Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Three oldest and best friends...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

To celebrate the centennial of the great Orson Welles, three films of his were assigned (Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, and The Lady from Shanghai). I picked his second film The Magnificent Ambersons about a wealthy family dealing with personal changes/drama in their lives during the turn of the century. In the heart of the film is a starcrossed romance of a man trying to woo again an old love and a woman who keeps appeasing her selfish son by not giving into her true feelings. My pick for my favorite shot features these these two...

This shot doesn't really have read Wellesesque (or would that be Wellesian?), but I love it because of Agnes Moorehead, who plays Fanny, shown here on the right as the jealous third wheel. Her jealousy just reads so clearly here on her face and posture. Not to mention how great it is to juxtapose her displeasure with the other two looking lovingly into each other's eyes completely and utterly oblivious to Fanny and her feelings. Fanny's misplaced belief that she should be with Eugene and not Isabel essentially drives the action of the film as she stokes the fire of suspicion and disapproval of Isabel's already selfish son by telling him there might be something inappropriate happening between his mother and her new gentleman caller (his father, Isabel's husband had recently died).

Wished I had more time to re-watch and do a closer analysis of this shot or another shot, for example one of the many indoor shots. Welles penchant and skill for interior shots is already plenty evident in this early work. But alas this was a "see once, write a quick post on it, and then go on vacation" type of deal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why don't you speak?

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Bright Star is one of those films I feel I should love more, but just don't. I saw it in theaters when it came out and while I thought it looked gorgeous and the performances were uniformly excellent, it left me a bit cold. I chalked it up to my unfamiliarity with John Keats as well as Jane Campion's understated style. A recent re-watch confirmed my initial feelings despite my increased love for Ben Whishaw during the past few years as well as being a fan of Campion's recent work on television.

And yet picking a "best shot" proved almost impossible because of the film's unquestionable beauty. So I'll just briefly talk about four of my favorites shots with my eventual pick in the end.

I mentioned Campion's subdued style, but this dissolve shot is simultaneously understated and bold. It must have been tempting to put many of Keats words literally on screen, but the film waits for this moment when Fanny misses Keats so much that it makes sense for her to visualize him while she reads his words.

All of the actors are great, but Whishaw is the film's MVP for me--naturally sad, effortlessly romantic, and quietly intense. In this shot, his longing and frustrations are palpable with the love of his life so close and yet still out-of-reach.

This shot is a very close runner-up since it displays so many things I really liked about the film--the costumes, the flowers, the use of light, the touching, her penchant to be proactive, his penchant to let her.

Best Shot

My best shot comes from one of my favorite scenes (probably my favorite) in the film. In a film with mostly subdued feelings, this particular scene is electric with emotions, mostly from Whishaw, who leaves behind understated Keats for this glorious moment of unbridled passion. Abbie Cornish also plays Fanny uncharacteristically here choosing to remain mostly silent instead. In the meantime, Brown, comically and villainously played by Paul Schneider, is in top form. I could've picked any shot from this scene, but I chose this one, because I love that all of their faces are obscured. It's as if they all just couldn't look one other from all of the deep emotions they're all feeling in this moment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

We're in this together...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

This week the film chosen was Nine to Five starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and, in her film debut, Dolly Parton. It's a film I had always wanted to see, but I just never got around to seeing it until a couple days ago.

From the opening sequence, I was hooked. Parton's popular song playing to a montage of women getting ready and going to work put me in the right mood to enjoy this wonderful tale of three women working together to put their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss in his place. From his first scene, it's quite evident how awful their boss is condescendingly telling Violet (Tomlin) and Judy (Fonda) how important teamwork is in the workplace and how unfortunate it is that "as girls" never got the chance via sports to experience this evidently manly (and thus essential) thing that would help them succeed in life. Little does he know, teamwork will be his downfall as the three seemingly different ladies end up bonding together over their mutual frustrations with their boss and eventually teaming up to make his life hell. Their initial moments of bonding are delightful as we see all three commiserating over some cocktails in a bar and then having a "ladies pot party" at Doralee's (Parton) place. Both scenes gave me two runner-up best shots, the first in the bar because I love its composition and the second in Doralee's house because I enjoyed how happy they all looked.

