Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And we're off...

Blogging will resume here next week after I get back from a trip out of town.... read House Next Door, About Last Night, IFC, and Andrew Sullivan in my absence.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


As usual, I'm behind on all my good TV on DVD. I'm just about finished watching Season 1 of the new Battlestar Galactica, and for me it lives up to all the hoo-ha. In the story of a community (all humanity, actually) trying to redefine its values and stay alive after an invasion, BSG feels relevant in the same way the best HBO shows do.

The standout in the cast for me is Mary McDonnell as Laura Roslin, who improbably becomes President after everyone in front of her in the line of succession is killed. Even in her best films (Passion Fish), McDonnell always seemed a little distracted to me. In BSG she plays a woman determined to preserve the values of her society at any cost, even if it means blowing up a ship that may contain innocent people or rigging an election. But if Roslin plays her hand too strongly, the people will view her as a dictator. It's a thoughtful, intelligent performance from great writing.

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I also like Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, the irreverent pilot who keeps coming through in the clutch. As the season goes on, Sackhoff proves herself capable of handling both the dramatic and action requirements of her role.

One question: If Cylon Number Six (Tricia Helfer) is in the head of Baltar (James Callis), how come she just doen't lead the Cylons to where the humans are hiding? Looking forward to Season 2.

Can't wait to see....

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Smiley Face, in which Anna Faris (of Scary Movie and Lost in Translation) plays a woman who must suffer the consequences of accidentally eating a batch of pot cupcakes. The movie got great reviews at Sundance and opens in limited release in April.

The most surprising thing about Smiley Face is that the director is Gregg Araki, the former super-serious "New Gay Cinema" leader (The Living End) whose career gained new critical status in 2004 with the sexual abuse-aftermath drama Mysterious Skin.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dear Jeremy Roush, (Reign Over Me)

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(WARNING - Although Reign Over Me is not a film with "twists" or suspense, this post does discuss several specific plot points.)

So a couple of weeks ago I was wondering here whether or not Mike Binder's Reign Over Me would be worth seeing. You chimed in in the comments in support of the film, and with a couple of mouse clicks I discovered that you in fact were one of two editors on the film.

I appreciate your enthusiasm and as I said before I'll be more than happy to announce here whether or not my expectations were exceeded. And to a degree they were. There's a sobriety to Reign Over Me that suits the story of Charlie (Adam Sandler), a man whose wife and children were killed on 9/11. Charlie survives on a government payout and insurance money, and his existence consists primarily of riding through the streets of NYC on his scooter, playing video games, and listening to music through his ever-present headphones.

Through a good chunk of Reign Over Me I didn't have the slightest belief that Charlie was experiencing soul-shattering loss or post-traumatic stress. That's because quite a bit of Charlie's behavior happens to coincide with a tamped-down version of Adam Sandler's comic persona. Charlie relates to other adults the way Sandler does in his comic films, which is to say like a man with a severe case of arrested emotional development. Binder's script allows Charlie plenty of time to tease his old roommate Alan (Don Cheadle) about a sexually aggressive patient (Saffron Burrows), debate the merits of Springsteen and the Pretenders, and eat copious amounts of takeout. That's all when he's not throwing a hissy fit every time someone tries to help him move beyond what's happened to his family.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBUT, things change in a scene at the office of a doctor (Liv Tyler) that Charlie finally agrees to see. Charlie describes his family life in a long monologue which I'll freely admit Sandler performs brilliantly. It's certainly his best moment ever on screen and indicates surprising new career paths for the actor. Sandler pulls off a couple of other great moments, including a confrontation with two cops that's the film's strongest set piece.

I really began to feel for Charlie at this point, but I don't know that Mike Binder does him any favors. Charlie is left only slightly more self-aware than when things began; I won't go into the particulars, judge for yourself whether this guy shouldn't be in a hospital. I'd also add that Reign Over Me doesn't seriously address the process of recovery from grief. Tyler's therapist character might as well recite the lyrics to Springsteen's "The River" (an album referenced in the movie) for all the good she does for Charlie.

