Blue Jasmine

In continuing with my Oscar watching endeavor, I had been dying to see Blue Jasmine. Reliable Redbox to the rescue, and that’s what we watched the other night, much to the delight of my two boy roommates! I’m paying for it now with endless streaming of the World Cup, but it was worth it.

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I’m a fan of Cate Blanchett, she is an exquisite actress and fascinating to look at. Combined with her recent win for Best Actress (thanks to this film), and my off/on relationship with Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine looked promising and full of hope.

Promising it was, full of hope it was not. Does that make sense? Blue Jasmine is the story of Jasmine (previously Jeannette until she changed it to mask her old boring life), wife of Hal – a rich investment banker. She lives the life of a trophy wife, attending brunches and throwing lavish parties with Hal’s unlimited funding. She is the princess of the Hamptons, until Hal goes to jail for fraud, and Jasmine loses everything and has to move in with her sister, Ginger (a spot-on Sally Hawkins). You can tell right away she is losing it a little, talking to herself as if she is still in the Hamptons talking with her elite lady-friends and zoning out into flashbacks of her previous socialite life all while drinking herself into oblivion. She has no skills to speak of to survive so she takes a computer class while working as a receptionist, in the name of becoming an interior designer. It’s sad to watch but hard to tear yourself away because of how perfect Cate Blanchett is in this role. She is perfectly haughty and unbalanced, even as Jasmine attempts to put her life back together by seducing a diplomat she still sinks even further into a dark place in a theme of utter hopelessness, until at the end she is right back where she started, depressed and alone.

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Sounds pretty dark right? It is, but beautifully so. Blanchett takes a privileged, annoying character and turns her into a riveting symbol of an enchanted life that was never deserved. Woody Allen was clearly messing with me the whole movie, making me sympathize with Jasmine one moment and hate her the next. Her performance is insightful and often funny but in an uncomfortable way, the kind of funny that makes you laugh out loud and then quickly look around to see if anyone is judging you for laughing, for example when Jasmine is babysitting her two nephews they’re out for an innocent piece of pizza, when suddenly Jasmine is telling them about “Edison’s medicine” and they stare at her blankly while she chugs her glass of wine.

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Something I noticed right off the bat was how similar this film is to A Streetcar Named Desire. As it wore on I realized it wasn’t just similar it was a downright blatant revival – but I wasn’t mad about it. I love Streetcar, it’s a classic that is ok to be revived. Quickly: in the classic, Blanche DuBois is a spoiled Southern belle who arrives to live with her sister and her sisters husband in New Orleans. She lost her magnificent home in Mississippi for unclear reasons, somehow “all the other relatives died” but later we find out its because she is broke and it was foreclosed. She is disdainful of her new living conditions and plummets further and further into manic depression as she tries to adjust to their lifestyle, until she snaps and is taken away.

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Obviously if I had to choose between Streetcar and Jasmine, there would be a clear winner…

Sound familiar though?

Something that I consistently like, and that my husband consistently hates, is that this movie is about microscopic moments of life. There is no time taken to develop a character, Allen drops you right in the middle of it all and you’re forced to get your bearings and figure out what’s going on on your own, no comfy accommodations or hand-holding for the viewer. The moments are so small and the time period so constrained, that by the time the film has ended so much has happened and yet so little. The dilemma Zach experiences is that nothing is ever resolved and everything comes full circle in a complete failure of a traditional plot, but I find it fascinating and I love the curious little moments that come from examining life so closely, although in this particular instance I was glad to come back to real life when it was over.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

 

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I have something I need to get off my chest.

That thing is that I cannot stand Bob Dylan — sorry. I just really fail to understand the appeal. His lyrics read like poetry, but the music itself is actually painful to hear.

“But Katie the instrumentals are magical!”

The bad news is that it would take a 100 man orchestra to drown out that voice.

It’s like nails on a chalkboard. I would rather listen to Gilbert Gottfried read the Declaration of Independence than listen to Tambourine Man one more time. Man it feels good to get that out there.

That being said, I had pretty much decided that folk music wasn’t for me. If it weren’t for the hype surrounding Inside Llewyn Davis at the Oscar’s then I probably wouldn’t have picked it up from Redbox on a whim, but I did. And I am so glad.

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The film follows a struggling folk artist around New York City for one week in 1961. He is poor and depressed, and sleeps on different couches each night. It turns out that being unwilling to “sell out” to the commercialism of his music makes for pretty slim career pickings, and an even slimmer bank account. This was setting up to be a good tragedy, and I’m a real sucker for a good tragedy. I enjoy most types of films but I particularly enjoy the ones that pick apart something very specific, in this case the destitution of one young man in the span of 7 days. The roller coaster of emotions and events that can come into play in such a short period of time is underestimated in film; often times we think so big and use flashback and flash forward techniques, trying to tell an elaborate story that spans thousands of years when sometimes the best stories are those that occur in just a weeks time.

