Friday, December 29, 2006

The worst film book?

What was the worst book about film I read in 2006?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt pains me to say it, but I'd have to give the dubious honor to David Thomson's mash note/biography Nicole Kidman. Thomson is of course the author of the epic Biographical Dictionary of Film, an essential work of subjective reference.

What's wrong with Nicole Kidman? Thomson writes in the voice of a man looking through a thick glass window at something he's not supposed to see. According to a postscript, Kidman was interviewed for the book; but descriptions of Kidman's behavior are simply asserted and not documented. While there are some thought-provoking chapters on various parts of Kidman's filmography (the chapter on Birth is especially good), the book's central flaw is that the author is clearly infatuated with his subject.

Thomson writes that the book is in part about "our response" to "being an actress and a star," but what does that mean? For Thomson it means musing on how Kidman's films might have been written differently, and most troublingly a sexual fantasy in which Thomson is cast as voyeur and Kidman is a Belle du Jour-style prostitute. Ultimately Thomson is able to reconstruct certain details of Kidman's life but fails utterly at his attempt to assign meaning to her career in a way that separates that career from say, Halle Berry. (Except that the movies are better).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DVD Diary - Akeelah and the Bee

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingChristmas Eve viewing with the family was Akeelah and the Bee (d. Doug Atchison), the story of a girl from a rough L.A. neighborhood (Keke Palmer) who makes it all the way to the National Spelling Bee.

While the movie was perfectly suitable good holiday fare, I'd have to say Akeelah lays on the uplift pretty thick. Akeelah is tutored for the bee by a professor (Laurence Fishburne) hiding a deep dark secret who gives his young charge a heavy dose of empowerment. Akeelah's mother (Angela Bassett, overqualified) doesn't want her daughter mingling with kids from better neighborhoods, for some unspecified reason, but of course she comes around.

There's nothing unpredictable here, but Palmer's non-cute performance is enough to give Akeelah and the Bee a passing grade. Stereotype alert! Akeelah's main rival is Dylan (Sean Michael), an uptight Asian kid with domineering Dad.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gymkata!

Good piece from Dave Kehr in the NY Times about Warner Home Video's fan-selected release of some obscure DVD's.

A rose is a rose

For the next little while I'll be posting mostly in the evenings, so I hope I've got this up in time for you to catch Cate Blanchett and Notes from a Scandal director Richard Eyre on the Charlie Rose show tonight.

Rose has been having a great run of film guests the last few days. If you have a chance to see the roundtable with Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), and Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labryinth), please do so.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Soderbergh trouble?

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Steven Soderbergh's latest The Good German gets taken down by Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door. HND is a blog I don't miss, Seitz and the other contributors are generally tuned with my taste in film & TV. (About Last Night agrees)Every time I've posted a comment on the site (usually about Lost) I've been treated with respect and enthusiasm.

The Good German hasn't made it to my neck of the woods yet, and as a Soderbergh fan I'm looking forward to it despite the reviews. We have an unusual record of the director's thought processes available to us, he's probably done more director's DVD commentaries than anyone of his status. I tend to break director's commentary down into a couple of subgenres:

  • "He's a genius, and she's a genius, and I'm a genius, and one day that extra spilled coffee on me."

    or

  • "This is a scene where (description of what's on screen) which was shot in ______ with a ______ lens."

    Soderbergh's commentaries are more like discussions of an attempt to solve certain problems. The commentary track of Sex, Lies, & Videotape sets the tone. The director (in conversation w/ Neil LaBute) is funny and self-deprecating, and candid about what he did and didn't know during shooting. In the track for Solaris he tells producer James Cameron that the movie may be too airless, and admits to taking a key idea from a studio exec.

    The mother lode is of course The Limey, a movie-long argument between Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs about what didn't make into the film, the story of an ex-con (Terence Stamp) after his daughter's killer (Peter Fonda). Dobbs (clearly displeased) felt too much characterization and emotion was left on the floor, while Soderbergh disagrees and defends his choices.

    It's entirely possible that I'll dislike The Good German, but I do hope to get a chance to hear from Soderbergh on the DVD, and I'll keep rooting for his experimentations. I'm partial to a director who keeps working and sometimes fails rather than one who dallies for years and only does "important" films.
  • Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Drama and crazy guys - The King

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe King (d. James Marsh) illustrates a problem with making psycho/sociopaths the center of films. Scorsese did it well with Taxi Driver, but Marsh is no Scorsese.

    Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal) gets out of the Navy and sets out to find his never-met father David Sandow (William Hurt). David is now a Texas preacher with a church and small following and a family. David's pre-conversion dalliance with a prostitute led to Elvis' birth, and now the son has come to connect with his Dad.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDavid is hostile to admitting his mistake to his family, and Elvis retaliates by seducing Sandow's teen daughter Malerie (Pell James). The affair escalates and is eventually discovered by Malerie's brother Paul (Paul Dano, in a 180 degree opposite role from his Little Miss Sunshine character). Things go badly after that.

    A former drama professor told me it's not fair to review a play that wasn't written, but I want to stop to consider the movie The King could have been. Hurt disappears into his role and gives Sandow an almost palpable religious fervor, but he clearly had a slightly more colorful life before the church. Preachers are routinely presented as bloated hypocrites, and I kept waiting for some further misdeed to be exposed. Sandow is a genuine man of faith though, a cousin to Robert Duvall's character in The Apostle.

    How would a genuinely spiritual man go forward when confronted with evidence of a past sin? An promising premise, but The King barely touches it. Once we know Elvis is crazy (about halfway through), the experience of watching The King becomes a wait for a climactic freak out.

    If a character operates free from emotion, morality, and societal norms, can they be dramtically satisfying? And why should the audience care? Again, Taxi Driver is the exception, but Travis Bickle's psychosis was tied into the decaying urban life he saw around him. Despite the talents of Bernal, Hurt, and the up-and-coming Pell James, there's a void at the center of The King.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Best Top 10 List?

    Thanks to the Carpetbagger, I just discovered InContention. Their site is devoted heavily to awards season politics, but the Top 10 List is the most adventurous I've seen this year. Here's what they had to say about co-top choices Inland Empire and The Fountain:

    2006 afforded two separate, diametrically opposed works of cinema that can finally be considered a part of another movement altogether. They are Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” and David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” and though qualification is a fool’s errand when it comes to each, both films combine to form the number one film-going experience of the year in this viewer’s opinion.

