buddha-head,” and openly mocks any form of piety. He also furthers the idea that drafted men are not of the same quality as men that enlist, which brings him into conflict with the drafted group leader, Lt. Driscoll (Steve Brodie). On paper, Sgt. Zack is reprehensible and impossible to connect with. Yet actor, Gene Evans, brings out vulnerability in the character that makes the sergeant the ultimate anti-hero.

If anything, Sgt. Zack’s helmet is the main character for Sam Fuller. Just like Sgt. Zack, it is standard issue but damaged. When Lt. Driscoll asks for the honor of wearing Zack’s hat, Zack denies him, saying he is not worthy of the trade. After Driscoll dies in the final battle, having saved Sgt. Zack from debris, Zack willingly trades his battered helmet to lie over Driscoll’s grave. While the trade seems symbolic and moving, it resolves nothing. Sgt. Zack and the decimated troops are forced to join a new patrol, on a new mission. They continue and leave their comrades buried in foreign soil. While the film opens with Fuller’s dedication, The Steel Helmet closes its narrative with the director’s somber reminder that, “There is no end to this story.”

The Art of Storytelling in Short Term 12

It’s post-midterm time in my film reviewing class, which means that our word limits get bumped up to a max of 575. This class has forced me to watch several emotionally driven dramas that I had spent last year avoiding because I knew they might clobber my psyche. Each one has proven to be a well crafted and, yes, emotional experience. So without further ado, here is my first review with the new word limit.

With all the spectacle and grand capabilities of blockbuster films since the advent of computer generated effects, it is sometimes easy to forget about the quiet stories. And in a number of unfortunate cases, storytelling—the crux of the film medium itself—is being sacrificed for these extravagant digitized images. Independent films these days are akin to The Little Engine that Could churning up a narrative mountain. Stripped of a studio’s monster budgets, independent filmmakers are given the chance to hone the craft of weaving fiction. A prime example of the independent market’s grasp of strong narratives is writer/director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 (2013). As a writer, Cretton frames his film with acts of storytelling, which then furthers Short Term 12’s larger narrative. As a director, Cretton coaxes his actors to live and breathe their character’s stories. The combination of these two abilities is what makes Short Term 12 a quiet story with a loud impact.

As mentioned, Short Term 12 begins with the charming tall-tales of Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who is sharing his exploits at the residential treatment facility to a new co-worker, Nate (Remi Malek). Mason’s story functions on two levels: one it introduces humor into what the audience comes to understand as a difficult environment and; two it acts as a framing device for the film itself. As the climax of Mason’s story nears, a kid comes bursting out of a building, screaming, and running for the exit. Mason, Nate, and Grace (Brie Larson) catch the errant child and hold him as he calms down. The true function of these social workers is revealed; they are to be anchors in the storm for these young adults with no mooring and very turbulent emotions. This scene also subtlety suggests a theme of the film which is that escape is not always the best way to handle pain.

Despite Mason’s engaging introduction, it is Grace who is the lead protagonist of this film. She is quiet, yet confident in her professional life in ways that she cannot manage to bring to her personal life. Grace’s strained romantic relationship with Mason runs parallel to her remarkably open interactions with the troubled teens of the film, which serves to illustrate her own personal scars. In particular, Grace’s connection with Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) provides a jagged mirror to Grace’s past that she is not ready to look at. As an actress, Larson is in command of her performance, providing emotional distance and depth that she allows the audience to gradually sink into. The young Kaitlyn Dever shows promise as she throws herself into the role of an angst ridden teen. Dever and Larson both had supporting roles in The Spectacular Now (2013) and are given an opportunity to play to each other’s strengths as reluctant equals in Short Term 12.

Overall the film deals expertly with the large-scale issues of abandonment and alienation as every character is allowed a voice at some level, and Cretton’s biggest achievement is that he respects these multiple voices that reflect real conflicts for troubled teens. The hand-held quality of the cinematography further contributes to that sense of reality as if Short Term 12 were a series of moments that Cretton and cinematographer, Brett Pawlak, just happened to capture. In short, the film is a natural, nuanced piece of storytelling. No effects needed.

The Good, The Bad, And The Weird of Adaptations

This week’s Broke and the Bookish meme is all about one of my favorite subjects–adaptations. I have a love/hate relationship with adaptations; they’re either excellent or terrible. Part of that intense emotional reaction to an adaptation comes from my love books. I love films too, but when a film is taking material from print, I feel that what’s on-screen should accurately represent what’s on the page. The only way I deal with the potential rage inducing power of a (poor) adaptation is by deliberately reading the book after seeing the movie. Generally, that little trick helps me compartmentalize the book from the film as separate, enjoyable entities. This post is dedicated to the five best adaptations and the five worst that I have seen thus far.

