Rainer Werner Fassbinder wasn’t the only one in awe of Douglas Sirk. In this drama, Todd Haynes has recreated everything from Sirk’s films to perfection. One in particular in fact, All That Heaven Allows (1955) – the red, yellow and orange autumn colors in the cinematography, the neat middle-class family, the melodramatic plot. But when the 1950s idyll falls apart in this movie it’s because of passions that never really were revealed in Sirk’s movies. Engrossing; Julianne Moore is touching as the naive housewife with no clue to how her relationship with Dennis Haysbert should be, and Dennis Quaid is very good as her husband, prepared to fight his “disease” with… alcohol.
2002-U.S. 107 min. Color. Produced by Jody Patton, Christine Vachon. Written and directed by Todd Haynes. Cinematography: Edward Lachman. Music: Elmer Bernstein. Cast: Julianne Moore (Cathy Whitaker), Dennis Quaid (Frank Whitaker), Dennis Haysbert (Raymond Deagan), Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn.
Trivia:George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh executive-produced. Russell Crowe and Jeff Bridges were allegedly considered for the part of Frank. Later a stage musical.
Venice: Best Actress (Moore).
Last word:“I think one of the reasons why it comes across as having emotional integrity is that we were enjoying it while making it. There was an amorous feeling towards the material. Even when there are lines like “oh, jiminy,” it was with incredible respect and I think that comes through.” (Haynes, Indiewire)
During a London-bound flight alcoholic federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) starts receiving texts from an anonymous passenger threatening to kill others on the plane unless $150 million is transferred to an account.Unknown (2009) director Jaume Collet-Serra reunites with Neeson for another thriller and shows once again that they know how to build and maintain suspense in spite of a script that you really don’t want to examine too closely. The bad guy’s motives are hard to believe and some situations are too easily resolved, but Neeson and Julianne Moore are engaging and as popcorn fare it’s very enjoyable.
2014-U.S.-France-Briatin. 106 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Cast: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Michelle Dockery (Nancy Hoffman), Nate Parker, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy… Lupita Nyong’o.
Welcome to Oscar week, one that will culminate with the awards show on Sunday. Within a few days I will also publish my review of a classic Best Picture winner, From Here to Eternity (1953). The past week has mostly featured news stories of which celebrities will hand out Oscars, and which will perform live. No surprises there; the closest we’ve come to a controversy is in the Best Original Song category (which I wrote about here). Everything looks set for Ellen DeGeneres to impress as host. And this year’s categories look unusually easy to predict. I smell a rat; expect upsets.
In the clip above, Julianne Moore, Steve Martin and June Squibb offer their takes on the Oscars on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, from yesterday.
Here are my predictions, in some cases heavily influenced by the reliable Gold Derby.
NIC AND JULES HAD THE PERFECT FAMILY, UNTIL THEY MET THE MAN WHO MADE IT ALL POSSIBLE.
It took forever, but then it all seemed to change in a few months. Suddenly, Americans adopted a more positive attitude toward the idea of rainbow families. President Barack Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage in late 2012 helped a lot, although it was hardly a bold stance since the tide had in fact been turning for quite some time. Hollywood had done its share; gay parenting was portrayed as a positive and normal thing on shows like Modern Family, and a little film coming out of Sundance called The Kids Are All Right became a hit.
Things are changing for the Allgood family in California. Nic and Jules (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) have been married for a long time and raised two children, using the same sperm donor. Laser (Josh Hutcherson), 16, and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), 18, are curious about the man who made their lives possible and manage to find out who he is. Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo) is in his 40s and owns an organic foods restaurant but has yet to find a woman who wants to share his bohemian lifestyle. He agrees to meet the Allgood kids and the three of them hit it off. When Nic and Jules find out what their kids have been up to, they’re alarmed but their first meeting with Paul isn’t a disaster. When he tells them about his back garden, Jules offers to landscape it for him as part of a business startup; Nic is wary, but Paul agrees. As he becomes a more common presence in everybody’s lives, there are upheavals.
