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.