Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Nobody will ever recognize me in these...

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.

I've never seen Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. I was shocked at how slight the actual story of a former thief trying to find the thief that's impersonating him (and thus making his life difficult). But if the actual plot is less than expected, the visual elements of the film more than make up for it. The Academy Award-winning cinematography is breathtaking especially all of the aerial shots of the French Riviera coastline and countryside. The vibrant costumes by Edith Head and the sumptuous lighting throughout are also to be commended.

The latter especially gets highlighted in the best scene of the film with Kelly seducing Grant not with her great beauty, but by the massive diamond necklace she wears. It's a fun and sexy scene cast in gorgeous green lighting and the shot below was almost my pick for best shot for the above reasons.

But I had to pick one of the film's most random visual gag which is of Cary Grant wearing a plaid bathing suit nonchalantly lying on the beach while he hides from the police.

Best Shot

I guess if you're known for being a thief hiding in the shadows, the last thing people expect you'd do is relaxing on the beach half-naked out in the open. You do you, Cat.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Divine dancer...

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.

Today's film is One from the Heart, a musical from 1981 directed by Francis Ford Coppola. And let me tell you, it was hard to get through. Apparently Coppola insisted that the whole thing be shot on a sound stage to make it feel more artificial, which he might have seen as a good thing, but to me was just plain distracting. It didn't help that a lot of the music for this "musical" was mostly non-diegetic, which isn't bad by itself, but coupled with lighting that could only be described as experimental and the aforementioned fake sets, kept the film at arm's length from me throughout.

Of course, that isn't to say there weren't elements of the film I didn't like. The cross-cutting of certain scenes really highlighted the divide between the main couple. Teri Garr was also quite a magnetic presence and her chemistry with her two paramours were palpable especially with the hot Raul Julia. In fact, their scenes together were my favorites.

Best Shot

So it's not the biggest surprise that my pick for best shot is from their dance/tango sequence. It was one of the few "musical" moments in the film that I actually got into. There was a relaxed charm to their meeting leading up to this passionate and intense number. Truthfully, this shot could've been any shot of them dancing from this great scene. I picked this one specifically because of the great shapes their bodies make mid-motion. Presenting the two characters in silhouette added to the whole "affair" feel making it all that much more scandalous and sexy.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Brief Thoughts Before the Tony Awards aka HAMILTON!

Last year here is how I ended my blog post on the Tony Awards: Of course, I'm sure a lot of people are already thinking about next year's Tony Awards. Hamilton. Hamilton. Hamilton. I foolishly missed it when it played Off-Broadway this year, but you better believe I'll be seeing this before next year's Tonys!

I'm happy to report that I did end up seeing the extremely popular and beloved Hamilton when it transferred to Broadway. THREE TIMES. This was when tickets were still relatively easy to get via lottery last year. Thus I've been a Hamilton obsessive fan for a few months now and it's a state of being hard to overcome. In any case, this is a show that cannot be over-hyped. It's just that good and I'm glad the Tony Awards gave it a record 16 nominations. It should dominate the awards and conversation tonight and I'm personally rooting for a sweep. But even if it doesn't, it has already made its cultural mark tenfold (and then some). Plus this Broadway season has been strong in general making me even that more excited for the ceremony tonight.

The one locked win for Hamilton will be taking home Best Musical. If there's a show that could steal the win, it would be Shuffle Along full of Broadway legends and the second-most nominations of the night with 10. Bright Star, School of Rock and Waitress round out the nominees and suffice it to say they're happy with the nomination. No such luck with Allegiance, the only other new musical I saw last year after Hamilton, starring George Takei and Lea Salonga (it actually received no Tony nominations... which harsh) as well as the polarizing American Psycho, which I was sad to not have seen.