It’s universal It may seem like a tired thing to say, but it is undeniably refreshing to see a movie about gay parents where it’s not about the challenges of being same-sex moms or even homosexuality itself. It’s not a drama about facing prejudice and inequality. Instead, it’s a funny, emotional and relevant story about a couple that’s been together for a long time and are about to face a new chapter in their lives as the kids soon will be out of the nest. Simply put, it’s universal. In fact, part of the story is so down-to-earth that it runs the risk of being a little too mundane. After all, there have been a lot of stories about children meeting their sperm-donor dad, and middle-aged couples reassessing their lives together after twenty years. Still, director Lisa Cholodenko (who’s also gay) and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg (who’s straight) make all the difference, providing truth and insight to both the central lesbian couple and the straight guy who enters their life. And of course, this is done with a sense of humor and elegance. By the time the drama is unwinding and the time comes to get Joni on her way to college, we’ve invested a lot of feelings in these characters and are ready for the emotional payoff. Bening and Moore are wonderful, especially the former who expertly balances the negative and positive aspects of Jules. They never come across as caricatures (which might be more of a problem in Modern Family), and their differing attitudes toward life and parenting are a compelling part of the film. But Ruffalo, Hutcherson and Wasikowska also deserve kudos; none of them fall in the shadow, but remain important throughout.
It’s funny how also conservative Hollywood can be on this issue. As in the case of Behind the Candelabra (2013), there were serious concerns from the studio how this film was going to make money. In both cases, audiences have proven the studios wrong. Still, the production delay wasn’t all negative for the director. In the meantime, she became a mother via a sperm donor, no doubt an experience that helped inform the film immeasurably.
The Kids Are All Right 2010-U.S. 106 min. Color. Produced by Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg. Cast: Annette Bening (Nicole “Nic” Allgood), Julianne Moore (Jules Allgood), Mark Ruffalo (Paul Hatfield), Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta.
Trivia:Robin Wright and Ewan McGregor were allegedly considered for roles.
Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Bening).
Last word: “It was super-painful to get it made. Even after Annette and Julianne were attached, when it came down to people wanting to write a cheque… well, there were a lot of conversations, but they just never committed. […] I wanted to make a film that was not sentimental, sanctimonious or apologetic; so did Annette and Julianne. So that’s what we did. It is a political film, in the sense that it’s saying: this marriage is as messy and flawed and complicated as any other marriage. I couldn’t have done that anywhere other than in the independent sector.” (Cholodenko, The Guardian)
In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain (Ed Harris) is facing Barack Obama and needs a game-changing name on his ticket; Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) is selected… but not properly vetted. This portrayal of how Palin was launched onto the national stage shows a charismatic, devoted mother firmly rooted in her native state, who knows too little about the world and displays an alarming lack of judgment… which campaign manager Steve Schmidt learned the hard way. In a compelling and very entertaining way, the film shows how the McCain campaign frequently walked into traps. Anchored by Moore’s uncanny performance.
2012-U.S. Made for TV. 117 min. Color. Produced by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman. Directed by Jay Roach. Teleplay: Danny Strong. Book: Mark Halperin, John Heilemann. Cast: Julianne Moore (Sarah Palin), Woody Harrelson (Steve Schmidt), Ed Harris (John McCain), Peter MacNicol, Jamey Sheridan, Sarah Paulson.
Emmys: Outstanding TV Movie, Actress (Moore), Directing, Writing. Golden Globes: Best TV Movie or Miniseries, Actress (Moore), Supporting Actor (Harris).
Last word: “I wanted to confirm that the book that was our primary source was accurate, which it was – that became very clear, in the first couple of interviews – and I wanted to incorporate as much information as I could from those interviews, from the people who actually lived it and the people that we were actually portraying.” (Strong, Collider)
Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) tells her husband (Steve Carell) of 25 years that she wants a divorce; after first jumping out of a car, he eventually takes control of his life with a little help from a womanizer (Ryan Gosling) he met in a bar… There’s a lot more to the story than that, as we follow the awkward and often funny romantic adventures of several characters, including Carell and Moore’s son who has a crush on his baby sitter (who secretly loves Carell). Contrived to be sure, with one major plot twist revealed near the end, but writer Dan Fogelman makes this charming comedy about the nature of love work.