    Show stopper

    ....as we contiue with Maggie Gyllenhaal Fest '06, I'm pleased to report that she has been named one of Premiere's "Show Stoppers" of the year for her performance in Sherrybaby. The short article contains an interesting anecdote from the movie's director Laurie Collyer about Gyllenhaal's bold choices on set. (no link unfortunately)

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    Let The Sunshine Shine In

    Here's my original review of Little Miss Sunshine (out on DVD tomorrow), as published in LINK magazine:

    “Little Miss Sunshine” arrives with the curse of Sundance on its back. This family comedy, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, was sold to Fox Searchlight for $10 million at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. High-dollar deals guarantee plenty of press coming out of a festival, but box-office success doesn’t always follow. (Remember “Happy Texas”? Didn’t think so.) If there’s any justice, “Little Miss Sunshine” should have a happier fate. This comedy is a sly celebration of family; albeit a family narrowly prevented from flying apart by its youngest member. It’s the acceptance of young Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) into the “Little Miss Sunshine” child beauty pageant that sets the story in motion. Parents Richard and Sheryl (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) decide to shepherd the whole family from Albuquerque to California in an ancient VW bus; the family has hit financial hard times while motivational speaker Richard waits to see if his “9 Steps” success plan will earn him a book deal. Besides Olive, there’s Richard’s drug-using father (gleefully profane Alan Arkin), son Dwayne (Paul Dano), and recently suicidal brother-in-law Frank (Steve Carell, putting aside his comic persona). While “Little Miss Sunshine” is full of laughs and absurdity (and an unexpected loss), Michael Arndt’s script manages to avoid familiar melodramatic beats and the cast is never content to merely play the eccentricity of a scene. The quiet moments of connection and the way that each character finds solace from private pain are what make “Sunshine” linger in the mind after the closing credits. The climactic beauty pageant is presented as a grotesquerie of underdressed and over made-up children, it would have been easy for things to turn ugly or sappy, but the tonally perfect ending keeps the theme of unconventional family love intact. I admit to being thoroughly charmed by “Little Miss Sunshine.” The movie’s R rating is earned by some sexual dialogue and a scene of drug use. But if it’s possible for movie characters to make you love your own family more, the Hoovers might just do the trick.

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    5 Golden Globe thoughts

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  • I'll continue to beat the drum for Supporting Actress nominee Rinko Kikuchi in Babel, although she's opposed by someone from the same film (Adriana Barraza)and that never seems to help. All the heat seems to be behind Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls.

  • Bobby for Best Drama?

  • Could Letters from Iwo Jima not have been nominated for Best Picture AND Best Foreign Film?

  • Sure, DiCaprio and Eastwood scored multiple nominations. But how about the body of work for Alec Baldwin this year? He's nominated for 30 Rock and was memorable in Running with Scissors and The Departed. Look for him in The Good Shepherd this week.

  • If Evangeline Lilly gets nominated for Lost, where's Michelle Rodriguez?
  • Sherrybaby

    Last week I wrote about Maggie Gyllenhaal being one of my must-watch actresses, so it's with great pride I note that she's picked up a Golden Globe nomination for the low-budget Sherrybaby (d. Laurie Collyer).

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI'll probably have to wait for DVD to see this one; a glance at the film's Rotten Tomatoes page reveals mostly positive reviews (67%). Gyllenhaal plays a woman recovering from drug addiction and trying to get her life back in order. It will most likely be an honor just to be nominated for Gyllenhaal, she's up against award magnets Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal) and Kate Winslet (Little Children). Not to mention this year's critical favorite Helen Mirren for The Queen. Penelope Cruz (Volver) rounds out the category.

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Review Catch Up

    My reviews of :

    Blood Diamond


    The Nativity Story

    Running free

    If they ever give an Oscar for stunts, how about a nod for Sebastien Foucan in Casino Royale? He's the guy Bond is pursuing in the opening scene who "free runs" through a construction site with Bond in pursuit.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCasino was the best Bond I've seen in ages, and I don't think I even saw the one with Halle Berry. While putting Bond too much in the real world would spoil the fun, (Bond pursues Al Qaeda!) the decision to make him more vulnerable and less suave feels right. Eva Green showed me something as the "Bond girl." She had so much personality I was actually rooting for them to get together.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    AFI

    The one inexplicable choice among the AFI Top 10 films of the year was Happy Feet. I can't help but think it's only doing so well at the box office because people think it's a kids movie instead of a music-heavy, story-lite, heavy-handed eco-mess. There's not even a standout vocal performance....

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingInside Man was a smart choice, and still ranks as one of my favorites this year despite some plot holes. It's the one movie on the list that gets to the ethnic friction and salty humor of modern urban life; I still love its energy and put it in barely in the top tier of my favorite Spike Lee films (25th Hour, Malcolm X, Clockers).

    L.A. Critic Love

    ....more accolades for Letters from Iwo Jima, Helen Mirren, and Forest Whitaker from the Los Angeles Film Critics....

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    The Great New Wonderful and the Can't Miss List

    I'm about ready to add Maggie Gyllenhaal to the Can't Miss List, actresses whose work I seek out no matter how good or bad the movie around them may be. Julianne Moore and Toni Collette are on the list so far, and I'm sure I have similar list for actors but somehow I don't seem to think about it as much.

    In The Great New Wonderful (d. Danny Leiner) Gyllenhaal plays Emme, a cake designer living in New York a year after 9/11. The film is about how 9/11 has affected everyone a year later. It's one of those ensemble films where most of the characters never even meet. Standouts in the large cast include Tom McCarthy and Judy Greer as parents of a troubled child (Stephen Colbert cameos as a school headmaster) and Naseeruddin Shah from Monsoon Wedding as a security guard.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEmme's story arc involves preparations to pitch cake ideas to a high-society family for a teenage birthday party. A rival designer (Edie Falco) has won the job several years in a row and is apparently the only thing standing between Emme and career supremacy. If The Great New Wonderful has a overarching theme, I suppose it's that a year after 9/11 everything (for these characters) was basically the same, so get on with fixing the problems of your own life.