Best Revival of a Musical is always an exciting category and this year proves no different. She Loves Me leads with 8 nominations followed by The Color Purple at 4. Apparently it's down to these two for the win and I really wish I had seen either one. I did see the two other nominees, Fiddler on the Roof and Spring Awakening, and absolutely loved them both. It was my first time seeing Fiddler in any iteration and as for Spring Awakening, the changes they made, specifically highlighting deaf culture and using American Sign Language, were mind-blowing. It was perhaps the second best Broadway experience I had last year (the first being Hamilton of course). I ended up seeing it three times as well and I had hoped it would've gotten more nominations. At the very least it's frustrating to see it get snubbed for Best Choreography especially with how seamlessly and beautifully integrated ASL to the show.

My track record for plays are a bit more hit and miss, but this year I did end up seeing two, Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Crucible, both nominated for Best Revival of a Play. Long Days lead with 7 nominations and is favored to win. The other nominees are A View from the Bridge, Blackbird and Noises Off. I did not see any new plays this year, but the talk of the town seems to be The Humans with 6 nominations, tied with fellow nominee The Eclipsed. The two other plays are King Charles III and The Father.

And now we get to the actors. A record 7 performers are nominated from one show (Hamilton) and it's almost a crime that at most only four of them will walk home with a trophy and the likelihood of that number being less is much greater. Certainly the show's genius creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is favored to win Best Actor in a Musical (and a slew of other non-acting awards tonight), but like in the musical, his biggest rival is Leslie Odom. Jr. (who I think should win this in heartbeat). A few others thing this might be the time for 6-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein to win especially with the possibility of a Hamilton-Burr vote splitting. Best Actress in Musical is favored to go to the powerhouse performance of Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple, but of course Philippa Soo in a Hamilton sweep could happen. BTW both Audra McDonald and Salonga were eligible this year and neither got nominated. WHAT?! The Featured Actor/Actress in a Musical looks to go Hamilton's way as well with Daveed Diggs and Renée Elise Goldsberry the likely winners. Of course Diggs has to compete with TWO fellow cast members while Goldsberry's biggest competition is Danielle Brooks in The Color Purple.

For the plays, people are betting on Hollywood vets Frank Langella and Jessica Lange to take the lead prizes. If they win, it would be Langella's fourth Tony win and Lange's first (and one step closer to EGOT). Gabriel Byrne and Jeff Daniels are Langella's biggest competitors. Lange, in the meantime has to go head-to-head with a ridiculously strong list of actresses: Laurie Metcalf, Lupita Nyong'o, Sophie Okonedo and Michelle Williams. Michael Shannon is predicted to win Featured Actor while Featured Actress is largely a mystery to me though I might be rooting for Megan Hilty just slightly.

As for the rest of the awards, especially in the musical categories, just put Hamilton down and you'll probably do pretty well on your pool. Weirder things have happened though and that's what makes the show even more exciting for me. Plus I'm just really looking forward to all the performances especially for Hamilton and Spring Awakening. I also think James Corden is going to be a blast. And so one more time for people in the back... HAMILTON.

Edited to add: Of course today's awful news about the Orlando mass shooting broke this morning and the Broadway community joins the nation in mourning the victims. Tonight's awards ceremony is dedicated to all of those affected. Please consider donating money, giving blood, and reaching out.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Your loving son, Trevor...

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.

As a gay cinephile, I probably should've already heard of the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor before this week. It's a sweet and touching movie about a boy on the cusp of puberty realizing he might be gay and dealing with the aftermath of everyone judging him for it. Apart from its pedigree, it was also the film the literally started The Trevor Project. Its filmmakers wanted to highlight an organization that would help LGBTQ youth going through the same problems as their main character and when they saw there wasn't such a group, they started one.

Now as I watched the film, there were certainly a lot of elements that spoke to my own experiences coming out--liking things that other boys usually don't, getting a crush on a handsome guy, planning one's own funeral, etc. That latter point shifts the film to a darker film. I mean, the film starts off with Trevor in various states of fake death, framed humorously, of course, but signals to the almost-tragedy towards the end. As expected, the whole suicide sequence was tough to watch and my pick for best shot happens at the beginning of that.

