The Brit and the Bombshell

In My Week With Marilyn, Director Simon Curtis attempts to show us the facets of a Marilyn Monroe that reach beyond the voluptuous,”Happy Birthday, Mr. President” cabaret girl, and does so with mixed, often affecting results.

Based on Colin Clark’s memoir titled The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me, My Week With Marilyn tells the story of Clark’s (Eddie Redmayne) brief experiences with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), as he worked as a third director on The Prince and the Showgirl. This film features Marilyn Monroe acting alongisde British acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who also has the difficult task of directing the constantly tardy Monroe. The movie making experience turns sour, as Monroe’s Stanislavski methods irk the traditional Olivier, and Monroe’s marriage to a much too handsome to be believable Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) begins to crumble. All the while, the young, idealistic Colin begins to form an unlikely bond with the damaged superstar.

My Week With Marilyn brings us an interesting snapshot of Monroe’s career. Upon entering production for The Prince and The Showgirl, Monroe had just come off of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire, giving her the reputation of America’s favourite sex symbol. Although plenty sexy, Monroe was perceived as nothing more than a body, a shimmy, and a Bambi singing voice; needless to say, she wasn’t being called on to do Lady Macbeth. With The Prince and The Showgirl, Monroe had the opportunity to work with her idol, Olivier. Paired with her new marriage to one of America’s most prominent intellectuals, Monroe was on course to be considered more than just a pair of hips and a wink.

But everything goes woefully wrong. The Brit with the classical training would have no time for the Bombshell and her modernist, Stanisklavski methods. While Olivier tried to cling on to Marilyn in order to gain some of her allure as a film star that he so lacked, Marilyn pined for Olivier’s credibility as a serious actor. After the disastrous experience, Monroe went on to her most iconic role in Some Like It Hot, while Olivier would be put off directing for over a decade. Yes, an interesting partnership, indeed.

We are also treated to charming supporting performances by the Oscar season biopic queen Dame Judi Dench, playing not far out of her comfort zone as Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Emma Watson, as a costume mistress entangled in a love triangle with America’s favourite blonde. However, Julia Osmond is woefully miscast as screen and stage legend, Vivien Leigh, whose own personal mental illness is silenced in this film, in favour of displaying Monroe’s own struggles.

The enchanting and delicate Michelle Williams, a.k.a Harvey Weinstein’s go-to girl, plays the title character with as much vulnerability, pout, and insecurity necessary to fill out the legend’s hippy, larger than life figure. However, the script itself offers little beyond the Marilyn snapshots that the world has come to know and fetishize; the coquettish child, unaware of her seductions, the tongue-in-cheek pin-up who “wears nothing to bed but perfume”, and the vulnerable, deeply indulged icon, damaged beyond repair by abandon and addiction. Although we may see these snapshots of Monroe portrayed thoroughly in isolated scenes, there is little to tie the many facets of the icon altogether, to intertwine the photos into a flip-book of tangible and fluid movement, growth, and coherence.

Branagh is utterly fantastic as the pompous, terrified Olivier. His accent is near perfection and his hatred and jealousy of Monroe becomes painfully personal in his struggles to gain international screen appeal. Branagh, who I have never quite known how to forgive after cheating on Emma Thompson, shows Olivier in all of his despicable tantrums, (“Just be sexy! Isn’t that what you do?”), his delicious vulnerability and astonishing gifts as a classical actor. My only complaint is that his marital struggles with the tragic Leigh are only given a minor footnotes of screen time.

Eddie Redmayne is perhaps too handsome to play the Curtis “everyman” character who joins the circus of the motion picture industry. However, his fantasization and fixation on Monroe is palpable and desperate. As an audience, we are transported through his body to long for the Blonde who will always be within arms reach, but made obscured and unattainable by the smoke, mirrors, and many influences of Hollywood. I look forward to Redmayne wearing a manly vest in the highly anticipated film adaption of  the hit musical “Les Miserables”.

