' Cinema Romantico

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Countdown to the Oscars: Cinema Romantico’s Film Location Awards

Film locations, if you’re choosing to get off the set, which is, of course, so much more common in these days long after the studio system in which all manner of movies were shot in rigidly scheduled time on cavernous backlots, becomes crucial. Consider Michael Mann, who often shuns soundstages for the real world, finding places as off the beaten path as the mountaintop conclusion to “Last of the Mohicans” (which is literally off the beaten path – I know because I hiked to it) as famously a jaw-dropping locale as the Iguazu Falls in “Miami Vice” or as unassuming yet memorable a place as the coffee shop in “Heat.” You listen to Mann on the director’s commentary track for “Miami Vice” talk about capturing real images of Colombia’s downtrodden discarding Styrofoam from packing boxes in the street, which he nimbly contrasts with images of the high-rolling Range Rovers of a big-time drug cartel, and you can hear him lighting up. I can only imagine how many houses Mann scouted to find “Heat’s” house on stilts in East L.A.

Film Locations are no joke, which is why each year the Location Managers Guild International bestows its LGMI Awards in which they honor the “creative contributions of location professionals and film commissions from around the world.” Well, Cinema Romantico wants to do this too. Cinema Romantico did this two years ago, as you may or may not recall, but forgot to do it last year, which we considerably regret. (We would have cited Donut Time in “Tangerine”, Max’s Steaks in “Creed” and, of course, the Hong Kong Ritz Carlton in Michael Mann’s “Blackhat”.) So today we re-engage with our aspiring tradition of honoring the best in the year’s film locations, IORO (in our ridiculous opinion).

2nd Annual Cinema Romantico Film Location Awards

Moonlight: Jimmys Eastwide Diner, Miami

The concluding scene in which two characters who have not seen each other since childhood is essentially a stepping back in time, which the setting, this little diner with its tiffany lamps, red & white curtains and vinyl booths, economically and colorfully underlines.

La La Land: Rose Towers, Long Beach

One of the criticisms I have heard levied at La La Land, which has principally come from actual Los Angelenos, is that the film is only interested in some whimsically fantastic version of L.A., not the real L.A. I liked La La Land, though Im not overly high on it, but this is one complaint I find difficult to receive. Isnt it called La La Land because its not the real L.A.? And though the Rose Towers, where Emma Stone’s aspiring actress dwells, might be real, director Damien Chazelle chooses them because their pink exterior mingles so majestically with the myriad colors he puts on screen through the sky at twlight and the colors of the characters' clothes during the movies most breathtaking scene.

A Bigger Splash: Coste Ghirlanda, Pantelleria

Among the oldest and most compelling reasons there is to go the movies, film critic Dana Stevens once wrote, is watching something (w)ed like to be doing too and (knowing) this is as close as were ever gonna get." I thought of that line when the primary quartet of Luca GuadagninoA Bigger Splash sits down for dinner at the mind-bendingly picturesque hillside bistro. Sigh. If only...

Paterson: Paterson Great Falls, Paterson, NJ

The day after the Presidential Election, I was on vacation in the Minnesota hinterlands and my family and I went up to Grand Portgage State Park on the Canadian border. Because it was early November, there were very, very few people around, giving me the chance to stand in the presence of the High Falls of Pigeon River and simply close my eyes and......listen. God, that sounded good, the ceaseless churn of the water over those rocks 120 feet up. It was a noise to get lost in, to subsume all the nasty thoughts roiling in your head into more cleansing, uplifting ones instead. I thought that must have been the feeling Paterson the Poet of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson” was seeking when he wrote in his notebook while sitting before the Great Falls.

Hail, Caesar!: Good Luck Bar, Los Angeles

I had no intention of including this on the list because I had simply assumed The Coen Brothers dreamt up their in-movie Chinese restaurant from scratch. But no! It was actually the Good Luck Bar in L.A.s Los Feliz neighborhood. Read a few reviews of this place, however, and not just the obligatory they didnt have bendy straws so this place sucks laments on Yelp, and it might instead make you hesitant. Of course, thats also what the movies are for, turning something real into something mythical.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

Today Cinema Romantico re-imagines the slowly-becoming-irrelevant Oscar category of Best Song as if it was one combined category and the songs did not have to be “original” or fit some other antiquated piece of Academy criteria and I and I alone was judge and jury in regards to the five nominees. (Note: this is the sixth consecutive year I have proposed an alternate Best Song category and this is by far the most impressive set of pretend nominees).

