Stephanie Goes to the Oscars

28 02 2008

Bullet article 2/28; co-written with Stephanie Breijo

Sunday evening. A fateful night for one lionhearted UMW journalist.

Confronted with an endless sea of crimson velvet and sparkling Hollywood starlets, Stephanie Breijo, UMW junior and bosom friend to the famous, took her first step onto the fuzzy, life-changing surface of Hollywood’s red carpet.

“Well, attending the Oscars is actually a family tradition. We come from a poor Slavic background,” Breijo said. “We’re pierogi farmers and in order to attend each year, we have to sell our livestock and barrels of pierogi and take a ship to America. I was the only one of my 12 siblings to be chosen this year. I was honored to represent both my family and The Bullet.”

After losing her tape recorder batteries during the tumultuous taxi ride, Breijo borrowed Regis Philbin’s microphone to conduct her red carpet interviews.

“It’s past my bedtime, but I would just like to say that it’s been really great to be able to wear this tight-fitting dress and red-light district makeup style,” Miley Cyrus, the Hannah Montana Disney star told Breijo. “I’m thrilled that the academy acknowledged me as a presenter tonight, as well as a great role model for kids.”

Recognized instantly as a member of the UMW press corps, Breijo was escorted to one of the coveted first row seats in Los Angeles’ spacious Kodak Theatre.

Sparks flew between Breijo and three-time Oscar nominee George Clooney, who was seated to her left, as he spilled popcorn on her lap and attempted to lick it off. Breijo valiantly fended off Clooney’s advances, seeking conversational refuge with sunglass-clad Jack Nicholson on her right.

As Daniel Day-Lewis’ name was announced for Best Actor, Nicholson tilted his polished head towards Breijo and whispered, “That bastard always gets the nomination.”

Day-Lewis’ win for “There Will Be Blood” was his second Best Actor award and fourth nomination. French actress Marion Cotillard carried off the award for Best Actress and the near-superhuman Coen Brothers won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture for “No Country for Old Men.”

stephatoscars.jpg

As Breijo was busy necking with “Little Miss Sunshine’s” Paul Dano in a corner, the award for Best Foreign Film was given to “The Counterfeiters,” an Austrian film about ethical dilemmas in Nazi Germany.

All the culinarily-inclined rodents in the world felt vindicated and spontaneously committed numerous health code violations in celebration of “Ratatouille’s” win for Best Animated Film.

A dazzling variety of custom-designed ensembles graced the theater, from Anne Hathaway’s toga-like dress, complete with garishly matching flowers across one shoulder, to Day-Lewis’ gold hoop earrings coordinated especially to match his award.

Clooney, misled by Day-Lewis’ flamboyant jewelry, whispered something in the recent award-winner’s ear, but received a less than desirable response and apologized profusely.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Clooney, “How terribly awkward of me.”

Day-Lewis smiled apologetically, wandering off to locate his wife.



Disenchanted with Enchanted

26 11 2007

(Because maybe if I make the headline as corny as possible, they’ll actually use it.)

ENCHANTED (2007)

No amount of Disney magic can redeem this misguided modern fairy tale. Enchanted, Disney’s most recent attempt at reclaiming its former glory, is the story of a beautiful fairy tale maiden, Giselle, who is thrown—or, more accurately—pushed into the chaos and cynicism of real life in the big city.

About to be married to her one true love, Giselle, played brilliantly by Amy Adams, suddenly finds herself in New York City as a result of the jealous machinations of her predictably evil queen mother-in-law to be.

Unable to grasp this strange new world, Giselle is eventually rescued by Robert Philip, a lawyer, and his 6-year-old daughter, Morgan. Hijinks ensue as Giselle attempts to reconcile the real world with her idyllic storybook worldview.

The opening scenes of the film are promising, with an animated Disney princess-style Giselle waltzing around her room with assorted talking animals in an obvious parody of older, more traditional Disney films. It’s clear—and refreshing—that Disney is ridiculing itself. This self-deprecation continues when cartoon Giselle becomes live action and enters the city, thoroughly bewildered.

giselewitch.jpg

gisellereal.jpg

People are unfriendly, the weather is imperfect, and her dress is too large to fit through doorways. Salvation comes from an unlikely source, in the form of jaded divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey). Any originality that was left in this film flies out the window with an assortment of New York pigeons, which are more adept at vacuuming floors than you might imagine.