My eventual pick for best shot still features all three ladies, because I do love all of the shots with all three of them in the frame...

Best Shot

All three are in a power position, standing straight and confident with their arms crossed, like how men are encouraged to stand and how women are discouraged in the same manner. Plot-wise this is the point in the film where they find their ace in the hole to deal with their despicable boss. Granted, the film then takes its various twists and turns since this isn't even halfway through the film, but for this one moment they're on top and it's fabulous. Fast-forward to the very end of the film where expectantly they do come out on top and (again filmed in the same frame) decked in red, white, and blue, they celebrate their hard-fought win... as a team.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Matt Bomer XXL

This new character poster for Magic Mike XXL featuring Matt Bomer hit the internet yesterday and good golly, I've lasciviously enjoyed it since I laid my eyes on it. So count me in when this movie opens in July 1st. I'm only human.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One of these days, I'm gonna get organiz-ized...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

The main character in Taxi Driver Travis Bickle is a character that is constantly on the edge of self-destruction living in a city he literally sees as hell on earth. Becoming a taxi driver is one of the ways he tries to handle his situation enabling him to isolate himself from the city and its occupants while at the same time still being vigilant. His very short-lived relationship with Betsy, an angel amidst the filthy mess, is another attempt to cope the best way he can.

Of course, that relationship doesn't work out and soon after that his presumed safe haven inside his cab is rocked by an unnerving moment with a passenger (played by director Martin Scorsese) who tells him that he's going to kill the woman, his wife, they're watching. Fearing the "bad ideas" in his head after these experiences, Travis goes to a cabbie friend of his for advice who tells him that once "you do a thing, that's what you are." All of this then leads up to the turning point of the film, nearly halfway through the movie, which then features my pick for best shot...

The first appearance of the Organiz-ized poster is mostly why I picked this shot, because not only does it tie into his brief happy moment with Betsy earlier in the film, but also to the latter half of the film when his quest to get "organized" devolves into something truly messy. It's also a quiet, contemplative moment for Travis writing in his diary about the need for a change after his harrowing experiences I noted above. This is the turning point in the film when he decides to cope by turning himself into an avenger of sorts through discipline and violence. It then becomes, to me, the last moment prior to him being pushed to the edge.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Paid off my boys and I'm closed...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

If more Westerns were like Johnny Guitar, I probably would've seen a lot more films in the genre. Alas, Johnny Guitar is atypical in its camp and more especially in giving two of its best roles to women, specifically Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. Crawford plays Vienna, an enterprising saloon owner, who faces the ire of the locals who consider her an undesirable outsider. McCambridge's character Emma is an old-time rival of Vienna who seems hell-bent in fueling the fire (and literally does later in the film) of suspicion on Vienna and anyone who associates with her. Their back-and-forth animosity and sniping are my favorite parts of the film even if McCambridge's Emma is a little too one-dimensional in her hysterical villainy.

With that said, McCambridge really gives it her all, with her facial expressions and body language, as evident by all of the above shots of (mostly) her, all of which I strongly considered for my best shot. The one at the bottom left especially where she's flanked by her mourning attire wearing posse is such a striking shot.

But my best shot is from the exact same sequence since after all who is the posse and Emma looking at but a smirking Vienna in all her piano-playing glory...

Best Shot

There were many different iterations of this shot. Some slightly closer, a few further away. Her head would sometimes be turned away, etc. Any and all of those shots would be a fine pick since the things that make this a great shot are constant in this sequence. First, there's that wonderful white dress of hers which is juxtaposed beautifully with the rock and earthy background (a gorgeous production detail on its own) as well as the all-black-wearing lynch mob she's addressing. Her makeup, posture, attitude, and line deliveries do the rest as she hilariously takes her enemies to task seemingly without a care in the world. It's a power play through and through and one that fits so perfectly with this role in this film played by this particular actress.