    There's a scene in the first season of the FX show Rescue Me where one of the firemen goes to a 9/11 support group and finds that he's the only one there personally touched by the tragedy. I was reminded of that scene while watching this movie, since 9/11 (never referred to directly) lurks in the background but isn't connected to the story in a dramatically satisfying way.

    Gyllenhaal makes something out of her fifth-of-a-movie though. Emme begins to be bothered by the superficiality of her life, and the turning point comes at the birthday party. A child singing karaoke to Sarah Maclachlan's "Ice Cream" triggers a flood of tears. On the commentary track, director Leiner and writer Sam Catlin note that the script was inspired by a couple of Catlin's plays soldered into one story.

    A whole movie devoted to Emme's journey could have been quite powerful, but in the quest to say everything the makers of The Great New Wonderful have said very little.

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    Award thoughts...

    Soccer practice and a trip to the doctor kept me offline for a few days, but that gave me time to come up with a few thoughts about the National Board of Review's announcement of the year's best films.

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  • Best Picture - Letters from Iwo Jima - Clint Eastwood's Japanese take on the Battle of Iwo Jima must be pretty good to top The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine. Haven't seen it of course, but it doesn't feel like this is a film that can take Oscar away from any of the big-time contenders.

  • Best Actor - Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. It's about time somebody gave this guy an award.

  • Best Supporting Actress - Catherine O'Hara for For Your Consideration. Love O'Hara but can't get behind this one. The emtionally naked performance of Rinko Kikuchi in Babel is my clear choice. Kikuchi shared the award for Best Breakthrough with Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson.

  • Best Ensemble Acting - The Departed - Dig the recognition for Sheen, Wahlberg, Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, and Ray Winstone.

  • Best Original Screenplay - Zach Helm for Stranger than Fiction - Uh-uh.
  • Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Fountain gab

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIn this discussion at Cinemarati, I tried to suggest an interpretation for what's happening in the Fountain spaceship scenes. No one's biting so far, what do you think?

    National Board of Review

    There's a piece at OscarWatch about the National Board of Review awards, which will be announced tomorrow 12/6. The article points out that generally you can bet safely on most of the Best Picture nominees being in the NBR's Top 10.

    I'm not breaking any new ground here when I say that right now my own personal choices are Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, and United 93. That leaves 2 open and I'm mulling those over. I've read several places that Babel is a surefire nominee but it's so uneven I have my doubts.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    It's "Fall Finale" time

    USA Today reports the trend for TV series to air "fall finale" episodes, which wrap up some plot strands while starting others and leading in to a long hiatus. Heroes, Lost, and Jericho have all billed their last pre-Christmas episodes as "Fall Finales."

    The 22-week, rerun-laden season is going to be come an antique. Whatever we call these heavily promoted episodes, the pratice of breaking up long rerun-free blocks of episodes with breaks (anywhere from 6-13 weeks) pushes the networks closer to the HBO model of shorter seasons with no reruns and farther away from the usual fall-to-spring scenario. I'll climb on board if that means shows as good as The Wire and Deadwood.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Gotham Awards

    Half Nelson is big winner at the Gotham Awards. (IndieWire)

    Kristin Chenoweth

    Kristin Chenoweth (The West Wing, Wicked): theater star, dog lover, single woman, Christian. (Oh, she's also the basis for Sarah Paulson's Harriet character on Studio 60) (NY Times)

    Japanese Story

    Raise your hand if a Netflix selection has sat unwatched on your shelf for more than 3 months. Ok, hands down.

    I came to Japanese Story (2003, d. Sue Brooks) after seeing Toni Collette's performances in Little Miss Sunshine and The Night Listener almost back-to-back this summer. Although I don't like Muriel's Wedding (Collette's big break) as much as many people, she's an actress who always delivers for me.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBut what a strange trifle this movie is! Sandy (Collette) is a geologist who is driving a Japanese man named Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima) around the Australian outback for unspecified, business-related reasons. Hiromitsu insists they keep driving further into the desert, which inevitably leads to them getting stuck and having to spend the night outdoors.

    Sounds like the setup for a horror movie, right? But Hiromitsu figures out a way to dislodge their car, and they're off again! You'd think they'd just head on back, but they keep driving around, stopping for picnics and a few wordless sexual encounters. Then, there's an accident.....

    I won't give away the end, but I don't have the slightest idea what Japanese Story is about, unless it's some Innaritu-lite look at the impossibility of communication between different cultures. The style is studied and slow, and I was itchy for the movie to be over after about an hour (it only runs 1:40).

    I still love Toni Collette, but Japanese Story belongs in the second tier on her resume.

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Film criticism "blog-a-thon"

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    This blog has great links to a number of posts on film criticism going up this weekend. I won't waste time trying to describe all of them, you can see for yourself....this is all worth checking out.

    For me, the journey towards film criticism (I write for LINK magazine in Greenville, SC) began with the discovery of a Pauline Kael collection in a used bookstore. At the time I hadn't seen most of the movies she was discussing, but I knew I wanted to write that way about something.

    I certainly don't think I have much to add to what's been written about the pros and cons of Kael, but here are a few (very general) things I've learned.

  • Entertainment comes first - If I'm not engaged on a gut level as an audience member, nothing else matters. If I am engaged then a multitude of sins can be forgiven.

  • Finding good in the mediocre - Even in a film Kael disliked, an actor's performance or a bit of staging was often singled out. I also come to this from my own background; I've acted in about 25 plays and find that I enjoy watching great character actors do their stuff even in subpar material.

  • The director isn't everything - I loved Robert Altman's work, but no one should ever have to watch Dr. T and the Women again.

  • Just because we're told something is important doesn't make it good. The most recent example here is Stranger than Fiction.

    Simple rules, not original or especially thought out. But they've served me well so far.....
  • Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    2 critics in The Fountain

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThese guys (House Next Door) don't like The Fountain, but they're also cool on Requiem for a Dream. I hated Requiem but liked The Fountain. Am I getting sentimental?

    Coast of Utopia

    A review of the first part of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy. (NY Times)

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Pynchon

    This one's dedicated to my friend and fellow blogger.

    Here's a favorable review of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day from the NY Times Book Review.