As Robert and Giselle spend more time together, it is obvious where the movie is going. She even effortlessly fulfills the long-absent mother role in his daughter’s life. The mandatory musical number in Central Park punctuates their attempts to reconcile romanticism and cynicism, and the plot inches even further into the sparkling depths of Disney predictability. And don’t forget the helpful talking squirrel.

When dashing but intellectually deficient Prince Edward (James Marsden), her supposed soul mate, arrives to save the day with perfect hair and fancy tights, Giselle finds herself torn between two opposing realities. Our conflicted characters are soon joined by the evil queen (Susan Sarandon) as she pursues Giselle with single-minded, homicidal intent.

The main problem with this film is not its predictability, That in itself does not necessarily doom a movie, and many classics follow expected storylines. However, it seems slightly self-defeating for a movie that so clearly ridicules Disney idealism to turn around on itself and emulate the exact thing it seemed to be criticizing.

Enchanted’s brief moments of originality just don’t outweigh its heavy-handed modern chick flick ending. I’m not asking for tragedy and gloom; simply consistency. The protagonist does not undergo a significant change, and remains static. She is allowed to retain her rose-colored view of romance despite her presumably life-changing immersion in “reality.” In the end, this film just doesn’t do anything new.

princelawyer.jpg

BRIGADOON (1954)

Mixing fantasy with reality is not a new concept, in literature or film. Some movies just do it better than others. One shining example is Brigadoon. Nobody does optimistic idealism like 1950’s filmmakers, and this movie is no exception. What makes it unique, however, is its brilliant cast and music.

Gene Kelly plays Tommy Albright, a cynical American in Scotland on a hunting holiday with a friend. After getting hopelessly lost, they manage to stumble across the secret, magical village of Brigadoon, which only appears to travelers every 100 years.

More importantly, Brigadoon is home to Fiona, played by Cyd Charisse. Tommy and Fiona fall hopelessly in love, and he finds himself torn between the sleepy, timeless village and his busy life in New York.

Kelly and Charisse, two of the best dancers of their day—or any day, really—are dazzling in this bewitching musical. Brigadoon has charmed audiences for generations with its beautiful songs, stunning dance numbers, and highland flair.

If you want enchantment, this is where to find it.



10 Ways to Get Your Movie Fix (A Guide for the Cinema-Deprived College Student)

12 11 2007

Perhaps I’m the only one on this campus who is obsessed with movies. I crave the excitement, the suspense of the silver screen. A chill runs through me each time I insert a DVD into the Playstation I keep stealing from my suitemate. And don’t even get me started on aspect ratios.

But on the off chance that other people love movies too, I thought I’d put together this handy little guide.

1. Go to the movie theater. This one should be obvious. There is a theater in Central Park. Go there. Watch. If you lack transportation, there are still many choices. For example, you can trick a friend into driving you, or take the Fred. I recommend the former.

2. Cheap Seats. I know this is astonishing, but it turns out there is a student organization that shows recent releases each weekend in Dodd Auditorium. Not only that, but you can view these cinematic masterpieces for only one dollar! Try to contain your excitement.

3. Clubs. Sometimes students love movies a lot. Sometimes those students decide to start organizations. And sometimes these organizations show movies. There are three film clubs on campus. What does this mean for you? Three different opportunities to see films you may never have seen before. French Fliques shows foreign films, Frames Per Second shows independent, obscure, or otherwise marginalized film, and Classic Film Club shows old movies. But how do you access this goldmine of cinematic wonder and discovery? They all have Facebook groups, e-mail lists, and websites. New experiences are good. Be brave.

4. Class screenings. If you do a bit of investigation, it’s fairly easy to find movie screenings set up by professors in various departments. Many professors put up flyers in their respective building announcing such events. While you may not want to crash a documentary about rare insects of North America, there are plenty of other movies available throughout the semester, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and other delicious flicks.

