Friday, August 31, 2012

Top Ten Performers of 2012 (So Far)

The end of August means it's time for me to pick my top 10 favorite performances of the year so far. Of course I haven't seen every film released nor have I even seen films I wanted to see such as Moonrise Kingdom and Take This Waltz so this list is ridiculously incomplete. With that said, out of the 32 theatrical releases of 2012 I did see, here are the ten performances I have loved:

1. The entire cast of The Avengers - I know I'm starting out with a cheat, but it'll be my only one on the list. Now it's no secret how much I loved this film and most of that had to do with the kick-ass ensemble that Marvel assembled and that Joss Whedon made work. As great as Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark, I truly feared from the first trailers that the film was going to be Iron Man and His Posse. Thankfully the film really felt like a true ensemble with some fantastic work from Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson... taking another breath... Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, et. al. Special commendation to those aforementioned actors who either didn't get a stand-alone film for their characters nor were given much to do here and still kicking ass.

2. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) - Weirdly enough I was one of the few people who thought her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone was a bit over-hyped and yet I just loved her here as the bow-wielding heroine of this dystopian film. Even though she didn't match who I imagined Katniss to be in my head, she was magnificent all her own making me really believe the character. Her ability to convey so much without words is a true talent.

3. Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold (Hope Springs) - One of the reasons he's in this list and so highly ranked is because I just found this performance so delightfully surprising. I would never in a million years think to cast Jones in this kind of role and yet there he was as open and honest as an actor I have ever seen him and it was truly refreshing. In fact, he practically stole Meryl Streep's thunder in the film and anyone who can do that must deliver one hell of a performance.

4. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket (The Hunger Games) and Frankie (People Like Us) - Like Lawrence, Banks really didn't fit who I had in mind for that particular Hunger Games role and yet she was just fabulous. In fact, even though she had very little to do in the film, she still gave the most memorable movie moment for me this year so far ("That is mahogany!"). Though as much as I love her Effie, her dramatic turn in People Like Us really needs to be more widely seen and praised. Banks can do comedy easily, but this was the first time I had seen her tackle drama and it was pretty revelatory. Hope to see her more in these kinds of roles. And soon!

5. Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy (Beasts of the Southern Wild) - Is she really acting or is she just lucky to have a really good director? Why can't it be both? Yes, she's so very young, but I feel that made her performance have that much more impact for me. She's definitely a bright star in the making so evident in my complete enthrallment of her whenever she was on screen.

6. Michael Fassbender as David (Prometheus) - This guy is just too damn talented. He was in this same list last year for two performances. This year, it's just the lone performance of an android gone mad. I couldn't really tell you why I loved him here. Perhaps it's how he somehow pulled off being eerie and charming at the same time. Or perhaps it was how he was able to balance the humanity and inhumanity of his character. Whatever the reason, he definitely stood out for me as the MVP of that cluttered film.

7. Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer (Chronicle) - I think this was one of the first films I saw this year and it's a testament to DeHaan that his brutal performance here still registers in my mind. I've seen him in a couple TV shows where he plays the angst-ridden teen so in a way this film role wasn't that different from those other than him having superpowers. With that said, he is just so effective in expressing first the joy and then then pain and anger his powers and actions give him. He helped ground the super-naturalness of the film with his powerful performance.

8. Ewan McGregor as Michael (Perfect Sense) -  In retrospect, it's insane for me to list McGregor for this film without also citing his wonderful co-star played by Eva Green. Both of them together in this film devastated me with their performances as two lovers who grow closer as the world falls deeper into chaos. The film itself left me catatonic in the end and I'm pretty sure most of that has to do with how attached I became with the characters. McGregor especially showed a vulnerability that he has shown in other films, but somehow felt more real here.

9. Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer (The Deep Blue Sea) - I only saw this film this past week and while the film itself doesn't rate too highly for me, Weisz performance is undeniably excellent. There has been many films where the lead is torn between a life of leisure and a life of passion, but Weisz's particular melancholy was on a whole other level that reminded me of Kirsten Dunst's performance in Melancholia and Michelle Williams' in My Week with Marilyn and y'all know how much I loved those as well.

