Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine From De La Soul

"Love sought is good, but given unsought better."
-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (III.i)

The best valentine that you, or anyone, will receive this year comes courtesy of the legendary hip hop trio De La Soul. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of their classic debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, the group is offering their entire discography for free download. Repeat: the entire De La Soul catalog can be legally downloaded for free via the group's website; from 3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul is Dead (endlessly inventive albums on which producer Prince Paul completely redefined the art of sampling in popular music) to their more sober-minded '90s work and beyond. This give-away is not limited to studio albums, so even devoted fans can find rarities and instrumentals for download. This is an extraordinary opportunity to familiarize yourself with one of the most innovative musical acts of the last quarter century. But, you've got to be quick about it, as the offer expires when Valentine's Day expires.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day Movie Guide

Valentine's Day seems like a divisive holiday.  Some people go all out for it, and for other people it just reminds them of how lonely they are, or how much they hate watching Nicholas Sparks movies with their significant other.  Personally, I'm pretty indifferent towards the day, but it doesn't stop me from participating in it.  I like to celebrate with a nice bottle of red wine, some chocolate, and a fun, romantic movie.  Below are some film suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day, whether you love or hate it:

If you are in love with someone you can't haveBrief Encounter.  This short but sweet 1945 British melodrama centers on the forbidden romance between housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) and doctor Alec (Trevor Howard) who meet a train station cafe.  Both are married and have children, but they soon get sweep up in an intense emotional affair.  Brief Encounter definitely shows the hardship of loving someone you can't be with.

Also recommended: Lets be honest, forbidden love is way more romantic than boring old requited love, so you have lots of good options here:  In the Mood for Love, Roman Holiday, Brokeback Mountain, The Royal Tenenbaums, and so on. 

If your significant other is a film snob:  The Before Trilogy:  Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight.  This super talky series follows American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy), who fall in love after meeting on a train to Vienna.  The films manage to be both funny and heartfelt, plus there's lots of great European scenery (Vienna, Paris, Greece).  My favorite of the bunch is the second one, Before Sunset. 

If your significant other loves The Notebook, but you CAN'T GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN THIS YEAR!:  Awww...congratulations, you've got yourself a hopeless romantic!  Titanic would probably work, but really, do you want to have to watch that?  Instead, I recommend ruining The Notebook for them by choosing one of Gosling's less appealing roles.  Perhaps, Only God Forgives or Blue Valentine (balding Gosling with a mustache, ouch). 

If you just recently broke up with someoneAnnie Hall. This classic Woody Allen movie follows the sweet, but mismatched relationship between Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). 

Also recommendedHigh Fidelity, 500 Days of Summer.

If you are happily single: Bridget Jones Diary.  Seriously is there any harder decision than choosing between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant?  This movie is a super cute update on Pride and Prejudice.  And if you're single, pat yourself on the back, because you don't have to listen to your boyfriend whine throughout the entire movie!

Also recommended13 Going on 30.

If your girlfriend is a librarian:Nothing says romance to a librarian like a little Jane Austen, so I highly recommend the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice.  But pretty much any Austen will do.  My favorite is the Ang Lee classic Sense and Sensibility.  

If you are in an on-again, off-again relationship: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Joel Barish (Jim Carey) is heartbroken when his ex-girlfriend Clementine undergoes a procedure to erase their relationship from her memory.  Bitter, he decides to have him memories of her erased as well.  However, during the process of having his mind wiped, Joel realizes that he is still in love with Clementine and fights to keep her in his memories.

If you are unhappily in a relationship: Sleep Walk With Me.  On top of dealing with a struggling comedy career and a recently diagnosed sleepwalking disorder, Mike Pandamiglo (Mike Birbiglia) begins to have some doubts about his long-time girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose).

If you're in a long distance relationship: Like Crazy.  Anna (Felcity Jones) is a British student who attended college in the United States.  While there, she fell for her T.A. Jacob (Anton Yelchin).  After graduation, Anna decides to spend the summer with Jacob, overstaying her visa.  After she returns home to England for a family engagement, Anna is shocked when she is denied reentry to the United States and deported to England.  The two lovers then try to keep their relationship together in spite of being an ocean apart. 