Overall, Director Simon Curtis offers a soft and well-defined snapshot of Monroe at her most vulnerable. This well-manicured, by the book biopic is slickly beautiful, but a touch unfeeling. Instead of portraying Monroe as a trapped little girl, horrifyingly manipulated by the industry and her addictions, the audience takes Olivier’s lead and becomes exasperated each time she’s late and each time she is careless with a young boy’s heart.

What did you think of “My Week With Marilyn”? Tell me everything, darling. Comment!

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Independent Spirit Nominations Revealed

We’ve got our first award show noms, and although the Independent Spirits aren’t usually regarded as a total O-Day precursor, I tend to respect them, more so than the Academy Awards. You see, I’m a large a-hole who turns up her nose at most conventional cinema. (I know, I’m the worst). So, the Independent Spirits are like my safe haven. Better yet, they are a guy who is more intelligent and interesting, but who I ultimately pass over to date  the guy who hasn’t got much in the way of brains, but can rock a muscle T hard. If you’re having trouble deciphering the subtle complexities of my brilliant analogy, that less intelligent guy in the muscle shirt was supposed to be the Oscars, just fyi.

Unsurprisingly, George Clooney’s film George Clooney Plays Himself in a Movie Set in Hawaii, wait, I mean The Descendants got 3 nominations, (review to come), none of which included a Best Male Lead nod for George Clooney. See, aren’t the Indy Spirits swell?

I am pleased to announced that The Artist, a black and white silent film that I am anticipating more than when Mini Eggs come out in Spring, lead the pack with the most nominations at 5. Score one for pretension! Similarly, Drive, a personal favorite of mine, starring the man who visits me every night in my dreams, Ryan Gosling, got some much needed recognition, with 4 noms, including Best Feature, Best Director for Nicolas Winding Refn (no that’s no typo), and Best Male Lead for Ryan Gosling, (insert inappropriate comment here).

Other films that got some indy love include; 50/50, Win Win, Take Shelter, My Week With Marilyn, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Midnight in Paris. Oh, and none for The Help or Gretchen Weiners.

To read the complete list of nominations, visit http://www.deadline.com/2011/11/spirit-award-nominees-unveiled/

What did you think of the Independent Spirit Nominations? Are you psyched or are you more excited about Mini Eggs? Comment and join the conversation.

**UPDATE

The New York Critis Circle have just tweeted, yes tweeted this year’s winners. They are as follows:

Best Actor: Brad Pitt (Moneyball, Tree Of Life)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Best Foreign-Language Film: A Separation
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (Tree Of Life, The Help and Take Shelter)
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks (Drive)
Best Nonfiction Film: Cave Of Forgotten Dreams
Best First Feature: Margin Call

Yay Meryl. Yay Tree Of Life.

The Don Draper Conflict

“Mad Men” is my absolute favorite show on television. However, it has also presented me with my biggest personal struggle in my television watching history; why, oh why must I be so in love with Don Draper?

An ad man at the beginning of the 1960s, Don Draper is a womanizing family man, an alcoholic, and a pathological liar with a secret identity. He is borderline abusive towards his wife, an absentee father, and a loose-cannon at work. Yet I have never been more attracted to a character in my life. I want with everything to hate him, to be repulsed by the way he treats women, by how flippant he is about his career, and how stingy he is with his heart. Yet, I cannot stop myself.

Maybe what I am falling victim to here is the conundrum of false advertising, a conundrum that Draper himself has mastered so well in his professional career; the Don Draper package is just too appealing to let my perceptions, my attractions be ruined by its spoiled insides. Don is the craftiest, most charismatic ad man on Madison Avenue. His wife and children are out of a upstate New York Norman Rockwell painting. He lives in a beautiful home and dresses to the nines, all the time. Meanwhile, he’s stolen the identity of a deceased WWII soldier. His real name is Richard Witman and he was born to a prostitute. He used to sell fur coats and he has a fetish for being slapped during sex, preferably by prostitutes. Yet all of that doesn’t matter, as long as he strolls into the smoke-filled boardroom in time to make the winning, flashy, sentimental pitch about the joys of family, all the while demonstrating some of that winning Don Draper smugness.