What's the verdict? Reign Over Me is the work of a maturing filmmaker, but I wonder where Binder can go with the subject of male uncommunicativeness and immaturity. (Recall Costner's drunken baseball player in Binder's The Upside of Anger). See it for Sandler and Cheadle (who displays a previously unseen harried side), the rest is worth it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Two links...

....found on Cinematical:

  • An L.A. weekly follow-up to the Julie Taymor vs. Joe Roth fight about Across the Universe. Taymor is apparently a (very talented) prima donna.

  • A Sydney Morning Herald chat with Steven Soderbergh about Ocean's Thirteen, future projects, his next "day-and-date" film after Bubble (high-end call girls!), and digital projection. A sample:

    "The opportunities for theatre owners to expand what they're able to do and show will counteract a lot of the things that I think they're afraid of right now," he says. "Once everybody goes digital, you're going to have theatres that are able to program very personal calendars. You can decide there are a whole generation of filmgoers who haven't seen The Godfather on the big screen.

    "You call Paramount, they put it on a server and that Friday and Saturday, it's 'one weekend only - The Godfather: Part I and Part II' in your theatre. It costs nothing.
  • Perfect From Now On (book review)

    I'm split down the middle about John Sellers' book, Perfect From Now On : How Indie Rock Saved My Life. Sellers is a writer only slightly older than me (He was born in 1970, I was born in 1973) whose memoir details a fairly conventional Midwestern childhood where nothing more musically adventurous was available than Top 40 or Classic Rock. Duran Duran was an early love of the author's, for me it was Billy Joel.

    Once he gets to high school the story becomes fairly predictable. Shunted into the "uncool" crowd, Sellars slowly begins to discover "alternative" or "indie" music. An early enjoyment of New Order segues into college-era discovery of Joy Division and other Manchester bands. Subsequent chapters detail later obsessions with Pavement (nothing wrong with that) and Guided By Voices (more on that later).

    I guess where I part company with Sellars is his tendency to run his obsessions into the ground, to the point of EP-buying, EBay, searching craziness. Sellars tends to run through everything a band puts out and then move on, rather than enjoying the music of his favorites over and over. There's also a strange unwillingness to experience new music.

    I can't fault Sellars for his enthusiasm, but the last act of Perfect From Now On really goes off the rails. In 2002 Sellars discovers the album Bee Thousand by the Dayton, Ohio band Guided By Voices, who quickly become his #1 object of desire. (I beat him to that one, hah!) For those who don't know, the now-disbanded GBV are a good but not great band known for a.the insanely prolific songwriting and releasing of leader/vocalist Robert Pollard and b.the absurd amount of alcohol consumed by everyone associated with the band at all times.

    The account of a trip to meet & drink with Pollard and see some of GBV's last shows is presented in great detail, and I think it was Sellers' overemphasis on physical proximity to his heroes that rankled me. I've never met Michael Stipe, the Cowboy Junkies, Neko Case, Elvis Costello or hundreds of other musicians I've loved over the years, but that doesn't diminish the role their music has played in my life. Sellers really goes out of his way to assign meaning to what's really a series of drunken binges. (The fact that one of Sellers' girlfriends apparently split up with him over his musical obsessions is relegated to a footnote)

    I can't dismiss this book out of hand though, because I do know the feeling of having your life change when hearing a mix tape and wearing a concert T-shirt. I just think we relate to music in a different way, and probably have a different attitude toward drinking. I applaud the author's sincerity, but check out some new bands OK?

    (Oh, there are something like 178 footnotes in the book. Some of them run several pages, and I was beginning to get annoyed until Sellers mentions that the footnotes are a tribute to a great book by one of my favorite writers - The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker.)

    I'm going to see.....

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    Robyn Hitchcock in concert tonight! Peter Buck of REM is in the band!

