Celebrity death match, Oscar special: Marilyn vs. Maggie

At least some of the Academy voters will like Michelle Williams’ hot display as Marilyn Monroe, but will it be enough to take down the iron lady of Hollywood, Meryl Streep? I would be delighted if it is. Here’s empireonline.com on Williams’ chances as well as her competitors:

Why she’ll be going home with Oscar

This is Williams’ third nomination and second in as many years. Who’d have thought Jen-from-Dawson’s-Creek had it in her?

It’s a terrific turn that gets under the skin of an icon and plays both her vulnerability and strength – and icons don’t come any bigger than Marilyn Monroe.

Williams has won a huge number of critic’s awards in the pre-season and was nominated at SAG too. She’s hit the campaign trail too, giving interviews and good red carpet throughout the last few months.

Why she might be stood up

She didn’t win the SAG award, which might mean that her acting brethren aren’t really behind her.

As with The Iron Lady and indeed The Help, the film is perhaps not quite as good as its star’s performance. (on a personal samovieguy note – while true, this should be a moot point)

Can anyone really play Marilyn Monroe well enough to make Hollywood happy? Is that even possible?

To read the full feature on the other ladies’ prospects, follow the link: http://www.empireonline.com/features/oscar-nominations-2012-best-actress/p5

My one hour and forty-three with Marilyn

Hey all, sorry I skipped a review last week, I know my loyal readership are probably still hurting from that. But worry not, this week I’m back and I’m bringing some class with me. That can only mean it’s British. But don’t worry, it’s not all high and dry, they have the f-word there too.

So, My Week With Marilyn tells the unlikely true story of a young man, Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) forcing his way into the movie business with sheer determination only to have the world’s biggest star, the inimitable (but wait, I’ll get to that) Marilyn Monroe, arrive in England to shoot a movie with Laurence Olivier as soon as he’s succeeded in doing so.

The movie opens with Michelle Williams acting as Marilyn in a movie and bewitching British audiences with Colin among them. And in the same way she transfixes the boy, Williams proceeds to light up the screen all the way through. As soon as the curtain lifts you are witness to a truly dazzling performance from an extremely talented actress. Of all the Dawson’s Creek kids I guess we should have had our money on her all along. I mean, she was always even more serious than the rest.

Not only is she completely transformed into Marilyn Monroe in appearance and little idiosyncrasies, but once she gets going “on-screen” she has the same exotic, enchanting appeal of the actual Monroe. She is fun and flirtatious in Monroe’s good moments, but she also shines when her pill-addled character doesn’t.

And where Williams spearheads the movie to create a pleasing timewarping feel, the picture follows suit by being presented in a wonderful grainy texture that makes it resemble old film footage of a real Monroe visit. It really is quite lovely to take in.

Then there is the support. Kenneth Branagh, for one, is just fantastic. Much like the weirdo behind me, who once or twice raised his voice during the screening, I wanted to shout out: “More of this, Kenneth, less of Thor!!!” He is tremendously entertaining as serious thespian Laurence Olivier whose patience is tested to the brink by Ms Monroe. Redmayne is sufficiently enthusiastic, overawed, smitten and heartbroken as and when required, while Dame Judy Dench and even Emma Watson do a fine job too, even though they’re just there to colour in the edges.

This movie is about Marilyn and what a complicated, troubled yet incredibly gifted young woman she was. And also how screwed up her idea of love was. I mean, this is no place for someone as “young and innocent” as Colin to get involved in. So subsequently it’s also a bittersweet romance, a little one-sided, a little unrequited, of the besotted boy who would do anything to help someone who is tragically beyond helping. She would peak with her next film, the timeless Some Like It Hot, and after that make only two more movies before passing away from an overdose at age 36.

The whole thing, despite feeling slow at times, is a whirlwind affair and, while having left a lasting impression on the boy, its effect will probably wear off in audience members not long after leaving the cinema. On occasion the romance and the damaged aspect of Monroe can become somewhat cloying, but the movie is a softly handled, sumptuous and charming study of what will forever remain a fascinating figure of the silver-screen. And someone give Williams the Oscar, Meryl already has two.