If anything, Don is the epitome of the 60s: an era left morally disillusioned by the nostalgic family values of the 50s. Free love was on the horizon, a place where the nuclear family could not follow. A young, handsome, revolutionary Democrat from Massachusetts  was closing in on the Presidency race. Don, a person who understands all too well the price to pay to achieve the American dream, is left to peddle the left-over Coca-Cola Classic aesthetic from the 50s, as his own personal life acts as a literal contradiction to what he represents to his colleagues and in his ads.

I am angry at him for each time he cheats on his wife, or gets drunk and takes off before little Sally’s 6th birthday party. Yet his behind the scenes struggle to maintain his personal brand in a smoke-filled, martini saturated high-rise makes me sympathize with him, root for him, pray for his upturn back home on the subway. His pitch works, even when he has vomit on his starched white-collored shirt. I try to hold, but the ad man sells me, every time.

Are you a Mad Men fan? Has Don sold you too? Comment!

It’s only November and the Oscar snubs begin.

As D.J. Tanner would say: oh, my Lanta! The Academy just released its short-list of documentaries that are still in the running for the Oscar for Best Documentary, and let me tell you, there were some maja’ snubs.

Among them, Page One: Inside the New York Times (a CreComm favourite), Being Elmo (a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who loves puppets? Oscar gold!), and my highly anticipated fav Into the Abyss. I’m in shock here. Oscar, you’re a cruel, cruel mistress.

Are you shocked by this or do I just need to get a life? Comment and join the conversation.

Distance Makes The Heart Grow Like Crazy

Long distance relationships are awful. I understand this from personal experience, and as will you if you see the film Like Crazy.

Directed by newbie Drake Doremus, Like Crazy tells the story of Anna (Felicity Jones), a Brit studying abroad in LA. She meets Jacob, (the adorable and sulky Anton Yelchin), in an English class. The pair meet eyes across the classroom, read poetry, and generally bask in how intellectual and quirky each other are. The two fall in love. However, Anna gets a bit too comfortable in the perfectly indie, Paul Simon love nest that she and Jacob have made for themselves. The girl over-stays her visa and as a result, is banned from returning to the US to see Jacob. The ban complicates the transatlantic relationship and we must watch in painful clarity as Anna and Jacob negotiate the logistics of space and patience.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this modest and often shy love story is the quietness of Jones and Yelchin’s acting. With much of the scenes improvised, the film takes on a quality of startling realism, be it through the imperfect hair on Jacobs’ head, the quiet mumbles of Anna’s voice, or the shy, meaningful looks that the pair exchange through their inconsequential daily lives.

Certain aspects of the film’s gritty, unpolished aesthetic are slightly compromised with a few odd choices; Anna’s life in London as a junior editor at an unnamed fashion magazine seems straight from a British, dimly lit version of The Devil Wears Prada, while Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence makes an impressive performance as the entirely too good-looking to be real “other woman”. Similarly, Charlie Bewley stars as Jennifer Lawrence’s counterpart: a man, who looks entirely too much like a British J. Crew model, rivaling Jacob for Anna’s affections. The pair of blondes just don’t fit with the imperfections from the rest of the film.  The two of them look like they’ve never gotten bed-head a single day in their lives and perhaps have just come from shooting a commercial for designer perfume, or Bailey’s Irish Cream.

This film verges on the territory of what I like to call “Quirky, Wannabe-Arthouse Movies About Quirky, Wannabe-Arthouse Couples Falling in Love”, (see Garden State and 500 Days of Summer). Happily, the pair never have the “omg, you love the (insert indie band name here)? I love them too! Let’s go to a record store and then to a Chuck Taylor outlet.” Thankfully, there is also only one goodbye scene in an airport. I am very glad for this.

Like Crazy narrowly avoids this gauchely self-aware realm and posits itself in a sadly realistic space, one where first loves mark a person for life and the inconvenience and disorientation of it can derail.