 

The Best of the Best

  1. Atonement by Ian McEwan (directed by Joe Wright): Is it absolutely perfect? No. But it’s one of the most beautiful, dreamy, and accurate adaptations I’ve seen. Keira Knightly and James McAvoy are Cecelia and Robbie for me. Both book and movie made me cry because the story is so tenderly rendered in each medium.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (directed by Robert Mulligan): I’m incredibly biased about this adaptation because of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Peck in this role is essentially the gold standard of fatherhood, honor, and charm. The movie itself is as worth the watch as the book is the read. Somehow the black and white film suits the printed word in a way that color would not; I simply can’t imagine a better adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel.
  3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (directed by David Fincher and Niels Arden Oplev): It doesn’t matter whether you watch the American adaptation or the Swedish one, because they’re both great. Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace both bring extraordinary life into the Lisbeth Salander character, though their interpretations are slightly different. Fans of the series absolutely should see the films.
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (directed by Milos Foreman): The film deviates a tad from the book, but the overall feeling is exactly what Kesey intended. The book has a stronger sense of a narrator that the film doesn’t need because the characters speak for themselves. Plus, Jack Nicholson is an excellent Mac. Both film and book are also notable because they called attention to the mistreatment of mental illness in the U.S..
  5. Fight Club by Chuck Palahuniuk (directed by David Fincher): Spoiler alert, the endings are totally different from book to movie. Yet the adaptation still makes it on to the list because it is a great film of a great book. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are unforgettable in their respective roles. It’s a rare case where I may actually prefer the film to the book, but if you enjoyed the film you should read the book.

 

The Worst of the Worst

  1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (directed by Mike Newell): All of the film adaptations for this series have their flaws, yet I like most of them. I am a self-proclaimed HP fan, so my standards were incredibly high, particularly for the early films when the book series was incomplete. Goblet of Fire is one of my favorite books in the series, and there were so many terrible changes made to the narrative. The films as a general rule are decent but this one just irks me something fierce.
  2. Beowulf by Anonymous (directed by Robert Zemeckis): Neil Gaiman has a writing credit on this thing and it’s still one of the worst adaptations ever. First of all, the film is in this CGI monstrosity. Second of all, there are so many deviations from story that it’s mind-boggling. Angelina Jolie plays Grendel’s mother, the gilded literal “man-eating” sensual monster. Not at all like the original epic and its maddening. On top of everything else it’s a terrible movie.
  3. The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory (directed by Justin Chadwick): I wanted to like this movie, really, I did. It’s based on one of my favorite books and it stars Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. While both of those lovely ladies are solid actresses, they did not bring their A game. Or perhaps it was the writing. Either way the film did not do the book justice. Somebody please remake this properly!
  4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (directed by Robert Schwentke): Again, another favorite novel trashed by its adaptation. The book made me fall in love along with the characters and made me cry with its ending. I wanted to fall in love all over again but the film lacked the book’s spark. Rachel McAdams’ charming presence aside, this movie was not worthwhile.
  5. The Iliad by Homer aka Troy (directed by Wolfgang Peterson): I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my worst adaptations are based in epic poetry. It seems to be an even more challenging medium to transfer to the screen than a straight novel. I’d also like to point out that three of my worst films star Eric Bana. He may be an attractive fellow, but that’s almost too much of a fluke for me to ignore. Epics in general are hard to convey in a short time span, which is why things like LOTR are done over several films. Brad Pitt’s butt may be the only reason to see this film.

In the future, I think I’ll have to stick to my rule of watching the movie first, because every last book on my worst list was read before seeing the film–another coincidence I don’t believe in. Separating the book and the movie in my mind helps me to sit back and enjoy each for what they are. The minute I start making comparisons, I start to disengage from the film. Good movies should reconnect you with the source material; that’s when you know it’s a powerful adaptation.

The Country That Got Away

“A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority.” –Samuel Johnson

When I was fifteen I went on a People to People trip that took me to Malta, Italy, Monaco, and France. Now, fifteen-year-old me was enamored with the idea of France. The fashion. The romance. The food. It all just sounded perfect; that I was destined to love it. And I did enjoy France, my main complaint was that the trip didn’t allot us enough time to truly explore such bounteous beauty. [People to People is a highly regimented tourist program for teens. Great way to see different countries when you’re young, but it doesn’t leave a ton of time for lingering.] Instead, I fell madly in love with Italy.

I’m not sure exactly what charmed me most about Italy. There is really no better way to explain it except as a first love experience. The shy exploration and growing wonder with each new day in that country parallels the emotions of a first crush. I climbed a volcano. I visited Caesar’s tomb. I baked my own brick oven pizza. Every day was something new and beautiful. There was no resisting its lure. And I’ve always longed to return.