It’s Valentine’s Day

And so this dreaded day is upon us again. Obviously it isn’t dreaded by everyone and, in fact, I’m sure I would love the damn day. If only it came a bit later. Maybe 24 Feb? Because I honestly feel it’s too early in the year, so I never have my sh*t together enough to actually have a date. Yeah, I could get a girlfriend in ten days.

But anyway, don’t let V-day drag you down. Why not stay in with a some of the finest examples of love and variations thereupon that cinema can muster? I’m a huge believer in romance. And love. Even the cheesy stuff. As my movie taste can attest to.

Here are some great Valentine’s Day choices:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Edward Scissorhands

When Harry Met Sally

Annie Hall

(it’s come to my attention that Annie Hall should be in the depressing aisle, but having not seen it in a while, I remember it being quite sweet. And it’s Woody Allen, c’mon)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Juno

Ten Things I Hate About You

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet

Lost in Translation

Say Anything

LATE ENTRY: Groundhog Day (he cheats by having eternity to make her fall in love with him, but it’s brilliant)

And if you’re in a depressed mood and looking to feel worse (or better, can’t always predict the effect these things will have):

500 Days of Summer (for some depression lite)

Closer (wouldn’t be my first choice, but everyone’s horrible to each other)

Revolutionary Road (some more horrible-ness)

Never Let Me Go (here we go, this stuff will break you…)

Blue Valentine (and then for the final, gorgeous blow, have a go at the two in this.)

Can Clooney Clinch It?

With a couple of weeks to go before the Oscars, empireonline.com have placed their bets for who will take home the coveted Best Actor man-trophy (statuette; I’m talking about Oscar) at the Academy Awards. Here are their reasons for and against Mr Clooney’s performance in The Descendants:

Why He Should Win:

The smile, the charm, the irresistible charisma, how good he looks in a grey suit: who could resist voting for George Clooney?

He’s really very good in Payne’s film, toning down both the looks and the charisma to play a man in difficult circumstances but trying to soldier on regardless. He won the National Board of Review prize for the role already.

He’s won Best Supporting Actor previously, but it seems odd that such a huge figure in the town doesn’t also have a Best Actor statuette.

What Might Stand In His Way:

He didn’t take home the SAG prize, losing out to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. And while Alexander Payne is good at getting his stars nominated, none have yet won.

It’s a tiny bit obvious to give it to Clooney, isn’t it? Handsome and all as he is.

He has one Oscar already and is nominated for his Ides Of March screenplay this year as well. There’s no rush: the man’s going to produce more great work next year, we’re sure.

To see the full list, click on the link http://www.empireonline.com/features/oscar-nominations-2012-best-actor/p2,

Is he looking quietly confident? PICTURE: empireonline.com

Paynefully hard to like – The Descendants

Ah crap. This type of movie leaves me in such a dilemma. Such a dilemma. This week I went to see The Descendants, the Hawaii-based drama from Alexander Payne everyone is raving about. So now I feel incredibly left out for feeling almost nothing walking out of the cinema afterwards. It’s like Slumdog all over again. Or About Schmidt, another Payne movie. And it’s not that it isn’t good, it’s just that this low-key picture is so incredibly low-key that it’s sort of hard to go meet or, ahem, descend to its level.

http://the-descendants-movie-trailer.blogspot.com/

The most telling, pointed line is probably where Clooney’s character Matt King compares his family to an archipelago, ‘together but always drifting apart’. So the movie has this tragic undercurrent running through it, which never fully comes to the surface. Things are not well in the house of King, you see. For starters, his wife’s in a coma and is probably not going to make it. And as if to heighten the resentment you would feel for a loved one putting you through such an ordeal, he also has to find out that she was having an affair. More stuff that you can’t really deal with. But the characters all give it a fair go as they thrash it out with the comatose mom, her becoming just the weirdest character/prop who just lies there in close-up during conversations.

Clooney, in going for his miserable unfulfilled guy trilogy, is very good as always, but not great. Not Oscar worthy. He can’t be faulted and shows good variation, occasionally displaying even a bit of O Brother’s almost farcical acting, but his performance is much toned down as his character internalises so much of his emotions. S0 you really have to look for the so-called Oscar-winning performance to see it, but I don’t know, some people will call it nuanced.