Like Crazy won the Sundance Grand Jury Award and Felicity Jones won the Best Actress Special Jury Prize. This film is absolutely tailor-made for the film festival scene and I do hope it comes to Winnipeg eventually, as it is now in limited release.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I’m not feeling the love here. It’s a very strong film, but it is simply one that the Academy will most likely not appreciate. Felicity Jones is entirely deserving of a nod for her startlingly candid portrayal of Anna. I could see her pulling a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and getting a shocking Golden Globe nomination, but I just don’t see the Academy coming through for any nominations, for Jones or the film. Nevertheless, it is an exciting, painful, and often hard film to watch. When it was over, I felt like I did after watching Blue Valentine; I just needed a fist full of Xanax and for someone to tell me that the sun would come out tomorrow. Still, there is something to be said for a film that prompts such a strong reaction, one that had me questioning the scars of love lost.

Do you want to see “Like Crazy” when/if it comes to your city? Do you also like the (insert indie band name here)? Comment!

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

I have my Uncle Terry to thank for introducing me to a little known French musical called Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.

Made in 1964, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is directed by Jacques Demy and stars a fresh-faced Catherine Deneuve. It won the coveted Palme D’or and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1965 Academy Awards. This film is everything I wish Paris and romance could be.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg tells the story of 17 year old Geneviève (Deneuve), who lives with her widowed mother. They own an umbrella shop in Cherbourg (shocking, right?), where they nag each other a lot in song. Geneviève falls in love With Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) and they plan to marry, but fate and an impending war separate the pair. Also, Geneviève wears a lot of pastels. It’s major, just trust me.

I can totes relate.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is simply one of the most romantic films of all time. Its aesthetics have all the daintiness and deliciousness of a macaron. The actors are young, hopeful, and vulnerable. This film makes me want to mack on a solider, sing about my ennui, and wear a trench coat – all at the same time.

I highly recommend giving this a watch. If the fab assortment of hats don’t get you, the sheer joy of the music, romance, and France will. I also recommend eating an entire baguette while watching; it really gives it an authentic feel.

Did you also see this film? Did you also eat a lot of bread? Comment!

Biopics Are The New Black – Hoover Edition

It happened: I saw J. Edgar this past weekend, a movie that I have been anticipating since the trailer hit the internetz a few months ago. Directed by two-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood, written by Dustin Lance Black (that sweet, soft-spoken boy who won the Oscar for Best Writing for his touching film “Milk”), and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic, Aviator, The Departed, my dreams), Armie Hammer (he played the heads of those hot twins in The Social Network), Dame Judi Dench (everything British), and Naomi Watts (21 Grams, Eastern Promises, We Don’t Live Here Anymore); this film is tailor-made to bring home some awards gold.

Based on the life of, you guessed it, J.Edgar Hoover, J. Edgar shows us quite a different side to the notorious FBI director. The film opens on Edgar (DiCaprio in a hilariously terrible fat suit and jowls) as a 20-something, working his way up in the U.S. government. A socially awkward, ex-stutterer, Edgar lives with his dotting mother, played claustrophobically by the Oscar go-to girl Dame Judy Dench. The film chronicles much of his professional career, highlighting his relationship with his lifelong secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), his startlingly intimate life with right-hand man and backdoor lover Clyde Tolson (Hammer, also appearing in equally hilarious old-man prosthetics), and the perilous, paranoid events that shaped his reputation as a titan of self-promotion and fear.

This film seeks to show the humanity behind the iron man, the secret life of a man who exposed secrets for a living. Dustin Lance Black’s script is thoughtful and a bit too thorough; running at 2 hours and 17 minutes, I could have done without a couple of Edgar and Clyde’s corner-booth steak dinners. However, Black brings the same vulnerability and tenderness to Edgar’s tortured relationship with his never-could-be lover Clyde, as he did with Harvey Milk and Scott Smith’s romance in Milk. For me, this was the saving grace of the film.

