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Summer Delights

Some of my favorite summer movies this year include Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”, an amazing accomplishment, using the same cast members to tell a vibrant family story over a span of 12 years, it’s fascinating to watch the development of Eller Coltrane, as an actor, and as his character Mason. Don’t miss it. The other wonderful film is a Spanish movie, “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed”, set in 1966, a story by director Richard Trueba about a Spanish English teacher trying to meet John Lennon on the film set of “How I Won The War”. It’s a road trip film with two interesting teens joining the teacher on his quest. Delightful. My GPA for both 4.0.Boyhood Poster

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July 31, 2014
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July 16, 2014
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July 12, 2014
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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Here’s a bit we did this week on “A Prairie Home Companion”

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March 16, 2014
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A Last Minute Oscars Prediction Appearance on TV

(Photo: Christopher Polk Getty Images)

(Photo: Christopher Polk Getty Images)

Had the pleasure of appearing on the KARE 11 Saturday Morning Show on the day before the Oscars Show. Check it out and see how I do tonite.

http://www.kare11.com/story/entertainment/movies/2014/03/01/tim-russell-oscar-predictions/5922707/ .

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March 2, 2014
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February 17, 2014
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My 2014 Oscar Picks

Oscar StatueIt was a great year for movies, stories based on mostly true stories, historical dramas, spectacular technical achievements, some of the best performances in all categories, and no shoe-in any of those categories. Here are my picks for the 2014 Academy Awards.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The front runner and early award winner here has been Jennifer Lawrence but I’m glad to see Lupita Nyong’o come to the forefront with a startlingly good first film performance in “12 Years a Slave”. This category loves newcomers.

The nominees:

Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”

Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”

Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”

Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”

June Squibb in “Nebraska”

 

Should and Will win: Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”

Could win: Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This is tough category, there will be some sentimental votes for the first time actor, limousine driver, Barkhad Abdi, and a magnificent performance by Michael Fassbender, but Jared Leto was unparalleled in “Dallas Buyers Club”. I wish the academy had nominated Daniel Bruhl had been nominated for  his performance in “Rush” instead of the underwhelming Jonah Hill.

The nominees:

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”

Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”

Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”

Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

 

Should and Will win: Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win: Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett has been the frontrunner here but there is some drama about whether or not the recent Woody Allen controversy will affect voters. I don’t think it will. The other obstacle to an Oscar for Cate is the fact that 4 time nominee Amy Adams has never won, so that might be in Amy’s favor here, but I’m sticking with Cate for the best performance.

The nominees:

Amy Adams in “American Hustle”

Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”

Judi Dench in “Philomena”

Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”

 

Should and Will win: Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”

Could win: Amy Adams in “American Hustle”

BEST ACTOR

This is the toughest category. Chiwetel Ejiofor was wonderful as Solomon Northrup, the free black man kidnaped and kept in brutal slavery for 12 years, and there’s a lot of love for Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” for a lifetime of fine performances, but Matthew McCounaughey caps of a series of terrific movie characters (he could have been nominated for the terrific “Mud”) with the best performance of the year in “Dallas Buyers Club”. I wish there had been room for Robert Redford in “All is Lost”, in perhaps the best performance of his career.

The nominees:

Christian Bale in “American Hustle”

Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”

Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”

Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

 

Should and Will win: Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win: Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”

BEST DIRECTOR

This is a weird category, David O. Russell showed of his prowess with getting the most out of his actors, the same for Steve McQueen and Alexander Payne, but Alfonso Cuarón created things never seen on the screen before so I think he’ll be honored with the Oscar here.

The nominees:

“American Hustle” David O. Russell

“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón

“Nebraska” Alexander Payne

“12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen

“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese

 

Should and Will win: “Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón

Could win: “12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen

BEST PICTURE

These are all fine nominees: “12 Years a Slave” created a conversation about an important historical moment, and “Philomena” entertained with a great mixture of humor and pathos, “Gravity” dazzled us with it magnificent visuals with the best use of 3D in memory, but I’m going with “American Hustle” for the combination of all of these factors.

The nominees:

“American Hustle”

“Captain Phillips”

“Gravity”

“Her”

“Philomena”

“12 Years a Slave”

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

 

Will win: “American Hustle”

Could win:  “12 Years a Slave”

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February 17, 2014
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RIP Shirley Temple, A Lovely Woman

Shirley Temple BlackIn 1998 I had the honor of interviewing Shirley Temple Black. She was a very nice interviewee, she talked about her childhood as one of the top Box office star of the 1930′s with great candor, as detailed in her autobiography, “Child Star”. After she retired in 1950, she became interested in public service and was appointed Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia. She passed away at the age of 85 on Monday, February 10, 2014. Rest in Peace.

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February 11, 2014
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“Monuments Men”, Not That Monumental

Monuments MenGeorge Clooney has given us some fine cinema as a director, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” come to mind, but “Monuments Men” is a serious misfire by the film’s genial actor, co-writer, director. Clooney has assembled an all-star cast, but the script he fashioned with co-writer Grant Heslov can’t decide what it wants to be: war drama or jokey buddy comedy. The story of a gang of artists, architects, and scholars attempting to save Europe’s great art from being destroyed by order of Hitler in the final days of World War II deserves better. Bill Murray and John Goodman are just a few of the normally reliable actors that seem to phone it in here. Even the great Matt Damon and Kate Blanchett struggle with their scenes almost as much as they struggle with their attempts at French accents. Clooney has quite a few pious monologues that, while deserved considering the tragedies of the war’s victims, seem clumsy and contrived. The music by Alexandre Desplat brings to mind the War Comedies of the early 70′s, like Lalo Shifrin’s score for “Kelly’s Heroes”, and is entirely too intrusive and would better serve an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes”. The one thing that I can say about a film like this, dealing with a terrifically interesting historical subject, is that I can’t wait to find the 2006 documentary  “The Rape of Europa”, that tells this story with actual historical footage, or perhaps the 1994 book of the same title by Lynn H. Nicholas.