I guess he perfectly matches the tone of the movie, so lets commend him for that. But I think I was expecting another Up In the Air, where he gives a similar performance. Only there the material really packed more of a punch, whereas Descendants works the stomach without ever going for the knock-out. The stand-out performance actually comes from young Shailene Woodley, who plays his daughter Alex. She gives such a strong, assured performance of a young woman dealing with all that is going on and really impresses.

It’s a thoughtful, sombre movie about what it means to love someone, all contrasted with horrible Hawaiian shirts and the unusual melancholy of its Hawaiian music soundtrack. It’s subtle, complex and definitely has its moments, with also some decent humour creeping in to alleviate some of the heaviness. So, I’m sure it’s very good, but I don’t think I really liked it that much or at all. To its credit, it did make me think to go out and live my life right to avoid King”s mistakes (even though these things happen), and maybe reconsider the time spent watching slow-burning movies that don’t really pay off in the end.

And oh, hey, Matthew Lillard is in it. And he doesn’t screw it up. So kudos to him.

They bought a zoo!

OK, so guess what this movie is about? We live in an age of stupid literal-lateral titles, it’s just one of those things. A world with snakes on planes, hobos with shotguns and other things with or on yet other things. It could’ve been worse – it could’ve been called Matt Damon Plays a Single Dad Coping With Parenthood and the Loss of his Wife. I think personally I would’ve called it Adventure Park, or Coping with Loss: The Mental Breakdown Story. You know, that way they keep the fact that Damon’s character buys a zoo as an ace to be played later in the movie, and then at least there wouldn’t be the annoying “gawsh isn’t this a hoot!” shtick with the audience. “We bought a zoo!” his daughter shouts several times, and if you belong to the Title Evasion club (whereby you leave when a movie’s title is stated by any character), you’ll have to leave while the movie is still trite and lacklustre.

We Bought a Zoo is kind of like Marley and Me. You know what you’re getting going in. That one took me two viewings to be won over, but I’m glad to say this one did it in less. It’s a great relief as well, since director/writer Cameron Crowe has proven himself to be wizard and quack alike. Say Anything is one of my favourite movies and Almost Famous is just so well done on every level, for example. But then there was Vanilla Sky, which was slammed critically and his last effort 6 years prior to Zoo, Elizabethtown, which very much suited the Crowe treatment but which was just dreadful and charmless. And had Orlando Bloom in it.

So anyway, where was I? Damon’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) is experiencing some issues having lost his mother at a vital age, so we’ll forgive him for acting out. But then Damon’s Benjamin Mee (what a silly surname, right?) looks for a fresh start, running away basically from the memories of his home town and withdrawing from peopled territory, and he drags his kids with him.

And then Elle Fanning shows up. Well, she lives on the zoo land with all the zoo carnies, so she shows up relatively speaking. And she lights up this film like a wonderfully cheerful flare. She has this endearing goofy innocence and ebullience that is incredibly winsome. She was one of the best things in Somewhere, I hear she just bowls you over in Super 8 and again here she’s competing with the little girl, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) for the prize of the best thing in this movie. But then it’s not quite a fair fight – Rosie is ridiculously cute, I mean she’s off the cuteness scale, they should actually measure cuteness in units of Rosies. (I don’t know where Hollywood finds all these adorable kids, but anyway…). She’s so cute to the point where you almost feel manipulated and see her for the cheap ploy she is,  just before she melts your heart yet again.

Now you try and tell me that's not cute.

There’s some decent acting going around. John Michael Higgins does a good job with the comical jerk zoo inspector, and his feud with the equally entertaining Angus McFayden’s MacCready is pretty enjoyable. Scarlett Johannson is perfectly fine as zookeeper Kelly (but how lucky is Benjamin to have this hottie who just happens to live on the zoo-grounds as well?). And let’s not forget Thomas Hayden Church, who provides smooth and funny support.