Tomorrow, I get on a plane that will touch down in Bologna, Italy. It will be a ten day excursion centered around Il Cinema Ritrovatro, a film restoration festival. The best part is that I’ll be getting credit towards my film studies masters because the course is through Chapman University. I’m thrilled to be taking the travel course in general. I get to watch some restored classics as they were meant to be seen–on the big screen. There will be early Hitchcock films, a smattering of Charlie Chaplin, and miscellaneous restorations from the golden era of cinema. I’m excited for the festival, but somehow nervous about the traveling itself.

I’m worried that twenty-three year old me won’t be enchanted with Italy the same way fifteen-year-old me was. I’ve certainly changed and grown since my teens. It’s almost like seeing the one that got away again after a long separation. You hope that they’re still the same person you fell in love with, but are equally afraid that they will have changed.

In short, I’m a nervous ball of energy. It should still be an amazing experience, but that doesn’t make me less jittery. I won’t know how I feel about the trip until after it’s over. Bologna will also be new territory for me, a part of Italy not yet traversed. But I’ll be keeping a journal and taking my camera to capture the experience.

When I return, I’ll have to let you know if I’ve been romanced all over again or had my heart broken.

Swallowing A Book Whole

I’ve been soaking up some cinema classics of late, each more thought provoking than the last. Today was Fahrenheit 451 (1966). It’s another of those guilty moments where I saw the movie before reading the book. Still, the movie made me want to read the Ray Bradbury classic all the more.

Imagine a future where books have been banned completely. Firefighters now ignite flames rather than saving people from the blaze, and the kindling are the classics of the past. Guy Montag is one such firefighter with a promising career and a beautiful wife with a variety of addictions. Montag has never questioned his duty until he meets Clarissa, a curious and spritely woman who questions the anti-book laws. It isn’t long until Montag begins to question things as well.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The part of the movie I can’t seem to escape is the last scene. Montag and Clarissa escape the city to live among the book people. The book people live in the woods on old railway cars and tents–each having memorized one classic work that becomes their identity. Each person can recite a single book verbatim in the hopes that some day they’ll be called upon to return the works to print. The film ends with all the book people walking through the forest in the snow, each reciting their own book, the languages overlapping , words blending as they pace back and forth. It’s an ending that doesn’t wrap the plot up in a tidy little bow, but it’s a beautiful and profound way to finish.

I want to stand in the snow and read a book out loud with my words reverberating into the white. But what would I read? What book would I commit  to and make mine? If I could save one book in the snow, which one would it be? That thought has lingered through the night and has driven me to blog.

I’m eliminating Pride and Prejudice because, at least in the film, there are twins that claim that title. I honestly couldn’t do Sedaris justice since to memorize a book is to take on that identity. Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany is a personal favorite as well but it doesn’t seem like a real fit for my waltz in the snow. The more I think about it, the more I believe my book would be a collection of poetry. There’s one particular poem I’ve always connected to, e.e. cummings’ “somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond.” The language brings tears to my eyes every time. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my days reciting this poem or any of his poems for that matter.

There’s my day’s epic question answered. I feel like I can finally sleep. But I’ll leave you with the same question, if you had to memorize one book from start to finish, a book that would tie into your identity, what would it be?

The Hobbit…It’s Happening

 

I am obsessed with the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’ve seen it on and off in theaters for a while now and my excitement builds with every viewing. The Hobbit even graced the cover of this past week’s  Entertainment Weekly, so clearly I’m not the only one who is waiting with bated breath for this movie’s release.

Peter Jackson is at the helm of yet another Tolkien wonderland.  Originally, Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct the LOTR prequel, but backed off when the project kept stalling in production. Personally, I am thrilled that Jackson is back for more. I could understand Jackson’s potential fear of being pigeonholed as a director or wanting to change-up his perspective, but I couldn’t imagine a better point of view for The Hobbit.

Fans of the original Jackson series will be glad to see familiar faces in the new film. Actors Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, and Hugo Weaving (Gandalf, Galadriel, Legolas, and Elrond respectively) will return for The Hobbit’s adaptation. Jackson also discussed some story expansion of some of these old favorites in order to extend the release into a two film series. Tolkien purists hopefully won’t be too upset  because the material is mostly taken from the writer’s other works.

The thing that I’m looking forward to the most are the thirteen dwarfs. Jackson told EW that his biggest struggle is defining each of the thirteen new characters as individuals since the book is at times vague with character description. The portion of the trailer where Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) stares in to the fire and sings, his baritone resonating through the space, fuels my Hobbit obsession like no other. I have been humming the tune sporadically for months. I cannot wait to see how this vast cast of characters develops.

Is anyone else obsessed? What are you most looking forward to?