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Love for Love

    From IFC, a favorable take on I Think I Love My Wife.

    Stephen Fry's self-doubt

    From the "Arts, Briefly" section of the 3.20.07 NY Times:

    Is it talent or the accent that brings so many British actors so many American awards? Stephen Fry, below, the British comedian and actor who played the title role in “Wilde,” the 1997 film about Oscar Wilde, raised the question yesterday in the British magazine Radio Times, Agence France-Presse reported. He wrote: “I shouldn’t be saying this — high treason really — but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren’t fooled by our accent into detecting a brilliance that may not really be there. I mean, would they notice if Jeremy Irons or Judi Dench gave a bad performance? Not that those two paragons ever would, but it’s worth considering.” Mr. Fry, describing American actors as more natural than their British counterparts, wrote of “the supreme relaxed authenticity of a James Stewart or a George Clooney compared with the brittle contrivances of a Laurence Olivier or a Kenneth Branagh, marvelous as they are.”

    Taymor feuds with studio

    Director Julie Taymor is at odds with executive/director Joe Roth about final cut of Taymor's Beatles-based musical Across the Universe. I'm siding with the director who created the stage version of The Lion King. (NY Times)

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    I Think I Love My Wife

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    Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife is based on an Eric Rohmer film called Chloe in the Afternoon; cowriter/director Rock has set his version in modern-day Manhattan.

    Investment banker Richard Cooper (Rock) enjoys a comfortable suburban life with wife Brenda (Gina Torres, just annoying enough to make Rock's wandering eye plausible) and two kids. Richard's voice-over narration informs us that the couple is bored, but the film locates the problem somewhere lower. Brenda seems to have no interest in sex with her husband, and Richard can't stop thinking about other women.

    So when old friend Nikki (Kerry Washington) shows up in Richard's office one day, Richard begins to wonder if marriage is such a great deal after all. Nikki is attractive, available, and somewhat improbably into Richard. She drops a number of hints that Richard used to be a wild man, but it's hard to get that impression from Rock's tamped-down performance.

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKerry Washington was last seen on the wrong end of Idi Amin's bad temper in The Last King of Scotland, and she's good again here. But Nikki is more a writer's creation than an actual person. She offers Richard a vaguely defined world of hot sex and no responsibility, and the fact that she's plainly unhappy herself is only hinted at. I Think I Love My Wife ends the only way it could end, since Richard and Nikki are much too different for anything to last. Nikki is shunted off to engagement with a bland tycoon (Wendell Pierce) and Richard and Brenda reconnect physically.

    Rock's script (cowritten with Louis C.K.) takes some jabs at high-end Wall Street corporate culture. Richard's colleagues are openly judgemental of him when Nikki keeps showing up at the office, but a white coworker (Steve Buscemi) that we're told has interoffice flings seems to skate by. One good joke: Richard is the only African-American on an elevator at work. Finally a young man in casual clothes gets on and begins to rap out loud along with the crude lyrics in his headphones. Richard shrinks into the corridor as the other passengers condemn him by association. Later in the film the scene is repeated, except the elevator rapper is white. Nobody seems to mind. It's that kind of subtler observation I hope forms the basis of Rock's next film.

    Sorkin to Broadway with Spielberg?

    Steven Spielberg is reportedly financing an in-the-works Broadway run of Aaron Sorkin's (The West Wing) new play The Farnsworth Invention. (Variety)

    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    From the Times

    The sci-fi community isn't reading a political subtext into 300, they're looking for something more complicated. So says novelist Neal Stephenson (NY Times)

    Mira at the movies

    Director Mira Nair and novelist Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake) check out their movie. (NY Times)

    "Get me something I don't deserve"

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    I was a little hard on Chris Rock when I heard he was getting a two-hour edition of Inside the Actors Studio. Although I think among African-American comedians Dave Chappelle is more likely to produce something culturally influential (again), Rock's interview revealed an artist serious about not repeating himself and stretching as an actor and comedian.