Here Trevor closes the blinds, his final preparation before taking all those pills. It's a damn sobering image and  works in so many ways. He's blocking out the outside world in the same way he feels it has outcast him. His light and joie de vivre has been darkened. Even the strings can be seen as ropes as if to hang himself with. And not to get too personal, but this specific image eerily recalls a previous dark experience of my own. So it was an easy and emotional pick for me this time around.

As a final aside, The Trevor Project is one of the best resource for LGBTQ youths who need help. If you find you need a helping hand, a kind ear, or just someone who can understand what you're going through, visit their website or call their lifeline.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Your usual discriminating kindness...

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.

Excuse the very short entry for this week's Best Shot as I just came back from a trip very much like the one Marlene Dietrich took in Morocco. Okay, maybe not much like her adventures in Morocco where she falls in love with a soldier and gets the attention of a rich fellow. Must be nice.

She strikes quite a figure though throughout the film especially in her opening song number decked out in tophat and tails and where my favorite shot comes from. She's just so sure of herself in this moment. Even with the rain of boos, she commands the screen, and the audience, with sheer confidence and presence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

All of it. It's all true...

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.

I want to begin by saying that I was never a big fan of Star Wars growing up. I knew of it obviously and my brother and friends were very much into it, but it was one of those big pop culture phenomena that I managed to avoid getting into for the most part. Even with renewed interest in the franchise in the early Aughts with the prequels, I remained largely unfazed by it all (the mixed reception of these didn't help). But I had to see Star Wars: Force Awakens on opening weekend, because it was the event movie of the year and I was intrigued to see what a fresh perspective J.J. Abrams and company would bring to this beloved franchise. And what they delivered was an enjoyable blockbuster with a lot of heart in no small part to the handful of new actors and characters that really made the film for me.

Of course I'm alluding to the great trio of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. Upon my re-watch of the Force Awakens, the only real thing I was able to articulate was how happy I was whenever one of their faces were on screen. The joy and wonder they brought to the film and their characters isn't something that one can really manufacture. Not to mention Adam Driver who had to delve into a whole different set of emotions, trickier in a lot of respects than the other three. His *important* scene with Harrison Ford's Han Solo is probably the best acted scene in the whole film.

So I had plenty of shots to choose from where the camera just lingers on the great faces of these characters like so...

But I ended up with this relatively simple shot as my Best Shot:

Best Shot

I picked this shot because of Boyega and Ridley's faces, but mostly for the moment. This is when Han Solo tells them both that the Force and the Jedi, all of it, is true. And then just this look of hope, wonderment, perhaps even a little fear fill their faces. It's the turning point of both of their lives which has already been severely upended very recently. It's the moment that they actually realize that they're finally a part of something bigger. Because sure they already had a mission for the Resistance, but this is something mythical becoming reality right in front of them. In a way maybe I had the same look when I saw Force Awakens, this pop-culture force made real in front of me. I finally got it.

Bonus: My roommate picked her favorite shot as well! It's a damn beauty.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Do not ever leave 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.

Even though I took French History in high school, I remember very little of it now and thus still got a bit lost while watching La Reine Margot, a period film by director Patrice Chéreau. The film, known in America as Queen Margot, takes place in the late 16th Century amidst the great unrest between the ruling Catholics and Protestant Huguenots. The film opens with the arranged wedding of the title character Margot, sister of the Catholic king, to the Huguenot King Henry of Navarre. Then what follows is a lot (a lot) of murders and sex (sometimes at the same time!).

It was hard for me to care for a lot of the characters in this film because its weight feels overpowering with its massive cast and the screenplay's unwillingness to hold its audience's hands through the numerous deaths and changing alliances. I don't necessarily begrudge the film for doing this, but just a observance as a first-time viewer. With that said, the film's other technical attributes were something to behold like its costumes, production values, and its painterly palette. Plus the main characters of Margot, Henry, and Margot's lover La Môle were the best fleshed out thus at least ensuring the film its emotional throughline.