However, this film did not sit right with me. Something about it was so formulaic, so calculated, that it lacked the necessary heart to bring compassion or even humanity to the feared and revered public figure. One big issue here is, I hate to say it, Leo. Remember when he was a baby-faced, twenty-something who just wanted to ride on the bow of the Titanic, and play basketball while dropping heroin? Thems were the good ol’ days. As much as he has grown into a mature, adventurous, highly-layered actor, I feel like every acting choice he makes positively drips with Oscar desperation. I can imagine him, laying next to whatever Brazilian Victoria’s Secret model he is currently dating, unable to sleep, wondering to himself, “why? Why, oh cruel world, have you denied me the Oscar three times? Remember when I played that Gilbert kid who was mentally handicapped? That was goooooood shit! Remember when I grew my hair that really unflattering length in Aviator, and still no gold? What gives? And c’mon, I mastered that South African accent and mined for diamonds in Blood Diamond, and I still came home without the chedda’. Life isn’t fair!”

I know what you’re thinking; my unfounded yet hilarious assumptions that Leo is tortured over his Oscar three-time fail isn’t enough reason to pan a movie, and yes, you have a point. However, the calculated, desperation of Leo’s personal narrative felt like it bled over into the rest of the picture. The overall direction of the film felt so archetypal and completely devoid of passion and originality. The film felt stark, clinical, and joyless. Yes, it is a logical stylistic choice to create an infernal, shadowy, blunt film when writing about the paranoid world of J. Edgar and his FBI. However, set against the backdrop of Black’s poignant script, it felt misplaced and misguided. Though I’ve never been much of a fan of Eastwood as a director, this film read as a shameless pander for Oscar votes. It felt as if Clint and his crew followed this checklist;

Oscar Checklist

1) Biopic about notorious political figure, royalty, or musician check

2) Dame Judi Dench check

3) Drastic alteration of physical appearance (bonus points if there is weight gain or loss involved, see Natalie Portman) check 

4) Dramatic monologue pondering human nature in the face of public scrutiny check

Yep, it was aaaalll there.

Maybe I’m just over the biopic thing; The King’s Speech, Walk the Line, Ray, La Vie en Rose, Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Milk; yeah, I’m o.d’-ing on them. What has happened in the last five years making it so that writers can’t come up with any original material of their own? Why is it all about the remake or the life story? When did creativity die? Some say that the only thing that remains of originality is irony. I hope this isn’t true, although recent events say otherwise.

As far as its Oscar future goes, unfortunately it looks quite bright. Despite my riotous critiques of Leo, his performance was actually deeply touching, and completely moving. Maybe I’ve been too hard on him and his models. After all, I’m sure my criticisms will keep him awake at night. That being said, Leo was able to work successfully against the awkward cinematogaphy and numb art direction of the film, in order to find some humanity for his doughy alter-ego. He should and will get a nomination. Whether he’ll win, well, we have to see whose performances come out of the woodwork in the next few months.

As far as I’m concerned, Clint should get the shaft from the Best Direction category. In my opinion, he is an overrated filmmaker who uses every cliche available to tell his stories; good and evil, right and wrong, dark and light. Eastwood operates in a world of shallow and overused binaries, a dichotomous realm that narrows any true depth or original thought. However, knowing how much the Academy loves the reward the same, archetypal films over and over again, they will most likely throw the old cowboy a bone and give him a nod. I just hope it won’t lead to a win.

The film will almost without a doubt get a Best Picture nomination. I am on the fence as to whether it is deserved. There are aspects of this film that offer incredible sincerity and startling intimacy. The performances of Mr. DiCaprio and Ms. Dench are worth the price of admission. However, as I have self-indulgently outlined above, this film is far from perfect and lacks the authenticity, depth, and direction to make it an Oscar caliber film. As far as I’m concerned, I’m waiting to see what else comes out before deciding if this should get one of the ten coveted spots.

What did you think about “J. Edgar”? Did you like Leo’s jowls, or was it all about Armie’s dough-face? Comment and be part of the conversation!