Wednesday, October 18, 2006

POSmeter: “Self” Actualization

By Susan Thea Posnock

Over at IMdb Pro (the paid subscription version of The Internet Movie Database) they have weekly MOVIEmeter and STARmeter ratings, nifty little charts that gage what movies, television shows or celebrities are "hot" based on IMdb user searches.

Read the rest at Oscarwatch...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Opposing Forces

By Susan Thea Posnock

Something strange has been happening to me lately. Mysterious forces are at work and I'm gripped with the kind of anxiety I haven't felt on a regular basis since college.

This feeling has been prompted by recent screenings of Half Nelson and Little Children. Rather than my typical "light and breezy" column, it seems only a properly researched term paper will suffice in dissecting these films.

That’s not a knock on either--in fact in many ways it’s praise. Returning to the student mindset raises questions and can be a thrilling exercise. At the same time, heady themes can either make a story soar, or drop like a lead balloon.

Half Nelson, (definitely not to be confused with 1985's short-lived Joe Pesci series of the same name), the independent feature from director/writer Ryan Fleck and producer/co-writer Anna Boden is arguably the more ambitious of the two because of its underlying philosophy. It's an unconventional classroom drama in which the "hero" is a white, crack-addicted teacher named Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), who uses dialectics to teach history to his mostly black students. The theory, from German philosopher Georg Hegel, says the clashing of opposing forces leads to change. The film demonstrates this simply through an arm wrestling match between Dan and one of his eighth-graders. He tells the kids how when one force overtakes the other (in this case he overcomes the strength of his student) it leads to a turning point. On a larger scale, dialectics can be applied to movements like Civil Rights or wars.

Read the rest at Oscarwatch.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bottled Cinema Bliss

By Susan Thea Posnock

I was having a bad day on Monday. While numerous factors can contribute to major blahs—bad hair, sickness, stress—the reason in this case was the 5th anniversary of 9/11.

As much as I tried to avoid the news it was everywhere—a random conspiracy theory t-shirt here, a memorial service there. I felt it just being in Manhattan. It was like my body had become a living and breathing part of the city and the massive hole at the bottom was inside of me—at least for a day.

Read the rest at OscarWatch

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Most likely to be snubbed, Part One: Best Picture and Director

By Susan Thea Posnock

It’s as inevitable as composer John Williams getting nominated for Best Original Score. Every year there’s at least one film, one actor, one live action short (okay, maybe not) that famously gets the cold shoulder come Oscar time.

This “snubbery” takes on two forms: the critical darling that’s nominated for everything but an Oscar, (i.e. Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); or the many-nominated snub (either shut out completely like The Color Purple, or fails to win the big one, as in the case of Saving Private Ryan and last year’s favorite Brokeback Mountain).

Read the rest at Oscarwatch

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kong Love

It is hard to grow up in America, or perhaps anywhere, without having the "beautiful princess" and "prince charming" fantasy ingrained in your mind well before the time you actually experience anything close to love.

I'm no exception. I was raised on the "Disney-fied" ideas of "someday my prince shall come" which morphed into other unrealistic notions of love everlasting such as the concept of a "soul mate." But it wasn't until recently that I took these ideas to the extreme. Yes, it's true: I'm in love with a 25-foot tall ape.

Don't scoff! I'm not the only one. Do you really think a vibrant, sensual and talented woman like Ann Darrow (as portrayed by Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson's 2005 update/tribute to the original King Kong) can really prefer a skinny, intellectual playwright?

While many see King Kong as an action/adventure film, for me it is a much more telling interpretation of a single gals' plight to find "Mr. Right." Bridget Jones Diary you say? Cute movie, but given the fact that Mark Darcy doesn't get shot down by planes while atop the Empire State Building, it is far from reality. (Just try imagining Colin Firth swatting at planes. I think not.)

Of course, I don't mean this literally. But like King Kong, Darcy is the image of the perfect man: Prince Charming of the modern age. Well, let me step back for a second. The thing about Mr. Darcy--the one created by Jane Austen--is that he's not perfect. He's a snob when Elizabeth meets him and too proud. But the fantasy is that a smart and interesting woman can transform him into the perfect man through love. Right.

I'd argue that King Kong is similar to Darcy, albeit with more hair. And perhaps more of a temper.

But unlike Bridget Jones (and any number of rom-com fantasies) King Kong gets it right because in the end, the film recognizes that it is just a fantasy and beauty, Ann, or really any woman who has bought into the tale, must face bitter disappointment as the romantic figure of her dreams plunges to his death. It isn't just that Kong dies, it's that Ann--a figure of doom from the start, expressing how "nothing good ever lasts"--must give up the dream of her soul mate. Love isn't perfect and she'll have to settle for dull Jack Driscoll (a well-cast Adrien Brody, despite criticism to the contrary).

I think Kong had a huge impact on me because I finally saw how I'd been searching for him in the men I chose to fall for (no pun intended). In place of an inappropriately large hairy ape and tall landmark building, I'd chosen obstacles such as an entire country's distance, or emotional gaps that could not be bridged. I entered into these situations fully aware that they were not meant to be. Like Ann, I was resigned to this fact, but held on as long as I could.

It could never work.