10. Channing Tatum as Jenko
(21 Jump Street) and Magic Mike (Magic Mike) - You guys have no idea how painful it is to put Tatum on any kind of positive top 10 lists, but with these two performances I finally couldn't ignore him. In the former, he's HILARIOUS and has fantastic chemistry with co-star Jonah Hill and in the latter, he's a natural, a charmer, and just have an easy presence. Of course for the latter it helps that he's practically acting out his life story, but you'd think that would make it harder. And yet he just damn won me over. For now. FOR NOW.

Honorable Mentions: Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike, the cast of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Fran Kranz in Cabin in the Woods, Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises, Luke Treadaway and Natalia Tena in Tonight You're Mine, Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, and Keira Knightley and Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Red Carpet: Winona Ryder Out in Venice

Nice to see Winona Ryder out and about promoting things and looking absolutely gorgeous. Here she's wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress to the red carpet premiere of her film The Iceman at the Venice Film Festival.

Looks like Winona has a few projects lined up and oddly enough all of them are with James Franco. There's the aforementioned The Iceman (which also stars Chris Evans and Michael Shannon) as well as The Letter, and finally Homefront (written by Sylvester Stallone). Work is work!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Birthday Boy: Andy Roddick

It's already been quite an eventful day for professional tennis player Andy Roddick. Not only did he celebrate his 30th birthday, but he also shocked the tennis world by announcing his retirement after the US Open.

Following in the footsteps of Kim Clijsters who ended her singles tennis career yesterday, 2003 US Open champion Roddick will end his career where he won his first (and only) Grand Slam trophy. While unfortunate enough to go up against the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at their primes, Roddick has cultivated a Hall-of-Fame career with 32 titles (third best among active players) and reaching five Grand Slam finals. He was ranked #1 player in the world for 13 weeks and led the United States at a Davis Cup championship. For the better part of a decade, he was the face of American tennis. He was brutally honest, famously stubborn, naturally brash, totally dedicated, and impressively tenacious.

Many may remember his outbursts while others his booming serves, but I think many more will always think back to his last Grand Slam final, the 2009 Wimbledon final against Federer. Roddick had everything against him going into that match. His head-to-head with Roger was a dismal 2-18 and 0-7 in Grand Slams and Federer, winning the French Open earlier that summer, had history and the people behind him. But Roddick was not to be fazed as he won the first set and continually pushed Federer throughout. Heading into the final set, Federer had not broken Roddick's serve. And so they played on and on... and in the 77th game of the match Federer finally broke Roddick's serve and eventually won 16-14. To say this was Roddick's best and closest chance to win a Wimbledon title would be an understatement. He gained many more fans after that amazing performance, me included.

Happy birthday and godspeed Andy Roddick!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US Open Report: First Three Days

Like last year, the weather made an early impact at this year's US Open as a deluge of rain interrupted play for two hours on the first day of play. Thankfully, that was pretty much it for rain delays and the weather has been perfectly cooperative since through the first three days of the tournament. I actually ended up going to the opening night session on Monday to see Kim Clijsters and Roger Federer play. It was my first evening session and first time back at the tennis center for at least a couple years and it was glorious. Onwards to some of the stories of the first three days...

Kim Clijsters Bids Farewell

Three-time US Open champion Kim Clijsters called it a singles career after losing two tiebreak sets to Laura Robson during her second round match. Despite the loss, Clijsters was able to show glimpses of her champion's mettle throughout the match fighting off two match points and even doing some of her trademark splits to the delight of the adoring crowd who gave her a standing ovation. One of the friendliest tennis players you'll ever meet, Clijsters was admired for her affable personality as much as her titles. She ends her career with 41 singles titles including 4 Grand Slam titles, three of which she got after coming back from her first retirement. Today's match is not her final goodbye, however, as she is still slated to play doubles and mixed doubles. After those, the sky is the limit for her. I'm just really got I got to see her play live one last time.

Five-Set Comebacks for Everyone

In honor of Clijsters who has one of the best comeback stories in tennis, it's interesting to note that through the first round this year, nine men have come back from a 0-2 set deficit to win the match. This matches a US Open record and again it's still the first round. Among the winners are 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic and 12th seed Marin Cilic. Among those who let a 2-0 set lead get away from them are 10th seed Juan Monaco, 21st seed Tommy Haas, and the perennially unlucky Nicholas Mahut. Not sure if this adds anything to the ongoing debate of the necessity of five-set matches that's been the go-to topic since the Olympics, but it's definitely something to note.

