Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

2014 Oscars: ZZZZZZZZZ

Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

I like Ellen DeGeneres. I do. She has a nice, innocuous presence on television and when her deadpan jokes work, they really work. I thought her opening routine last night was funny-ish, safe, not offensive – the opposite of last year’s debacle. But then a host’s job really begins, as Billy Crystal explains in his book. It’s a loooong evening and the show inevitably sags in the middle during all the technical awards, so a host needs to jump in during the breaks in the action and respond to whatever’s going on. Sadly, DeGeneres’s reliance on pizza delivery didn’t cut it. Not even a little bit amusing. The selfie with all those A-listers was cute, but enough with all the stuff about Twitter. I mean, don’t the movies matter? Isn’t that why everybody was there? To celebrate Hollywood, not social media?

(Oh, I must digress to say that my Oscar dinner was delicious. I’m still drooling over the short ribs and mashed potatoes.)

Back to the show….Well, first the dresses. Absolutely gorgeous were Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Naomi Watts. Pure goddesses. On my not-so-gorgeous list were Anna Kendrick (too much going on), Angelina Jolie (she can never look bad, but the dress was too matronly), Anne Hathaway (didn’t love all those thingies on top), Jennifer Garner (her dress looked like a chandelier) and Julia Roberts (too lacy-dowdy). Loved Bette Midler’s singing live. Didn’t love poor Kim Novak, Liza Minnelli and Goldie Hawn, whose plastic surgery fails made me wince. Very sad to see how frail Sidney Portier has become. I missed George Clooney. I missed Jack Nicholson. I missed Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, etc. Old Hollywood, in other words.

As for the awards themselves, I had most of them checked off on my Oscar ballot so I was pleased with the results. I was surprised that “American Hustle” was totally shut out, but once “Gravity” started winning all those tech awards, I knew it had the momentum for director Alfonso Cuaron. And I also knew that “12 Years a Slave” would take the top prizes. Just meant to be and deservedly so. Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett were locks for their awards, but I loved all their acceptance speeches too, although Cate needs to learn the meaning of the word “exacerbate.”

Lots of good movies last year should have made for a livelier show, but I can’t wait to see what rolls into theaters in 2014.


Oscar Food Should Be Rich….

Monday, February 24th, 2014

short ribs

I hardly ever eat red meat anymore, but when it comes to special occasions and the tastes of my guests – and it’s watch-the-Oscars night at my house – I serve beef. This year the menu will feature beef short ribs. I’ll be using Ina Garten’s recipe, which is as bullet-proof as it gets and not only can be made the day before but is more flavorful when cooked ahead. I don’t use the whole bottle of wine as she does in the video, nor do I pour in as much broth, and I add more carrots plus my secret ingredient: cremini mushrooms. The result is delicious with the meat falling off the bone and the sauce perfectly suited to the mashed potatoes accompaniment. There will also be a Caesar salad without the eggs and anchovies (sounds sacrilegious, I know, but that’s how I roll when it comes to Caesar dressing), garlic bread and a chocolate something for dessert (one of our friends is bringing it). To start I’ll pull together some appetizers: hummus, guacamole, olives, cheeses or a combo of all. I always make sure to have enough for everybody and often overdo it. But hey, that way there are leftovers. :)

Long Time, No Post

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

woman overworked

Working, working, working. That’s been the story here, and every time I think about writing a post for this blog I go, “Nah. Too much trouble. Not enough to say.” Plus, I’d been writing post after post about the movies I’d seen in the run-up to the Oscars and after seeing them all I was tapped out.

But now it’s a week until the Oscars and I’m in countdown mode, the Oscars being my Super Bowl. I’ll be having people over as usual and have decided not only which movies and performances I think will win but also what the dinner menu will be. Which do you want first?

Fine. The movies. This has been a tough year to predict. After watching what other voting groups have done (Golden Globes, SAG, WGA, DGA, BAFTA, etc.), there’s really no clear Best Picture winner, only hunches. And with the individual performances the momentum has swung so many times it’s made my head hurt. That said, here’s how I see the big awards rolling out…….