2011-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Steve Carell, Denise Di Novi. Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Screenplay: Dan Fogelman. Cast: Steve Carell (Cal Weaver), Ryan Gosling (Jacob Palmer), Julianne Moore (Emily Weaver), Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo, John Carroll Lynch… Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Josh Groban.
THE LIFE OF A DREAMER, THE DAYS OF A BUSINESS AND THE NIGHTS IN BETWEEN.
The movie that looked like it might reenergize Burt Reynolds’s career (it didn’t really) is a fascinating look at the American porn industry in the late 1970s. Reynolds visited real porn sets in order to better understand the industry. He later told Maxim, “I didn’t like it. When you meet those people, you want to put rubber gloves on and go take a bath.” There is something about that world that fascinates at first, but whenever you get to know it better you realize just how dirty it is. Boogie Nights addresses both those feelings.
The year is 1977. Jack Horner (Reynolds), a director of “exotic films”, is always looking for new talent and finds it in Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a 17-year-old who works at a night club in Torrance, California and makes money on the side by letting guys pay him to jack off in front of them. Eddie dropped out of high school and isn’t really heading anywhere, which makes him an ideal subject for Jack. After an audition where Eddie has sex with one of Jack’s stars, Rollergirl (Heather Graham), the director knows that he’s found a star well-equipped enough to rival John Holmes. Eddie takes the name of Dirk Diggler and together with Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), he finds success in a string of porn flicks with action movie content.
As the decade draws to a close, Jack’s ambition to make high-quality pornography is threatened by the advent of video… and Eddie’s growing addiction to drugs makes it harder for him to perform on camera.
Things take a turn for the worse In fact, drugs and violence are always part of these people’s lives. William H. Macy plays an assistant director who’s married to a porn star (played by a real one, Nina Hartley) who insists on doing other men right in his face regardless of his opinion. That doesn’t end well, and neither do the occasional drug overdoses at Jack’s palatial home. As video begins to dominate the industry, things take a turn for the worse. Director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to argue that the 1980s is the time when pornography went down the drain, but he also views this world as rotten from the beginning, lacking any kind of morals and constantly having to confront its own seediness in the shape of bloody overdoses and mental collapses. Young Eddie still finds it attractive because of the easy money, sexy girls and a certain glamor to his stardom… but in the end few in the business can resist falling off the precipice.
It is obvious that Anderson is inspired by Martin Scorsese; this film could just as easily have been made by him. The master’s style is evident in the editing, the characters and the way Anderson tells his story. The film is expertly cast, with Reynolds as the paternal filmmaker who thinks too highly of himself and Wahlberg as the kid who really has one talent that he uses to the hilt; the supporting cast has brilliant work from actors like Julianne Moore as Eddie’s maternal sex mentor, Macy as the humiliated assistant director and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the goofy boom operator who has a crush on Dirk Diggler.
An important part of the film is also the attention to period details (another Scorsese trait) in the shape of clothes, music and the whole feel of what porn looked like in the 70s.
There’s a now-famous scene in the film where Eddie opens his pants and shows us his highly-touted, huge dick. It was made of rubber and Wahlberg allegedly kept it as a souvenir. Perhaps that fake penis reminds him of the dark side of Hollywood where all it takes to succeed is a lack of inhibition. Unlike Dirk Diggler though, he was able to move on to great things.
Boogie Nights 1997-U.S. 152 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Lloyd Levin, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Lyons, Joanne Sellar. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematography: Robert Elswit. Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler), Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham… Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Philip Baker Hall.
Trivia:Developed from a short Anderson made in 1988. Leonardo DiCaprio was allegedly considered for the part of Dirk; Sydney Pollack and Warren Beatty as Jack; and Gwyneth Paltrow as Rollergirl.
Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds).
Quote: “What can you expect when you’re on top? You know? It’s like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it’s history repeating itself all over again.” (Wahlberg)
Last word: “My memories of first discovering porno film in my pre-adolescence and then my stronger memories from adolescence which is the second half of the movie are certainly the grounding for any research that I did, and you know, I’ve just seen a million porno movies and I’ve read a lot about it. Sort of a general fascination with it. When I wrote the script I had never physically been to a porno set. I stayed away until after I’d written it. (Then) I kind of went and verified what I thought was the truth and was in fact the truth.” (Anderson, Indiewire)
As the Cuban Missile Crisis is playing out, L.A. college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) is contemplating suicide a few months after losing his partner (Matthew Goode) in a car crash. Christopher Isherwood’s novel broke new ground in the 1960s with its gay subject matter and is treated with respect by fashion icon Tom Ford in his directing debut. Some might complain about the slick surface (beautiful people in perfect clothes moving around in stylish houses and pretty neighborhoods), but Ford lets us know that the dashing Falconer needs to maintain those appearances or fall into the abyss. A moving portrayal of life and despair, anchored by Firth’s exceptional performance.