I’ve heard it compared to a hot cup of black coffee. Pungent and yet exquisitely distinct. Llewyn is brooding and dark, but most of all he is tired. Tired of trying to make his new record work, tired of playing at the same club, tired of being a drifter. He’s an Eeyore personality, trampled and bruised by failure. When he sees people are taking notice of his friends (the most charming combination possible of Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) playing a duet at his club, he has renewed determination to travel to Chicago to meet with a big-time record exec. One last try to show his music is enough, without compromise. One of the most notable scenes occurs when Llewyn is asked to accompany Timberlake’s character and another aspiring folk artist (Girls’ Adam Driver) in a ridiculous song called “Please Mr. Kenneday,” a nonsense song about going to space. Llewyn can sense the success in the sing-song ridiculous lyrics and seethes with resentment in the midst of the fun beat. With a couple dollars to his name he hitchhikes to Chicago in the middle of February. When the result isn’t what he was hoping for he hitchhikes back to New York, dejected and hopeless.

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There is an air of melancholy throughout the film but it also has its dark comic moments, typical of Coen brothers films. I don’t know why I love it so much. It seems like there isn’t much to love about tragedy but maybe I love how raw it is. This film breaks my heart so many different times, in different ways. There is an dull ache that resonates throughout, whether Llewyn is fighting with his one night stand or toting a cat named Ulysses through the New York City subway. The cat was one of my favorite sub-plots because it reminded me of Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For awhile Llewyn and the cat are just like Holly and Cat; a couple of no name slobs who don’t belong to each other.

This film, while funny and poignant, has an underlying tone of despair that peeks out here and there – just like in Llewyn’s life. As I suspected, a movie this folky couldn’t get by without some kind of Dylan homage so as the film fades to a close we see a young Bob Dylan walk up to the mic at Llewyn’s club and begin to play, but I’ll let it slide. The soundtrack was spectacular and I am excited to discover more of this folk music genre. I suddenly feel as though I’ve been missing out on this secret goldmine of music and I can’t wait to catch up.

It's like looking for a noodle in a haystack!

Last week for Anne’s birthday we celebrated by attending an event at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. It was a showing of Flying Down to Rio (Fred and Ginger’s first film together — the beginnings of a legend!) accompanied by a talk with Robert Osbourne!

I was able to work in DC that day so as soon as I got out I met up with Anne and we walked over to the Gallery in the rain. As always with any event involving a movie screening, I was excited and eager to be in the presence of Robert Osbourne, the iconic host of Turner Classic Movies. But Anne was the definition of excitement. I’ve never seen her so anxious! The prospect of meeting one of her childhood heroes was almost too much for her and it amplified my own excitement that much more.

We walked into the small reception area where there was wine and cheese, and nervously sipped our drinks while we waited for Mr. Osbourne to come in. I successfully embarrassed Anne within 5 minutes by spilling my wine and cheese all over the floor, because have you ever tried to balance a cheese plate and a glass of wine while also having your iPhone ready to snap the moment when your best friend meets her idol? Didn’t think so. It’s no easy task. When he finally came in, he was so cool that we I almost didn’t notice — wait that’s a lie, how could I have missed it when Anne gasped and almost dropped her  plate that she’d hardly touched!

He came in and it got kind of surreal for me. Everyone lined up behind us to shake this mans hand and tell him how much he meant to them, each one with a different story and their own connection to him. Luckily we were one of the first few to meet him and Anne shook his hand and managed to tell him he had basically shaped her as a woman, and even handed him a handwritten note. I snapped a picture of them together, and the rest of the reception I couldn’t stop watching the other interactions between everyone else there and Mr. Osbourne. The girl in front of us, bless her heart, was trying so hard to take a selfie of herself and Robert but she couldn’t because she was so nervous that her hand was shaking too furiously. It was all so emotional! I couldn’t bring myself to hog a picture with him when everyone else there probably would have put themselves in harms way for a mere “hey how are ya” with this guy.

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After the reception we filed into the theater and we sat in the 2nd row while Robert Osbourne was briefly interviewed before the film. Everyone was very animated and involved in the discussion, and it was suddenly intoxicating to be surrounded by all these people who love film just as much as me. Robert talked about how he got started in Hollywood and how he knew all the old Hollywood stars. At one point he was name dropping every big star and what studio they had been with, and saying he really enjoyed Dorothy Dandridge “as a person.” What?? He described everything from parties with Judy Garland to how Drew Barrymore is just great and loves to laugh at her family history. I was enchanted. And mad I hadn’t gotten a photo earlier…

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The screening itself was just as enchanting. There’s nothing like a movie on a big screen, and there’s NOTHING like watching said movie surrounded by 150 other cinephiles. My heart felt full, validated and so happy. Even though there is only one scene of Fred and Ginger dancing together, their chemistry was so palpable and I got goosebumps knowing that this scene started a revolution. Between seeing Anne so elated and soaking in all the film love in the room, I’d say it was a pretty good night.