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey. He was so good in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Mud,” has worked the awards circuit hard and rounded up a lot of good will for his shift from rom-com hunk to serious actor. And he’s getting such great reviews for his performance in HBO’s “True Detective,” which I’m loving, by the way, that I think he’s the one to beat. Runner-up: Chiwetel Ejiofor for “Twelve Years a Slave.” In any other year Christian Bale would have won for “American Hustle,” but not this time. And while Bruce Dern is a sentimental favorite, I think McConaughey’s weight loss for “Dallas Buyers Club” will seal the deal. Academy voters love weight loss/gain for a role. As for Leo DiCaprio in “Wolf of Wall Street,” don’t make me laugh.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett. She’s as close to a lock as there is. Not everyone loved “Blue Jasmine” and there’s been a late campaign to say her performance was merely an imitation of her Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar Named Desire.” And then there’s the “Will the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow mess turn voters against her” murmurings. I say she wins and gives a great acceptance speech to boot.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto. Another lock for his turn in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Maybe. Lately, I’ve been wondering if Barkhad Abdi from “Captain Phillips” might sneak in, especially after he won the BAFTA. I’m still pissed off that Tom Hanks wasn’t nominated for that film. (Leo stole his spot. Grrr.) But in the end I think Abdi was terrific but his nom was one of those “It’s great to be nominated” things and Leto will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Lupito Nyong’o. Her Patsy in “Twelve Years a Slave” was so memorable and heartbreaking that while Jennifer Lawrence is the “It” girl right now and was great fun in “American Hustle,” she won last year and…Well, it’s a horse race between these two and I think Nyong’o will edge her out. Honorable mention goes to June Squibb for “Nebraska.” She was a kick and I loved her, but….

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón. All the Academy members I’ve spoken to have cited Cuaron’s technical wizardry in “Gravity” and his audacity to make a film with basically one character in it – in space, no less – and pull it off. I defer to them. I didn’t love the movie, but whatever. To me it’s a tough category because Steve McQueen (“Twelve Years a Slave”) and David O Russell (“American Hustle”) have been getting a lot of love too.

Best Documentary: “20 Feet from Stardom.” Okay, it’s the only one of the nominees that I actually saw, but I loved it. I thought about seeing “The Act of Killing” because it might really win, but it’s supposed to be so gruesome that I passed.

Best Foreign Film: “The Great Beauty.” I’m filing this one under protest because my favorites in foreign language weren’t even nominated. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was ineligible and “The Past” was snubbed. Boo.

Best Picture: “Twelve Years a Slave.” By far the toughest category to predict and I hesitated before typing my pick. I probably enjoyed “American Hustle” the most. No, wait. “Captain Phillips” was my fave among this bunch. And I really, really liked “Her.” There’s been a late surge for “Gravity” and I suppose it could win. But in the end I think “Twelve Years a Slave” was a powerful story told in an unflinching way, and it deserves the statue. It was too long – some of the close-ups seemed to last forever – but I’m picking the film. I just am.

As a writer, I should include the two big ones for writers, but the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay awards are simply too close to call. I can’t do it. May the best man (I wish there had been a woman in this group) win.

Next up: my dinner menu for Sunday night.


Movie Day: “August: Osage County”

Saturday, January 4th, 2014


I feel guilty for what I’m about to write because “Osage’s” director, John Wells, was kind enough to come to our screening and stay for the reception afterwards and he seemed like such a nice guy. What’s more, how could I possibly not praise the goddess of acting known as Meryl Streep or America’s sweetheart known as Julia Roberts?

Well, because their new movie is only fun if you’re in the mood for high camp and two hours of dysfunctional people saying mean things to each other. Not that some of the mean things aren’t amusing. Mostly, though, they’re delivered by terrific actors who, this time around, must have been told to go broad or go home. There’s not an ounce of subtlety here. People yell, curse, break dishes, stomp around looking peeved and reveal a whole mess of secrets.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted for the screen, “Osage” tells the tale of the Westons, who gather in the sprawling Oklahoma family home after the disappearance and death of the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard). His wife Violet (Streep) is battling mouth cancer, an addiction to pills and her own bitterness. Also along for the ride are the three Weston daughters, especially Barbara (Roberts), who’s brought her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and 14-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin). And then there’s Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and brother-in-law (Chris Cooper) and their son (Benedict Cumberbatch). With that cast, how could the movie go wrong, right?