    Trouble for Good German?

    Cinematical reports that Steven Soderbergh's The Good German (out 12/15) recently had a hostile reception at an industry screening. I'm a Soderbergh fan (He does the best DVD commentaries in the business) and I'm rooting for this movie. I think Soderbergh just attracts some hate because he seems to make whatever he wants without regard to what anybody thinks.

    Celeb gossip isn't my thing.....

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    ....but this one's personal. The Advocate reports that former Lost star Michelle Rodriguez is in a relationship with Kristanna Loken of Terminator 3 fame. How's a guy supposed to have a crush on an actress if she comes out and is honest about who she really is? (It's Michelle I'm disappointed about). Oh well, maybe she'll be in a Lost dream sequence this spring.

    From the Times

    Good long profile of Tom Stoppard in yesterday's NY Times magazine.

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    The Fountain

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI'll be posting more about Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, including a full-length review, but for now please click here for a blog (not by me)entirely about the movie.

    On seeing The Queen again

  • Helen Mirren's performance is better even than I'd thought, complicated and inaccessible and yet moving at the same time? How does one describe great acting? My sister was reading the NY Times Dining section yesterday and we were talking about the odd adjectives people come up with to describe food. I think great acting is similarly ephemeral and I always feel silly trying to describe it in my reviews.

  • In the opening scene, the actor painting the Queen's portrait is Earl Cameron. Cameron played the evil African president in The Interpreter last year, and according to IMDB is 89 years old.
  • Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Robert Altman

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    Robert Altman has died at age 81. (NPR)

    In Altman's last film, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor and some cast members of the movie's show-within-a-show are discussing the unexpected death of a cast member. Keillor, whoise instinct is to downplay the death, is asked if he would want to be remembered when he goes. He replies that he wouldn't want people to be told to remember him. Keillor is credited with writing the line, but I can't help thinking it serves as a way of thinking about a director whose films never made the obvious Hollywood choices.

    Patty Hearst gets kidnapped on Veronica Mars

    Seriously. (New York Post)

    Where the Truth Lies

    Where the Truth Lies is the first real dud I've seen from Canadian director Atom Egoyan, best known for his Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter.

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    In the early 1960's, comedy team Lanny (Kevin Bacon) and Vince (Colin Firth) are the hosts of a popular polio telethon. The pair are constantly in demand for nightclub acts and movies, but their careers are destroyed after a scandal involving a young woman (Rachel Blanchard) found dead in their Atlantic City hotel suite.

    Fifteen years later, a journalist named Karen(Alison Lohman) is writing a book on Lanny and Vince. She's determined to uncover the truth about the still unexplained death, and her publisher has forked over a million bucks to Vince for his story. The mystery unfolds with interlocking voice-overs, told in turn through Lanny's unpublished memoirs and Karen's faux-hardboiled narration.

    What's most vexing about Where the Truth Lies is that the main character doesn't behave very sensibly. I'll refrain from spoiling the plot, but Karen has some unusual ideas about a journalist's relationship to her subject. A key plot turn rests on a chance meeting between two characters, and the resulting events are so improbable that the ultimate resolution to all of this just doesn't matter very much.

    Where the Truth Lies is based upon a novel by Rupert Holmes, so maybe Egoyan can't be blamed for the flaws in the source material. Egoyan's credits reveal larger and larger gaps between films, somebody please give this guy some money to get another original script as good as Exotica made.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    More Rivette

    I can't make it to NYC for the big Jacques Rivette festival, so I'm having my own! My DVD's of La Belle Noiseuse and Va Savoir arrived yesterday, that's 6 hours of French New Wave folks!

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    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    The Queen

    Knock, go right in, bow from the neck, wait to be acknowledged, and don't let my review of The Queen ever see your back.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    A Movie in a Glass Box: Stranger Than Fiction

    The place is like a museum. It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything.
    -Ferris Bueller's Day Off


    Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction arrives with fanfare thanks in large part to young screenwriter Zach Helm (below), subject of a laudatory Vanity Fair profile earlier this year. The article described Helm as determined to forgo the usual screenwriter's life of struggling for credits and doing studio assigned rewrite work in favor of more personal projects such as Fiction and his directorial debut, next year's Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

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    Taking Helm at his word, if Fiction is a personal project than I'd say this young writer has spent far too long in graduate school seminar rooms. Despite lively performances from an unusually strong cast, Stranger Than Fiction left me cold.

    The particulars: Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS agent living a ridiculously bland life. One day he begins to hear a female voice in his head as he brushes his teeth. The voice isn't speaking to him but rather describing his most mundane actions with a sense of bemused foreboding.
    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHarold's humdrum existence is disrupted to the point that he begins romancing a baker he's supposed to be auditing (sweetly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and fulfills a long-held dream of learning the guitar.

    The voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a creatively blocked novelist famous for killing her protagonists. Harold is (unknown to Karen) the main character in her work-in-progress, and she can't figure out a way to kill him. Once Harold hears the voice warn of his approaching death, he becomes determined to find the source of the narration. With the help of a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), he begins to unravel the mystery of where "his novel" is headed.

    In the climactic scenes of Stranger Than Fiction, Harold must decide whether or not to live out Karen's ending (and willingly participate in his own death) because after reading the book he decides it's "lovely" and "poetic." This point is where things began to break down for me. I searched Barlett's in vain for a quote about the role of fiction in our lives, but I'll have to do it myself.

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    In novels (and plays, and films), characters' choices fulfill a symbolic or metaphorical purpose. It feels like stating the obvious, but people live and die in real life for a billion and one reasons. I don't know if Zach Helm has read The Darwin Awards, but a high percentage of those reasons are fairly arbitary and meaningless when taken out of context.

    I have no quarrel with the acting or filmmaking, but Stranger Than Fiction makes the youthful and romantic mistake of overestimating Art's role in our lives. The death "written" for Harold and the set of mischances (including the setting of a wristwatch to the wrong time)than lead up to it, are so unlikely as to render the end of Eiffel's book-within-a-movie a cruel joke about the importance of human existence. Who wants to watch a movie about that?

    "I often think I would have been so happy to be Michael Curtiz."

    Stylistic choices in Steven Soderbergh's The Good German. (NY Times)

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    "...man met nature and nature kicked his ass."