If you want wallow in misery, because you'll never find anyone ever:  Probably the best bet here is to play the Smiths on repeat and wash down your sorrows with some whiskey.  However, if you don't quite want to be THAT miserable on Valentine's Day, I recommend checking out a Michelango Antonioni film and watch really, really good looking people (or Jack Nicholson) suffer from loneliness and alienation in beautiful locales.  Check out his alienation trilogy: L'Avventura, L'Eclisse, and La Notte.

Also recommended:  Anything by Ingmar Bergman or any film adaptations of Kazuo Ishiguro novels.

If you're in love with a friend, but you don't know how to tell themTootsie.  Talk about awkward situations, Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is in love with his beautiful coworker Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange).  However, she only knows him as his female alter-ego Dorothy Michaels.   This movie is probably my all time favorite romantic comedy and features my ultra crush, young Bill Murray, as Dustin Hoffman's roommate.

Also RecommendedMy Best Friend's Wedding, Pretty in Pink.

You are falling fast for someoneWeekend.  Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), meet at club in Nottingham.  The two go home together and begin an intense relationship.  However, Glen is soon to be leaving the country for an art course in America.

Also recommended: Once, Lost in Translation, Out of Sight.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014

Film and stage actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday, February 2 at the age of 46. A versatile actor who completely disappeared into his roles, Hoffman leaves behind an impressive body of work. His presence on movie screens and Broadway stages will be missed.

Hoffman won Best Actor in 2006 for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote in Capote. Over the course of his career, he received four Oscar nominations for his work:

The Master (2012)
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A striking portrait of drifters and seekers in post-World War II America, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master unfolds the journey of a naval veteran who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future, until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

Father Flynn is a charismatic priest who is trying to upend the schools' strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier. The Sister is the iron-gloved principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. With the winds of political change, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without any proof, besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
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In the early 1980s, Charlie Wilson is best known as a womanizing US congressional representative from Texas. He seemed to be in the minor leagues, except for the fact that he is a member of two major foreign policy and covert-ops committees. However, once Charlie is prodded by his major conservative supporter, Joanne Herring, Wilson learns about the plight of the people who are suffering from the effects of the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With the help of the maverick CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos, Wilson dedicates his canny political efforts to supply the Afghan mujahideen with the weapons and support needed to defeat the Soviet Union. Ultimately, Charlie learns that while military victory can be obtained, there are other consequences and prices to that fight that are ignored to everyone's sorrow. Based on a true story.

Capote (2005)
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In 1959, Truman Capote was a popular writer for The New Yorker. He learns about the horrific and senseless murder of a family of four in Halcomb, Kansas. Inspired by the story, Capote and his partner, Harper Lee, travel to the town to do research for an article. However, as Capote digs deeper into the story, he is inspired to expand the project into what would be his greatest work, "In Cold Blood." He arranges extensive interviews with the prisoners, especially with Perry Smith. However, his feelings of compassion for Perry conflicts with his need for closure for his book which only an execution can provide. That conflict and the mixed motives for both interviewer and subject make for a troubling experience that would produce a literary account that would redefine modern non-fiction.

Hoffman most recently could be seen as head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. As a fan of both The Hunger Games series and Hoffman, this was a match made in heaven and I loved his portrayal of Plutarch. His scene with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), in which they discuss strategy for dealing with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), was one of my favorites in the film.

Putting together this list of movies, it is amazing to see the many varied characters Hoffman brought to life before he died. His portrayals were so vivid, with an extra *punch*; other details of the film in which he played supporting roles may fade, but his acting, his talent, his approach and commitment to his characters remain clear in my memory and are what I'll always remember when I think of the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A selection of additional Philip Seymour Hoffman's films:

