Thursday, March 20, 2014


The action thriller genre Liam Neeson has claimed as his own since the release of Taken hits a fairly high note in Non-Stop. Director Jaume Collet-Serra has worked with Neeson before in this genre in Unknown and has a further background in horror films. The script by John W Richardson and Christopher Roach is both their first features with not much other writing to speak of between the two of them. Neeson is a Federal Air Marshall, threatened on an international flight to London. Julianne Moore brings additional acting gravitas to the movie and brief appearances by the now Oscar winning Lupita Nuong'o as a flight attendant are a sweet treat for her fans. The flight attendant with a considerably larger role is Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery.
For some reason thrillers that take place on a plane tend to be really good. For example, in the past both Red Eye with Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy and Flightplan with Jodie Foster were strong thrillers. This must be because it is a situation that we are all familiar with and it plays on common fears of flying and security. Non-Stop creates the reaction that any good thriller should, it gets you theorizing, trying to figure out whodunit and gives your body a rush of adrenaline. When well executed, it is a genre that is kind of exhausting to watch and Non-Stop achieves that. Good acting and writing make the movie and minimal disbelief to suspend sustains it. A run time just over an hour and a half is also key. Crisp editing keeps it from being too long; not knowing when to call it quits can plague action and thriller flicks.

No critical darling, audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, imdb and Fandango have given their approval. Opening weekend Non-Stop was number one at the box office and fell to third in its second week of release. This past weekend it dipped to number four and current estimated domestic grosses are 71.5 million dollars. The flick cost 50 million to make with another 63.4 million in foreign sales thus far. It will see another drop this weekend with the opening of Divergent and the Muppet movie. Non-Stop no doubt will keep Neeson's action streak alive. Taken 3 is in pre-production and has been announced with a January 2015 release.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Taking place in 1930s pre-war Europe, in the fictitious country of Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel features Ralph Fiennes as concierge extraordinaire M Gustave. The screenplay was inspired by the writings of Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig and filmed entirely in Germany.

The Grand Budapest Hotel stands to be Wes Anderson's magnum opus. The Royal Tenenbaums remains one of my favorite movies and certainly my favorite work of Anderson's but The Grand Budapest Hotel is an artful execution of the best of his storytelling devices, clever casting and colorful, frosting like visuals. As Jake Coyle of the Washington Post said, "Anderson, like few other directors, has perpetually kept critics and moviegoers off-balance with his idiosyncratic blend of orchestrated whimsy, deep-rooted melancholy and deadpan slapstick." Part of what makes the film stand out in Anderson's repertoire is the unique timeline and narration style. For the viewer familiar with Anderson's previous films it also seems like a culmination of all his work with allusions to his previous features.
The cast includes many of Anderson's now usual suspects, a growing troupe that increases with each of his films. Although some have very brief appearances, all are memorable and often amusing. The typical list of extended cast members is omitted here in the hope that as an actor appears on screen it will surprise and delight the reader as it did me. The score by Alexandre Desplat is also remarkable. Desplat also did the music for Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr Fox and has received six Oscar nominations for his work, including this past year's Philomena.

The film opened March 7th in four theaters in New York and LA and continued to expand its limited release on the 14th. The movie is currently only playing in one theater in Portland, Cinema 21 on NW 21st. There are many showtimes but they are very crowded. Their website offers helpful tips on parking and easy online ticket purchasing. Even with a pre-purchased ticket, arrive with enough time to wait in line. If you wish to take advantage of the concessions that include beer and wine, give yourself extra time for the long lines and crowds. The film is now playing in 66 theaters nationwide and has made 4.8 million dollars domestically. Globally, the movie has already made an additional 20 million dollars. It was initially unclear to me at this point in Anderson's career why his films are still released to limited theaters and then expanded. I remember fighting opening crowds and sold out showings for The Royal Tenenbaums in Portland and then again back at school in Eugene to see it a second time weeks later. That was more than twelve years ago and five films later. Perhaps it is the way Anderson remains independent but most likely it is because while his films all make money and are critically acclaimed, they are not blockbusters. Not to be grandiose but if that preserves the artistic integrity of his films, so be it. The Grand Budapest Hotel won its first award, the Silver Berlin Bear Award at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. I suspect many awards and nominations are to follow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mark Wahlberg

Once rapper Marky Mark, Wahlberg has become a major Hollywood player producing television shows for HBO (Entourage, How to Make It in America, In Treatment and Boardwalk Empire) as well as Oscar nominated films like The Fighter. He has even expanded into reality show turf with the A+E show Wahlburgers. The show chronicles the activities of the Boston restaurant he owns with brother Donnie and brother Paul runs. The Entourage movie is currently filming and Ted 2 has been announced. Wahlberg has appeared in three David O Russell directed movies, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter. He has received two Oscar nominations, the first for Best Supporting Actor in The Departed and second as producer for The Fighter's Best Picture nod. His career is very diverse at this point and it was difficult to select which movies to highlight.