    I'd also forgotten how much I liked the movie Nurse Betty, in which Rock plays one-half of a father/son hitman team with Morgan Freeman. Rock took the role for a chance to work with Freeman and Neil LaBute when he could have been doing (in his words) "Rappers on a Bus."

    Friday, March 16, 2007

    Seen Scene 5 - ER "Be Still My Heart"

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen was the last time something you saw on a one-hour drama made you jump with fright? Maybe the last episode of Twin Peaks or Hearst's maiming of Al on Deadwood, but for me nothing has ever quite topped the otherwise ordinary ER episode "Be Still My Heart."

    A psych patient named Paul (David Krumholtz, now of Numbers) is waiting to be seen on a busy day in the ER. Carter (Noah Wyle) and Lucy (Kellie Martin) are both occupied with other tasks, including preparations for a staff Valentine's Day party. It's always a bad sign when someone in the ER doesn't have enough time to deal with a patient.

    Paul is allowed to roam the halls, and he makes a detour into the staff lounge to pick up a knife. The episode ends with Carter coming into a darkened room, where he's surprised from behgind and stabbed by Paul. After he falls to the floor, his eyes widen in horror because he (and we) see that Lucy has been stabbed as well. (She dies in the next episode)

    The first time I saw this episode I literally came off my couch in fright, thanks I think to an effective bit of staging by director/series costar Laura Innes. The stabbing scene owes something to Halloween, with Paul emerging out of the darkness. Seeing the ep again reminded me of watching the first season of ER every week with college buddies, and I guess I owe nutty Michael Crichton some thanks for all the good times.

    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    Thanks Emilie! (Optimism)

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne of my favorite blogs about film & TV is much-mentioned The House Next Door, which among other things offers a weekly post on Lost. Writer Andrew Dignan and commenters regulary express their frustrations with the slow-moving series. They're not wrong, but I prefer to look for the positive.

    Last night's episode centered around Claire (Emilie de Ravin, who learns in the flashback that Christian (John Terry) is her father. Of course, we know that Christian is also the dysfunctional Dad of Jack (Matthew Fox). One of the central plots revolved arounnd Claire's attempt to put a note on a bird, thereby sending a signal to someone off the island. She also learns of the death sentence hanging over the head of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan).

    Claire is one of the more liekable characters on the show; she struggles to raise her son while the gang battles the Others. I think one of the reasons I liked the episode last night was because it dealt with day-to-day life on the island, with the boys-book adventure stuff in the background.

    But the boys on the other blog are right, Lost is frustrating. But I try not to judge shows by one episode. I do think the writers know where the show's going, especially now that we know the Dharma Initiative and the Others are two separate factions.

    By the way, check out the indie flick Brick. de Ravin has a small but strong cameo as a doomed girl.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Nothing's shocking

    So, Michael Moore doesn't want to be interviewed by documentarians making a semi-critical film? Who can blame him? Manufacturing Dissent at SXSW. (IFC)

    The first celebrity lawyer?

    Well, I guess Clarence Darrow had him beat. In Zodiac when the cops are waiting for the killer to call in to the TV show, the host says to lawyer Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) "I saw your Star Trek." He was talking about this episode.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Zodiac and the pleasures of work

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    David Fincher's Zodiac is an odd sort of mystery, a story with no ending and a dogged, one-note hero. Whether or not you think Fincher is the next Kubrick, Zodiac succeeds because of the director's attention to visual detail and his wise decision to let a large cast of actors do their thing.

    Zodiac is about something that I think more movies could feature, people who enjoy their jobs. Robert Downey's Paul Avery, a crime reporter eventually undone by excess, is the prime example. Avery is on the Zodiac story from the very beginning, and never loses his desire to outwit the killer. He's even willing to trade ideas with cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who eventually goes on to write the books that formed the basis for James Vanderbilt's screenplay.