Rated: PG-13 for war violence

My GPA: 2.2

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February 7, 2014
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A Reminder of How Good Robert Altman’s Last Film Was

Writer Joshua Brunsting recently wrote an article about why Famed director Robert Altman’s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion”, written by Garrison Keillor, should get the Blueray treatment:

“Over any given span of time, the popularity of a given director can go through ebbs and flows. Take director Robert Altman for example. Always considered one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, his name has now, with recent releases of films like Nashville on Criterion dual format, been as talked about as any of the youngsters taking to the festival circuit or veteran names finding a home in megaplexes around the globe. Since his death in 2006, the director’s career has been feted over and over again by those looking at his pictures for the first time or those looking at them for the tenth, and yet, one film seems to constantly be overlooked.

Entitled A Prairie Home Companion, the film is the final film Altman made before his death, and it’s one of his best. A big screen adaptation of sorts of the beloved NPR radio series of the same name, the film is everything one would home to get out of a Robert Altman picture, ranging from its gigantic cast chock full of A-listers down to the oddly ever present sense of death that presides over the picture.

Amongst the aforementioned heavy-hitter-filled cast is Kevin Kline, our guide of sorts through this world found seemingly entirely in the back stage area of a legendary theater, and the stage where each of these characters comes to life. Kline plays a man named Guy Noir, a private detective/doorman of sorts for this troupe of performers led by one Garrison Keillor, the show’s host. A much loved show, the show has seen better days, and, as the main dramatic hook, we discover that tonight’s proceedings are the final time the show will ever be aired. With the show on its final legs, a mysterious trenchcoat wearing woman who may or may not be an angel of some sort and even a young teen pre-disposed to write some rather bleak poetry, A Prairie Home Companion is a breathless comedy that is also a death-ridden picture that is as fitting a final film as director Altman could have ever hoped to have as his final credit.

At first glance, the film’s cast is absolutely incomparable. Kline is absolutely great here as Noir, a perfectly dry detective whose prosaic style of speaking is perfectly dry, fitting Kline’s delivery like a glove. Opposite him is Keillor, the real life host of the radio show and the one who informs us about the goings on over at Lake Wobegon. Joining Keillor on stage are the country music singing sister duo Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson (Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin respectively) and even a pair of bad joke telling ranch hands played perfectly by the pair of Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly.  Toss in a never better Lindsay Lohan as Yolanda’s daughter Lola and even welcome faces like Maya Rudolph, and you have an ensemble cast that is more than fitting for the final film from one of the greatest ensemble cast directors to ever get behind a camera.

The entire cast gives superb performances. Lohan is of particular note, who not only fits this character perfectly, but her performance is toned perfectly. Slightly a caricature of a wannabe teen artist, there is a humor behind her performance that is sadly missing from much of her recent work, and in the film’s final moments you realize just how much of a magnetic presence she truly can be. Harrelson and Reilly are superb opposite one another, and their “Bad Jokes” sequence is one of the best and most inviting musical sequences to grace the big screen in quite some time. Streep is understated for once and it proves to be a superbly melancholic performance, taking on the role of a woman disconnected from her daughter and dealing with a relationship that may be over, but itself still sitting heavy on her mind.

Now, however great the cast truly is (and trust me, the performances here are bewilderingly great), Altman is the film’s biggest star. Aesthetically, the film is beautifully thoughtful, never allowing itself to draw away from a performance too soon, or linger on it for too long. With gorgeous photography, the film is at its very core a back room drama with a focus on character instead of directorial flourishes. With director Paul Thomas Anderson hired as a “backup” director in case Altman weren’t healthy enough to work on any given day, this is a telling example of just the type of influence Altman had over Anderson’s earlier work. Very much a typical aesthetic work from Altman, this is a gorgeous and stayed character study.

However, if there is one thing that this film seems bizarrely interested in, it’s death. Be it actual death in characters (presumably) like the one played by Virginia Madsen and Lohan’s poetry-writing Lola, or conceptually in the form of the actual radio show, the film’s predisposition to death sets a cloud of melancholy over every passing second of the film. An idea that weighed heavy on Altman’s mind throughout his career, the film has been described by critics following its release as some sort of “wake,” itself a rather fitting descriptor for this picture. Melancholy and yet overflowing with a lively sense of humor, the film is neither bleak nor slight, instead seeing death as something itself inevitable, making this a vital comedy from one of film’s greatest directors. Charming and placid, the film is easily one of the most rewarding and inviting films that has seemingly been forgotten since its debut back in 2006.

And with the film being truly overlooked, comes the fact that it has yet to be seen on Blu-ray. Criterion should, in their great wisdom, help change that. There is a solid DVD release of the film, but with a new transfer, the film itself could look better than it ever has. That said DVD release has a good commentary with Altman which would be a welcome port over, and knowing that Criterion has sourced things from director Paul Thomas Anderson, a conversation with him would be a welcome addition. Toss in a big retrospective of Altman’s career from the legendary collection of actors his work touched and you could have a release that would be more than fitting of this superb final film from the brilliant Robert Altman.”

My participation s “”Al, the stage manager” was, one of the great thrills of my life. Thank you Garrison Keillor.

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February 6, 2014