So now that we got that out of the way, I have an actual serious question. Can anyone tell me why this film was titled Johnny Guitar and not Vienna of the West or something? The photo at the very top of the post would be my pick for the image to go with the new and improved title. Right?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

And the winner is...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

The beating, bleeding heart of Mommie Dearest is the complicated and abusive relationship between Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina whose autobiography the film was adapted from. Faye Dunaway and Mara Hobel have great chemistry with each other playing mother and young daughter respectively. Both were nominated for Razzie Awards with Dunaway winning Worst Actress and while I could see why Dunaway's over-the-top performance may have elicited this reaction from some, Hobel seemed to really capture well both the innocence and its loss living with such an overbearing mother.

So my picks for favorite shot gravitated to the two of them together in frame. An early contender was the shot above from the beginning of the film during Christina's lavish birthday party. It's the first time we see a non-baby Christina interacting with her mother and it's quite clearly the honeymoon period of their relationship. Matching dresses and smiles all around. The shot I picked is a quick one showing Joan's hilarious reaction to the camera man telling them that the grass stain on Christina's dress should be cleaned. It's then the first time the audience sees Joan disapproving something related to her lovely daughter.

My next favorite shot is that beautifully composed sequence of Joan walking in on Christina imitating her in front of a mirror. Joan reacts quite negatively to this and proceeds to yell at her daughter whilst dramatically cutting her hair. It's harrowing and disturbing and the pained looks on the actresses faces repeated in the three-way mirror amplify the scary moment as you can see below.

But my pick for best shot is the complete opposite of that shot. It's the night of the Academy Awards and Joan, nominated for Mildred Pierce, stays at home. When it's time for her category, she holds tightly to an equally nervous Christina. When she's declared the winner, both are sincerely elated and their ecstatic reaction is my best shot:

Best Shot

Perhaps the fact that it's so unrepresentative of the film and their relationship as a whole is why I picked this moment of true happiness for both as my favorite shot. Certainly, it's all downhill from this moment on with the infamous "No wire hangers" sequence to directly follow this scene and the mother-daughter relationship crumbling even more soon after that when Christina is sent away to boarding school. So yeah, I'm a sucker for the happy moments. Now, bring me the axe!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Go ahead, arrest me!

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is an anthology film by the great Italian director Vittorio De Sica consisting of three short stories starring the legendary Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. All three are huge names not only of Italian film, but cinema as a whole. I was exposed to De Sica and Mastroianni in college when I took an Italian Cinema class one semester and had the opportunity to view De Sica's The Bicycle Thief (still one of my favorite films) and Mastroianni in the classic 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini. I'm less familiar with Loren's work, even now, as most of my knowledge of her comes from pop culture osmosis.

With that said, I had a real great time seeing both Loren and Mastroianni in this film take on the different characters and relationship statuses. So without further a due, my best shot picks for each film segment...

Adelina of Naples

Here Loren plays Adelina who comically keeps getting pregnant to avoid jail time to the joy-turn-consternation of her husband Carmine played by Mastroianni. This segment is bustling with people in most of its frames from their neighbors of their close-knit community always willing to lend a hand to the seven or eight children they have. So my pick of best shot is of Loren's Adelina all alone in her cigarette-selling station (with two of her kids) after the other girls have fled for fear of the cops. Not only do I love this shot because of the great background of the ascending stairs, but also because it's wonderful seeing Adelina so steadfast in her taunting of the cops. So daring.

Anna of Milan

My least favorite segment features Loren and Mastroianni as a couple out on a drive. She plays Anna, rich and listless, and he plays Renzo, frustrated and hopeless. She's married to some unseen rich guy and who has paid for the Rolls Royce they're taking out for a spin. De Sica has some slick camera movements here giving this mostly driving, no-plot segment some of its momentum, but for the most part I wasn't a big fan. So it's probably why my pick of best shot was at the end with Renzo walking away from the wreckage (of the car, of his relationship) with flowers he bought from the boy in the background in tow. As the film fades to black, we see Renzo about to toss the flowers aside. Fleeting beauty.