Damon does the grieving widower who wants to stay positive pretty well, but his character thankfully shows some cracks later on. But nothing too dramatic. Plus I’m just always glad that he’s not reprising his role as Francois Pienaar, anything’s better than that. I also thought to myself during the movie, “Holy crap, man, Damon’s a dad now, man.” It’s weird seeing actors pass onto different stages in their careers and Damo’s going to have to take on more of these older types in movies. He’s in typically embarrassing dad mode here. But he too wins you over, with his good nature and spirit in the face of the seemingly absurd and impossible. And this whole endeavour of actually buying a zoo (They bought a zoo?!!) turns out to be quite inspiring and powerful.

Finally let’s get to the ending. Crowe knows how to do good endings. And while I’d prefer a movie to start strong too, obviously, the trick’s all in the finish. I don’t know, call me sentimental if you will (well, I got there eventually), but the ending is very satisfactory, very sweet, and wraps up a feel-good movie that you’re not ashamed to feel good about. It might also awaken your sense of adventure.

I feel like such a muppet

So I went to watch The Muppets over the weekend in my first visit to the cinema this year actually. It was between that or We Need to Talk about Kevin, a discussion I thought I’d rather not have on a Friday afternoon. So the Muppets it would have to be. I mean, it wasn’t completely an exercise in futility, it’s roped in an Oscar nomination for best song after all, so let’s call it research for the Oscars.

Anyway, just in case you don’t read the rest of this blog, let me tell you up front: avoid this. Especially if you are childless. I thought I’d go looking for my inner child, but I’ve never felt older in my life. I’m not even sure the kids got it, what with all the crying and not sitting still, but then again in the post-movie interviews they weren’t the most lucid commentators I’ve come across, so I can’t say for certain. (I didn’t really question the kids afterwards, their mothers made sure of hurrying them away from the strange man who didn’t belong in that particular theatre!)

Again, to illustrate my misguidedness going in, I was more excited about seeing two of my favourite movie people ever together on screen than seeing the muppets. But Amy Adams and Jason Segel added nothing. Adams’ small town charm in the form of Mary was unbearable. Meanwhile, Segel was in an annoyingly chipper mood which I couldn’t stand either, constantly staring down the camera from the corner of his eye, obviously having a great time and wanting you to know it. This is his pet project, after all, and I now feel foolish for getting drawn in by childlike enthusiasm. While working on this movie both actors hopefully had ample time to pursue other movies or at least read a few scripts, because they were mostly props and didn’t have to act much at all.

The story itself is pretty cheesy and couldn’t have taken too long to cook up. In a wink to the Muppets waning real-life appeal, Gary (Segel), his girlfriend Mary (Adams) and his brother Walter go on a trip to Los Angeles to see the Muppets Studio, oh and celebrate an anniversary or something. The thing is, Walter is a muppet. Or I guess he’s a puppet, wanting to be a muppet. There’s a message about how you see yourself and finding your purpose in life and all kinds of stuff, but I don’t know and don’t care… anyway, the trio find the studio in a derelict state, with a greedy oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) wanting to buy it for nefarious purposes. So they round up all the Muppets in no time and plan to piece together a show to raise enough money to save their studio. So far, so nothing’s happened yet.

The show they put on is at least an improvement and Jack Black’s input actually helps things along (who would’ve thought you’d say that about any of his recent work). There’s also a slew of other cameos, which was heartening as they obviously believe in the movie, but that’s about as much I can say. And I suppose it’s better watching the Muppets sing and dance rather than the humans, because the songs of the latter feel more like someone trying to imitate Brett McKenzie’s work than it being the real deal. There is none of the awkward charm we’re used to seeing in Flight of the Conchords, instead it’s just awkward and embarrassing. By the time Chris Cooper starts rapping I seriously considered walking out, just in case I one day meet the man and have to look him in the eye with some sort of respect. I also seriously don’t see how they got nominated for best song, it would appear the academy got a little sentimental on us here.

Anyway, this is starting to feel like a bit of a rant, and I think in the end it’s my fault for going to see the movie. Muppets fans will probably love the movie, anyone else should probably opt for talking about Kevin, even though I’ve heard that is harrowing in another way to this. Or just watch Space Jam again, a fantasy cross-over which manages to be both silly and fun at the same time.

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