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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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Foreign affair

Interesting post at Cinemarati about changes in the rules for picking the Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees. I hadn't quite realized the procedure was so complicated.

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Big question: Will Pedro Almodovar's prize-winning Volver make the cut? He won a few years ago for All About My Mother

Flyboys review

As promised, here's the fair-to-middling Flyboys review......

Monday, September 25, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Trust this movie

What do you call a romantic comedy where the characters are already in love?

Even though I'm jealous of director Bart Freundlich because he's married to Julianne Moore, I've decided to like his new movie Trust the Man. I can't say that it's particularly original or bold, but I think most of the movie is an honest and sincere look at the complications of long-term relationships.
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Tom (David Duchovny) is married to actress Rebecca (Moore). She's doing a play at Lincoln Center and he's stuck with parenting and housework. Tom's a decent guy with a little immaturity problem (online porn) who just wants to sleep with his wife once in a while. So it's not surprising when he develops an attraction to a woman he meets at his son's school.

Tobey (Billy Crudup), Rebecca's brother, has been with Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for years. She's ready for a commitment but he can't get it together. Oh, and Tobey wants to sleep with the super-hot girl from college (Eva Mendes) who seems to have an inexplicable thing for him.

I saw Trust the Man right after seeing The Last Kiss, in which a group of slightly
younger men flee from commitment. Trust the Man is much more optimistic about the possibility of relationships working out, but it also just feels more truthful. In Kiss, the college student (Rachel Bilson) who comes onto the hero (Zach Braff) is certainly sexy, but there's nothing else going on. It's absolutely inconceivable they could ever do anything more than share a bed since the woman doesn't have any inner life. (Braff's character doesn't have much of one either).

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe climax of Trust the Man occurs at the opening of Rebecca's play, where Tom (separated) and Tobey (dumped for another guy) behave like Martin and Lewis in order to win back the women in their lives. If you've ever had the experience of seeing a couple and wonderng what held them together, this may be the movie for you. Rebecca and Elaine are too good for these two goofs, but somehow it works anyway. Trust the Man is already leaving theatres, but the love story it tells is played out every day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This is good news

The gifted young Canadian actress Sarah Polley has directed her first film, which will be released by Lions Gate in 2007.

Away from Her is based on an Alice Munro short story about an man whose wife becomes attracted to another man after she's stricken with Alzheimer's disease. You may remember Polley from her acting roles in The Sweet Hereafter and Go. She's such a unique and intelligent presence I can't wait to see what her directorial debut will be like.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Flyboys

This week I review Flyboys, which is James Franco's fourth movie of '06. I didn't see Annapolis, but Tristan & Isolde was watchable. Then of course there was his cameo in Wicker Man.....

Dahlia business

Wish I had more time to post this week, there's quite a bit of Internet disagreement in the 'sphere about The Black Dahlia. Here's my negative review, followed by a positive post from House Next Door.

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To elaborate on one point I made in my review, DePalma's emphasis on sexuality, betrayal, voyeurism and other trademarks seems at odds with Ellroy's wide-ranging and specific examination of LAPD/urban corruption. Curtis Hanson's much less showy style was perfect for L.A. Confidential. (Not to mention Brian Helgeland's screenplay.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Last Kiss

The Last Kiss is a remake of an Italian film I haven't seen, though one blogger at Cinemarati reports that the American version is similar to the original.

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Michael (Zach Braff) is a 29 year old architect with a beautiful girlfriend named Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). Jenna's parents (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) are crazy about Michael, so everything's great right?

Jenna has become pregnant by accident; the couple hasn't discussed marriage yet because every time they do Michael "freaks out." (The hysteria behind Braff's eyes was used to great comic effect in Garden State, here it merely seems immature.)

So, this is a movie about fear of commitment. Michael isn't the only one who's scared, all of his friends (Casey Affleck, Michael Weston, Eric Christian Olsen) are having their own issues with settling down. Two of them eventually run off to South America in what feels like the screenwriter (Paul Haggis) throwing up his hands.

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At a friend's wedding, Michael is approached by a hot college student (Rachel Bilson) who seems attracted to him for no particular reason. They begin a flirtation which leads to Michael lying to Jenna and putting his relationship at risk. I don't fault Bilson's performance, but the character has nothing to offer Michael except her body.

Here's the message of The Last Kiss, guys. When you hit your early 30s, you can settle down into humdrum domesticity OR have hot sex with a coeds. You can watch strippers at a batchelor party with your buddies, or be there for your wife and son. The choice is yours........

Friday, September 15, 2006

This has been bothering me for awhile

What is Hilarie Burton (of the CW's One Tree Hill) doing in this picture?

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Is she taking a self-chiropractic course? Since I think she's one of the more physically beautiful humans on the planet, I had to ask.

