Happy New Year, World!
The high-larious Zombieland first introduced me to the charms of Emma Stone. In Easy A, she plays Olive, a smart, virginal and totally anonymous teenager whose white lie about losing her virtue, permanently stains her previously held non-reputation. Perhaps exhilarated by her newfound popularity (or notoriety) as the school hussy, she charitably starts to pretend to do the deed with unattractive, unpopular or suspected gay male schoolmates, in exchange for gifts or money. Well, mostly gift cards. And predictably, things quickly spin out of her control.
This is a break out role for Ms. Stone, one of those A-Star-is-Born performances. Her loving, supportive, and too-cool parents played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, provide some of the film's funniest moments. Penn Badgley plays her romantic interest, Todd, the school mascot. Thomas Haden Church is her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith. Amanda Bynes is her self-righteous torturer (reminiscent of Mandy Moore in Saved!.) It was a pleasant surprise also to see Lisa Kudrow in an unlikable role.
Like Clueless which was based on Jane Austen's Emma, the plot loosely follows Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. (Olive starts to proudly wear a letter A on her clothes, a redesigned wardrobe that her parents non-judgmentally tell her makes her look like a stripper.) It combines it with our obsession with voyeuristic technology, for living our lives on the internet and on the blogosphere, with common high school issues like bullying, hypocrisy, gossiping, and peer pressure. The dialogue is witty and sharp, much like Juno was. I give this film an A.
(photo from filmofilia)
Check out honorary Brit Madonna's introduction to the Do They Know It's Christmas 2004 recording to benefit Darfur.
As a young girl, I was fascinated by the abdication crisis that brought England's Prince Albert/Duke of York (and consequently, Queen Elizabeth II), to power. I remembered how the Queen Mother despised Wallis Simpson, blaming her for King George VI's early demise. After seeing The King's Speech, I sympathized even more with the reluctant king.
Bertie (Colin Firth) thinks himself a family man, a naval officer, the spare to Prince Edward's (Guy Pearce) heir, not king material. Used to being made fun of since childhood because of his stammering, he feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities of a prince, much less a king.
Eager to help her husband, Lady Elizabeth/Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Convinced that stuttering is caused by childhood trauma, Lionel also becomes psychologist/psychiatrist/friend to the unwilling patient. Mr. Firth's Pride and Prejudice co-star Jennifer Ehle plays Myrtle, Lionel's wife.
The performances are divine. It is great to see Ms. Bonham Carter in a quiet, subdued role. Michael Gambon is an intimidating, memorable King George V. Timothy Spall plays Winston Churchill. Mr. Rush is masterful as a cheeky commoner (Australian at that) who helps the king find his voice. I believe the two lead actors will get acting nominations. The film should qualify for Best Picture as well. Mr. Firth's Bertie is heartbreaking, regal. He can be haughty, wryly funny, but his sensitive, troubled side wins our hearts. The lead stars have tremendous chemistry; the eloquent screenplay gives us brilliant repartee while pulling at our heartstrings. I wiped off tears many a time; laughing out loud even more times. You will be touched by the unlikely friendship between these two men who couldn't be any more dissimilar.
We all know how it ends, but to see the king's personal triumph was exhilarating and inspiring. This is a perfect underdog-beats-the-odds film. A man loath to lead, eventually guiding his people and country through a terrible war. What could be a better portrait of courage and integrity than that?
Happy Boxing Day!
(photo from filmofilia)
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This is a bit late, but famed director Blake Edwards passed away last week. He was best known for The Pink Panther series, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Days of Wine and Roses. Our condolences to his wife Julie Andrews and his family.
(photo from Wikipedia)
I have been waiting for this movie ever since I saw the first trailer a few months ago. Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is a psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman. She plays Nina Sayers, a plucked from the ensemble ballerina to star as the White and Black Queen in Swan Lake. Vincent Cassel plays Thomas Leroy, the artistic director of the New York City Ballet while Mila Kunis is Lily, also a ballerina and understudy to Nina.
Nina is a very sheltered woman still living with her over bearing mother (Erica Sayers) Barbara Hershey. Erica Sayers is herself a former dancer who gave up dance to raise Nina. Nina is talented and consumed with perfection as a dancer. The principal dancer of their company played by Winona Ryder is retired prematurely by Leroy and he starts auditions for the new principal. Nina is eventually chosen but not after some company intrigue. Things change and become more intense when Lily befriends Nina and shows her an alternative lifestyle to her more stern and focused one. This then creates conflict with Nina's mother. I don't want to give anything more but the plot escalates when rehearsals for Swan Lake start. Nina, sweet and innocent, is perfect as the White Swan. Leroy demands that Nina play a convincing Black Swan which she struggles to do. Meanwhile Lily, the complete personification of the Black Swan, always looms in the background.
I heard that Natalie Portman trained for 10 months to be on pointe. That's impressive! It's incredible to watch her particularly during the rehearsal scenes. Her torment when she struggles to find her inner Black Swan, the more seductive of the two characters, is so intense and completely painted in her facial expressions. You feel that you are right there with her. Of course this is amplified with the great closeup shots by Matthew Libatique (cinematographer). The dance shots are so enjoyable with particular detail given to limb movements. I particularly enjoyed the closeup shots of the feet when the dancers were doing pirouettes. The movie had some sort of documentary feel because of this.
Vincent Cassel was perfect as the demanding yet manipulative company head. While Mila Kuniz was a great "bad girl" ballerina.
This movie is not what you think and will surprise you as a viewer. There are some surreal aspects of the movie (which I won't talk about because it would hint at the plot) that I was really creeped out by. It did, however, add to the intenseness. By the time the movie ended I was actually relieved because I don't think I could take any more suspense!
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is the best one. I went on it twice to catch everything I missed the first time.
The attention to detail is staggering. There are hidden treasures everywhere so keep your eyes peeled.
Three Broomsticks. The food is great!
Tree of Life
the Oldengate Bridge, a replica fossil gateway made from the bones of a Brachiosaurus. The original is in Chicago's Field Museum.
Expedition Everest: awesome ride!
Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade
Festival of the Lion King show