“Dancing in the Dark” by Kathleen Hanna and Tommy Buck in “Maggie’s Plan.” A certain sort of Springsteen fanatic will, as the Youtube comments on the above link suggest, quibble with the quality of this particular cover. Fair enough. I dig it. And I also dig it because in the film’s context it is sung at a ficto-critical conference in Quebec. And I dig that because it suggests that while so, so, so many boring reactionary Springsteen fans prefer dismissing this song because of the synth or because of the video writer/director Rebecca Miller is well aware “Dancing in the Dark” is actually a literary masterpiece.

“Moon Is Up" by The Rolling Stones in “A Bigger Splash.” Let Ralph Fiennes tell it in the best movie monologue of 2016: “I can tell you a little story about my contribution to Rolling Stones history. Just after Darryl came in and I was working with Don Smith, who’d done a lot of Keith’s solo stuff with me and we were at Windmill Lane in Dublin and it was raining. Non-stop Irish rain, it wouldn’t fucking stop and I was quitting smoking, so it was coffee, coffee, coffee and this song, which you are going to hear, it just wasn't fucking working. Keith is insisting no drums, you know? We’re working away and I think, no, no, I go to Keith and I say, ‘Okay, so can Ronnie do a track on pedal steel?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, but no drums.’ So I’m thinking ‘What the fuck!’ So I give Mick castanets. So you’ve got Chuck Leavell on the harmonium and everyone is folding in all this beautiful shit, but this song is not taking off, so I say to Keith, ‘Do you trust me?’ He goes, ‘yeah.’ ‘If I promise no drums, can we do a percussion track?’ He says, ‘What’s Charlie going to play?’ And I’m thinking, ‘What is Charlie going to play?’ But I’m asking myself what’s the sound, something, not too crisp and I look over and I see in the corner...Wait, what is it? It’s not a drum. It’s a trash can. It’s an aluminium fucking trash can. So I put Charlie out in the stairwell, we put a mic three floors up and Keith’s shaking his head ’cause he knows I’m right. As soon as Charlie starts banging on it, we’re off. A can for trash. Human evolution in the key of C.” (Bonus: listen close for Keith’s laugh at :11 of the song, which I will now always imagine is him incredulously laughing at Ralph Fiennes being so right.)

“Just in Time" by Nina Simone in “Krisha.” Songs can mean different things to different people in different contexts and so I am admittedly fascinated by how this same song concludes my beloved “Before Sunset” on a beautifully, dangerously romantic note and how in “Krisha” it becomes the truly terrifying trigger for a human monster movie moment. You can watch the whole scene here, but you should probably just watch the whole movie first if you have not.

Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang in Everybody Wants Some!! Unlike the famed music-as-healing “Tiny Dancer” sing along in “Almost Famous”, this rap along exists in an explicit vacuum, where the boys will be boys ball busting of before and after briefly gives way in a Sugarhill Gang ceasefire. What’s more, director Richard Linklater lets this scene go a few beats longer than it probably needs to, which is absolutely perfect.

“Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis in “Moonlight.” Ann Powers wrote about the moment for Slate and no one, let alone me, can describe it better. She writes: “The song he picks, Barbara Lewis’s 1963 droplet of longing ‘Hello Stranger,’ works that clock-stopping magic: Suddenly the two men are in a zone where no personal history or social circumstance can hurt them, and they can begin to open up. It’s a disconcerting moment even within a film grounded in the imperfect logic of memory. Returning home, I pulled out my old Barbara Lewis compilation and read the liner notes: Fascinatingly, ‘Hello Stranger’ has had a Southern afterlife, it turns out, becoming a favorite within the “beach music” scene in the Carolinas. Kevin really might have found that song on a Miami jukebox in the 21st century. The complexity of Jenkins’ musical choice, creating a plausible nostalgic moment that felt like both a fairy tale and a real person’s spontaneous attempt to resurrect a dream, reminded me of how people use recordings as time loops every day.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Countdown to the Oscars: 5 Moments That Made the Movies in 2016

