Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

I'm happy to talk about a good movie. Here's a link to my review of Little Miss Sunshine. The cast and the writing were very tight, I thought there were a couple of potential potholes that the script avoided without the movie turning mean or ridiculous. This one will be on my 10 Best list.

Monday, August 28, 2006

My friend L.

I recently found out that my best friend from college and her husband are expecting their first child. I don't think she would mind me writing about her, and I certainly don't plan to divulge any personal details or anything embarrassing; but for the sake of respecting privacy I'll call her L.

When I was a sophomore in college I met L. in the drama department of our school. I was a theater major as a mild act of rebellion against my parents and she was a freshman who had landed a role in our fall production of a bloody old English play called The Revenger's Tragedy. At the time I was awkward and self-conscious not only onstage but in pretty much everything I did. The only thing I had going for me as far as attracting prospective friends was a sense of humor, both about myself and the world. So, I think we became friends based on that. I certainly didn't always deserve L.'s friendship based on my behavior.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting(We're obviously looking at a picture of Uma Thurman. It all makes sense in a minute.) We stayed friends throughout school and afterwards, although sadly our communication these days is limited to e-mails and the odd letter or card. It's hard to sum up my relationship with L. in just a few lines, but I don't think it's ridiculous to say that she saw the person that I could become and am still working on becoming today. If you know me you can insert your own joke, but otherwise I think that person is someone who relates to the world on his own terms, loves his friends deeply, and is trying to say what he has to say in life through art.

Well, you might say, this is all very sweet. But what does it have to do with movies?

Senior year, the movie to see was Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. There was enormous media hype, the movie had won the top prize at Cannes, and L. and I were both excited. Because of our diverging academic paths, I didn't get to spend as much time with her as before. I can still remember how happy I was when she told me she wanted to see Pulp with me.

The theater we went to doesn't even exist anymore, but the way I remember it we were both so buzzed after the movie we went to the nearest restaurant (for coffee and pie of course) because we had to talk about it. The mix of violence, pop-culture, irony, and Uma Thurman's dancing was somehow perfect. To this day I've only had a couple of experiences even close in terms of communing over a movie with someone.

So, when Kill Bill appeared we were living far away from each other. I e-mailed her to note the occasion of of a new Tarantino film and L. responded with a shrug of indifference. You know what? When I saw the movie I felt the same way. When you're contemplating starting a family (like her) or thinking about who you're going to spend the rest of your life with (like me), even a samurai that looks like Uma Thurman doesn't have quite the same appeal.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOK, I said I wasn't going to get personal. But after the Pulp Fiction soundtrack came out, L. phoned our campus station and requested Son of a Preacher Man during every DJs shift. I hope she plays it for her child.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Future posts?

What would you like to see? Ideas are backing up here, espeically for some of the more personal posts. I just found out my friend L. is pregnant with her first child. When we were in college, we loved all things Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction, but I hated Kill Bill and I don't think L. even saw it. I guess someone's growing up.

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I also want to write about some TV shows treatment of gay and lesbian characters, after viewing a "very special episode" of a certain CW show in which Hilarie Burton takes a superficial stand against bigotry...keep reading!

(image - Marc Baptiste/Teen People)

...and we're back

Wish I could have written more this week, but I had the unusual opportunity to participate in a staged reading of a play called The Dogs of Pripyat by Leah Napolin. The play concerns the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and is told from the point of view of the dogs left behind when citizens were forced to evacuate. I know it sounds like a downer, but the script is actually quite funny and moving and the reading was a sucess. (It would be hard to stage though.)

So, I loved Little Miss Sunshine and will be posting a review soon. The film's website has some of the more unusual links I've seen, including a blog about Proust (inspired by Steve Carell's gay suicidal Proust scholar), a link to the Converse shoe site, and a Wikipedia entry. Sure they're all designed for promotion, but at least someone put some thought into the site.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Films that hit home

At About Last Night, Terry Teachout praises movies (and other art forms) that inspire a strong autobiographical connection in the viewer. He mentions two films I particularly admire, Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me and Robert Duvall's The Apostle

Ho-Hum, pt 2

For all you Justin Long fans, here's my review of Accepted....this week I'll be writing about Idlewild and/or Little Miss Sunshine, so things are looking up.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is certainly the best looking film of the year, the animation gives everything a lush hyperreality that's perfect for the film's chemically altered ambiance.