Kirsten, meet Harold

In some kind of celebrity "six degrees" game, you now have a link between Kirsten Dunst and Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter. Dunst's photo adorns the cover of a movie tie-in edition of the Marie Antoinette biography by Antonia Fraser, Pinter's wife. The book is of course the basis for the forthcoming Sofia Coppola film.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Anne in Trees

I just wrote, and somehow managed to delete, a post about the Anne Heche/Catherine Keener movie Walking and Talking. I'm too tired to try to recreate everything I wrote, but here's a review of the movie. Heche's new ABC show Men in Trees airs on Fridays. (It's not as good as the movie....)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Does Anyone want to pay me to blog?

A story in Business 2.0 magazine about the money to be made by selling ads on blogs says that 6 posts before lunch is an appropriate level of blog traffic....I'm going to have to quit my job for that, so that leads me to the title of this post. (Relax Mom, I'm not quitting just yet...)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My Summer of Love

I rented My Summer of Love (directed by Pawel Pawlikowski) because it's the only other major film role to date for Emily Blunt, who played the snobby British assistant in The Devil Wears Prada.

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Blunt (pictured on the right) plays Tasmin, a bored schoolgirl at home for the summer. Tasmin's parents largely leave her to her own devices, and one day she strikes up a friendship with Mona (Nathalie Press). Mona lives in the town with her brother (Paddy Considine), who has recently become a born-again Christian and closed the family pub. (Mona's mom is dead & her dad is unknown).

The story captures the hazy feeling of an intense summer relationship quite well, and succeeds on mood more than plot. The two girls relationship becomes physical after a time, but (as usual) summer comes to an end. Tasmin is revealed not to be quite the person that Mona thought she was.

A more intriguing aspect that doesn't get enough screen time is the relationship between Tasmin and Mona's brother Phil. Something in Tasmin is crying out for attention, and she responds to Phil testimony of conversion but is afraid to go the whole way. This is the best performance I've seen Considine (In America) give.

I liked the film because of the performances, but it's a little underplotted. Blunt hs good things in her future and Press is very strong as well. I give Pawlikowski credit for making no claims about the characters' sexual orientation or how this relationship will affect them in the future. It's a moment, and then it's over.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Don't Netflix This

Not that I'm surprised, but The Covenant was ridiculous. There's an actor named Steven Strait, who plays the head of the "sons of Ipswich"; they're a group of young men who have inherited magical powers through the generations dating back to the Salem Witch Trials.

Strait was in a movie last year called Undiscovered, a too-serious story of aspiring actors & musicians where the most appealing performance was given by Ashlee Simpson. Curiously, the lead in Undiscovered, the talented Pell James (pictured on the right), is a dead ringer for Laura Ramsey, who plays the female lead in The Covenant.

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I've already given this one more attention than it needs........

Straight from Cuththroat Island

This weekend I'm reviewing a movie called The Covenant. I didn't know the first thing about it until I looked it up on IMDB, and the only name I recognized was Renny Harlin (!) as director. I hate to be cynical, but I'm not optimistic.....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Netflix This 2 - Exotica

My first "Netflix This" post was about a movie called Double Happiness, which I hadn't seen in some time before I wrote about it. Since I'm only a part time critic/blogger I don't always have time or resources to watch things again. I stand by my recommendation of Double Happiness, but the film is a good bit less carefree than I remembered. The rejection of the main character (Sandra Oh) by her strict Chinese-Canadian father is actually quite painful.

Anyway, all this to say that it has also been some time since I've seen Exotica. My memories of it are clear though, because of the film's unique structure and lacerating sadness. Francis (Bruce Greenwood) pays regular visits to the Exotica strip club where he seems to have an attraction to one particular dancer (Mia Kirshner, pictured here in The L Word and playing the title role in The Black Dahlia). There's also a DJ (Elias Koteas), a club owner (Arsinee Khanjian), and a young girl (Sarah Polley) with strange connections to Francis.

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I don't want to say too much about the plot, which is told in a nonlinear fashion. I went from being confused, to unsettled, to a moment of realization, to finally feeling incredible empathy. It may not be apparent from the outset, but Exotica is a film about a destroyed family. It isn't Egoyan's best known film (The Sweet Hereafter) , but I think it may be his best.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wicker

I was going to try to write something thoughtful about Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man, but the movie is so bad (and worse on reflection) that I just don't have the energy.

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Instead I'll offer a review from the Link Daily Blog (written by Daniel Goldberg) that sums up my feelings. The two observations I would make about The Wicker Man are:

  • How did LaBute persuade so may good actresses to appear in this movie? Ellen Burstyn is the leader of the murderous paganistic society. Molly Parker of Deadwood (who looks great in a bird mask) is a schoolteacher, Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under plays a doctor, and Leelee Sobieski a budding sociopath. Sobieski hasn't really been part of a major hit yet, but I recommend her opposite Albert Brooks in Christine Lahti's My First Mister. Nicolas Cage is listed as a producer, so he may well have been involved in the project even before LaBute.