Beauty may have killed the beast, but it was reality that killed the romantic fantasy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

American Song and Dance

An American in Paris is not a great movie. Rather, it is a great musical. Perhaps the best pure musical ever made. And I admit I'm fudging the language a bit, because I would consider that other Gene Kelly movie (you know the one) to be the greatest movie musical. Period.

But this Kelly romp somehow manages to out-dance and out-sing that classic. The ballet finale of the film brings forth all of the romance and power, transforming a lukewarm, by the numbers romantic-cliché plot into a chill-worthy finish.

Still, it nearly loses its way to that dazzling climax. The story and dialogue are to the film as "story and dialogue" are to a porn film: Just there to set up what we really want to see. Instead of the 'ol rumpy pumpy of a skin flick, An American in Paris is an orgasmic feast of musical genius: The Gershwin songs, Gene Kelly's dancin' shoes, Leslie Caron's dancin' legs, Oscar Levant's fancy fingers on piano, and Georges Guetary's suave singing.

The flimsy plot follows Kelly's former GI, Jerry Mulligan in Paris after WWII. Mulligan, an eager painter, falls hard for Caron's shop girl, Lise. Naturally, there are complications. The melodrama is pretty standard. If it weren't for the music, I don't think I could endure scenes like the one where Lise pleads with Jerry that they should enjoy the time they have together, not worry about when they are apart. (He's getting "sponsored" by society gal Nina Foch; she's being prepped for marriage to Guetary.)

Despite Caron's amateurish performance (this was her first film, she would improve a great deal), there are moments to recommend the film that aren't set to music. Notably, some snappy dialogue here and there, (mostly provided by the priceless Levant). Kelly always manages to be charming, even when he's being a bit creepy, like when he first meets the shy Lise. Guetary and Foch are both good as love's also-rans. While the outcome is never truly in doubt, they are both likable and sympathetic. Hell, I think Guetary is 10 times sexier than Kelly (until Kelly dances).

Also of note is the Oscar-winning art and set direction. Making the most of the Paris setting and wild party scenes like the Arts Ball. The vibrant colors out-do Moulin Rouge! (and An American in Paris was released in 1951).

In the end, it's the music that wins the day (and in my humble opinion won the Oscar for Best Pic). The main narrative is peppered with classics including "Our Love Is Here To Stay," "I Got Rhythm," and "'S Wonderful."

The high-point though, already touched on above, is the "An American in Paris Ballet" at the end of the film. This 18-minute musical interlude, choreographed by Kelly, is bursting with color, imagination, beauty, energy and eroticism. The blandness of the Kelly/Caron romance, unable to flourish through dialogue, is made lush and ripe as they replay their courtship in dance. It contains one of the most romantic and beautifully sensual moments ever filmed, as they dance in shadows and fog on a fountain to the gorgeous Gershwin music. Heaven on earth.

Those who don't like musicals will probably resist the overall charms of the film. But they will miss out in seeing one of the finest examples of how the musical could transform the medium, bringing forth feeling that could not be expressed as deeply with simple words.

*This review originally ran on the web message board Moviola at

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Allen Analysis

There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.

-Alvy Singer, Annie Hall

From the opening moments of Annie Hall, the film is funny, familiar and touching. The above quote, the first joke Woody Allen tells in his opening monologue, has always rung true for me. Probably now more than ever before.

The film is filled with the misery and disappointments of life and love: An old woman walking down the street informs Alvy (played by Allen) that "love fades"; Alvy explains at one point that there are two people in the world, the "horrible" and the "miserable," and be thankful if you're only miserable.

I identify with the character, down to little details. The first scene, of a childhood Alvy visiting a doctor with his exasperated mother, is like a page from my own childhood. Could it be a lot of children out there worried about the "expanding universe?" When Alvy asks, "What's the point?" I realize I often ask this same question myself. I think the film is about answering that question. Or, perhaps saying there doesn't need to be a real answer or a real point. It just is.

Annie Hall has had real influence in my life. A viewing of it a few years back was critical in my decision to end a bad relationship. It isn't that I needed to see it to realize things weren't working. But, seeing the romance between Alvy and Annie Hall gave me a sense of peace (and final resignation) over my own situation. To paraphrase the film, what I had on my hands was a dead shark.

The best films always make me see something a little bit clearer in my life and myself.

In Allen's most significant work, he goes beyond his self-obsession and strikes a chord with the viewer. I think Annie Hall is the peak of his career, at least in terms of the prototypical Allen film. By that I mean any film where he's the star, playing his nerdy neurotic self and relating to other intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals-lovers, friends, acquaintances and strangers on the street.

Those strangers often provide a punch line, and some wisdom:

Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?

Stranger: Yeah.

Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?

Stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.

Stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.

Alvy Singer: I see! Wow! That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

The first time I saw Annie Hall I was probably too young to comprehend what Allen was trying to get across. That the only truly happy people in this world are (perhaps) too empty to realize how complicated and difficult life (and relationships) can be.

It is an odd little scene, because Alvy is making a joke at the clueless couple's expense. But at the same time, he envies their ability to be happy and not worry and obsess over every little detail.

That said, it is very clear that Alvy is willing to endure the difficulties of life and relationships, that he wouldn't want the emptiness of the bland couple on the street. Allen's characters recognize the pain of life and in the end, they want MORE. Because when it comes down to it, the portions really are too small.

*This review originally ran on the web message board Moviola at

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