    That's director David Gordon Green in the new issue of The Believer magazine. He's taking about the area of Winston-Salem NC where he filmed his first feature, George Washington, in 1999.

    That film, the first Criterion DVD I ever bought, caught my attention when I saw a few images on the Independent Spirit Awards a few years ago. Made with a great dignity and sense of place, George Washington is the story of a group of African-American children living in low-income circumstances.


    What I like about Green is that he's not interested in genre conventions or standard emotional beats. His second film All the Real Girls, is my favorite. Paul (Paul Schneider) is a player in his small North Carolina town. His best friend Tip (Shea Whigham) has a sister named Noel (Zooey Deschanel) who has just returned from school. Paul and Noel begin an awkward dance at love that affects their family and friends and teaches them that love in fact isn't like the movies.

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    Even though I've only seen Green's films on DVD, it's hard to describe the physical sensation of watching them. Try taking a walk outside on a day when the seasons are changing and you might get close. Green's most recent film, Undertow (2004), is positively humid. Two brothers (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) are caught up in a long buried grudge between their morose father (Dermot Mulroney) and their uncle (Josh Lucas). The narrative structure here is more conventional; the boys flee through swampy South Georgia to avoid their uncle's venality. But Green's feel for the backroads the characters wander through is dead right. I don't know if there's an art to location scouting, but Green's films are taking place in the real world and not Hollywoodland.

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    Green's next film is an adaptation of the Stewart O'Nan novel "Snow Angels," and he's also lined up for the fraternity-hazing story "Goat." I don't know if Green's films will get any more commercial (the interview makes him sound like he's perfectly happy to make low-budget films with his buddies from North Carolina School of the Arts), but I'm glad his voice is out there making heartfelt American cinema.

    (1st picture - All the Real Girls
    2nd picture - Undertow)

    Movies galore

    This week's review is The Queen, which showed up unexpexctedly today. Movies are kind of stacking up, so watch both here and at the Link Daily Blog in the next week or so as I attempt to separate the worthy from the pretenders.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Rivette - Impulse Buy

    I read this and immediately ordered one of Jacques Rivette's films from Amazon, although Celine and Julie Go Boating isn't available......

    Almost forgot...

    ....here's the Flushed Away review

    Britney,

    It's good to see you splitting up from Kevin, your husband of two years. Divorce is always sad when there are kids involved, but now we won't be subject to pictures of you looking like you wore your housecoat to a sale at K-Mart.

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    You may not have the vocal chops of Christina Aguilera, but now you'll be free to get back to shocking us. What kind of world is it where Madonna has to resort to adopting a Malawian baby to get our attention? So, now that you're single and back in shape, please shock us. Go back to wearing snakes, kissing Madonna, whatever. With the Democrats back on top in Congress, this country could use a little anxiety-free titillation without a family value in sight. I just wish I liked your music better....

    Lost lost?

    I don't mind waiting for good TV, but in a show that moves as slowly as Lost I wonder if fans will tolerate a 13-week break. Read about it in the NY Times.

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    The Science of zzzzz.........

    Once I had a dream about a beautiful woman I was attracted to. We were playing each other in the World Billiards Championship and I salvaged victory by making some geometrically impossible shot. She was so angry that afterwards when we went to my workplace she got me in trouble for jumping back and forth over the counter.

    What, you're not interested? But it's my dream, and you can go anywhere in a dream! That last sentence is the theme of Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, a visual feast but a narrative disappointment.

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    Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) has moved to Paris to be near his mother (Miou-Miou). Stephane's father has recently died, and he seems to be somewhat at loose ends. Although he aspires to be an artist, Stephane's mother has secured him a dull job at a company that makes calendars. Stephane's days are spent pushing paper while his office mates pass the time by playing pranks on each other.

    Things change for Stephane when he meets the bohemian Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Although he hides his feelings at first, it's obvious that Stephane is crazy about his new neighbor. Stephanie (who Gainsbourg plays as every artsy guys dream girl) doesn't know what to make of the intense young man in the apartment next door, but she loves his imagination and enthusiasm for his eccentric art projects (which include a time machine that transports the user one second).

    Not too much else happens in The Science of Sleep. Quite a bit of the picture is taken up with Stephane's dreams, which involve winning Stephanie's heart and outfoxing his colleagues at the office. The dream sequences themselves have a wonderful handmade quality, just as the fantasy sequences did in Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBut because Gondry doesn't have Eternal Sunshine's Charlie Kaufman writing the script, he can't make Stephane or his dreams interesting. Stephane is a loveable goofball who only has the vaguest connection to the people around him. So, his dreams grow mundane after a time because we don't have any emotional connection to the character. I grew restless long before The Science of Sleep was over because Stephane's personal agonies seemed rooted in something that Gondry could express visually but not dramatically. See the NY Times piece on Gondry for a take on how his love life affects his work. Oh, and let me tell you about this dream I had......

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Why....

    ...would I rather watch the season premiere of The O.C. tonight rather than a new Grey's Anatomy? See for yourself:

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    Actually, I'm going to see The Science of Sleep with my friend Katherine, so Grey's will be taped and O.C. will have to wait.

    New links!

    See list to right:

    Amateur Movie Reviews
    Check The Fien Print
    Filmbrain

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Running review

    I'm not satisfied with my review of Running with Scissors, which is here. I didn't do a good job explaining what bothered me about this strongly acted drama, which details the tumultuous adolescence of Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) and is based on Burroughs's book.

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    Burroughs details growing up in the house of his mother's therapist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) while his mother (Annette Bening, surefire Oscar nominee) slowly sinks into madness. While living in the Finch household, Augusten (who has realized he's gay) has a sexual relationship with 30ish Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes). Finch knows of the relationship and allows it to continue because.....well, I'm not so sure.

    It's fashionable to distrusts memoirists these post-James Frey days. I'm not questioning the veracity of Finch's accounts (though the actual family depicted in the book has sued) but rather the fact that Burroughs presents his growing up as a perfect psychological setup for the rest his life: sexual awakening, closure with his Mom, aspirations to write. Running with Scissors (book & movie) is like one of those dioramas of classic books kids make in school. Everything is perfectly proportioned and there for a specific purpose. Burroughs's next book Dry is actually much more emotionally honest.