5. The language lab. You know that room on the second floor of Combs that you really hate because your French professor makes you go there and complete pointless workbook exercises? Well, it also houses UMW’s movie collection. Trust me, it’s a lot of movies. The best part is, you can check out any of these DVDs, as long as they’re not on reserve for a class. Numb the pain of exams with endless blissful hours in front of your television.

6. The public library. Despite popular opinion, downtown Fredericksburg can be a wonderful place. After all, it does have a library. And this isn’t just my inner bookworm talking. The Rappahannock Regional Library on Caroline Street has a huge collection of DVDs available to borrow, as well as hosting movie screenings every once in a while. All you need is college student-friendly library card—in other words, free—and you’re good to go!

7. The big city. Mary Washington is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Washington D.C. If this hop, skip, and jump are into a car, bus, or train, that is. E Street Cinema is the best place to go for foreign and independent films, while downtown museums and cultural centers also show great movies. Perfect for Sunday procrastination.

8. American Film Institute. About 45 minutes north of D.C. by Metro, the American Film Institute (AFI) in Silver Spring, Maryland showcases hundreds of classic films each year as well as many current ones. The theater is beautiful, and the films shown are well worth the traveling time.

9. Culpeper. Yes, Culpeper. And what’s so special about Culpeper? One of the oldest movie theaters in Virginia, the State Theater, is being renovated and is set to open in 2008. It will become a cultural arts center, housing a wide variety of films and performances. A reason to be excited about Culpeper…who would have thought?

10. Movie marathons. It is an indisputable college fact that when in doubt, large dorm-room gatherings involving movies are the way to go. General enjoyment of these events increases exponentially with the number of fellow students crammed into the room. An endless supply of popcorn and pizza also helps. To maximize laziness, obtain all DVDs ahead of time and enough food to last the weekend. Then you’re all set to spend 48 hours sprawled on the couch, bed, floor, or fellow students, rapturous eyes glued to the television set. Movie marathons require a significant amount of stamina, but are ultimately much more rewarding that writing that 15-page history paper. You will be revered in social circles, provided that you ever emerge from your room.

iheartmovies.jpg



Across the Universe / A Hard Day’s Night

11 10 2007

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (2007)

The official website for Across the Universe proclaims in proper Beatles fashion that “all you need is love.” All this film needs is a more cohesive plot, proper character development, and greater depth. Oh, and perhaps a replacement for Eddie Izzard, who provokes a significantly greater amount of terror than laughter.

Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, leaves his Liverpool home for America in search of his father, who he’s never met. Once there, Jude stumbles across rebellious Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson) and his attractive younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). When Max drops out of college they move to New York City and, like nearly all unsuspecting movie protagonists in films of this nature, are rapidly sucked into Vietnam-era hippie culture. Drugs, antiwar protests, tinted eyeglasses, and garishly painted vans abound. Hendrix-style guitar solos also included.

Their sultry landlady is Sadie, a singer with fiery red hair and matching temper. Other housemates include JoJo, a wandering guitarist, and Prudence, a runaway lesbian who first enters through the bathroom window.

The war in Vietnam escalates around Jude and Lucy, who are caught up in the blissful throes of young love. When Max is drafted, the friends are faced with an unpleasant reality that no amount of illegal drugs can quite obliterate. Despite his vast repertoire of draft-evading schemes, Max is unable to avoid recruitment and leaves for Vietnam. (After Eddie Izzard’s performance, perhaps combat is a relief for Max.)

Jude and Lucy’s once idyllic relationship begins to suffer as the political atmosphere intensifies, and many of the other characters become disillusioned as problems close in around them. Will Jude and Lucy prove that love really is all you need? Will Sadie stay sexy? And will JoJo finally get back to where he once belonged?

acrossuniverse.jpg

Generic romance plot #3 provides the main structure for this film, supplemented by several convoluted, but nevertheless entertaining sub-plots. Plot twists in Across the Universe are more like plot corkscrews, spiraling madly but never really changing direction from clichéd predictability. This film is driven by our current culture’s perception of the 1960’s, and is therefore prone to occasional inaccuracy and oversimplification.

