Friday, April 20, 2012

Nicholas Sparks: Who Dies? The Lucky One Edition

  Disclaimer: It goes without saying, you shouldn't read this post if you haven't seen the movie and knowing the deceased party will ruin it for you.  Also, you probably shouldn't read it if you think The Notebook is one the most romantic books/ movies ever.   

Author Nicholas Sparks has another movie adaptation out (just in time for Mother's Day!).  I know what you're thinking- all of his plots are the same!  A couple falls in love, they hang out a lot on North Carolina beaches, kiss passionately in the rain, and at least one person dies.  But don't be so cynical.  The Lucky One is completely different!  It takes place in Louisiana not North Carolina!

Premise: The Lucky One follows hunky Marine Logan Thibault (Zach Efron), who finds a picture of a beautiful woman in the dirt while fighting in Iraq.  He plans on returning the picture to its owner, but it doesn't appear to have one.  However, Logan becomes extremely lucky after finding the picture- even surviving a deadly battle that killed two of his friends.  When his third tour of duty is over, he decides to track down the woman in the picture to thank her.  But once he meets the woman- a spunky, single mom named Beth (Taylor Schilling), he decides to romance her instead.  Because that isn't creepy at all! And then they probably hang out a lot on the beach and lock lips in the rain and all that other boring stuff that happens in Nicholas Sparks books. But let's get to the important question- who dies?  (Serious spoiler alerts after the jump!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Actor Spotlight: Viggo Mortensen

A brief primer on why Mr. Mortensen is significantly cooler than you are:

  • He is fluent in at least three languages (English, Danish, Spanish), and is conversant in several others. His performance in the 2006 historical film Alatriste is one example of his mastery of the Spanish language.
  • He was married to Exene Cervenka, co-founder of the influential Los Angeles punk band X. This, in itself, places him in a fairly rarefied realm of coolness. To exceed that level of cool, you'd pretty much have to be Exene Cervenka.
  • He is a photographer, painter, musician, and published poet. (These are not vanity projects; his earliest book was published in 1993, long before his role in The Lord of the Rings made him a household name.)
  • He was in Young Guns II. If you don't think that's pretty cool, then you really need to watch Young Guns II. (You don't need to have seen the first Young Guns, and you don't need to care about Westerns.)
  • His brief performance as Lalin, a paraplegic ex-gangster, opposite Al Pacino in Carlito's Way evinced more genuine pathos than any other moment in the entire 144-minute film.
  • He played the role of Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer) in the 1995 film The Prophecy, and managed to not seem completely ridiculous in doing so. No small feat, if you think about it.
  • His performance in A History of Violence, the actor's first collaboration with director David Cronenberg. Mortensen convincingly plays his character as a small-town everyman, until the plot convinces you otherwise.
  • His performance in Eastern Promises, the actor's second collaboration with director David Cronenberg. Look for a false note in Mortensen's portrayal of compromised Russian gangster Nikolai Luzhin. You will not find one.
  • Along with Johnny Depp, he may be the only human being who can get away with curiously sculpted facial hair. (I am not advocating this.)
  • In A Dangerous Method, his most recent collaboration with Cronenberg, he played the towering historical figure Sigmund Freud. His take on the character was nuanced; calculating without seeming calculated; amusing, but without any trace of parody. (I'm legally required to point out that Mortensen's co-star in A Dangerous Method is the Media Corner favorite Michael Fassbender.)
  • He participated in the documentary film The People Speak, in which actors and musicians perform dramatic renditions of the words of every-day Americans. His reading of a letter written by the family of a man who died in the World Trade Center attacks is deeply moving.
  • His performance in The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's grim  post-apocalyptic novel. Mortensen powerfully portrays the unnamed father's relentless determination to protect and provide for his son.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy 22nd birthday, Kristen Stewart!

Best known as Bella Swan in the Twilight films, Kristen Stewart has an impressive list of acting work that she continues to build upon. I recommend checking out some of her earlier films, such as Panic Room (2002), in which she played Jodie Foster's daughter, and Speak (2004), in which she portrayed a high school freshman shutting out the world after being raped at a party. Speak is based on the book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the heavy subject matter was deftly handled by Stewart as a young teen. Stewart also had a small role alongside Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild (2007). Two of my favorite performances of hers are in Adventureland (2009) and The Runaways (2010). Adventureland found Stewart amongst a stellar cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader; The Runaways showcased Stewart in a new light and made me forget Bella Swan.

In 2012, look for Stewart in On the Road, Snow White in the Huntsman (which I'm already very excited about--see below), and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two.

For a change of pace I wrote in haiku to celebrate Stewart's birthday:

"A New Snow White"

Twenty-two today--
Kristen Stewart, yes she is.
Human or vampire?

Bella had to chose
in the Twilight movies, right.
Bella plus Edward

Forever, juntos.
Breaking Dawn Part One, wedding.
Part Two, red eyes! Woah!

And soon (well, in June)
Snow White and the Huntsman with
Charlize Theron, Thor.

Cannot wait to see
Stewart as a tough Snow White
Riding horses and fighting.

Forboding and dark;
Creepy, sinister trailer.
Awesome fairy tale.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What We're Listening to: Tramp by Sharon Van Etten

Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
Find it in the catalog!

Tramp is the third album by New York City-based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.  I really enjoyed her last album, Epic (especially the closing track, "Love More").  However, Tramp sounded even more promising because it was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National (one of my favorite bands) and had a stellar guest list including Zach Condon of Beirut, Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and Matt Barrick of the Walkmen among others.

Van Etten could rival Adele for writing songs about love gone wrong.  On her last two albums, many songs revolved around a break up with a particularly nasty boyfriend.  While I'm a break-up song connoisseur, I was happy to see that she had mostly moved on from that on Tramp. There is still some romantic angst (including the awesome break-up anthem "Serpents"), but Van Etten seems more focused on personal growth and her own failings this time out.

Van Etten's lyrics really add a lot to the album.  She's good a conveying a lot simply.  For instance, one of my favorite lines on the album is from "Give Out:" "You're the reason why I'll move to the city/ Or why I'll need to leave."  Tramp has a somber and emotional vibe; it's a great album to listen to on a gloomy day.

Stand out tracks:  I love "Serpents", which rocks surprisingly hard for an otherwise mellow album.  "Give Out" is a beautiful but bittersweet track about starting a new relationship after being hurt.  "I'm Wrong" is a builder and is oddly inspirational for a song pleading for self-delusion.  The closer "Joke or a Lie" is a lovely blend of vulnerability and melancholy.