    That said, terrific acting. Bening, Cross, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a searing Jill Clayburgh. I can't not recommend Running with Scissors but it keeps one at a distance.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Marie Antoinette & The New World

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    Was Marie Antoinette everything I hoped it would be? Of course not. I don't know what I was expecting from Sofia Coppola's follow-up to the sublime Lost in Translation, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Marie.

    The film opens with the young Marie (Kirsten Dunst)on her way from Austria to France where she will marry the prince who eventually becomes Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). What would a teenage girl have made of the palace of Versailles? I think Coppola's decision to focus on Marie as a young woman rather than a historical figure was the right one. Dunst is certainly beautiful enough to play a queen, but this Marie is alternately charmed and intimidated by the court politics and her role as a baby machine. The easy question is how much of herself Coppola (next generation of a filmmaking family) sees in Marie, but I thought more of the similarities between the Queen and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in Lost in Translation. Both are young women uneasily married and unsure of themselves in a foreign culture.

    The film that Marie Antoinette reminded me most was actually Terrence Malick's The new World. I'm not suggesting that Coppola's work is equal to Malick's masterpiece, but something in Dunst's face reminded me of Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) in The New World. Both movies have at their center the face of a woman unwittingly at the center of history. But while Pocahontas (in Malick's vision) maintains her open-heartedness and innocence until the end, but in Marie Antoinette (roughly a century later) Dunst is imprisoned by hair, clothes, architecture, and politics. Ah, civilization.

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    Both films share an observational style, observing rather than psychologically depicting their characters. This where Coppola's film falls short. Yes, Marie becomes infatuated with clothes and partying. Unfortunately there are only so many montages of people eating desserts and making a fool of themselves that we can take. Malick's Jamestown is more tactile, a fully realized world rather than a stage upon which Coppola plays out her idea of a young woman in over her head. The supporting cast in The New World is small, but Wes Studi, Christopher Plummer, and the rest are all vivid and three-dimensional. Judy Davis is ideal as a royal counselor in Marie, but Steve Coogan, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, and Rip Torn (as Louis XV) are all in underdeveloped roles.

    The comparison between Marie Antoinette and The New World may be strained, but I've gotta be me. Is there another American director as good on minute shades of boredom as Coppola? I hope I have time to see Marie Antoinette again before it leaves theatres.

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Welcome back Meredith

    It's a small thing, but on last night's Brothers & Sisters Meredith Baxter played a guest role as a woman whose husband keeps making passes at Sally Field's character.


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    Baxter is of course best known for her role as Elyse, the ex-hippie mother of Alex Keaton on TV's Family Ties. Baxter's credits reveal some lean times since then, and I think this is a case of an actor being underused after becoming overidentified with one role. Elyse is underrated in the pantheon of TV moms, hopefully Baxter will be back on Brothers & Sisters.

    I am behind

    Just closed a show over the weekend and am looking forward to getting back to this site....stay tuned for my thoughts on Marie Antoinette, Running with Scissors, and more....

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    This week's review...

    ...is Running with Scissors. Mediocre reviews in general, but a chance to celebrate the talent of Evan Rachel Wood. Please write your Congressman and urge the relese of Season 3 of Once & Again on DVD. This series was celebrated for its adult stars (Sela Ward, Bill Campbell), but featured exceptional acting from its younger cast. Wood played Jessie, a teenager who as the series ended was exploring a same-sex attraction to a character played by Mischa Barton.

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    Monday, October 23, 2006

    Studio 60 Rx

    It has quickly become fashionable to dump on Aaron Sorkin's new NBC show,Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The series seemed set up to succeed, with top-drawer leads (Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet) and a strong supporting cast. But just a few episodes into the season things aren't looking good, as USA Today noted.

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    Sorkin's multiple-Emmy history with The West Wing ensured him interest from networks and an audience at least curious to see what he was up to. I plead guilty to being an enormous and enthusiastic fan of Sorkin's career to this point, but something's not right with this show. A theme that largely goes ignored in Sorkin's work is that of taking one's job seriously. The anchors and producers on Sports Night and the pols in The American President and The West Wing were all endowed with a seriousness of purpose that might have been annoying in real life but made them attractive as characters. Studio 60 heroes Matt Albie (Perry) and Danny Tripp (Whitford) have the same quality, but this time Sorkin has tackled a more difficult subject: the creative process.

    Some suggestions:

  • Stop talking about religion - In the pilot, network suits kill a sketch called "Crazy Christians," prompting producer Wes (Judd Hirsch) to flip out on the air and get fired. Perry's character Albie is the author of the sketch; he and Whitford's Tripp are quickly hired to take over the show. Albie seems particularly obsessed with the Christian right; his ex-girlfriend Harriet (Sarah Paulson) is a born-again Christian whose appearance on The 700 Club ended their relationship.

    We don't see anyone's life outside the show enough to how or if Harriet lives her beliefs. She's around to give Albie (through Sorkin) a target for his venting and to serve as a possible love interest. Harriet's activities on the show (we're told she's a major star) don't seem hindered at all by her Christianity; her beliefs are essentially a third arm, something for her fellow cast members to politely ignore or treat as an oddity. Let's move on, Aaron.

  • Lose the smugness - "What's happening here is important," says the hotshot visiting journalist (Christine Lahti) doing a glossy Vanity Fair story on the show. Is it? Capturing the creative process on film is notoriously difficult, but there has got to be more to it than watching Perry's character stare at a computer and collecting backstage gossip (which is what Lahti's character does when she isn't listening to Sting play a lute). On last night's episode "The Wrap Party," cast member Tom (Nate Corddry) seemed amazed his Midwestern parents didn't care about the comedic history of the TV studio more than his brother in Afghanistan.

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  • Give Bradley Whitford something to do - Whitford often looks as if he'd rather be somewhere else, but he's more than capable of carrying the weight. I refer you to the West Wing episodes "Noel" (Josh gets post-traumatic stress) and "The Stackhouse Filibuster" as examples.

  • I can't claim credit for this last one, but don't show the sketches. Not funny. (I have to acknowledge Best Week Ever for that idea).
  • Friday, October 20, 2006

    John Locke's shady past (Contains spoilers!)