Is there anything more noxious than corporate team-building exercises, attempts by synergy shamans with powerpoint presentations and comprehensive handouts at the behest of higher-ups who do not care in any way, shape or form about who their underlings really are to force those underlings to forge some sort of faux-bond that could be severed at a moment’s notice since everyone - who are you again? - is expendable anyway. Ugh. In “Toni Erdmann”, however, which spends much of its considerable running time deconstructing and skewering the impersonality and inanity of corporate culture, the team-building exercise gets viciously, hilariously sent up, melding management training with an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style soiree which is gloriously WTF? as it sounds, finally, at long last, making “adaptability”, “problem solving” and “trust building” count for something real.

Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” is based on a real person – that is, Jackie Kennedy, Mrs. John F. Kennedy, First Lady of the United States. But it is also very much not about a real person, more about a myth, the one she shrewdly sculpts to preserve her husband’s legacy in the immediate aftermath of his terrible death, but also her own myth, which we see her shaping during and after. You see this in the movie’s most incredible shot, during the famous funeral procession, which becomes not a march to the cathedral but to Camelot, which Larraín sets at a low angle, looking up, with the gleaming sun at Jackie’s one o’clock and her black veil fluttering in the breeze, revealing her face and then obscuring it again. No, it’s not new to demonstrate the power of the moving picture to allocate immortality but what the hell’s wrong with a finely rendered reminder? Nothing, that’s what, and that’s what this is. She is Natalie Portman; she is Jackie Kennedy; she is a Movie Star. 

There are myriad moments in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” that revel in reticence, but none more so than the anti-climactic cum climactic drive Lily Gladstone’s nameless Rancher takes in her truck. This happens immediately after she has made an impassioned if terribly awkward confession, kind of, to the lawyer (Kristen Stewart) on whom she has a crush. The lawyer, distracted and perplexed, does not even seem to quite know what is happening just as the Rancher does not quite seem to know what she is doing or saying, essentially retreating before she is even finished saying it. And once back in her truck, the whole spectrum of human emotion, every last one on the Emotion Classification chart, mixes and matches on the face of Gladstone, an astonishing rendering of how agony can lay us bare. 

So much of “Moonlight” is centered on the idea that the lives we lead are a product of the circumstances into which we are born, and no matter how much we may try to resist or get out, we are pulled in anyway, powerless. This is illustrated by the way in which the movie comes full circle in the plight of its protagonist Chiron, underlined by the way in which the camera often circles its characters, and vigorously brought home in the scene where Chiron’s self-appointed sort of mentor and emotionally fraught mother meet in the street. She needs to buy drugs; he sells drugs; he chastises her for buying drugs when she has a son; she chastises him for selling drugs when he looks after her son; so it goes. They stand there, her growling, him grimacing, both right, both wrong, a quick, indelible re-telling of a never-ending story.

As the 2016 American Presidential Election drew nigh and then unspooled, story after story appeared in all manner of publications about small town Americans being left behind and counting on our newly elected to President to remake this country the way it was. But what was ain’t coming back, it never is and it never does, and Texas Ranger Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) in “Hell or High Water” coulda told you that. A Native American, he is subject to much pointed joshing from his not inconspicuous racist superior Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), most of which washes over Alberto, not because he’s indifferent but because his people have been screwed over so long, with so much of the screwing over coming so long ago that no one wants to be bothered to remember. Not that he is about to let Marcus forget. In a scene set on the corner of a four corner town across from a Texas Midlands Bank, Alberto can only shrug as Marcus laments the way of life dying all around them. “One hundred and fifty years ago,” Alberto says, “all this was my ancestors’ land. Everything you could see. Everything you saw yesterday. Until the grandparents of these folks took it. And now it’s been taken from them. Except it ain’t no army doing it.” And with that, he directs his index finger toward the bank.