Americans Find Hope in Hometown Slam

And continuing with the theme of comebacks, Brian Baker, the tennis comeback story of the year, leads a slew of Americans out of the first round. For Baker, his first round match was his first win here since 2005! He is joined by male newcomers Jack Sock, Dennis Novikov, Steve Johnson, and Bradley Kahn into the second round. And even though they are far from their prime Andy Roddick and James Blake also win their first round matches. As for the American women, sisters Venus and Serena Williams moved through easily taking down younger American players while Mallory Burdette and Varvara Lepchenko shock with third round entries.

Germany's Troubles and Other Seeds Fall

Not everything is an inspiring story as a handful of seeds fall early including 8th seed Caroline Wozniacki who was getting over a knee injury. Already mentioned are 23rd seed Clijsters, 10th seed Monaco, and 21st seed Haas. Haas is one of five high-profile Germans who tumbled early. The others are 16th seed Sabine Lisicki, 18th seed Julia Goerges, 22nd seed Florian Mayer, and last year's quarterfinalist Andrea Petkovic. Other notable seeds to fall early include 17th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 21st seed Christina McHale, 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone, 28th seed Mikhail Youzhny, and 29th seed Victor Troiki.

Night Session Blow Outs

On the other end of the spectrum, the traditional night sessions of the US Open has seem the past three nights to be a little more than exhibition matches where the top seeds school their outmatched opponent. As I said previously, I got to see Federer and Clijsters win in straight sets that first night. The next night Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams lost four games between the two of them against their opponents while tonight Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray were business as usual. In fact, other top seeds have moved easily through the first round which should bode well for the later rounds.

I'm looking forward to going back one more day this year, specifically during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, but even though I've only been forced to watch the matches at home, it's been a pretty great experience mostly because of ESPN2's comprehensive coverage as well as the wonderful livestreaming video at the website enabling me to watch matches from six courts in great quality. Yay tennis!

Looking Forward To...

Keep the Lights On
Release: September 7, 2012
Distributor: Music Box Films
Director: Ira Sachs
Starring: Thure Lindhart, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, and Paprika Steen

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Shows Review, Part 1

I haven't said much about the TV shows I've been watching this summer, but as most of them been reality TV shows, you're not really missing much. With that said, there were scripted shows I checked out though unfortunately for a couple of them I never got pass the first few episodes (Newsroom, Bunheads). For those I did end up watching to their completion, just a few words.

Girls - Lena Dunham's hit new show seemed to have a polarizing effect on everyone. You either loved it, hated it, or loved it then hated it. I can see how this show is not for everyone. Dunham has a strong point of view and voice that is all her own and it's an acquired one. I admit that I wasn't quite sold on the whole package of the show from the get go, but the more I watched, the more I enjoyed it. Dunham's protagonist Hannah was the most problematic for me mostly because she comes across as a character with muddled motivations. It's probably why I gravitated towards the guys (notably Adam) and Shoshanna characters since their personalities were clearly defined early and carried through a clear arc. With that said, I think this is an important show. Not important with a capital I, but just a show that is refreshing to see on the air. B

Veep - Not really sure what I expected out of this show, but in the end I came out really respecting and admiring Julia Louis-Dreyfus' comedic skills. I was never a fan of Seinfeld and didn't watch The New Adventures of Old Christine so Dreyfus' appeal was lost on me until she impressed with her performance as Selina. It helped that she was surrounded by a wonderfully amassed ensemble (Chlumsky is my favorite) and had her words written by creator Armando Iannucci who was responsible for the hilarious film In the Loop. In fact, Veep's tone and sentiments really borrowed from Iannucci's film and it worked magnificently. Making people laugh uncomfortably is the main force of the show and I can't think of a better way to react towards the whole game of politics they so effortlessly satirize. B+

Political Animals - Perhaps I just had super high expectations regarding this show and they were just impossible to meet regardless of what the show did. You really can't blame me especially with the cast consisting of Sigourney Weaver, Sebastian Stan, Ellen Burstyn, Carla Gugino, James Wolk, and Ciaran Hinds. The latter was the weak link for me at first, but even his character grew shades of interesting as the miniseries progressed. In fact there wasn't technically anything wrong with the miniseries--Weaver kicked ass, Stan and Wolk looked pretty, Gugino was fierce, Burstyn was hilarious. So why did it feel like there was something missing? I think maybe it was the show trying to be different things every other minute. One minute we get two people smoking weed while the next a montage of someone trying to commit suicide. I don't mean to say that shows can't have super serious moments at the same time as super fun moments, but it needs to be handled well and this show wasn't that great in that regard. With that said I WOULD WATCH A SECOND SEASON of this crazy soap. Just give it to me, USA Network. B