The star-crossed affair between Margot and La Môle was the thing that left a lasting impact for me. Apart from the objective beauties of both actors (Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Perez), their whirlwind romance to me felt perfectly set amidst the inter-religious turmoil engulfing France and its citizens. And so my pick of best shot...

Best Shot

They've just finished making love and the last words she utters to him were "Do not ever leave me" and yet he must and he does. And so even though they got as close as two people ever could, they are also constantly apart from forces beyond their control. Thus this shot to me perfectly encapsulates it all--their messy and beautiful love affair amidst all the dark ugliness and unrest of the world. In that sense, it's a powerful image that lingers through to their inevitable tragic end.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

That is the thing about the present...

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.

Short films are great. Because of their length, they have to be efficient in their story-telling and it's always a treat to see how certain filmmakers achieve this. In both True Skin and World of Tomorrow, the two short films we were asked to watch for today, the world building is key to getting the most of their narrative.

True Skin is just 6 minutes long and yet in its first 60 seconds, it's able to show the audience exactly the kind of world our main character find himself living. And that world is full of people who have chosen to augment themselves using cybernetic implants not only because it's the new trend, but more interestingly because those who don't do this find themselves seemingly discriminated against as my favorite shot shows us below.

The narration gives us all this information, but the film's visuals really makes it feel alive and this shot at the end of this intro sequence is both informative and chilling. And it's enough to give narrative weight to the predicament our protagonist finds himself in for the rest of the film.

World of Tomorrow is a longer film, but its world building is just as impressive especially since its world is largely abstract. It's a future where the internet has integrated itself with the outside world as an outernet that is represented by a series of lines and shapes. The best thing about this short film though isn't exactly its deceptively simple visuals, but its dark humor and great script. The film is elevated when there is an interplay of its distinct look and smart writing such as the sequence with the Boy in the Glass or the young girl counting the the shooting stars aka dead bodies falling into the atmosphere. Or like in my favorite shot...

I admit this scene doesn't showcase the film's signature dark humor, but look at how beautiful the scenery is, looking like some modern art piece. It's actually one of the more sobering moments in the film that leads to perhaps the best line: "That is the thing about the present, Emily Prime. You only appreciate it when it is the past." Indeed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flaccid, flaccid, flaaaaaaacid....

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.

"What do I see? That's the question I'm most afraid of."

"I see me! Actress, woman, star and lover."

Death Becomes Her is a darkly comedic fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn and the one and only Meryl Streep. Willis and Hawn are both good, but Streep is such a force, isn't she? We know she excels in dramatic roles, has a skill for accents, and is a wonderful singer/dancer to boot (as evident by her hilarious performance that opens up the film), but her comedic chops gets featured here to my absolute delight.

Streep is always such an expressive actor using her whole body and her face to convey just the appropriate emotion or message. In this film, she's asked to be vulnerable, mean, funny and so much more and she took to it all wonderfully. One of my favorite sequences highlighting her demonstrative gift happens early in the film as she reunites with her nemesis.

In the first shot, for example, you can almost feel how tense she is and her whole face and body language is giving us such a pitch perfect Miranda Priestly (14 years earlier). The second shot is even more telling especially when you think that right after it she immediately turns around and puts on the most fake smile and making it work. This was almost my pick for best shot, but that honor actually goes to Streep and her tongue.

Best Shot

Look at that silly shot. Now, what did I say about Streep being an expressive actor? This moment is in the midst of her big fight with her husband, calling him all sort of names including repeating the word "flaccid" more than a few times. She berates and taunts him and Streep is just so damn committed, tongue and all. It's a random moment in the film, but even here Streep doubles down. Perhaps the script said she sticks out her tongue right there, but I bet it didn't and it was just Streep being glorious herself.

So what do we see? Meryl Streep... actress, woman, star.