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Satruday Screenings: Dallas Buyers Club

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Before I say one word about this movie, I would like to refer you all to my post several months ago on Mud. Particularly the last bit about how Matt was coming back and I wouldn’t be surprised if DBC was a real winner….? Everyone remember that?

But enough of my brilliance. Unfortunately Dallas Buyers Club came to Redbox just after the Oscar’s so I had to see Matt’s acceptance speech before the actual film – which was outstanding by the way. Naturally I couldn’t wait to see it after both he and Jared Leto were honored for their performances so I scooped it up one night this week. Like all Oscar nominated films, it wasn’t the easiest to watch but it was poignant and moving. Why can’t something like Notting Hill be nominated just once? The ultimate snub in my opinion.

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My recommendations to the Academy aside, Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodruff: a homophobic cowboy with the need to party hardy. When he finds out he is HIV-positive, the doctors tell him he has 30 days at best. Once his denial subsides he realizes there is no treatment at this point in the early 80’s except for the experimental AZT drug. What follows is his journey to all corners of the globe to collect new and unapproved drugs and bring them back to Dallas, where he starts the Dallas Buyers Club for other AIDS victims (including Rayon, Leto’s strong yet charming transvestite character). His transformation from a severe homophobe to steadfast companion to people like Rayon is moving, and his dedication to delivering these drugs across the border is comical at times, but the message is clear about how devastating it was to be diagnosed with AIDS at a time where there was much prejudice and hardly any medical information or research. The most obvious visual impact was the ~50 pounds McConauhey lost to portray Woodruff and his drug ridden body, now THAT’S dedication, people. Leto went to the extreme as well when it came to his physical character transformation. It was horrifying. In my opinion Matt could have won Best Actor for that alone. Other notable appearances are by Jennifer Garner as the doctor who risks her job for believing in Woodruff’s cause, and Steve Zahn who I will never be able to watch and not think of Saving Silverman.

My main complaint about the film is this: why so many threads? I feel this is a constant problem in movies – writers get so over-excited about the story and adding in all kinds of dimensions that work on paper, but when you’re limited to 2 hours it’s hard to meaningfully develop these threads. Take Woodruff’s relationship with his doctor (Garner) for example. They start to seem like they’re interested in a relationship or something and go on a date and then it’s dropped. Several scenes in Garner’s character’s apartment suggest they’re trying to build on her character but it never leads anywhere. That was valuable time filmmakers could have invested in Rayon/Ron’s relationship or more background of Ron’s life. Another example is the doctor Ron sees in Mexico. He was mysteriously kicked out of practicing in the US but why? And why bother telling me that so mysteriously if you’re not going to explain later?

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Spoiler alert! I’ve also noticed people giving criticism towards the ending of the movie, saying that it’s a cop-out because Ron ultimately dies and the final scene is a triumphant romp on the bull for Woodruff with an admittedly unoriginal freeze-and-fade. I’m not sure if this makes me a total n00b or not but I thought that was a great, optimistic ending for a pretty depressing and heavy film. Well done says I.

Dallas Buyers Club

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Before I say one word about this movie, I would like to refer you all to my post several months ago on Mud. Particularly the last bit about how Matt was coming back and I wouldn’t be surprised if DBC was a real winner….? Everyone remember that?

But enough of my brilliance. Unfortunately Dallas Buyers Club came to Redbox just after the Oscar’s so I had to see Matt’s acceptance speech before the actual film – which was outstanding by the way. Naturally I couldn’t wait to see it after both he and Jared Leto were honored for their performances so I scooped it up one night this week. Like all Oscar nominated films, it wasn’t the easiest to watch but it was poignant and moving. Why can’t something like Notting Hill be nominated just once? The ultimate snub in my opinion.

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My recommendations to the Academy aside, Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodruff: a homophobic cowboy with the need to party hardy. When he finds out he is HIV-positive, the doctors tell him he has 30 days at best. Once his denial subsides he realizes there is no treatment at this point in the early 80’s except for the experimental AZT drug. What follows is his journey to all corners of the globe to collect new and unapproved drugs and bring them back to Dallas, where he starts the Dallas Buyers Club for other AIDS victims (including Rayon, Leto’s strong yet charming transvestite character). His transformation from a severe homophobe to steadfast companion to people like Rayon is moving, and his dedication to delivering these drugs across the border is comical at times, but the message is clear about how devastating it was to be diagnosed with AIDS at a time where there was much prejudice and hardly any medical information or research. The most obvious visual impact was the ~50 pounds McConauhey lost to portray Woodruff and his drug ridden body, now THAT’S dedication, people. Leto went to the extreme as well when it came to his physical character transformation. It was horrifying. In my opinion Matt could have won Best Actor for that alone. Other notable appearances are by Jennifer Garner as the doctor who risks her job for believing in Woodruff’s cause, and Steve Zahn who I will never be able to watch and not think of Saving Silverman.