True Blood - The weird thing about this show is despite all of its ups and downs and more downs, I never really get frustrated with it. I've just come to expect that every season will be INSANE AND CRAZY and there will be many plots I hate/ignore/get bored by while there'll be other plots I like/look forward to/get excited by. For me, it's all about appreciating those latter plots and shrugging off the bad ones. This season I've enjoyed Pam and Tara's interactions as well as that whole Jason/Jessica/Hoyt triangle that culminated in heartbreaking fashion. I also initially appreciated bringing in the Authority, but the more we spent time there and the more religious the plots became (Lilith? Seriously?), the more quickly I tuned out. And still, it seems the show isn't doing faeries real justice considering their main character is one! All of the werewolf stuff (in spite of Dale Dickey and a shirtless Manganiello) bored me and the less said about the Ifrit and Lafayette's non-story the better. C+

Glee Project - I was going to just talk about scripted shows, but I wanted to quickly speak on the finale of this show which saw Blake Jenner win the whole thing. I mean there's a joke that Ryan Murphy only hires people he'd like to fuck and this choice isn't really making that joke go away. Now nothing against Blake. I saw the entire season and he IS good and probably was the most consistent contestant throughout. BUT his voice was nothing special and the star quality was lacking at least compared to some of his fellow contestants. His final opponents, Ali and Aylin, had that x-factor I thought the Glee producers were looking for especially with both of them opening up new possibilities for the show (Ali is wheelchair-bound and Aylin is Muslim). Instead, they picked the safe choice. A bit of an anti-climactic end to a reality show that is pretty damn good. All in all though the "prize" is to be on Glee and in that way everyone kind of still lose, right? D/B+/whatever

The Part 2 of this post will most likely be written after the series finale of Weeds in a few weeks or much sooner if I can't wait that long to talk about the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad, which has been on fire.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Box Office: Summer Winding Down

The end of August means the end of the summer movie season with kids going to school and adults ending their planned vacations. The box office numbers this past weekend were definitely deflated because of this with just one film making more than $10 million. That film is The Expendables 2 which made $13.4 million with its total at $52.2 million in its second week. Matching its predecessor's tally let alone its own budget of over $100 million will be asking for too much.

None of the new openers cracked the Top 5 with Joseph Gordon Levitt's Premium Rush doing the best with $6 million good for only 8th place. Hit and Run was 10th with $4.5 million, but with a $2 million budget, it's already exceeded expectations. The critically-panned The Apparition opened in 12th place with $2.8 million. In very limited release, IFC's Sleepwalk with Me mustered $68,800 in just one theater.

In slightly better news, most of the top holdovers held well such as last week's family film newcomers ParaNorman and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Meryl Streep's Hope Spring had one of the best drops in the top 10 putting its tally at a respectable $44.8 million. But it was anti-Obama documentary 2016 Obama's America that was the big news of the weekend placing 8th with $6.5 million, a 420% increased from the weekend before, after it added more than 900 theaters just in time for the Republican Convention. The documentary is already the highest-grossing conservative document of all time and is ranked #17 for all documentaries. For my part, I ended up seeing ParaNorman with a friend and we both found it quite delightful.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Doctor Who and Daleks Invade New York City

The season 7 premiere of Doctor Who is not until next week, but I was one of the few people lucky enough see an advance screening of the episode yesterday at the famed Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. The whole affair was swankier than last year's ordeal when I had to line up 11 hours before the screening only to end up in one of the overflow rooms that didn't have the cast in person. This time around, we were all in the same gorgeous 1100+ person capacity theater able to see the episode in the huge screen as well as the cast when they took time to do a Q+A afterwards.