2009-U.S. 99 min. Color-B/W. Widescreen. Produced by Tom Ford, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano, Robert Salerno. Directed by Tom Ford. Screenplay: Tom Ford, David Scearce. Novel: Christopher Isherwood. Cinematography: Eduard Grau. Cast: Colin Firth (George Falconer), Julianne Moore (Charley), Nicholas Hoult (Kenny Potter), Matthew Goode, Jon Kortajarena, Paulette Lamori. Voice of Jon Hamm.
BAFTA: Best Actor (Firth). Venice: Best Actor (Firth).
Last word: “I gave [the actors] a lot of leeway because I think one of the things, or well first of all and I don’t really want to talk too much about fashion because it’s very, very different for me in terms of what this was and why I did this and why I hope to keep doing it and was sort of expression it was but there is a certain similarity in that fashion it is a more collaborative field than one might think. You get used to working with [others]. You have to have an idea. You have to have a vision. You have to communicate that to a team of people to help you realize that vision and you have to create an environment that allows those people to give the very best that they can give.” (Ford, Collider)
I have no idea how P.D. James, the 86-year-old mystery writer behind the novel “The Children of Men”, reacted when she saw Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation. He and the four co-writers made considerable changes to the story and parts of it are disturbingly bleak and realistic. I can only imagine the Baroness looking slightly shocked. On the other hand, I also find it distinctly possible that a woman who has murdered countless of people in her books might have the stomach for it.
The year is 2027 and Earth is in turmoil. Britain has become somewhat of a haven and hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world are trying to cross the borders. Not that it’s a paradise; the leadership has become pretty fascistic, London looks like hell, riots are common… and so are bombings. A group called The Fishes are blamed for several terrorist attacks, including one that almost kills our protagonist. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a common bureaucrat who used to be a radical. Now he’s just another drunk in a hopeless world where no child has been born in 18 years. No one knows the reason for this horrific trend, but humanity is slated for extinction sooner than anyone had anticipated. Shortly after the latest bombing, Theo is kidnapped by The Fishes and it turns out that his former girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), is involved. She tells him that they are not terrorists, that it is the government that’s responsible, and that she needs him to use his connections to help them transport a young woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to a seaside town. Reluctantly, Theo agrees. Things go awry, but Theo finds himself committed to the cause when he learns that Kee is pregnant. She needs to be taken to a boat called Tomorrow that belongs to people who work for a key project aiming to save life on Earth. The hope of mankind now rests on the shoulders of a teenage girl and an alcoholic.
Trapped in dark, sinister worlds
Director Cuarón jumped from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) to this thriller; both portray good people trapped in dark, sinister worlds. Along with the production designers, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki creates a future London and England that we can believe in (if things do indeed go to hell). No flying cars or any nonsense of that kind, just discrete details. Lubezki also shows what kind of a professional he is in one very scary and ingenious sequence where a car is ambushed; the camera moves in a thoughtful, meticulous way that captures events perfectly, but also creates a lot of tension. Because of the way that the sequence is directed, we’re at first lulled into a false sense of complacency. There’s also a harrowing battle near the end where the characters end up in the middle of urban warfare; the scene is shot in a way that even makes us in the audience fear for our lives. Gritty stuff, but the story is truly compelling and the actors make us root for their characters; Owen as the grieving drunk who is pushed to fight oppression, Moore as the proud freedom fighter, Ashitey as the kid who is inexplicably chosen to jump-start procreation, and Michael Caine as the aging hippie who hides out in the forest.
Aspects in the script that deal with illegal immigration, terrorism and the state of our world are particularly interesting when viewed with contemporary eyes, but you don’t need an interest in politics to find this film an emotional and terrifying rollercoaster ride.