“It’s those sons of bitches right there,” he says.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Shark Steak Sandwich

One of the more underrated Movie Presidents is Jeff Bridges’s Jackson Evans in “The Contender” (2000). Forced to choose a replacement Vice President after the current VP has passed away, Evans settles on Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen, fire), a woman, obviously, which, obviously, unleashes the wrath of so many insecure white good ol’ boys in position of power. This leads to all manner of political machinations, with Illinois Congressman Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) and President Evans playing what amounts to a high stakes game of governmental. “I’ll die before Shelly Runyon checkmates me,” says Evans, which is simply one of the best political movie lines you will ever hear, signaling that all these events on which the fate of the republic (and the free world) hinge are less about you and me and everyone else then settling personal beefs and demonstrating whose balls are brassiest.

Bridges plays this idea for all its worth, laying the charismatic smarm on thick, a guy who is in control and wants you to know he is in control. He demonstrates this control with food. Seriously. Anyone Evans invites up to the Oval Office is immediately met with a Presidential overture of food, not as a peace offering but as a “Look What I Can Do, Sparky” alert. We see this most memorably when President Evans takes a meeting with Delaware Congressman Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) who is part of Runyon’s Vice Presidential Confirmation Committee and who, like Runyon, is showing great resistance to Hanson. Before they dive into politics, however, President Evans shows off the impressive edible material in his hand.

Evans: “You know what this is? That’s a shark steak sandwich. Fucking shark steak. You want half?”
Webster: “Uh, no, thank you.”
Evans: “Are you a vegan? Had lunch?”
Webster: “Uh, no—”
Evans: “So you choose not to break bread with the President of the United States?”

So sure, Webster chooses to break bread with the President, taking half of the Commander-in-Chief’s shark steak sandwich, managing a small bite while Evans hovers with a “Mine Are Bigger” look on his face before they fall into conversation where Evans, in so many words, and quite a few more, tells Webster to back the fuck off his gonna-be VP. And all the while that shark steak sandwich lingers like a culinary threat.

I thought of this when Chris Christie revealed that President Trump, hosting the New Jersey Governor for dinner at the White House on Tuesday, ordered for Christie, explaining they would both be having the meatloaf. I liked imagining Trump as a variation of Evans, using the White House Chef as a kind of negotiating tool, lording his position with ground meat. Going further, I like imagining Trump, pettiest of the petty, doing this all the time, ordering the New York strip steaks of foreign dignarities and bootlicking congressmen well done because “everyone prefers their steak well done, as you know”, and then cancelling the Congressman’s order of a Malbec for a Diet Coke instead because “Diet Coke goes very well with steak, believe me.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

keira knightley wearing a hat (and wearing a scarf)

It was just announced that “Love Actually”, the Richard Curtis cinematic sugar plum fairy from 2003 that tends to turn swaths of movie lovers into the Montagues and the Capulets, trading insults and drawing swords, would be getting the sequel treatment – the short sequel treatment, that is. This got many people wondering many different things, of course, but it got Cinema Romantico wondering if Keira Knightley would be wearing a hat in this sequel because Cinema Romantico has famously contended that Keira Knightley’s Hat in “Love Actually” could engender world peace if only people would stop screaming for five seconds about how much they abhor empty rom com calories and just……look. So I asked on the various platforms of the social media interwebs, will Keira wear a hat?

My friend Daryl suggested that perhaps Keira would not wear a hat and that I, a completely impartial critic who is simultaneously totally biased in Keira’s favor, would fall all over myself to praise this tactical costume change-up, probably calling it something like, say, a mixture of transplendent and stupendous – call it, stupsplendentous. This wouldn’t be inaccurate. But the thing is, for all this blog’s Keira Knightley In Hats flattery, we are just as aware of how she pretty much slays any form of clothing like a silver screen Kate Middleton, just as she slays in any sort of role period because Keira is transformational.