Supposedly they didn't open the line until 1pm, but when my friend and I got there around 1:20pm, the line looked like it was already 250+ people strong. Just for perspective, this was for a 6pm screening. The doors were finally opened around 4pm and my friend and I were able to get great seats. It was only my second time at the Ziegfeld and I had forgotten how massive and beautiful it was inside. They were pumping British music on the sound system, giving the whole place a rock concert kind of feel, while BBC America projected ads for their shows and various Doctor Who factoids on loop. While we were all waiting, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, host Chris Hardwick, and producer Caro Skinner arrived at the theater in Deloreans. Talk about a time crash of fandoms! After a brief introduction by those four, they finally showed us the season premiere which is entitled "The Asylum of the Daleks."

What follows now are my NON-SPOILERY thoughts of the premiere, which in general I loved and thought was a great way to start a season.

Now, the title (and most of the promos leading up to the season) pretty much gives away that we will be seeing lots and lots of Daleks. I guess since we didn't see them at all last season, they needed to make up for that. With that said, I'm not the biggest fan of the Daleks even though they are the main Big Bad of Who. I appreciate the history, but the execution of their interaction with the Doctor usually leaves much to be desired. This premiere though gives us fresh insights and revelations about these legendary foes that I was actually impressed. By episode's end, I couldn't really look at them the same way again.

We also get an update on what the Ponds are up to and it's both expected and unexpected. Saying more would be spoilery so I will simply say both actors, who are the longest-running companions of new Who, are completely at home with their characters. And they just look hot. Then of course there's Matt Smith as the Doctor and he is just excellent as usual. Probably even more so in this episode where his character gets completely blindsided on more than one front and we get to see how he handles all of that. Like other premieres, the episode is sufficiently epic and movie-like to the point that I will not be disappointed to re-watch this on my smaller screen at home.

I have way more I want to comment on about the episode, but that will have to wait until after the premiere airs next week. Instead just a couple more general and hopefully ambiguous notes... There was one element of the episode that I was sorely disappointed in especially since a tweak here and there could've made it work. But then again there was one particularly BRILLIANT surprise in the episode that I still can't believe Moffat and company pulled off. So I guess it all evens out.

After the screening, Hardwick hosted a brief Q+A with Smith, Gillan, and Skinner. Supposedly this will be made available online after the premiere airs next week, but most of it was in reaction to the episode we had just watched. There were the usual questions about whether or not Gillan liked kissing Darvill (yes but it's like incest), who Smith thought should be the Doctor (Sellers, Cranston, NOT Cumberbatch), and how emotional it was to say goodbye to the Ponds in the fifth episode of this upcoming season (very, very, very). Someone else pimped their Doctor Who musical project while a small boy adorably asked Gillan why Amy gets into trouble all the time. All in all it was a fab time so big kudos to BBC America for putting it all together. Every year this event seems to get bigger and bigger. Maybe next year they should just rent out Madison Square Garden?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

US Open Preview

My tennis blogging this year has been quite abysmal compared to previous years. Perhaps I was channeling the players this year as they had to get through a particularly challenging summer with the Olympics messing up the schedule for all. But with the final Grand Slam of the year upon us, I need to really get back into this especially since it's taking place right where I live. So just a quick preview of what's to come and what to look out for...

Unlike last year, defending champion Novak Djokovic isn't heading into this year's tournament as the odds-on favorite especially since he has failed to replicate his epic results last year. With that said, he is still one of three guys that is likely to win the title. He should be able to get through his first week easily, but then things get tougher in the 4th round against either 14th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov or 18th seed Stan Wawrinka. While he'll likely win those matches, a couple of former US Open champions might await him with 7th seed Juan Martin Del Potro or 20th seed Andy Roddick as his quarterfinal foe. Del Potro recently took Djokovic out during the Bronze Medal match at the Olympics, but Djokovic defeated a slightly injured Del Potro in Toronto.

If seeds go according to plan, Djokovic could meet 4th seed David Ferrer in the semifinals, the Spaniard that lucked out in seeding after his fellow countryman and 2010 US Open champion Rafael Nadal was forced to withdraw. With that said, there are plenty of people in Ferrer's quarter that could end up in the semifinals in his place such as a resurgent unseeded Lleyton Hewitt or 21st seed Tommy Haas who he can meet in the third and fourth round respectively. Even more likely contenders are his potential quarterfinal opponents 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic and 9th seed John Isner. The latter is currently in the final of the final tournament before the Us Open. American comeback story Brian Baker is also in this section.