Beats me, except that I think Wells, a well-regarded TV director (“ER,” “The West Wing”) may have been over-awed by his stars and let them get away with theatrical murder. Streep, for example, doesn’t so much become Violet but plays her – i.e. it feels as if she’s doing a parody of a character, complete with the wigs, the makeup and the accent. I was aware every moment that she was acting. Ditto Roberts. She shows she can take on a darker role than her usual sunny romantic leading lady, but I became distracted by her relentless upper lip curl. She and Streep are entertaining when they’re cat fighting, but, again, it all felt over the top in a “Mommie Dearest” sort of way. I have no doubt that both actresses will get nominated for an Oscar, but if I were an Academy member I’d vote “no.”


Movie Day: “her”

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


I had high expectations for “her” since it’s been on many critics’ top ten lists, and it didn’t disappoint. Such an interesting, thought provoking and ultra romantic concept film that also happens to be gorgeously shot and beautifully acted. Yes, it’s too long but directors these days seem to have lost the ability to edit their work.

Set in the future in downtown LA, “her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely, sweet man who writes touching, special occasion letters for other people. His wife (Rooney Mara) has left him and he can’t move on, let along bring himself to sign the divorce papers. His only friend is Amy (Amy Adams), who lives in the same building and is going through her own marital breakup.

Into Theodore’s life comes his new computer operating system. He has the option of selecting a male or female voice for the Siri-like OS and picks a female, who calls herself Samantha. This voice emanates from Scarlett Johansson, so it’s husky and sexy and girlish all in one. Samantha is a highly intuitive OS, so she “gets” him in a way no real woman does. And they fall in love.

How this ingenious film tells their love story is unique and wonderful, and thoroughly captures the zeitgeist of how connected/disconnected we are with all the technology. Leave it to Spike Jonze, the director of “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” to take us on another mind-bending trip.



Movie Night: “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Blue is the warmest color

When this French film garnered its big prize(s) at Cannes last May, I couldn’t help wondering what all the fuss was about. Was the story about a young woman’s awakening of her sexuality an exploitation by her male director? Were the long, graphic sex scenes between the two women a male fantasy of lesbian lovemaking? Were the actresses forced to perform acts they found abusive? Was the movie’s three-hour running time really necessary? Was the film a true contemporary masterpiece about falling in love?

I can’t speak for the actresses or their director, but now that I’ve seen their work I’m firmly in the “masterpiece” camp. I thought the film was a major achievement.

Adele is a high school girl who lives with her parents in a rather ordinary middle class house. She has no expectations other than to finish school and be a nursery school teacher. She surprises her friends when she doesn’t reciprocate the affections of a cute boy at school. It isn’t until she meets and falls in love at first sight with the blue-haired artist Lea, an older woman of culture and experience, that she plunges into an affair of body and soul. With each exposure to Lea, Adele finds herself happy for the first time, even as she can sense she’s never going to fit in with Lea’s more sophisticated social circle. Suffice it to say, complications to the relationship ensue.

Much has been made of the graphic sex scenes, but I honestly don’t know how you’d make this film without them. They’re such an integral part of Adele’s coming of age. And every scene – not just the lovemaking but literally every scene in the movie – feels authentic. It almost seemed as if I were spying on real people.

However the director managed to extract such great performances out of the two young women is beyond me, but they both deserve recognition at Oscar time.


Movie Day: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013


Oh, how I wanted to love this. I mean DiCaprio, Scorsese, a dark comedy of excesses in the vein of “Good Fellas.” What’s not to love, right? I wasn’t even worried about the three-hour running time and the Q&A to follow the screening with Jonah Hill.

But then I saw the movie and I staggered out of the theater feeling beat up. Not that there aren’t some genuinely funny moments, but just because you’re telling a story about excess doesn’t mean every scene has to be excessively long and repetitive.

To back up, “Wolf” is based on the book of the same name by one-time New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). He wants to make a lot of money. Badly. So badly he’s willing to do anything to get there, including conning unsuspecting plumbers and teachers and middle class folks out of their savings to buy his penny stocks. His life is one big party, filled with orgies, drugs and a complete lack of remorse. I guess it’s that lack of remorse and total balls-to-the-wall candor that we’re supposed to find funny, but I was ultimately numbed by it all.