I wish the material, taken from Philip K. Dick's novel, was worthy of the care and vision involved in the look of the film. Keanu Reeves plays a character named "Fred," an undercover drug agent in Orange County. Fred spends much of his time wearing a "scramble" suit, a jumpsuit that conceals the wearer's identity from everyone else. The drug of choice is a lethally addictive pill called Substance D, which we're told causes disassociation between the two hemispheres of the brain.

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What does this mean? Fred may also be a small-time junkie and dealer named Bob Arctor, who spends most of his time chillin' with Donna (Winona Ryder) and two fellow druggies (Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson). This split personality idea is perhaps the biggest problem with A Scanner Darkly, it just isn't dramatized effectively. We never really know if Fred/Arctor is playing a game to fool his friends or just crazy. The result is too much of Downey and Harrelson's stoner ramblings in scenes that have no payoff.

The drugs take their toll on Fred, and he eventually winds up in a rehab center which may also be the source of Substance D. This plot strand, constantly referred to, begins to be developed just as the film ends.

I'm convinced that on a literal level the plot of Scanner makes no sense, especially sense the drug dealing food chain never goes higher that the four main characters. Since A Scanner Darkly was published in 1977, our understanding has changed about where drugs come from, how they are filtered to certain segments of society, and how hard it is to do anything about both addiction and the conditions that create it. The failure of A Scanner Darkly, made by a prolific and original-minded filmmaker, is the use of bold animation to spotlight moldy ideas.

Friday, August 18, 2006


When was the last time you saw a Winona Ryder movie? There haven't been that many to choose from in the last few years, but I was shocked when I looked over her credits and realized I hadn't seen her in anything since Autumn in New York (directed by Joan Chen) which came out in 2000.

Winona played a free spirit who fell in love with a wealthy businessman (Richard Gere). Everything is going well until Winona reveals she's dying, and the rest of the movie is Gere's fruitless search for a cure.

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My Winona drought is over, since A Scanner Darkly has made it to my town! I won't get to review it for the Link Daily Blog, but that means I can write more about it here.

(image - galeon.com)

Strange coincidence

This image of Audrey Tautou in Amelie is on the cover of both The Movie Lover's Club: How to Start Your Own Film Group by Cathleen Rountree and 1000 Films to Change Your Life. I challenge anyone to find a better visual representation of what we hope for from the movies.

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(You'll note that Tautou never looks this happy throughout the entire The Da Vinci Code.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006


This week I'll be reviewing the comedy Accepted, about a bad student who fools everyone into thinking he's attending a fictional college. When the biggest star going up against Snakes on a Plane is one of the "Mac vs. PC" guys (Justin Long,below), you know it's a slow week.

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(image- answers.com)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Paging Logan and Duncan

I'll resist the temptation to post another picture of Kristen Bell, and instead just provide a link to my review of Pulse. I'm no horror movie expert or fan, but I thought Pulse seemed unsually thin, given the premise. (Our dependence on technology backfires as the dead invade over computer networks) Surely there was potential for more humor and different kinds of scares.

Season 2 of Veronica Mars comes out on DVD August 22.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Got actors?

Two articles from the NY Times about different aspects of the actors' life: Cherry Jones' performance in the play Faith Healer is an ambitious failure (in one critic's opinion) and Rufus Sewell
(starring in The Illusionist with Norton, Giamatti, and Biel) wishes he weren't so good looking (sort of).....

Forty Shades of Blue

Sometimes what you read about a movie and what's on screen just don't add up. I first read about Forty Shades of Blue (directed by Ira Sachs) in the pages of Film Comment magazine. Shades won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2005 and received a great deal of attention for Rip Torn's central performance.

The particulars: Alan (Torn) is a legendary songwriter/producer in Memphis who lives with his Russian girlfriend Laura (Dina Korzun) and their young son. One day Alan's grown son Michael (Darren Burrows) arrives; he's a bundle of unhappiness and neuroses, trapped in a bad marriage.