Top seed and 5-time US Open champion Roger Federer will look to get his first US Open championship in four years. He had a fantastic summer collecting hardware in Wimbledon, the Olympics, and Cincinnati so his confidence is certainly high. His first match is against struggling American Donald Young. It's cruise control until the fourth round where he could meet another struggling American in 23rd seed Mardy Fish or 16th seed Gilles Simon. More likely he'll reach his 34th consecutive major quarterfinal (insane!) facing a tough test from 6th seed Tomas Berdych or 27th seed Sam Querrey, both of which are carrying winning form into the tournament.

We can then have a re-match of the Golden Medal match at the Olympics (which was a re-match of this year's Wimbledon final) if Federer meets 3rd seed and former finalist Andy Murray in the semifinals. Murray, perhaps suffering from an Olympic hangover, has lacked hardcourt play this summer, but he should still be able to make a dent. He does have a tricky first match with unpredictable Alex Bogomolov Jr. and a funny-on-paper match with 30th seed Feliciano Lopez in the third round, but Murray should be able to reach the second week easily. There he might have to battle it out with 15th seed Milos Raonic. In the quarters, possible opponents include 5th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 12th seed Marin Cilic, and 32nd seed Jeremy Chardy (who recently took Murray out of Toronto).

R. Federer d. S. Querrey
A. Murray d. J. Tsonga
J. Isner d. D. Ferrer
N. Djokovic d. J. Del Potro

R. Federer d. A. Murray
N. Djokovic d. J. Isner

R. Federer d. N. Djokovic

Seventh seed and defending champion Sam Stosur has unfortunately not done anything since she won the title last year that would hint of a repeat performance. It doesn't help her at all that she has also been placed in the most stacked quarter of the tournament which is headlined by top seed Victoria Azarenka. This quarter also includes 9th seed Na Li and 3-time US Open champion and 23rd seed Kim Clijsters who will be playing in her last US Open match ever. Both of these women can potentially clash in the third round for one blockbuster of a match. Similarly, 16th seed Sabine Lisicki and 18th seed Julia Goerges are also set to battle in the third round. Who will get out of this quarter? I have no idea.

Whoever does get out of that quarter will most likely meet 3rd seed and former champion Maria Sharapova. If her serve holds, she should make the second week without even breaking a sweat with 15th seed Lucie Safarova as the highest seed before the quarters for her. Once in the final eight though, she could face off against 5th seed Petra Kvitova who shocked Sharapova in last year's Wimbledon final. Sharapova has since righted the ship winning all three matches against Kvitova this year including two at Grand Slams. 11th seed Marion Bartoli and 17th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also linger here as well as last year's quarterfinalist Andrea Petkovic who is coming back from injuries.

On the other side, the woman to beat yet again is 4th seed Serena Williams who is coming off a magnificent summer in London winning her 14th Grand Slam and first Olympic singles gold. While her performance in the recent tune ups haven't been encouraging, it's just difficult to pick against her. She has a tricky first round match with fellow American Coco Vandeweghe, but I don't see anyone challenging her until maybe the fourth round where 14th seed Maria Kirinlenko or 24th seed Klara Zakopalova awaits. In the quarterfinals, it's more of the same as 8th seed Caroline Wozniacki, 12th seed Ana Ivanovic, and 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone should pose little trouble for Serena if playing at her usual level. Unlike those others though, Wozniacki still needs to prove herself as a Grand Slam winner. Unfortunately, I just don't see it happening this year.

After a pretty damn good year leading up to her first ever Grand Slam final at this year's Wimbledon, 2nd seed Agnieszka Radwanska hasn't done much. She crashed out early at the Olympics and lost twice to Na Li in the lead-up tournaments. She can still recapture her early-year magic especially with a relatively good draw. A possible third round match with former finalist and 30th seed Jelena Jankovic isn't that difficult compared to what it would've been a couple years ago and her possible fourth round match with 13th seed Dominika Cibulkova should also be straightforward. The keyword here is "should" and you never really know with Radwanska. Her real test will come in the quarterfinal where she can meet 6th seed Angelique Kerber, 10th seed Sara Errani, or unseeded Venus Williams. Kerber, who has been on fire recently, could meet Venus in the second round! Suffice to say, underestimate the elder Williams sister at your peril.