    How does one describe the perfect marriage of actor and role? Downey's roles have never lived up to his hype, in my opinion, but the dissolute persona he brings to every role seems like a gift from God here. I'll also say a word for the fundamental decency that Anthony Edwards brings to the role of second banana cop William Armstrong. One of the creepiest scenes in the film is the Armstrong-led investigation of suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (brilliant John Carroll Lynch), a scene which Edwards beautifully underplays. As some shreds of evidence begin to turn towards Allen, we're with the cops weariness of the case and need to put away the killer. Armstrong is the model of decorum with Allen, but his eyes give him away.

    Zodiac is a feast for character actor junkies. Lynch, Pell James (victim), uncredited Ione Skye (near-victim), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), John Terry (publisher), and Chloe Sevigny as Graysmith's wife. Although I thought the last act of Zodiac dithered a little, as Graysmith digs into the case to write his book. But Zodiac is a marvelously humanistic mystery, celebrating haunted lives and best efforts.

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    "I take them off when I shower"

    While we're on the subject, questions for Abbas Kiarostami. (NY Times)

    If it's fractured....

    As an audience member, I occasionally enjoy being confused. If a film has a "non-linear" structure or information is obviously being withheld, I don't mind going along for the ride. I'm trusting the director to get me to the end of the film safely; you might say that I'm giving him two hours of my time in exchange for a thematically unified and logically coherent movie.

    Sometimes (Babel), you get the suspicion halfway through that all the parts don't quite hang together the way they should. Or even if you're being entertained (Pulp Fiction), you know that the film really won't stay with you after it's over.

    All this came to mind when I read David Denby's recent piece on non-linear films in The New Yorker followed by Jonathan Rosenbaum's examination of Denby's shifting views on Abbas Kiarostami. Denby seems to me to overrate Tarantino's command of style, and Rosenbaum argues for something more humanistic. I've got to see Taste of Cherry.

    Sunday, March 11, 2007

    DVD Diary - Shut Up & Sing

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    The documentary Shut Up & Sing (2006, d. Barbara Kopple & Cecilia Peck) follows the uproar that surrounded the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines' crack in 2003 that the group was "embarassed" that President Bush was from Texas. Country radio dropped the group's CD - the single was #1 at the time - and former fans turned out to protest at the group's tour stops. (The first stop was in my home of Greenville, SC and my Mom attended the show!)

    The timeline of the film jumps between 2003 and the group's 2005 recording of their successful Taking the Long Way album, which included pointed jabs at their critics and won multiple Grammys last month. Maines and bandmates Emily Robison and Martie Maguire all have bustling family lives and are portrayed as just down-to-earth regular gals.

    What they don't have is a coherent point of view on Iraq. Maines is barely shown discussing the war after her famous crack on a London stage, and I wanted someone to ask her two questions. Why did a documentary crew happen to be there before the infamous comment, and would she have made the same remark in front of an American audience? While I certainly applaud the group's unapologetic stand, they seem curiously tone deaf about a. why people would be offended and b. being shunned by the insular world of country radio. The entire crisis is presented not in terms of political convictions but in how the Chicks' careers are affected. Shut Up & Sing records a cultural furor, but there's not much left after the surface has been scratched.

    Eva Green's ancestors

    I could put up a picture, but we all know right? Here's the cinematic family tree of Casino Royale's Eva Green. I think Casino Royale was the first Bond film in which I cared that someone died, or at least since On Her Majesty's Secret Service. (In The Company of Glenn)

    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Kristen Bell

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    I have to admit that I gave up on Veronica Mars about halfway through the second season DVD. The show's attempt to carry on it's own elaborate mythology from the first season felt forced and increasingly uninteresting, and I just didn't have the time. (Boy was the first season good though).

    I tried aagin this fall with Season 3, but by this point the press was filled with reports about how the show's producers were going to make the story easier to follow so more people would watch. Not a good sign. The first batch of episodes dealt with an particularly heavy-handed serial rapist storyline; every single character seemed to be a type, from frat boys to radical feminists to philandering professors. Veronica seemed to be getting back with her boyfriend and breaking up on alternate weeks; her taste in men really isn't the best.