Keira, see, does not figuratively (literally) shapeshift like Day-Lewis. No, she has a timeless quality that allows her to function equally brilliantly in period pieces and modern fare. This is why Cecilia Tallis’s emotional repression that eventually gives way is strikingly akin to Joanna Reed’s, just as I swear, if you look close, Elizabeth Benet and Gretta James possess the same sort of sunny ferocity. And though that might make it sound like her performances across the eras are the same, she provides distinctive shading to each character to set them apart, like Cecilia passionately plunging ahead and Joanna cautiously easing forward. That shading, of course, extends just as ably to costuming, where Keira can cycle through all manner of wardrobe choices, past or present, while making each one not merely believable but so damn fetch.

For instance...

Keira Knightley in a hat.

Keira Knightley in a scarf.

I just blew your mind.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

12 Times Oscar Got It Unequivocally Right

It's the heart of Academy Award season, that dangerous ground between nominations and the awards themselves, when the social media knives come out and everything is absolutely awful no matter how great, good, mostly good, or, like, "nice, but not really getting yourself all in a lather about" it might have been in reality. My least favorite part of Academy Awards season is the inevitable mudslide of 10 Times Oscar Got It Wrong lists, which sometimes are 5 times, or 15 times, or 25 times, whatever the WE NEED CLICKS!!! editors demand. I hate those lists. I hate, hate, hate them. How about all those times Oscar did it get right? Like, you know, these...

12 Times Oscar Got It Unequivocally Right

Kate Winslet, Best Actress for The Reader (2009)

Like this list would start anywhere else.

Van Heflin, Best Supporting Actor for Johnny Eager (1942) 

Like William Powell of "The Thin Man" crossed with Christopher Plummer of "Star Trek VI" crossed with Heather Davis of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and on sedatives scored from the Palm Springs black market, this is one of the great turns no one ever talks about. 

Jack Lemmon, Best Actor for Save the Tiger (1974)  

Lemmon probably deserved Best Actor for something else, like "The Apartment", or "Some Like It Hot", but got it for this instead, which was a cosmic squaring for what was owed, which was fine, even if it did prevent Al Pacino for earning the statue on the basis of "Serpico."

Al Pacino, Best Actor for Scent of a Woman (1993) 

But the cosmos squared with Pacino a couple decades later when it gave him the Best Actor for "Scent of a Woman" even though performatively speaking Denzel Washington deserved Best Actor for "Malcolm X."

Denzel Washington, Best Actor for Training Day (2002) 

But the cosmos squared with Washington a decade after that. See how this works?

Ingrid Bergman, Best Supporting Actress for Murder on the Orient Express (1975) 

Some actors richly deserve an Oscar, a few special ones deserve a couple Oscars, and a few really, really special ones deserve an Oscar trio. Ingrid Bergman deserved the trio. Whatever the hell she got the third one for is fine with me.

Marcia Gay Harden, Best Supporting Actress for Pollock (2001)

Kate Hudson in "Almost Famous", sure, of course, naturally, I would have voted for her too. But then, Kate Hudson is Penny Lane and Marcia Gay Harden is the descendant of a norse goddess who slays dragons. So......

Marisa Tomei, Best Supporting Actress for My Cousin Vinny (1993) 

With each passing year the more I become convinced, per Cinema Romantycs, an extraordinarily in-depth empirical analysis of the empyrean that takes into account qualitative performability while including all inherent emotional biases, that this is the greatest performance of all time.

Donna Reed, Best Supporting Actress for From Here to Eternity (1954) 

Don't come at me, bro. Do not come at me on this one. If you do then, to quote Melissa McCarthy in "The Heat", "put your head in the door and I’ll slam it about 157,000 fucking times."

Humphrey Bogart, Best Actor for The African Queen (1952)

Take your He Got It For The Wrong Movie rubbish movie somwhere else. Whatever movie Bogart got his Oscar for is the right movie and anything else is just gaseous listicle excrement.

Jennifer Lawrence, Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook (2013)

I'm telling you right now, if this performance starts showing up on 10 Times Oscar Got It Wrong lists 10 years from now then I am coming for you, content creators. Do you hear me?! I am putting cherry bombs in your goddam content management systems! YOU WILL ALL HAVE TO RECKON WITH ME!!!