    I cite House Next Door as a blog to read quite often, it's written by a group of bloggers & critics and covers what's happening in film and television. There are weekly posts on numerous series when they're in season (their taste is excellent:Lost, The Wire, Deadwood, and others) and the comments are lively.

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    In this week's post on Lost, one of the gripes is about the use of flashback sequences to thematically underline one character's arc in a given episode. On Wednesday we learned that Locke (Terry O'Quinn) had a past growing marijuana and that he and his friends were betrayed when Locke accidentally brings an undercover cop into their midst.

    So far this year we've seen Jack (Matthew Fox) lose his wife and battle his father (John Terry) again. I have a secret theory that Terry's character has an importance not yet revealed. This isn't really based on anything except the fact that his body disappears after the crash in Season 1 and that he keeps popping up in everyone else's flashbacks. (I also just enjoy his performance)

    In week 2 Son (Yoon-jin Kim) tacitly allows her lover to be murdered by her husband (Daniel Dae Kim). This had little to do with the island story, which involved Son and Jin setting a trap for the Others and losing the sailboat. Locke's flashback (which ends inconclusively with Locke pointing a gun at the undercover cop) was certainly much more entertaining if inititally unbelieveable. Locke has had (with the possible exception of Hurley) the most colorful pre-crash life of any of the characters. We still don't know how he ended up in a wheelchair or even where this flashback fits into the timeline.


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    Since I enjoy Lost, I'm willing to believe that JJ Abrams and the gang has a plan to fit it all together. But the introduction of new characters (each with their own to flashbacks to come, we presume) means that the payoff can be withheld longer and longer. Supposedly ratings have dipped this year, maybe the writer's should get back to the woman looking for Desmond who concluded Season 2.

    It's here!

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    ...Marie Antoinette opens today!

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Deadwood between the covers

    There's a new glossy hardcover out on the late, lamented HBO series Deadwood. Series creator David Milch appears to have written quite a bit of it, with cast members chiming in on their roles. On the subject of the show's cancellation (four hours worth of TV movies to come next year) Milch doesn't have much to say.

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    Fans of the show will find photos, an episode guide, and of course sections of unexpurgated dialogue. No mention of Flora (Kristen Bell, who else?), the pint-sized con woman who met an unfortunate end in Season 1.

    "We're producing a fantastic hour of television; it's up to the audience now."

    Kristen Bell tells Entertainment Weekly she's enjoying cult status on Veronica Mars.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Reds

    I love watching big, messy movies that are undeniably the product of one person's vision. Think Magnolia or Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. For their faults, you can't help but appreciate the effort.

    Here's Warren Beatty in Entertainment Weekly on Reds, which bows on DVD today.....(I think Reds is much better than the two movies mentioned above, but undoubtedly still a personal project.)

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    On a personal note...

    To meet two friends whose more self-examining blogs should be worth reading, say hello to Catalina and Daneen....(see links list to the right)

    Stoppard!

    The NY Times on the massive New York production of playwright Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia.

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    The Essential Egoyan - Family Viewing

    Atom Egoyan's Family Viewing (1987)is an unsettling domestic comedy about the way watching and technology separates us from real life. Stan (David Hemblen) lives with his girlfriend (Gabrielle Rose) and son Van (Aidan Tierney) in an antiseptic condo. Stan is cold and remote, and Van and Sandra seem to have struck up an affair under his nose. Van doesn't have much in the way of friends or a social life; he spends most of his free time visiting his grandmother (Selma Keklikian) in a nursing home.

    By accident, Van discovers that his father (who works for a company that makes VCR's) is erasing home movies to make sex tapes with Sandra. The home movies are the only way Van can see his mother (Rose Sarkisyan), who has abandoned her husband and son. Van's discovery, combined with his meeting an exotically beautiful woman named Aline (Egoyan's wife Arsinee Khanjian), inspires him to scheme to free his grandmother from the nursing home.

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    I'm not revealing all the details of the plot, some characters have unexpected connections. The first Egoyan film I saw was Exotica, and this early effort reminded me of that film. Both appear initially cold and sexual, but there's a heart beating underneath. The home movie sequences in Family Viewing depict a what appears to be a warm childhood for Van, but Stan only makes the briefest of appearances since he seems to be doing all the filming. Similarly, Stan can't make love to Sandra without a disembodied phone sex operator helping out via speakerphone, their (entirely filmed) sex life has all the rigidity of a planned performance.

    There's some sleight-of-hand in the last quarter of the movie, the viewer is tempted to think of Family Viewing as Van's movie, but the climax of the film is when Stan's pursuit of Van and Aline (he has them filmed by a private detective) plunges him into the "taped" portion of the movie.

    Tapes, voyuerism, and the contrast between family love and unconventional sexuality have been recurring themes in Egoyan's work. Family Viewing is an important early work by a director whose greatest work may still be ahead of him.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    No review this week

    No plans to review anything this weekend, I'm doing a tech rehearsal for a play and probably won't have time to see anything. As previously mentioned, I'll be looking forward to Marie Antoinette and The Prestige the weekend of the 19th.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    He keeps writing...

    Directing one of the biggest bombs of the year (The Wicker Man) hasn't slowed down Neil LaBute. Here's the NYT on Wrecks, his new one-man play starring Ed Harris....

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Marie Antoinette soundtrack

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    Here, according to Amazon, is the track listing for the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. (2 CD's for the price of 1):
    Disc: 1
    1. "Hong Kong Garden" - Siouxsie & The Banshees
    2. "Aphrodisiac" - Bow Wow Wow
    3. "What Ever Happened" - The Strokes
    4. "Pulling Our Weight" - The Radio Dept.
    5. "Ceremony" - New Order
    6. "Natural's Not In It" - Gang Of Four
    7. "I Want Candy (Kevin Shields Remix)" - Bow Wow Wow
    8. "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" - Adam & The Ants
    9. "Concerto in G" * - Antonio Vivaldi / Reitzell
    10. "The Melody Of A Fallen Tree" - Windsor For The Derby
    11. "I Don't Like It Like This" - The Radio Dept.
    12. "Plainsong" - The Cure
    Disc: 2
    1. "Intro Versailles"* - Reitzell / Beggs
    2. "Jynweythek Ylow" - Aphex Twin
    3. "Opus 17" - Dustin O'Halloran
    4. "Il Secondo Giorno (Instrumental)" - Air
    5. "Keen On Boys" - The Radio Dept.
    6. "Opus 23" *- Dustin O'Halloran
    7. "Les Baricades Misterieuses"* - Francois Couperin / Reitzell
    8. "Fools Rush In (Kevin Shields Remix) - Bow Wow Wow
    9. "Avril 14th" - Aphex Twin
    10. "K. 213" * - Domenico Scarlatti / Reitzell
    11. "Tommib Help Buss" - Squarepusher
    12. "Tristes Apprets.." - Jean Philippe Rameau /W. Christie
    13. "Opus 36" *- Dustin O'Halloran
    14. "All Cat's Are Grey" - The Cure


    I almost bought it today but decided to wait until I see the movie.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    October 20th is almost here!

