Let’s just be real: the Sparkle remake was never going to be an awards juggernaut. Re-imagined as a star vehicle for, ahem, American Idol winner and recording artist Jordin Sparks, the 2012 version of the film was a bit of a letdown. Loosely based on the gritty 1976 original, the new film never quite takes off and because of this actress Carmen Ejogo’s blisteringly soulful performance will very unfortunately not be getting the awards attention it so richly deserves. Playing “Sister”, the eldest daughter of righteous matriarch Emma (Whitney Houston) who fronts a girl group with her sisters Sparkle (Sparks, natch) and Dolores (Tika Sumpter), Ejogo delivers one of the year’s best performances that unfortunately happens to be in one of the year’s worst movies.
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Watching Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s striking documentary Detropia, I was reminded, strangely enough, of Ridley Scott’s decidedly indecisive Alien “prequel” Prometheus. No, seriously. Hear me out. A movie event 30 years in the making that couldn’t possibly satisfy anyone with a vested interest, Scott’s chilly, baroque space oddity shifted from easy and familiar to vexing and suggestive, often within single scenes. Saddled with expectation it couldn’t—or perhaps didn’t want to—meet, the film eschewed clear exposition to explain its visually arresting, but logic-scrambling, narrative moves in favor of an open-ended, “piece it together yourself” framework. Such brazen disregard for the by-the-numbers payoff of a big-budget sci-fi entry exhilarated some, glad to ascribe their own meaning to what they’d just witnessed, and angered those who demanded answers from the all the film’s big conceptual rues simmering in the pot, waiting for some ingredients to thicken.
With a mere three movies to his name, New Zealand born director Andrew Dominik has become one of the most interesting creative voices in cinema. After making a stunning debut with Chopper in the year 2000, he showed a fascination with the world of notorious criminals by exploring the life and death of the notorious Jesse James in 2007’s masterful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. With these movies Dominik showed a penchant for depicting the lives of criminals whose fame was essential to who they were as human beings. Both the real life killer from Chopper and James seem obsessed with their own notoriety, so much that we can’t help but see our society of reality shows and easy fame reflected in them.
Zoe Kazan’s Ruby Sparks is easily one of 2012’s best screenplays. Underneath its adorable-boy-meets-adorable-girl veneer (with which the film was marketed, unfortunately), Ruby Sparks has as many ideas as Looper, as much unsettling chaos as Cloud Atlas, and much, much smarter romantic humor than The Sessions. Had it been ready in time for Sundance, this story of creativity, self-loathing, love, and possession might have been the toast of the festival, earning the word of mouth to carry it through to awards season. Released, respected, and ignored at the peak of comic-book tentpole season, Ruby Sparks is nonetheless smarter than any other fantasy film this year.
There is a moment in Rust and Bone that’s so unique and unexpected it even makes you wish Katy Perry had written “Firework” for the movie, just so it had a chance at winning the Best Original Song Oscar.
This movie is a success on so many surprising levels and the scene in question is a meditative one that focuses on former whale trainer, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) as she finds what looks like hope after a terrible accident leaves her without her legs. The moment, as unfathomably simple as it sounds, doesn’t have dialogue, isn’t exceptionally long and lacks an orthodox sense of coherence. It merely has Stephanie practice her old training commands as she sits on her wheelchair looking at the horizon. Set to Perry’s ubiquitous hit, the moment should feel less soulful, perhaps even vulgar; yet it doesn’t, instead it haunts you for weeks after you’ve seen the movie. The reason for this is of course Cotillard’s exquisitely detailed performance. In this scene, more than in any other moment in the movie, she allows her luminous face to serve as a blank screen where we can project our emotions. We feel empathy and a deep sense of connection with this woman, even if at some level we’re still fighting our mixed feelings about her. Should we like her? Are we allowed to judge her? Yes, she lost her legs in a terrible accident, but she didn’t seem like such a nice person before that. Yes, she’s looking for love after losing what once made her extremely desirable, but then again she’s still breaking bottles on guys in clubs.