Mara of Rome

The final segment takes place in Rome in a rooftop apartment overlooking the picturesque Piazza Navona where Loren plays a high-class escort named Mara and Mastroianni plays Rusconi, one of her clients. He's expecting to spend some quality time with her, but there's always something to get in the way. For her part, she meets and enchants Umberto (played by Gianni Ridolfi), a young priest-to-be who is visiting his grandparents who live in the apartment next to Mara's. For my best shot, I was tempted to choose a shot that displayed the effortless sexual appeal of Loren, the comical expressiveness of Mastroianni, or the gloriousness of the balcony set overlooking the Piazza Navona. Instead, I went with a shot of Umberto, cutting quite a striking figure in his priestly garments. In fact, Mara actually pauses from her gardening/singing to take it all in. Granted, she's most likely reacting to him being a priest more than anything, but I'd like to think she also saw something she liked. Wink wink.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's a bold one you are...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

With it being St. Patrick's Day and all, the film chosen this week was John Ford's Oscar-winning movie The Quiet Man starring John Wayne as a well-to-do Irish-American coming back to Ireland to put down roots who then falls in love with a fiery local played by the captivating Maureen O'Hara. Hilarity ensued.

The film is shot gorgeously with Ireland's greens and O'Hara's reds making the biggest impact for me as is evident in many scenes where she is asked to run through verdant fields as shown above. She's actually running home after a particularly hot encounter with Wayne's character at his new place which she was cleaning as "a good Christian act." What ensued though was slightly less Christian when he discovers her with him pulling her back from leaving and with the strong wind from the outside rushing in plants a kiss on her. The whole windy scene is technically my "favorite shot," but the one below pre-kiss really encapsulates the combative and passionate nature of their whirlwind relationship.

Best Shot

So even though I realized halfway through that I just don't "get" Wayne, the film's visuals and lighthearted tone plus his compatible chemistry with O'Hara carried me through.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I wanna live a normal happy life...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Paris is Burning is a 1990 documentary that recounts the underground drag ball scene of late 80s New York City as well as the gay and transgendered African-American and Latino communities involved in it. The film provides an essential (and still relevant) look at gay and trans life through the exploration of this specific subculture highlighted via actual ball competition footage as well as the one-one-one interviews with the leading players of the time.

With how important, critically-acclaimed, and ground-breaking this film was at the time (and still is as a cult favorite), I'm ashamed to say that I saw it for the first time only yesterday and even more embarrassed to admit being aware of its existence only a year ago. Its short 78-min running time belies the amount of cultural knowledge it provides from the specifics of drag ball culture (categories, houses, etc.) to the origins of voguing and throwing shade. At the heart of it is the film's exploration of how the ball scene enabled the disenfranchised community to find an empowering, supportive, fun, and safe outlet to deal with their very real fears and realities of homophobia, racism, poverty, and AIDS.

I didn't think too hard then about picking my favorite shot when I saw the film since I was too busy learning about a world I previously didn't know. Shot by then NYU film student Jennie Livingston, the documentary's gritty aesthetic is both a product of its time and a fitting reflection of its subject matter. The elaborate costumes and the energetic dance routines made it tempting to pick a shot from the ball competitions, especially any and all voguing routines. But most of my favorite shots were actually of the people during their intimate one-on-one interviews with the filmmaker from Dorian Corey's extended makeup scene to Pepper LaBeija smoking to Venus Xtravaganza lounging in bed. My pick for best shot is from one such scene...

Best Shot

In this shot, Octavia from the House of Saint Laurent is speaking about wanting to live a "normal happy life" which might mean marriage, kids, or being famous and rich. She's flanked by photos of models and celebrities she aspires to be, especially her idol Paulina Porizkova whose picture is right above her, dead center in the shot. While not representative of the documentary as a whole, it's still a lovely snapshot of someone vocalizing and visualizing their dream, regardless of how out-of-reach it may be, which Paris is Burning wholeheartedly encourages for all.