    If you have been linking to my reviews at the Link Daily Blog through this site, you know I haven't been too thrilled with what I've been seeing lately. But, a week from Friday two of the fall movies I'm most eager to see are opening. Look for my thoughts on.....

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    The Prestige, with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman

    and

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    ...Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst.

    The Departed

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    Martin Scorsese's The Departed was the box-office champ this past weekend, and USA Today says that the ultra-violent crime drama is now a Best Picture contender.

    My personal reaction to the film is pretty much in line with the critical establishment: I loved it. The Departed was obviously made by people who love movies, from Scorsese on down. By coincidence, after seeing it I came home and happened to flip on one of those 15-minute HBO "making of" specials that they run between movies. There was the usual praise for Scorsese from DiCaprio, Damon, & Co. and someone observed how "Marty" loves actors.

    I suppose that's a fairly obvious thing to say about a director, but a love of and trust in actors' talents really makes a difference. The cast is top-drawer, and I thought everyone hit a sort of barely over-the-top note which was just right for the material. DiCaprio gives a career best performance, Damon and Nicholson are outstanding, and the supporting players (Wahlberg, Sheen, Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga) uniformly fine.

    The next time you watch a movie directed by Michael Bay (or even the gifted Darren Aronofsky), ask yourself how much they love actors vs. directorial showmanship. The opening-weekend suucces of The Departed should cheer anyone who also had to review Employee of the Month this weekend.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    What did I get for my birthday?

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    So, I turned 33 this week and judging by the gifts I received the two most important things in my life are DVD's and clothes. That's not really true of course, and I don't think you want to know what I got from LL Bean, but here are the DVD's I was given

  • The Essential Egoyan - a boxed set of four early films by Canadian director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter). I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with Egoyan's early work. His films tend to tell stories out of sequence, saving their secrets for the very end. I'd love to see Egoyan make a film of the novel To The Power of Three by Laura Lippman.

  • Slings & Arrows : Season 1 - A Canadian show detailing the backstage goings-on at a Shakespeare Festival. Airs on the Sundance Channel in the States.

  • The third season of Arrested Development. Need I say more?

  • The complete series of Undeclared. Cancelled TV from the creator of Freaks & Geeks.

  • The new Criterion DVD of Yi Yi, directed by Edward Yang. One of my favorites of all time.

  • and finally, a special edition disc of Blazing Saddles. Thanks Lynne!
  • Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Do you need a picture?

    I wish it were The Departed, but this week's review is Employee of the Month. I suppose I'm partial to posting pictures of good-looking actresses, but I think I'll forgo the obvious Jessica Simpson pic here.......

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Oh, Veronica

    A murder, a bus crash, a missing parent, and.....evil sororities?

    Season 3 of Veronica Mars premiered last night, and I'm a little worried. Veronica (Kristen Bell) is in college now, but fortunately every other major character on the show seems to be attending the same university right there in Neptune. It seems that Veronica is ready for a fresh start, but that means that the show will have to work a harder to achieve that everything's connected, long buried secrets, feeling that Seasons 1 and 2 did.

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    Well, why shouldn't Veronica have some fun? She has certainly earned it. But the class distinctions at Neptune High were beautifully defined, the show will have to find a way to set Veronica apart from the crowd...(look for a Veronica-invades-the-sorority-house episode next week)....

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Netflix This 3 - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

    Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a contemporary Western about friendship and keeping one's promises. Or, it could be about how too many years alone might drive a man crazy. It's a nutbar of a movie, redeemed by Jones' weirdly austere performance and expert direction of a lively cast of character actors.

    Pete Perkins (Jones) lives near the border in a mostly empty Texas town and appears to do not much of anything really. He strikes up a friendship with Melquiades (Julio Oscar Cedillo); the two men bond over horses and their love of the open spaces around them.

    Melquiades is found shot dead in the desert. It doesn't take Pete long to discover the identity of the killer, a Border Patrol agent named Mike Norton (Barry Pepper). Perkins kidnaps Norton in front of his wife (January Jones), and with Melquiades' exhumed body in tow embarks on a journey to his friend's small Mexican hometown.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWritten by Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams), Three Burials is told out of sequence. We see Perkins viewing his friend's body before we see the two men meet. Much of the first half of the film celebrates the eccentricity of Perkins and his neighbors; there's a waitress (Melissa Leo) who is Perkins' lover when she's not sleeping with the sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) or her cafe owner husband.

    Once the journey to Mexico begins, Three Burials turns into a single-minded story of a man's attempt to avenge his friend's death. While skillfully filmed, this part of Three Burials has the unintended effect of making the audience sympathize with Pepper's character while questioning Jones' sanity. We also miss the lively women back home, both Leo and January Jones make more out of their roles than expected.

    The ending is a nicely ironic one, and sad. Pete does take Melquiades "home" in a sense. But it's not the home Pete (or the audience) expects. I have no doubt Tommy Lee Jones could make a classic Western, but The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a little too weird to be it.

    2 from the Times

    In my weekly raiding of the NY Times film section, here's David Lynch shooting his new "Inland Empire" on DV, and Jon Jost (and other indie directors of the '80s and '90s) wondering where to go from here).

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    This week...

    This week's review is The Guardian, an action movie with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. The director is Andrew Davis, who knows his way around this kind of movie. (The Fugitive, The Package).

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