The Perfect Storm
A true story about the Andrea Gail which was caught in the Perfect Storm of 1991, the movie is based on the 1997 book by Sebastian Junger. The crew of the ship is portrayed by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John Hawkes, William Fichtner and John C Reilly. The ensemble cast also includes Diane Lane, Karen Allen, Cherry Jones, Janet Wright and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. It was nominated for two Oscars for sound and visual effects and it won a BAFTA for visual effects. The characters have enough depth to root for them and elevate the movie to more than just a special effects showcase. The Perfect Storm is available to rent OnDemand and has been airing on IFC.

The Italian Job
A remake of the 1969 original, The Italian Job is a fun action comedy with a strong ensemble cast that includes Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def and Edward Norton. The characters and plot of the two versions are very different. The movie is a solid, fun caper in the genre of the Oceans movies and the Fast and the Furious franchise. The reboot pays homage to the original and both share the use of Mini Coopers for use in big heist scenes. The remake came out in 2003, at the time of a rebranding and expansion of the Mini under new distribution and production by BMW as the MINI. The new movie was a critical and commercial success and there has been a rumored sequel, The Brazilian Job, for years. The Italian Job is streaming on Netflix.

The Fighter
David O Russell directed the true story of two boxing brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts, Micky "Irish" Ward and Dicky Eklund. Christian Bale lost significant weight to look like the emaciated Eklund who struggled with drug addiction. The movie received seven Oscar nominations including Best Supporting Actress for Amy Adams. Both Bale and Melissa Leo won Oscars for their supporting roles. The list of ways to earn an Oscar nomination like adapting an accent, significant weight loss or gain, and/or pretty girls gone ugly, now seems to include being directed by Russell. The film is a powerful story of Micky's drive to succeed. His family is at the same time supportive and a hurdle to his success. The Fighter is available to rent OnDemand. 

The Fighter is also the degree to the next artist in the Six Degrees Series, Amy Adams. Adams and the next two actors in the series have also all starred in David O Russell pictures. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

David O Russell

First up in the Six Degrees of Katie at the Movies series is writer and director David O Russell. Each post in the series will spotlight a different artist and the next entry will have one degree of separation from the previous, as collaborators. I have prepared a list of 37 artists or castmates and at least one project that links them.

David O Russell was born and raised in New York. He won Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay for the independent and dark Spanking the Monkey. Between I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, Russell wrote Nailed with Kristin Gore, a political comedy starring Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tracy Morgan, Catherine Keener, Paul Reubens, Josh Brolin, and Kirstie Alley. The film has never been released and is not expected to be. Russell is the only director to have two consecutively released films, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, that were nominated for Academy Awards in all four acting categories.

Three Kings
Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, this 1999 flick had the tagline, "They're deserters, rebels and thieves. But in the nicest possible way." Best known as a writer and director, Spike Jonze also co-stars. The film takes place at the end of the Gulf War and was filmed in Arizona, California and Mexico. Many extras were real life Iraqi refugees. This was early in Clooney's movie career but it seems to have set the tone for the sort of political, writer/director and team focused projects that he selects or now creates. Three Kings is available on Streampix OnDemand.

Flirting with Disaster 
An independent film from 1996, Flirting with Disaster stars Ben Stiller as Mel who is married to Patricia Arquette's Nancy. Mel is unable to name their newborn baby before finding his birth parents. Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal co-star as Mel's wacky adoptive parents. Téa Leoni works for the adoption agency Stiller's character has contacted to find his birth parents. After leaving their home in New York to meet Mel's newly located parents, a road film ensues. Richard Jenkins and Lily Tomlin who appear in Russell's I Heart Huckabees also co-star, as well as Alan Alda and Josh Brolin. Flirting with Disaster is available for streaming on Netflix.

I Heart Huckabees
My favorite of all Russell's pictures, Huckabees seems to be, for at least the time being, the last of his really wacky and truly independent films. A tone of that quirk is present in all his movies with his flawed and honest characters. The movie begins with Jason Schwartzman's work with existential detectives played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, and then their partnering of him with Mark Wahlberg's firefighter who is obsessed with fossil fuels. One of my all time favorite movie quotes is Wahlberg's "But there's no way I could stop its use in my lifetime is there? I mean, Jimmy Carter would have an electric car by now. I could have a Cadillac Escalade and it could be electric." You have to see the 2004 film to find out how their unique characters all connect to Jude Law's megastore executive and Shania Twain. I Heart Huckabees is available to rent on Amazon Instant View.

