Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All About Sandra

A couple weeks ago, I saw the film All About Steve, out of curiousity with the interesting pairing of Sandra Bullock with Bradley Cooper. Bullock has been making interesting role selections lately, with her other romantic comedy, The Proposal, and her critically-acclaimed performance in The Blindside. She's probably the odds-on favourite to win the Best Actress Award at this year's Oscars. The reason why I think so is because Academy voters seem to love it when an actor or actress makes a dramatic turn, after being known for mostly comedic fare. Comedic performances are rarely recognized, so this represents a rare opportunity for Bullock to add her name to a list of favourite actresses who've struck Oscar gold: namely Julia Roberts and Halle Berry.

Sandra's picture above is how I first learned about her. She captured my heart in 1994's Speed with her unique look and a hairstyle that I find most attractive on women. I couldn't figure out what her ethnic background is (still can't), which is part of her appeal. Though in the years since, I had learned that she has some German heritage, though she doesn't really look German. She could pass for Hispanic or Middle Eastern (Lebanese? Israeli?). Whatever ethnic mix she has in her DNA, she has the kind of look that I find most attractive, because I really like not being able to tell a person's heritage. It adds to the mystique factor.

With the adrenaline rush of Speed, Sandra Bullock became my favourite actress for a time. Unfortunately, she fell into a pattern of bland romantic-comedy fare and in the mid-1990s, I would go see any movie she starred in...until I had enough of her poor selections that caused me to be more selective. Here are the movies she managed to sucker me into seeing: While You Were Sleeping, The Net, and Two if By Sea. All three of them were forgettable wastes of time. In 1996, she co-starred in a can't miss film adaptation of a John Grisham novel: A Time to Kill, which at the time was my favourite Grisham novel. Her role as Ellen Roark was smaller than I liked, but it was the kind of film that I wanted to see her do more of. The following year came the sequel to Speed, minus Keanu Reeves. It was critically panned, but I liked it...especially the music. Great soundtrack. Great score, as well. The movie was typical psycho with a grievance wanting to blow shit up.

Most of her other films in the late 1990s were uninteresting: In Love and War, Hope Floats, Practical Magic, Forces of Nature, and 28 Days. She found another hit with Miss Congeniality, which didn't interest me enough to see it, nor its sequel. Sandra took more risks in the just ended decade, which included the ensemble film Crash, the mind-bending The Lake House (which I really like because of how the storylines play with your mind), playing writer Harper Lee in Infamous, and another intriguing film, Premonition. I would say that she finally found her groove and is making wiser choices, thus she had a banner year in 2009 with the huge success of The Proposal and the critical acclaim of The Blindside. But let's not forget about her overlooked comedy last year:

All About Steve. I watched this with really low expectations, so I was actually surprised that I really liked it, even though it was panned by critics and failed to find audiences. Maybe that's because Sandra plays the most annoying character of her career...a non-stop chatterbox who tells everyone she encounters too much information about random facts (her character resembles the personality of the School Marm at my work, who probably wishes that she was as adorable as Sandra). Bullock's Mary Horowitz can't help herself, though, because she's the creator of crossword puzzles of the daily newspaper in Sacramento, California. She's a bit obsessive-compulsive and lives with her parents, who set her up on a blind date with Steve (played by Bradley Cooper). She's skeptical and unenthusiastic about going on a date...until she gets one look at Steve and falls in love.

Steve soon learns that Mary is a bit too much to take (I don't know any guy who is naturally attracted to a woman who can't stop talking, so I could definitely relate to Steve). In his clumsy way of ending the date much sooner than planned, he says the wrong thing that Mary mistakes for interest. Steve works for a news channel (there are competing news channels: CCN and NNC...not very original) and is sent around the country to cover events. He's soon driven crazy when Mary shows up everywhere. He has a stalker on his hands, and his colleague, played hilariously smarmy by Thomas Haden Church, has fun with it by encouraging her to keep on pursuing him.