A Late Quartet (2012)
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A powerful story that blends raw emotion with fiery passion to form an unforgettable cinematic masterpiece. After 25 years together, the members of a world-renowned string quartet learn that their beloved cellist may soon be forced to retire. But the news stirs up equally painful challenges when competing egos, harbored resentment, and irrepressible lust threaten to derail the group as they struggle to maintain harmony in their music, and their lives.
Moneyball (2011)
The story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.
The Ides of March (2011)
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During the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, an up-and-coming campaign press secretary finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate's shot at the presidency.
Jack Goes Boating (2010)
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Jack and Connie are two single people who on their own might continue to recede into the anonymous background of New York City, but in each other begin to find the courage and desire to pursue a budding relationship. As Jack and Connie cautiously circle commitment, the couple that introduced them, Clyde and Lucy, confront their own unresolved issues, and each couple comes face to face with the inevitable path of their relationship.
Pirate Radio (2009)
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A rogue band of DJs captivate Britain in the 1960s. The music they play defines a generation and the DJs stand up to a government that, incomprehensibly, preferred jazz.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
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Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. Determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan's theater district. He instructs each to live out their constructed lives in a small mockup of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off track blurring the line between the world of the play and that of his own deteriorating reality.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
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A stock broker, who is having financial troubles and in need of extra cash, and his younger brother conspire to pull off the perfect, victimless crime. No guns, no violence, no problem. The only problem is that the owners of the jewelry store are their own parents. But when an accomplice ignores the rules and crosses the line, his actions trigger a series of events in which no one is left unscathed.
The Savages (2007)
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Jon and Wendy Savage are two siblings who have spent their adult years trying to recover from their abusive father, Lenny. Suddenly, a call comes in that Lenny's girlfriend has died and he cannot care for himself. Lenny suffers from dementia and her family dumps Lenny on his children. Despite the fact Jon and Wendy have not spoken to Lenny for twenty years and he is even more loathsome than ever, the Savage siblings feel obliged to take care of him. Now together, brother and sister must come to terms with the new and painful responsibilities with their father. The siblings are forced to face the struggle with their now personal demons.
Mission Impossible III (2006)
In this pulse-racing, mind-bending action thriller, Ethan Hunt confronts the toughest villain he's ever faced - Owen Davian, an international weapons and information provider with no remorse and no conscience.
The 25th Hour (2005)
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Monty Brogan is facing a seven year prison sentence for dealing drugs. On the night before he has to go to jail, he decides to go out with his friends one last time, and re-examines his life in the process.

Along Came Polly (2004)
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Reuben Feffer, a professional risk assessor, is not one to ever take chances in any aspect of his life. But when his new bride Lisa leaves him for French scuba instructor Claude on their honeymoon, he finally decides to a risk of his own. At a party, he meets free-spirited Polly, whom he remembers from the seventh grade. Unlike the control-freak Reuben, she's spent her life living on the edge. They reluctantly begin a romance and Polly introduces him to a new world of spicy food and what it means to really take a chance.
Cold Mountain (2003)
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Inman, a young Confederate soldier, is struggling to make his way home to Cold Mountain, NC, where his beloved Ada awaits him. In Inman's absence, Ada befriends Ruby, who helps her keep up her late father's farm. Meanwhile, in his travels, Inman encounters a menagerie of interesting and colorful characters.
Almost Famous (2000)
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It's the opportunity of a lifetime when teenage reporter William Miller lands an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine. Despite the objections of his protective mother, William hits the road with an up-and-coming rock band and finds there's a lot more to write home about than the music.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
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Tom Ripley is a calculating young man who believes its better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody. He's hired to go to Italy to bring back he playboy son of a millionaire and soon is plunged into a daring scheme of duplicity, lies and murder.
Magnolia (1999)
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A mosaic of American life woven through a series of comic and poignant vignettes. Through a collusion of coincidence, chance, human action, shared media, past history and divine intervention, nine people will weave and warp through each other's lives on a day that builds to an unforgettable climax.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
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Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski doesn't want any drama in his life; he can't even be bothered with a job. But, in a case of mistaken identity, a couple of thugs break into his place and steal his rug (you gotta understand, that rug really tied the room together). Now, the Dude must embark on a quest with his crazy friends to make things right and get that rug back!
Boogie Nights (1997)
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Tale of Dirk Diggler's rise to fame in this hilarious look at the pornography industry, the free-spirited 70s, and the indulgent 80s. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards, and winner of various other industry awards.