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).