With quirky films like this, you just don't know where the story leads, so it could go either way. I did not expect the final act to be as meaningful as it turned out, so I was truly impressed and found myself surprised that this movie was deeper than I expected it to be. I was just looking for a good laugh-out loud comedy, and what I found was a movie that celebrated the value of quirky differences. Mary, like many people do, aimed too high in her object of affection and needed to learn to look for romantic possibilities elsewhere, with a guy who shared some of her interests.

One of the best surprises of this film is Thomas Harden Church. He plays a reporter who aspires to be an anchorman. His satire on anchormen is dead on. One of the things I dislike about newsanchormen is the phony voice they use. You know what I mean. Just listen to Stone Phillips, Tom Brokaw, and Brian Williams speak. It sounds phony...and it is. Because I've heard all three of them speak in interviews and they sounded completely different. I never understood why they had to speak in the manner and voice that they do. Its distracting. Its one of the reasons why I prefer watching anchors like Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer. They seem more authentic to me. People who criticize Couric or Sawyer wanting to be the head anchor of the evening news unfairly cite their tenure as morning news show anchors, which is made fun of for its soft news (now George Stephanopoulos is hosting Good Morning, America). Sometimes, I think people expect too much of a newsanchor. How hard is it to read the news? Just give me someone without the fake voice (Peter Jennings was my favourite for as long as I could remember).

A few months ago, I watched The Proposal. It was pretty good...for a romantic-comedy. Unfortunately, there's one scene that was just so contrived to up the hilarity factor but did not make logical or logistical sense. For those who've seen the film, you know WHAT SCENE I'm referring to!!! The other distraction of the movie was that Sandra...oh sweet Sandra...was trying to play a role that isn't believable for her. In this movie, she's a bitchy, demanding corporate executive with a male assistant, whom she kind of blackmails into marrying her so that she won't be deported back to Canada, where she's from.

The surprise about this movie was that Ryan Reynolds (who really is from Canada) plays a guy whose family lives in Alaska, so most of the movie is set on some gorgeous scenery. After seeing this movie, you'll want to visit Alaska. I certainly did! That's what saved this movie for me...even though it was predictable and Sandra wasn't convincing as a bitch. She's way too sweet to ever be confused for one. This role would have been better suited for Sarah Palin's acting debut!

A Time To Kill remains as one of my favourite films that Sandra co-stars in. It also solidified my impression of Samuel L. Jackson as the baddest-bad ass actor around. I still get a rush when his character tells the court, "Yes I think they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!" This was also the film that brought fame to Matthew McConaughey. He was really good in the role of Jake Brigance...thus it has been sad to see his career devolve into mostly "himbo" roles, where he is contractually obligated to be shirtless through half the movie. Whatever happened to the McConaughey of A Time to Kill, Contact, and Amistad? His friendship with Sandra Bullock influenced her to move to Texas, where she is based out of (rather than in the Hollywood hills). Maybe she can influence him to get his career out of the gutter.

Sandra and Keanu reunited in a remake of a Korean (?) film about two people who lived in the same lake house years apart and have a magical ability to communicate with one another across time. I love movies that play with your mind (Memento is another one) because it forces you to think during the film, which is a form of mind exercises that keep your brain sharp. The story just works, even if it sounds confusing. This is one that you definitely want to watch twice within days of each viewing just so you can see how the film works.

Pictured above is Sandra Bullock in the role that might win her the Best Actress Oscar. I haven't seen the movie yet, though I will once its on DVD just for her performance that have brought some of the best critical acclaim of her career. In order for her to achieve that distinction, she must be completely different than she has shown in most of her roles. I was interested to learn that Julia Roberts had turned down this role. Yet, like Julia Roberts' turn as Erin Brockovich in 2000, Sandra shows the extent of her range as a dramatic actress and I really think she should be working on her Oscar speech (Bullock supposedly believes that Meryl Streep will probably win for her brilliant performance of Julia Child. I agree that if Sandra doesn't win, its because the Academy voters want to honour both Julia Child and Meryl Streep. But one thing you can always count on, Meryl Streep is the most nominated actress ever, so if she doesn't win this time around, she's practically guaranteed a nomination for her next role).

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