K. Clijsters d. V. Azarenka
M. Sharapova d. P. Kvitova
S. Williams d. A. Ivanovic
A. Kerber d. D. Cibulkova

M. Sharapova d. K. Clijsters
S. Williams d. A. Kerber

S. Williams d. M. Sharapova

FINAL WORD: Yes, my predictions are INCREDIBLY boring. Federer, Serena, Djokovic, and Sharapova? But how do you pick against them after the past few months they have had? Yes, Murray is a threat. So are a lot of people and ANYTHING can happen. It is New York after all. And yes, I know form-wise Clijsters making the final four is ridiculous, but I really want her to do well in her last tournament!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Looking Forward To...

Release: August 29, 2012
Distributor: Weinstein Company
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Shia LaBeouf, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, and Guy Pearce

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dirty Dancing for 25 Years

It was 25 years ago that audiences first saw Patrick Swayze lift Jennifer Grey up in that now iconic dancing scene at the end of Dirty Dancing. It's a moment that I've probably seen a hundred times in my multiple viewings of the film or just re-watching the clip on Youtube over and over and over again. It's one of the best movie scenes I've seen, a perfect climax and capper to one of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, all time. It of course helps that the Academy-winning song "(I've Had the) Time of My Life" was used as the backdrop of this wonderful scene.

It's undeniably hot from the get go with both Johnny and Baby giving each other a lingering look before he runs his hands over her body...

After that steamy prelude the song ramps up and so do they by showing off their mad dance and partnering skills, both of which they've been working on for most of the film. There are turns, lifts, and side by side sequences and I'm sure a bunch of other dancing elements I'm not equipped to accurately describe. It's a joyous sequence as the audience hears Johnny's co-workers cheer in the background. Baby's mom, played by Kelly Bishop, is also impressed gleefully noting that her daughter must have gotten this from her.

More hot dancing follows, but there are also moments when the two of them just get lost in each other's embrace giving this expertly choreographed dance a more natural feel. I'm talking about two shots in particular, the first where they both just look at each other as the music continues to play and the second where he grabs her towards him and all she can't help but laugh...

Johnny then jumps out into the audience leading up to one of my favorite moments of the scene when he leads his fellow dirty dancers through the aisle in a coordinated dance.

Then that magic moment comes. He looks up on to the stage at Baby and slightly nods. She nods too and makes her way down the stage. The song starts to swell. She runs to him. He lifts her up. Movie magic...

The scene and film then ends with everyone dancing albeit some dirtier than others. Watch the entire scene below and I dare you not to smile or dance along:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rainbow is shining through...

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 one Gene Kelly, the film for this week is none other than the joyful and exuberant Singin' in the Rain. Now it may surprise a lot of people, but I have never seen this film. I know. I know. It's one of the films that was in my Cinematic Bucket List. I'm glad I can finally cross that off the list especially since this film was apparently my first Gene Kelly film as well! And boy have I been missing out. This musical was top to bottom magnificent. It made me laugh, made me want to learn tap dancing, and most obviously made me fall in love with Kelly.

One of my favorite shots of him, displayed above, was in the "Broadway Melody" sequence mostly because of the technicolored palette: the strong red background, his neon yellow shirt, the fun green-striped shirt, the shockingly pink tie. It might be described as garish and yet Kelly, with his infectious smile and overwhelming charisma, pulls it all off wonderfully. I also love the end of that whole imagined sequence when he looks straight into the camera showing us his sexy and then his goofy side:

But the film is not just Kelly. The movie wouldn't be as funny and delightful as it is without strong supporting characters. First and foremost has got to be Jean Hagen who played the shrilly-voiced Lina Lamont with such aplomb that she nearly became my favorite character despite her antagonistic role in it. My favorite shot of her comes near the end of the film when she finally has had enough and confronted the producer. After all, did they think she was dumb or something? The camera then lingers on her diabolical smile offset by her all-pink attire...

And yet none of the above images were my picks for "best shot." As indecisive as I am, it was difficult to pick this. I had about a dozen choices including shots from the first time Don and Kathy danced with each other in the elegantly set sound-stage as well as shots from that beautiful dream sequence with Kelly dancing with the lovely Cyd Charisse wearing that gorgeous white dress. I could've easily chosen either one of those scenes especially to highlight all of the superb dancing throughout the film. Instead however I picked a shot that probably depicts how many people feel after watching the film. My best shot:

It's the trio of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor slumped on the couch tired after another one of their epic performances, but clearly extremely happy to be in each other's company. Their faces give me so much joy just as much as this movie did.