    But I'm happy to report that the show's talented star Kristen Bell has several film projects upcoming (Cinematical). Her horror film Pulse didn't provide much of a showcase last year. I'm excited about the comedy with Jason Segel, whose work I've been loving on the Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared DVD's.

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Couldn't be happier....

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    Nothing against Katie Holmes (in fact, anything to get her out of the house), but Maggie Gyllenhaal will replace Katie as love interest Rachel Dawes in Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel The Dark Knight. (Variety)

    Little Children 2

    Oh, and what was with the voice-over naration that kept popping up throughout the film? It gave the storyline involving Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) a kind of didactic quality, as if it wasn't perfectly obvious these two characters were flawed semi-adults. I wonder if that was why I responded to the Jackie Earle Haley/Noah Emmerich section of the movie more, since Field and Perrotta didn't feel the need to tell us what was happening every second.

    Thursday, March 08, 2007

    Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children

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    In Todd Field's Little Children, Jackie Earle Haley plays recently released sex offender Ronnie McGorvey. Haley's Oscar-nominated performance was, despite his role, one of the feel-good stories of this past Oscar season; after a promising career in the late '70s (The Bad News Bears, Breaking Away)he had faded into obscurity.

    Upon finally seeing this movie I was struck by how much deeper Haley's performance cut than those of the main characters Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson). These two meet with their kids at the playground, and after the better part of a sexually charged summer become lovers. Neither has fully engaged with much of their adult life, and both are caught in unsatisfactory marriages.
    Winslet gives Sarah just the right amount of self-involvement to make her not entirely likeable and to arguably account for Little Children not reaching a wider audience. All of the characters come up short in their own ways; if you like complications this movie's for you, but it's not easy to root for anyone.

    Ronnie McGorvey is much talked about before his entrance in Little Children; an attempt to go for a swim causes a panic and empties the town pool. The only one is Ronnie's corner is his mother (Phyllis Somerville), who arranges a blind date for her son that ends (in the film's most disturbing scene) on a troubling note. Disgraced cop Larry (excellent Noah Emmerich) has become obsessed with menancing him, and the town is plastered with posters of his face.

    Haley (and Field w/ cowriter & original novel author Tom Perrotta) never makes Ronnie into a merely a monster, but rather a man who understands just how dangerous he is to others. In the pool scene, McGorvey uses a mask to ogle young girls underwater before being discovered. At dinner with his date (Jane Adams), he checks out a middle schooler at the next table. But as the characters' fates fall into place on one very busy night, Ronnie is absorbed into the community to a degree. The movie gives him (and us) the gift of coming to grips with the pain of life's mileposts.

    Ronnie's fate isn't clear at the end of Little Children, and it's not all clear he has escaped his demons or accounted for all his sins. But Jackie Earle Haley's performance will be what lingers after the closing credits. See this movie on DVD if you haven't had a chance yet.

    French film mag crosses pond

    An online, English-language edition of the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema is almost here. It's not free but may be worth the $. If you don't know, Cahiers was the bible of the French New Wave. (Thanks for Truffaut, Rivette, Godard, etc.!) (Cinematical Indie)

    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    What do you think of......

    ....the new look? I got tired of looking at the white background.

    Old But Good 2

    From the Sundance Film Festival, Houndog director Deborah Kampmeier does a Volkswagen ad. (The Reeler)

    Seen Scene 4 - Imagine Me & You

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    In Imagine Me & You (2005, d. Ol Parker), Piper Perabo plays Rachel. While walking up the aisle on her wedding day Rachel catches a glimpse of and instantly falls for Luce (Lena Headey, at left in above pic),her (conveniently lesbian) florist. It's an impeccably British comedy; everyone's very polite (Rachel and Luce's unseen consumation of their love occurs after the movie's over) and sophisticiated and the film ends (a la Notting Hill) with a mismatched group of people chasing someone down in a car.