  • I've now concluded that Neil LaBute not only doesn't like women, he just doesn't like people. I refer you to In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and the play and film The Shape of Things. I would challenge anyone not to define these works as thoroughly misanthropic pieces in which the characters are either predatory or emasculated. I once auditioned for the role of the best friend in a production of The Shape of Things, and although I consider myself a decent character actor, I wonder if I could have played a character I disliked so much. (I didn't get the part.)
  • Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Judge for yourself

    Here's my review of The Illusionist, and a link to a Cinemarati discussion in which everyone else seemed to like it better than I did....

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Vera Farmiga

    I enjoyed the profile of actress Vera Farmiga in yesterday's NY Times magazine. Farmiga is an actress best known for her independent work. If you're like me you've probably seen her mostly in supporting roles in big studio films.

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHer best known role is in a movie called Down to the Bone, where she played a woman balanced on the edge of drug addiction. This fall she's in The Departed and Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering.

    One alarming experience involving a studio movie called Running Scared is detailed:

    "Last year, Farmiga was cast in “Running Scared,” a studio film released by New Line Cinema and directed by Wayne Kramer. She played the wife of a gangster on the run. Farmiga liked Kramer’s work; his previous film, “The Cooler,” was a gritty independent movie that garnered Alec Baldwin an Oscar nomination. But her experience with “Running Scared” ended up serving as a reminder of the potential perils of working with the studios. New Line decided to promote the film with a highly unusual Web site. In one scene shot for the movie, Farmiga and Paul Walker, who plays her character’s husband, have sex on top of a washing machine. For the promotional site, the studio created an animated version of the scene so that anyone visiting the site (anyone 17 or older, that is) could manipulate Farmiga’s cartoon image, as if in some pornographic video game, until she reached orgasm.

    “Now you know why I prefer independent films,” Farmiga told me ruefully..."


    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLynn Hirschberg's article also makes the point that achieving tabloid celebrity costs good young actresses (Kidman, Lohan, Johansson) the ability to be taken seriously in dramatic roles. That may be true, but couldn't this trend by reversed if actresses used what clout they had to serve as producers and directors?

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    The Illusionist

    The best thing about The Illusionist is the performance of Paul Giamatti as a detective investigating Edward Norton's magician. I didn't care about the Norton-Jessica Biel love story as much as I should have, and the film's resolution was unsatisfying. I'll post a link when my review is up. Rufus Sewell's Crown Prince character and Philip Glass' score also deserve a mention.

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    The film I responded to most strongly this weekend (in a negative way) was The Quiet, which I discuss more thoroughly here.

    Dear Edie Falco

    Dear Edie,

    First off I have to admit that The Sopranos is at best my third favorite show on HBO, after The Wire and Deadwood. The show's Jersey hoods aren't as original as the writers think they are, the supporting actors are bland, and there's way too much time spent seeking to justify morally dubious behavior.

    Still, you and James Gandolfini deserve all the acclaim and Emmys you've received.

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    Not to mention your independent film resume. I stumbled on you way back in
    Hal Hartley's Trust and was glad to see you get a meaty role in John Sayles' Sunshine State . Your TV work on Oz and Homicide didn't go unnoticed either.

    I bring all this up because I just saw your latest film The Quiet today. You've probably blocked it out, but you play a pill-popping mother whose teenage daughter (Elisha Cuthbert) is being molested by your husband (Martin Donovan, your old Hal Hartley sidekick).

    The arrival of an adopted deaf girl (Camilla Belle) shakes up this unpleasant dynamic. But Edie, your character spends almost the entire film in a drug induced haze. You're oblivious to what's going on until the girls finally rise up against Dad.

    In an early scene we find you passed out in the still-being-decorated living room, as artfully arranged as an antique chair. Later, you strip in front of your husband and insist he tell you if you're fat (a question Cuthbert's character also asks repeatedly). When he won't tell you, you (still topless) announce you're going to sleep on the floor and curl up at the foot of the bed.

    I'm going into such detail about a film that definitely does not deserve it to ask, what's up? Edie, your fans want you to keep doing top-drawer TV (OK, you'll have to find a new show) and strong work in films. It can't be the money, since I know you didn't get paid very much for this piece of garbage.

    What's really going, I imagine, is that you're not getting offered roles that match up with your talent. The observation that actresses of a certain age can't get good work (Susan Sarandon on Rescue Me?) isn't new. But if The Quiet is the only alternative, somebody needs to hold a telethon.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Someday....

    ...I'll have time to write some original thoughts in this space, I promise. In the meantime, enjoy this long post at House Next Door. It's a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Rescue Me, which just concluded its 3rd season. I still love Denis Leary (and Charles Durning and Callie Thorne in smaller roles), but this season's focus on dysfunctional sexual relationships set the bar pretty low for me.

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    (I miss Diane Farr as the squad's lone female firefighter)