Nicole Kidman, Best Actress for The Hours (2003)

Like this list would end anywhere else.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hidden Figures

Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” opens on the side of a rural Virginia road in the early 1960s where the car carrying three African-Women – Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monáe) – has broken down and left them stranded. Well, not stranded; Dorothy fixes the problem. Still, a white state trooper shows up, towering and suspicious. Menace of a family-friendly variety is in the air. But then the women explain they are on their way to work at nearby Langley, a division of NASA where they, and other black women, at the dawn of IBM, essentially function as human computers, tasked with checking the myriad calculations of NASA higher-ups. Seeing as how this is the midst America’s volatile space race with the dastardly Soviets, the trooper suddenly changes his tune. He gives them an escort that goes so fast the women have to gun the engine to keep up, leading Mary to exclaim “Three negro women are chasing a white police officer down the highway in Hampton, Virginia, 1961! Ladies, that there is a God-ordained miracle!”

This line is indicative of the film’s frustrating tendency to unnecessarily addend images with obvious slogans, yet the sequence still cuts to the heart of these “Hidden Figures.” After all, this is segregationist America, meaning that once they arrive at Langley, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are tucked away in a cramped coloreds only room, suggesting a nation that knows these African-American women are indispensable even if it still is not willing to sit in the same room as them. Help our cause, in other words, but don’t be a part of it, a harsh truth of a time that really is not all that long ago in American history. It might have been nice for Melfi to truly honor that harsh truth with a harsher tone rather than the paint by numbers prestige picture gloss he opts for instead, which left me wishing for a better movie even if I couldn’t help but admire how some of the rote clichés he peddles feel intentionately transgressive, like he’s telling white people it’s our turn to be tokens of the plot.

Though Henson, Spencer and Monáe function as a trio with considerably sardonic charisma, they spend much of the movie apart, each one locked into a specific plot. Mary yearns to become an engineer, which requires taking classes that accept neither blacks nor women, which leads to a courtroom scene that Monáe nails, neatly playing it not as an appeal to the Judge’s humanity but to the Judge’s potential legacy, which turns a moment of traditional cinematic speechifying into something slyly comical. Dorothy, meanwhile, yearns to be made a supervisor, given that she is doing supervisor’s work simply without the title, though her supervisor, Mrs. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) continually deflects this request because, you know, rules and all that. The tension between these two characters is wonderfully played by Spencer, who maintains such quiet yet tired dignity, and Dunst, who cuts straight to that sort of baked-in racism, like she has been societally programmed since birth to register disgust and/or shock at the mere presence of a black person.

The main story, however, belongs to Katherine who becomes part of the Space Task Group, working so hard to get American capsules beyond Earth, led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), the kind of guy so consumed by his work that you can never quite tell if he really does see color or not. The others do, of course, and if Melfi doesn’t much burn up the screen with inventive visuals, he at least does a nifty job allowing Katherine to truly drown in these cavernous spaces of so many buzzcut white men in short-sleeve white dress shirts. Chief among them is Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), whose work Katherine is tasked with proofreading and whose work never sees flawless. You have half a mind to wonder what he's even doing working here, except it's rather evident the Stafford character is payback for the sort of patronizing parts blacks have been made to play for a century. Parsons, to his credit, sits there and takes it.

Katherine also gets a subplot in the form of a courtship and marriage to an army colonel named Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), which is so humdrum you wish the film would have cut it altogether. Oddly enough, the space flight sequences involving Alan Shepard and then Gus Grissom and John Glenn feel tangential too. Sure, Katherine and the rest of these women help these men achieve that space flight, but we have seen this derring-do rendered in so many movies before that ending a movie deliberately titled “Hidden Figures” with a figure as familiar as John Glenn plays all wrong, marking the first orbiting of the Earth in this context as perfunctory. No, the movie would have done better to conclude a moment earlier, not up in the sky but down on the ground, giving the heroine a true heroine moment. Heaven knows she’d earned it.