Rarely deviating from the expected, Jude and Lucy’s romance also progresses in the usual formulaic way. There’s a shy initial meeting, followed by the gradual falling in love, perfect relationship and (presumably) great sex. Toss in some conflict contrived simply to provide the conclusion with increased emotional impact, and you’ve got their relationship. While it has every necessary structural element, this romance is sometimes hard to buy. Despite the movie’s character-driven plot, not enough time is spent on character development, and for a romantic film, it doesn’t seem to have much focus on the intricacies of relationships essential to the plot. More effort seems to have been spent on presentation rather than depth, for the most part.

An especially frightening sequence, both in terms of its style and placement, is one in which Eddie Izzard sings, or rather, talks “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” with an assortment of trippy, masked extras revolving in the background. However, the scene’s main problem lies not in its absurdity but in Izzard’s irritating rendition, which has probably left Lennon rolling in his grave.

Although Across the Universe is inconsistent, there are a few brilliant scenes that make it worthwhile. Expect oversimplification and a manufactured plot, but also dazzling cinematography and passionate performances. The film is stylistically unique, emotionally charged, and has excellent pacing. Think ear/eye candy with a little extra kick. And Beatles fans, give the music a chance. It’s not quite bad enough to make you cry.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Ready for some real Beatles? Billed as “the greatest rock and roll comedy adventure,” A Hard Day’s Night is fun, hilarious, weird, and generally more fun than a barrel of monkeys. After all, monkeys bite. DVDs generally don’t. The minimized risk of rabies alone makes it worth your while to run out and rent/buy/illegally download this classic movie.

See George, John, Ringo and Paul—in order of personal preference—frolicking onscreen and, of course, singing beautifully. Shenanigans! Screaming fangirls! Dirty old men! Catchy music! Trouble with law enforcement officials! Excessive use of exclamation marks! This movie has it all.

dbscan219.jpg



3:10 to Yuma/Shane

27 09 2007

UMW Bullet, Sept. 27

3:10 TO YUMA

I have a confession to make: I’ve never liked Westerns. It’s difficult to become emotionally attached to a genre that essentially consists of only one film. Poor miner/farmer/townsperson is terrorized by outlaw/neighbor/ruthless businessman. Insert crying wife/kids/saloon girls. Valiant but morally ambiguous stranger turns up just in time to save the day. Wife/kids/saloon girls stop crying and end credits are accompanied by joyful, feel-good music.

So you can understand my initial feeling, no doubt, that in seeing 3:10 to Yuma I was taking one for the team. But oh! Ah! Once trapped in the darkness of the local movie theater with my least favorite genre on screen, something changed. I found myself being seduced by a plot that was new, and actors who did more than simply drawling out their lines and spitting grumpily at each other’s glittering silver spurs.

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale drive this movie, which is startlingly new yet still manages to maintain the cantankerous spirit of one of the old Westerns. As “badass” is not generally considered to be a legitimate film description, I suppose I’ll have to provide you with a secondary, more helpful one. (And you thought helpfulness was not in my nature after last week’s review of Brazil!)

Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) aids in the capture of notorious and impeccably dressed outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) only to end up as one of Wade’s armed escorts to the prison train to Yuma. There are adventures! There is violence, mind games and explosives! There are scantily-clad saloon girls! This film even satisfies your cowboy and Indian cravings with a few well-placed Apache warriors. But through all this bloodshed and bravery there remains one key question: will they make the 3:10 to Yuma?

Balancing gravity and levity, 3:10 to Yuma jumps from shoot-outs and clandestine plotting to hilarious lines like “even bad men love their mommas.” And more brownie points are awarded for painting the outlaw as a sympathetic character à la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This film starts out a little weak but builds steadily, arriving at a triumphant conclusion that should leave even the most fastidious filmgoers satiated.

SHANE

Shane is the kind of Western they just don’t make anymore, but probably should. Given its crystal clear lens of 1950’s optimism, it is unsurprising that this film is, very simply, about good and evil. When examined closely, however, Shane is anything but straightforward.

Joe Starrett, played by Van Heflin, and many of the neighboring farmers, are terrorized by local cattleman Ryker, who is trying to drive them off of their land. The situation is desperate, with Starrett readying himself to take on Ryker and all of his hired men, when a stranger rides onto Starrett’s farm. The man introduces himself as Shane, and remains with the family as a hired hand. They embrace him, despite various clues that hint at a mysterious and checkered past that he is clearly trying to leave behind. But when things heat up, Shane’s acceptance of his past may be the only thing that can save this family from destruction.