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Laura, who seems to be largely ignored by Alan, is desperately lonely and seems to be unable to form meaningful connections with people. So it isn't too much of a surprise when she has a few joyless sexual encounters with Michael behind Alan's back. Alan doesn't seem to notice much of anything; we're told he's a legend of R&B music, but the one song we actually hear him creating is a horrid rap/funk creation with an overlay of classical piano.

You keep waiting for the consequences of the erotic betrayal to be revealed and for Torn to go off, but things end in pretty much the same mood of melancholy and disaffection that they began. Where's the story? I look forward to seeing Torn in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette , he has a few rich moments here but deserved better.

(image - Yahoo)

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I'm two episodes away from finishing the first season DVD of Veronica Mars, and I think the show's great. But, I DO NOT want to know how the season ends, so don't tell me!!

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I'll write more about VM later, but all this is to say I'm reviewing Kristen Bell in the horror remake Pulse this week. Horror usually isn't my bag, and if Sarah Michelle you know who were in this I'd skip it, but I've been impressed with Bell since seeing her play a con artist in Season 1 of "Deadwood."

(image- cineaste.de)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fox Confessor (briefly off-topic)

Last week I wrote about a trip my younger Sister and I took to the movies....well, she may not be a movie fan now, but I have to applaud her taste in music (usually, there's a little too much Mariah Carey for my taste)...

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Thanks to my sister, I've been listening to the Canadian singer Neko Case. Her latest came out earlier this year, it's called Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Case usually gets lumped into the "alt-country" genre, her voice sounds like it's coming from a Patsy Cline-era radio that has emerged from a time warp. Musically, it's country, jazz, gospel, blues, and a couple of others I can't pick out all blended together. (Why is it so hard to describe music?)

Case is also part of the Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, who rocked Lollapalooza over the weekend. (Their CD of last year, Twin Cinema, was one of my favorites.) The Pornographers' sound will stay with you, it's more conventional indie-pop/rock, but expertly done. Check out Neko and the New Pornographers, and support your local independent music store.

(image - Pop Matters)

The Night Listener

Here's a link to my review of The Night Listener, which I liked. I wonder if Robin Williams wishes he'd done more dramatic roles at the height of his popularity, he certainly has the ability. I recommend the movie, but it could have used more Sandra Oh.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Netflix This 1 - Double Happiness

This week I'm reviewing The Night Listener, based on the book by Armistead Maupin and starring Robin Williams. Also in the cast is Grey's Anatomy Emmy winner Sandra Oh.

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About 10 years ago I happened to see Oh in a breakout role in Double Happiness. (directed by Mina Shum) Oh plays a Chinese-Canadian young woman who dreams of being an actress but is pressured to marry and settle down by a traditional family. The movie is sweet and beguiling, and Oh's character isn't much like the strident ones she has played in Grey's and Sideways.

As the title of the is post indicates, I'll be recommending obscure DVD choices whenever the mood strikes me, so keep watching!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Happy Birthday to....

Very warm and heartfelt Happy Birthday wishes today to my younger Sister, who recently moved back to the same city I live in. She had lived on other side of the country for several years, so when she moved back it was a pleasant surprise to discover we actually liked each other as adults.


Sister isn't much of a movie fan anymore, but as a birthday present of sorts I'll offer one brief anecdote. Many years ago a now-defunct theatre in our town offered an "alternative" film series. As I recall, 8 or 10 films were shown 3 or 4 times a piece. The first film shown was Cinema Paradiso, the story of a boy's friendship with a movie projectionist in Italy.

The theatre was packed. Greenville was starved for anything but the most obvious Hollywood fare. (Conditions have only slightly improved) My sister, who couldn't have been any older than junior high at the time, was entranced by the film. I and everyone else in theater were won over by the movie as well. Midway through the film, my sister leaned over to me and said, "I have to go to the restroom."

"Okay," I said, starting to shift over so she could get by.

"But I don't want to."

I was confused, but then I realized that she was enjoying the film too much to go to the restroom. Everything turned out fine, both in the film and otherwise, and we went home and forgot about it. But as I've written and thought more about movies over the years, I can't help wondering if I'll ever again be so transported by a movie that I'll undergo such personal discomfort not to miss a frame.

Happy Birthday, and thanks for letting me tell this story.