Centennial: Julia Child

Today marks the centennial of the great late Julia Child and PBS in their wisdom released a remixed autotuned video showing off some of her greatest moments. It's actually PBS' third such video having done ones for Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross previously. Here's the Julia Child video in all of its glory:

Now I didn't much watch Julia Child growing up, at least not as much as I watched Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, but neither of them had Meryl Streep play them on screen so points for her. I actually loved Streep's performance that year and would have rather she won her third Oscar playing Child than Margaret Thatcher. Ah well, bon appetit!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Birthday Boy: Sebastian Stan

Quick drive-by post to wish my new-ish obsession a happy birthday as the totally adorable Sebastian Stan celebrates his 29th birthday today. Currently I'm watching him weekly in USA's new show Political Animals where he plays T.J. Hammond, the gay child of an ex-president (played by Ciarán Hinds) and current Secretary of State (played by Sigourney Weaver). Randomly, it's not the first time he played the gay son of a head state since it was just a few years ago when he had that same role in the short-lived NBC show Kings.

The very first time I saw him was on Gossip Girl most likely playing some snotty rich boy character. He definitely gives off that elitist preppy air which makes him well suited for those types of role. And yet he can go deeper, much deeper which also usually mean that his party boy persona is usually just the mask he puts on to hide some deep-seated insecurity. More recently, he has done part-time stints on Once Upon a Time as the scene-stealing Mad Hatter as well as dipped his toes in the Marvel universe playing Captain America's best friend Bucky Barnes. He's set to return to the sequel much to my delight.

If you haven't checked out any of those TV shows or movies, then you might have seen him in very bit roles in Black Swan, Rachel Getting Married, or The Education of Charlie Banks. Or if you're willing to admit to seeing it, he was also in that film The Covenant which was awful despite having lots of vampy eye candy. In any case, Stan has definitely come a long way from those days. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him, either on TV or films, in the years to come.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Birthday Boy Roger Federer and Olympic Thoughts

Roger Federer celebrates his 31st birthday today and for the world no. 1 it has certainly been a great year indeed. Despite playing third wheel to the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal show for most of 2011, he was able to come back with a vengeance notching a 76-10 match record and winning 8 titles since his last birthday, a tour's best. Part of that impressive run included a 17-match win streak after last year's US Open which led to his 6th year-end championship, his milestone 800th win last November, and his 7th Wimbledon a few weeks ago (his record 17th Grand Slam title). That Wimbledon win over Andy Murray catapulted him back to the no. 1 ranking over Djokovic and Nadal enabling him to tie the record of weeks spent with the top ranking with Pete Sampras at 286 weeks. Just three days ago, Federer lost to Murray in the gold-medal match at the London Olympics which still meant Federer walked away with his first Olympic singles medal albeit a silver medal.

I was very, very lucky enough to watch Federer at the Olympics this year in London more specifically his second round match with Julien Benneteau and his third round match with Denis Istomin. He won them quite handily and let me just say that the experience to watch Federer at Wimbledon is something I will never ever forget. His semifinal match with Juan Martin Del Potro, which I saw at an outdoor screening in Hyde Park, was incredible with Federer winning 19-17 in the third set. It was the longest Olympic tennis match ever. Was I disappointed to see him lose to Murray in the final? Yes, most definitely, especially as he didn't seem to put up a fight, but considering all he has already accomplished silver feels a lot like gold. And since I'm already talking about the Olympics, quick shout out to Serena Williams who won her first ever singles Olympic gold medal in dominant fashion while also partnering up with sister Venus Williams for their third doubles gold medal. I got to see one of their doubles match at the Olympics and the combination of Serena serving with Venus at net was hilariously intimidating.

But back to the birthday boy, yes, the best years are behind him but he has shown during the past year that fighting and winning doesn't end at 30. At age 31 Federer is as fit and as dangerous as ever. Of course Murray has momentum, Del Potro is almost fully recovered, and Djokovic and Nadal will most likely come back strong at the US Open... but Federer is peerless as he is ageless. Hell, right after his match with Murray at the Olympics, he actually started talking about the Olympics in Rio... Federer would be 34. Sure, why not?

Looking Forward To...

The Bourne Legacy
Release: August 10, 2012
Distributor: Universal
Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Donna Murphy, Corey Stoll, Zeljko Ivanek, and David Strathairn