It is difficult to say whether this movie should be classified as adventure, drama, action, or even an elaborate exercise in character development. The cinematography is also a strong point, and this alone places it above many similar Westerns made in that era. But Shane’s main selling point has to be the dynamic characters. More than anything, this film is about relationships between people, both friendly and antagonistic, and inner conflict for these characters can be more real than even the most serious outer conflict.

Shane, played by film legend Alan Ladd, experiences this psychological turmoil as he battles with both past and present, all the while feeling emotional attachment to this new family that has been so accepting of him. In Shane, the protagonist is a real person, not just someone contrived to ‘save the day,’ as characters so often are. And that has to be worth something.

Ever obstinate, I still don’t like Westerns.



Stardust/Brazil film column

20 09 2007

My new film column, from this week’s Bullet. (Original version)

STARDUST, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE FAIRY TALE

Sick of the onslaught of new Harry Potter movies? Can’t watch Legolas flip his hair even one more time? Do you sometimes find yourself wondering what the world would be like if fantasy characters, instead of wasting wishes on true love, requested acting talent or better screenplays? In this age of inverse correlation between special effects and depth of plot, it’s refreshing to see at least one new movie that sacrifices neither.

Based on the book by wizard author Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a fairy tale in the most basic sense, though not at all predictable. And like many great stories, the trouble begins with the fatal combination of a girl and too much alcohol. Tristan Thorn (played by Charlie Cox) is so smitten with the beautiful Victoria (Sienna Miller) that, during an evening of wine and star-gazing, he vows to obtain a falling star in exchange for her love. Leaving home, he crosses the carefully guarded wall between his village and the fairy world. In a rather inconvenient plot development, Tristan discovers that the star he’s seeking is actually a girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes). Our hero, though taken aback, is not easily discouraged and sets out for home with Yvaine in tow. (“Nothing says romance like a kidnapped, injured woman!”) On the way they encounter evil witches, princes (both of the living and non-living variety), a unicorn, confused peasants, and one delightfully flamboyant pirate in the form of Robert DeNiro.

While Stardust has an occasionally inconsistent pace, a few missing scenes along with some invented ones, and even the occasional unexplained plot gap (challenging for those who haven’t read the book), it remains faithful to the basic story and spirit of Gaiman’s creation. Fantasy films aren’t taken seriously often enough and are generally relegated to the realm of childhood entertainment, but this film does a wonderful job of avoiding this trend of oversimplification. Most of all, Stardust is driven by its spectacular cast, which includes Ian McKellen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole and Rupert Everett. In fact, there are very few good actors who aren’t in this movie.

But perhaps the most magical thing about Stardust lies not in its actors or plot, but in its unwillingness to conform to standards set by recent predecessors like Eragon and Ella Enchanted. It’s funny, thrilling, multi-dimensional and surprising. And after all, who can resist Robert DeNiro in drag?

*For extra kicks, be sure to catch the laughably horrible trailer for Beowulf.


BRAZIL: NOT YOUR USUAL DYSTOPIAN CINEMATIC SCENARIO

What can you say about Brazil? This masterpiece about love, escape from reality, and bureaucracy gone horribly wrong has been confusing audiences worldwide since 1985. Perhaps we should examine its origins with director/writer Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame), who spent months struggling with the head of Universal Studios, who wanted the entire film re-cut and given a more marketable ending. Thanks to Gilliam’s persistence, however, Brazil (in its original, unaltered form) will continue to mystify filmgoers for generations to come.

So what exactly is this movie, this paragon of befuddlement? Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, an office worker living in a nightmarish world of inefficient technology, miscommunication, paranoia, government conspiracies, and ducts. Lots of ducts. In a dazzling juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, his dreams seem to provide the only outlet for escape. Yes, there’s a girl. Yes, Robert DeNiro and Michael Palin also star in this film. And yes, one of Brazil’s IMDB plot keywords is “Breakfast Machine.” If you’re not intrigued yet, consider this: you don’t even need to fill out a 27B/6. What more could you ask for?