    The words "gay" and "lesbian" barely occur in Imagine Me & You, Rachel's sexuality is presented as something unexpected and organic rather than political. Contrast this approach to this week's episode of The L Word, in which Alice (Leisha Hailey) and her friends sit around and explain lesbianism to a recently dumped-for-another-woman husband (Bruce Davison). Homosexuality on The L Word is a retreat into a subculture; you leave at your peril, as Tina (Laurel Holloman) has discovered this season.

    Both Imagine Me & You and The L Word are fantasies of course, but one seems rooted in an (admittedly glammed-up) version of psychologically valid experience while the other is preaching to the converted. Headey plays a Queen this week in 300, while we can only hope Matthew Goode (Rachel's husband, also dumped in Match Point) will one day get the girl.

    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    Black Snake Moan

    If you want to find “Black Snake Moan,” head down to the crossroads right about at the place where sex, religion, the South, and the blues meet. Writer/director Craig Brewer’s follow-up to “Hustle & Flow” concerns itself with all these subjects, but says nothing new about any of them.

    When we first meet Rae (Christina Ricci, brave), she’s saying a passionate farewell to her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) before he heads off to the military. “Black Snake Moan” is set a small Tennessee town where everyone knows that Rae deals with stressful events in her life through compulsive sex. After being sexually assaulted and beaten at a party Rae is discovered half-clothed and unconscious by Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), a former musician living quietly out of everyone’s way. Once he learns Rae’s history, Lazarus decides the best way to help is to leave her (still in her underwear) chained to a radiator in his house. Oh, did I mention that Lazarus is bughouse crazy? Lazarus’ wife (Adriane Lenox) has just left him for his own brother, and in a religious fervor mixed with just a splash of sexual jealousy he vows to chastely but firmly mend Rae’s life.

    Where to start with this silliness? Christina Ricci is costumed in a wardrobe Daisy Duke would find immodest; she holds nothing back and gives an emotionally raw, career-best performance. Rae does eventually understand the reason for her sexualized behavior, in a revelation that will surprise almost no one. But the quasi-mystical healing powers that Craig Brewer assigns to Lazarus, God, light bondage, and Son House (a vintage clip of the bluesman discoursing on love opens the film) are so wishy-washy they’re almost meaningless. In the meantime there’s still the troubling matter of that chain.

    “Black Snake Moan” is loaded with blues, some of it performed by Jackson in character. Much of it is of the “I shot that no good woman” variety, and the film’s central mistake is to attempt to translate the music’s attitude into a design for living. Even as Lazarus tries to help Rae, he’s afraid of and disgusted by his attraction. Rae begins to regard Lazarus with some affection, but Ricci has given her far too much spirit to make her quick emotional attachment to him credible. “Black Snake Moan” badly wants to be the definitive blues feature film, but it never goes deeper than the obvious and winds up striking a pose it can’t sustain.

    Best director commentaries

    Cinematical discusses the best commentary tracks on DVD, and I weigh in with my faves (Soderbergh and Coppola).

    Will this movie be good?

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    Reign Over Me is the story of a man (Adam Sandler) dealing with the 9/11 deaths of his wife & kids with the help of an old college roommate (Don Cheadle). The film is written and directed by Mike Binder, whose last film was the minor hit The Upside of Anger.

    Anger got a lot of good buzz because of boozy comic performances from Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, but it's an uneven film. Binder hogs the camera by playing a radio producer who has an affair with Allen's teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) and the always valuable Evan Rachel Wood was wasted. Since Reign Over Me is grounded in a real world event, there's the potential for a maudlin mess or a sensitively observed drama. Binder also was the brains behind the awful HBO show The Mind of the Married Man, so my money is leaning towards the former.