I kept thinking, OK, we get it. You don’t need to show us one more scene of Leo climbing on top of a blonde with big tits or Leo yelling at the disciples at his company or Leo snorting coke and popping quaaludes. Maybe if somebody had forced Scorsese to edit the movie it wouldn’t feel so bloated, but I did look at my watch numerous times and wonder when Belfort woul finally get handcuffed and thrown in jail, which he ultimately does.

Oh well. Jonah Hill, who plays his devoted second in command, was a delightful guest at the screening. He told us what a thrill it was for him to be cast in the movie and how intimidated he was at first to be in the company of DiCaprio and Scorsese. He was self-effacing yet charming. I only wish the movie had more of those qualities.


Movie Night: “Twenty Feet From Stardom”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013


What a great documentary! I loved it. I’d been wanting to see it forever but missed its short run in our local theater. I had to wait until it was available via VOD, and it was worth the wait.

So many talented backup singers populate this movie, but in a way we never get to see them. The doc doesn’t just give us clips of famous rock and roll stars extolling the virtues of their backups (Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crowe), but focuses on the lives and careers of the backups themselves. Many of them (Merry Clayton and Darlene Love in particular) are very clear about how badly they wanted to be stars in their own right and not linger in the shadows of their more famous counterparts. Others, like the members of the Waters family, have not only done backup work over the years but are happy voicing movie sounds and characters. What’s clear is that they’re all extremely gifted and deserve their due, and thanks to this film they get it. An added plus? We get to listen to some really great music for a couple of hours.

I couldn’t recommend the movie more enthusiastically.


Movie Day: “Saving Mr. Banks”

Saturday, December 14th, 2013


Today’s Cinema Society screening was one of the few this season I wasn’t looking forward to. Judging by the trailer to the film and the subject matter (I’ve never been a “Mary Poppins” fan), I figured it would be hokey, corny, saccharine, just not my thing.

Surprise. I liked it. It charmed me in spite of my initial cynicism, in part because of the performance of the great Emma Thompson, who stars as P.L. Travers, the Poppins author who famously resisted Walt Disney’s entreaties to make a movie – a musical, no less – of her beloved character. Tom Hanks is a wonderful Disney – a crafty businessman who loves to make everybody happy. He promised his daughters he would bring their favorite nanny to the big screen and spent 20 years trying to get Travers to let him option the rights. But when he brings her to L.A. for two weeks hoping to court her and convince her to go along with the deal, he discovers just how difficult she is. And during her stay, we come to understand why she’s so angry through flashbacks to her childhood in Australia with her dreamer, alcoholic father (a very good Colin Farrell).

The film’s director, John Lee Hancock,  who directed Sandra Bullock to Oscar gold in “The Blind Side,” knows how to showcase strong, difficult women with a soft center, and he does it again here. Yes, it’s schmaltzy and yes, the script takes liberties with the real story of Travers and Disney, but it all works somehow and turns out to be holiday fare for the whole family.


Movie Night: “Stories We Tell”

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Stories We Tell

I’ve been running to see all the big films vying for Oscar love (“Saving Mr. Banks” is screening this Saturday), but I’ve neglected some of the documentaries that are appearing on critics’ “Best” lists. I remedied that last night when I saw Academy Award-nominated director Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” a festival favorite and a truly wonderful doc in which Polley enlists her brothers and sisters, father and friends, to share their memories of her mother. In the course of her journey, she uncovers hidden truths about her family that allow you to feel as if everything is revealed in the moment and that their secrets are your secrets. Polley, a talent from Canada, directed the beautiful Julie Christie film about Alzheimer’s, “Away from Her,” as well as the film adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel “The Sweet Hereafter,” and she has a gift for storytelling. She shot the story of her family not for exploitation but as a way to observe how memory is in the eye of the beholder – i.e. truth is a very personal and relative thing.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the specifics for fear of giving away the secrets, but it’s not a spoiler to say that Polley herself is much more than a detached observer, although she is an astute one. I highly recommend her film, which is now available for download on Amazon and iTunes.