Next up in the series is frequent Russell star, Mark Wahlberg and the Fighter.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The 86th Annual Academy Awards

The big winners last night were 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Gravity took home seven statues, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. The four acting winners, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o, Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey, gave solid speeches and Lupita's, much like her style and winning performance, was the best. Everyone seemed genuinely happy for the winners and it seemed like the celebration of film that it is meant to be. Jared Leto shook Jonah Hill's hand on the way to the stage to accept his Oscar. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey hugged on McCaughey's walk to the stage, Leo even kissed him. Julia Roberts turned and smiled as she clapped Nyong'o's win and Cate Blanchett acknowledged her fellow nominees with a dash of humor in her speech.
This was one of the best years in Oscar memory. The show was great, the winners were fantastic and my party was excellent. And I got 22 out of 24 predictions right, my best ever! It will take years, possibly decades, to beat that record. The two I missed, Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short, were not categories I was concerned about or that appeared to be close races. Emily was the winning guest and took home the statue from the party. This is the first year that six of the movies were represented in decorations, drinks or themed food at my party, Gravity, the Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine and Philomena. The musical performances were stronger than I ever recall them being. Pharrell had the audience at the Dolby Theater on their feet, dancing with Lupita, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and his presence while singing the nominated "Happy" was highly energized. One could almost forgive the hat, which he only wore during the performance and not on the red carpet. Apparently he also sells the hats after he wears them and donates the proceeds to charity. The other nominees, U2, Karen O and Idina Menzel, were also exceptional. Pink!'s arrangement of "Over the Rainbow" was great and Bette Midler was impeccable in her Oscar stage debut singing the sentimental movie favorite "Wind Beneath My Wings." There were many standing ovations and Midler received an extended one for her performance.
Ellen did a wonderful job hosting the ceremony. With her trademark humor and visits to the audience, she kept those in attendance and those viewing from home entertained. She literally broke twitter with her mega-star group selfie, taken by Bradley Cooper and included Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Channing Tatum, Lupita Nyong'o, Nyong'o's brother Peter, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Jared Leto. It's currently been retweeted over three million times. Ellen got Samsung to donate a dollar for every retweet and the money will be split between St Jude's and the Humane Society. This gif of the selfie is quite fun too as is the Ellen, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch one. Upon rewatching the Oscar telecast, you can see Angelina Jolie tap Brad Pitt on the shoulder in a very non-verbal communication moment that seems to say, "go take the picture Brad." Cooper got it done. The pizza delivery bit was inspired and had never been done before. The pizza guy was the real co-owner Edgar Martirosyan of Big Mama and Papa's Pizzeria chain, previously best known for its record holding world's largest deliverable pizza. He was on Ellen's live show today and she really gave him the tip money she collected in Pharrell's hat. After the second commercial break of the awards show, Ellen gave Bradley Cooper some scratch-it lotto tickets as a consolation prize for being runner-up. She provided him with a quarter but said she would need it back and that if he won big they were to split it. Ellen's efforts paid off, the ratings for the Academy Awards were at a ten year high. It was the highest rated television event since the finale of Friends.
BEST PICTURE 12 Years a Slave
BEST DIRECTOR Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
BEST ACTRESS Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
BEST ACTOR Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST ORIGINAL SONG "Let It Go" from Frozen
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT The Lady in No. 6: Music Saved My Life
  • Just had to add a couple more pictures...

2014 Oscar Fashion

My best dressed goes to Lupita Nyong'o. She wore a beautiful baby blue Prada gown with subtle sparkles in the skirt. Her Fred Leighton gold and diamond headband and jewelry together with her makeup completed the look. Expectations were high because Nyong'o has become such a red carpet fixture this season and she more than delivered on her winning night. I still want to see what her shoes looked like, they were Prada as well.
Jennifer Garner and Charlize Theron were my next best dressed. Garner's look stood out from the other metallic and neutral colored dresses and the Oscar de la Renta was perfected with the hair and makeup. I loved the unique neckline of Theron's dress. The necklace made it perfect and the train was fabulous. I also loved Sandra Bullock in Alexander McQueen, Amy Adams in Gucci and Julia Roberts in Givenchy.
And now for the trends. First up, the old Hollywood cape look with Camilla Alves and Kate Hudson. I am a fan, I think it is a fun update on a classic style. 
Next up, Penelope Cruz in a Grecian style dress. Lupita's also falls into this category (she started the cape trend too in her red caped Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes). Men in colorful shades of tuxedos were also trending, though photos were sparse but below are Oscar guru Dave Karger, Live's Michael Strahan, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudeikis with Olivia Wilde and Benedict Cumberbatch on stage with Jennifer Garner to present Production Design. Some dark blues were so subtle that a dark navy did not always show on screen, like Cumberbatch's.
The most out of hand trend of the night was the nude sparkly dress, as my friends dubbed it. Loosely in order of my favorite to least favorite ranking.

And more fabulous looks... 
  • Look what I found...