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    And then we come to Head of State

    Who's the least deserving big star getting a two hour Inside the Actors Studio? Probably Billy Joel, actually. But:

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    (I think the guy's funny, but c'mon)

    Premiere magazine folds

    What the....? As this Cinematical post points out, good luck finding a movie magazine if your interest level in film lies somewhere in between whatever the most commercial thing is opening that week and, say Abbas Kiarostami.

    Foreign film blahs

    Jonathan Rosenbaum on foreign films and the Oscars (this is the same post where he says he hasn't seen The Departed):

    And why is it that on a relatively well-managed, intelligently orchestrated show almost every time world cinema was evoked it had to be alluded to only in relation to tearjerkers and the most egregiously banal cliches? I’m speaking more of the montages than of the awarding of an Oscar to The Lives of Others, a film already understandably tweaked by Pat Graham in a recent post (even though I recently made it a Critic's Choice), but the same overall principle might be said to apply to both: tears, kids, madonnas, and wistful, impotent smiles are apparently supposed to constitute the sum of what we’re supposed to get from the world’s collective cinematic wisdom.

    Aren't the foreign language films that play in the States the ones that distributors think will make the most money? The ones with "tears, kids....," etc. ?

    Sunday, March 04, 2007

    A phrase to chill the blood

    "From the writers & director of Saw"

    Blog Wars

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    I'm watching a documentary on the Sundance Channel right now called Blog Wars, a film that recounts the influence of left-wing political bloggers ("netroots") on the Lieberman/Lamont Connecticut Senate campaign of last year. As a committed Democrat I'm no fan of Lieberman's position on Iraq, but the film points up some problems with insurgent Lamont campaign and the bloggers relationship to it.

    The antipathy towards Lieberman is based almost entirely (the film suggests) on the Senator's position on Iraq. A group of bloggers (including Natural Born Killers producer Jane Hamsher) hammer Lieberman relentlessly, and almost go to far when Hamsher posts a picture of Lieberman in blackface with Bill Clinton. Hamsher can't really explain why she posted the photo, I guess it just was so anti-Joe. Other than a dislike of Bush and Lieberman, no one can really explain why they're doing what they're doing.

    This film really gets at a lot of what annoys me about what the Left has become. There's such a feeling of "anti-" and "anybody but who we have now" that there's no room left over for an agenda. There's also a need for talent: Lamont is a singularly unimpressive political novice. But of course the netroots played a role in defeating Republican senators in Virginia and Montana, and the Democrats control Congress. Anti-Bush conservative Andrew Sullivan observes in the film that blogs aren't reality but are related to reality. Now that my party is REALLY in control of the Capitol, here's our chance.

    Thank you

    I haven't been keeping track, but I know it took much less time for the second thousand people to visit my site than the first. My thanks, and I hope you've stimulated or at least mildly diverted by what you read. (Longer posts will be returning now that I've replaced my broken TV)

    If you stop here, I want you to return. So feel free to write or comment with any thoughts...thanks to all who have commented so far, keep them coming.

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    Gratuitous Excuse for Christina Ricci pic!

    I'm reviewing Black Snake Moan! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    Original thoughts & Seth Cohen

    Well I think I've provided some good links the last few days, but it occurs to me I shouls probably post some original thoughts. Now that we're officially in the post-awards dry season, the most interesting trailer I've seen recently is for the Adam Brody vehicle In the Land of Women. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the most entertaining movie I'm likely to see in the next few months stars an ex-"O.C." cast member, but I guess I'll have to take it.

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting(If nothing else this should tell you how little I'm looking forward to the Tarantino/Rodriguez combo flick Grindhouse.) The plot, as far as I can discover: A writer (Brody) ends up living next to a family and is involved to varying degrees with mother (Meg Ryan) and daughter (Kristen Stewart, who I thought was a boy for the longest time before I saw Panic Room).

    Under Moore's Skin

    A new documentary critical of left-wing icon Michael Moore is scheduled to premiere at SXSW film festival next week. (NY Times)