My main complaint about the film is this: why so many threads? I feel this is a constant problem in movies – writers get so over-excited about the story and adding in all kinds of dimensions that work on paper, but when you’re limited to 2 hours it’s hard to meaningfully develop these threads. Take Woodruff’s relationship with his doctor (Garner) for example. They start to seem like they’re interested in a relationship or something and go on a date and then it’s dropped. Several scenes in Garner’s character’s apartment suggest they’re trying to build on her character but it never leads anywhere. That was valuable time filmmakers could have invested in Rayon/Ron’s relationship or more background of Ron’s life. Another example is the doctor Ron sees in Mexico. He was mysteriously kicked out of practicing in the US but why? And why bother telling me that so mysteriously if you’re not going to explain later?

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Spoiler alert! I’ve also noticed people giving criticism towards the ending of the movie, saying that it’s a cop-out because Ron ultimately dies and the final scene is a triumphant romp on the bull for Woodruff with an admittedly unoriginal freeze-and-fade. I’m not sure if this makes me a total n00b or not but I thought that was a great, optimistic ending for a pretty depressing and heavy film. Well done says I.

Oscar fashion picks

Half the fun of the Oscar’s is the fashion as everyone knows. There was a lot of class this year which was satisfying in a disappointing way. Not a lot of risk takers! Here are a few of my faves:

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Where has Kate Hudson been? For someone not having had a movie out in awhile she really knocked it out of the park. Loving the cape!

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Emma Watson making a name for herself on the red carpet per usual, although I was more concerned with watching her interact with Joseph Gordon Levitt… future power couple please please please?

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Brangelina rocking the buddy pose?

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I was surprised/sad that Cate Blanchett played it safe, she usually is very avant-garde but her crystal embellished ensemble was still unique and eye-catching.

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This one’s a little rando, but probably my very favorite! Does anyone remember Olga Kurylenko from James Bond? I have no words, except STUNNING.

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You know what, I’m going to go ahead and say it… I wasn’t super impressed with Lupita this time around. I thought she was the most beautiful woman at the Golden Globes and picked a real winner there, but this felt a little Tinker Bell to me and maybe I’m the only one but I’m not a fan of the headband! If you ask me it still belongs in elementary school and I hope it doesn’t come back as some cutting edge trend.

12 Years a Slave

Spoiler alert: this one’s a toughie to watch.

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Earlier back in January, with the Oscar’s coming up in just a couple weeks I realized I was kind of behind on watching the big films of this year. And since so far I was kind of unimpressed *coughwolfofwallstreetcough* I needed something to up the ante a little. When Zach asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said hey, all I want is to go to the movies! Such an angel of a wife. So we decided on 12 Years a Slave, starring a lot of big names but also plenty of newcomers, including the nominees for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

This movie is hard to watch. But it’s worth it. The grimaces and the cringes are worth it, because most of all and more strongly than anything this film breathes truth. There have been plenty of slave-era movies throughout the years but none have come quite this close to truth. Entertainment and effect, yes but truth? The true story of Soloman Northrup as a well-off black man with a family in the north, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south. No one believes he is free and he has no papers to prove it. The theme is of heavy hopelessness and it made me breathless to watch it.

Steve McQueen takes a stab at this years rendition of a slave-era film and approaches it with a lot of close ups and long, holding shots that are so long it makes you uncomfortable. The scene that resonated with me the most was that of a group of slaves having a burial for their fallen brother, singing gospel songs of the deep south. Soloman resists the ways of the slaves for a long time. He doesn’t participate in their customs or huddled talks, he keeps his head down and maintains hope that he will be saved. At this burial the audience witnesses something key as he begins to join in with the other slaves in deep felt gospel song. The camera holds his face as he clearly struggles with joining in, and finally as he gives up and joins in with the strongest voice of them all, clapping and singing with a pained look on his face. For this scene Chiwetel Ejiofor is Oscar-worthy. Not many actors can handle a close-up combined with that long of a shot, and not just handle it but master it. Well done.

Lupita Nyong’o stars as another slave there with Soloman and Michael Fassbender is remarkable as the cutthroat, heartless slave owner that is known for “breaking slaves.” Lupita deservedly took home best supporting actress and also made quite a name for herself during awards season! She is statuesque and classy.

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Quite the difference!

I would recommend seeing this film, once. It’s a story of hopelessness, and then hope again. It is a combination that knocks the wind out of you and it’s hard to watch, but you should watch it–and so continues the trudge through this years Oscar nominees.