Children of Men 2006-U.S.-Britain. 108 min. Color. Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Hilary Shor, Iain Smith, Tony Smith. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby. Novel: P.D. James. Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Production Design: Geoffrey Kirkland, Jim Clay, Jennifer Williams. Cast: Clive Owen (Theo Faron), Julianne Moore (Julian Taylor), Michael Caine (Jasper), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey… Danny Huston.
BAFTA: Best Cinematography, Production Design.
Last word: “When I started working on the film I met with the art department and they undusted all the old rejections from science fiction movies they had done, they were so excited to do this movie that took place in the future. They started showing me all these amazing things. Supersonic cars, buildings, gadgets and stuff and I was like, ‘You guys this is brilliant, but this is not the movie we’re doing. The movie we are doing is this,’ and I brought in my files. It was about Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Chernobyl and I said this is the movie we are doing. The rule I set is this movie is not about imagination, it is about reference.” (Cuarón, Rope of Silicon)
Timid widower Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), his daughter and aunt (Judi Dench) move to a small Newfoundland community where he starts working as a reporter and gets to know a woman (Julianne Moore) who is nothing like his late, psychotic wife (Cate Blanchett). A Lasse Hallströmified version of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel; the shell is there and everything is perfectly respectable, even engaging for a long time, but there are no surprises, no truly gripping ingredients. It does offer chances though for the excellent cast to excel and the cinematographer to present Newfoundland in a beautifully stark light.
2001-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Novel: E. Annie Proulx. Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton. Cast: Kevin Spacey (Quoyle), Julianne Moore (Wavey Prowse), Judi Dench (Agnis Hamm), Cate Blanchett, Pete Postlethwaite, Scott Glenn… Rhys Ifans.
Trivia: John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Billy Bob Thornton were allegedly considered for parts in the film.
Las Vegas illusionist Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) can see two minutes into the future; federal agents want his help to stop terrorists, but he doesn’t feel like ending up a guinea pig. Another disappointment from director Lee Tamahori who takes a fascinating prospect from writer Philip K. Dick and turns it into an ultimately rather silly thriller with not enough action and a central love story that is hard to believe in. The actors make no difference, but the interesting concept is still enough to generate some excitement.
2007-U.S. 96 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nicolas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King, Arne Schmidt. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Novella: Philip K. Dick (“The Golden Man”). Cast: Nicolas Cage (Cris Johnson), Julianne Moore (Callie Ferris), Jessica Biel (Liz Cooper), Thomas Kretschmann, Tory Kittles, José Zúñiga… Peter Falk.
When paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) decides to go to Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) second dinosaur-inhabited island, her boyfriend (Jeff Goldblum) reluctantly joins the expedition. Regarding the script, there’s nothing in this sequel to attract director Steven Spielberg, but I guess he just felt like having fun. The action is certainly engaging, the dinos look magnificent, there’s a healthy sense of humor, and Goldblum is welcome back as the skeptical mathematician. The second half of the film lands in San Diego and turns into King Kong, which isn’t as inspired as it sounds, but who cares?
1997-U.S. 134 min. Color. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Novel: Michael Crichton. Music: John Williams. Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm), Julianne Moore (Sarah Harding), Pete Postlethwaite (Roland Tembo), Arliss Howard, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn… Peter Stormare.
Trivia:Juliette Binoche was allegedly considered for the part of Sarah. Followed by Jurassic Park III (2001).
The pointlessness of Gus Van Sant’s project is staggering; plays are restaged all the time, for instance, but rarely does anyone try to copy a specific famous production of one. Few changes have been made to this scene-by-scene remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, but they’re all bad. The use of color makes the movie less scarier than the original; some scenes are more graphic, but the film lacks the shock value of the original. Vince Vaughn is fine in the lead, though.
1998-U.S. 109 min. Color. Produced by Brian Grazer, Gus Van Sant. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Cast: Vince Vaughn (Norman Bates), Anne Heche (Marion Crane), Julianne Moore (Lila Crane), Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Robert Forster… Rita Wilson.
Trivia: Nicole Kidman and Drew Barrymore were allegedly considered for the part of Marion.