Monday, April 30, 2007

Stiles' Short

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In the "this has potential" department, Julia Stiles has directed a short film called Raving which was just shown at the TriBeca Film Festival. Zooey Deschanel and the talented stage actor & mime Bill Irwin play a couple of New Yorkers whose personal crises intersect. It's on the Sundance Channel May 8th and 23rd.

I know there's no actress I'd rather have a couple of beers with than Deschanel, but I've never known what to make of Stiles. She never seemed entirely comfortable with teen roles, but as an adult she has been lost in ordinary material. Her only upcoming credit is another Bourne movie this summmer. (Cinematical &

The Eli Roth backlash begins?

I've yet to hear a serious connection between movies and/or games and the Virginia Tech shootings. Violent images certainly may have exacerbated the shooter's mental illness, but blaming media directly seems a stretch. But with the new cultural climate (and declining box office), studios are a little nervous about "torture" horror films. (NY Times)

"I haven't yet been able to pump out a teen drama."

Darren Aronofsky in The Guardian on his new screenplay, Rachel Weisz, and the tortured production history of The Fountain:

The first few times the project fell apart were down to humdrum financial reasons. Fortunately, the casting of Brad Pitt in the lead role ensured that most obstacles could be overcome. Except, that is, for Pitt's decision to bail on the film in 2002, weeks before shooting began. "I didn't see it coming," Aronofsky says, simply and quietly. Press reports cited creative differences, but he blames the way the production was structured. "I had been prepping in Australia for six months, on and off. They send films over there to save money, but you end up being thousands of miles apart from your team. Whispers started that might've created fear and doubt. Creatively, the film was always what it was. You either take that risk and do something that's 'out there', or you don't." Perhaps you read that as a polite way of calling Brad Pitt a coward, perhaps not.

(Link from Cinematical)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sarah Polley

Great piece about Sarah Polley, Canadian actress (The Sweet Hereafter) turned director whose debut feature Away From Her opens this week. Polley has been politically active all her life, and her ambivalence about acting doesn't sound like mere posturing. (NY Times)

Portman part deux

It's Natalie Portman Day on Mostly Movies.....Natalie is involved in a documentary about the microloans mentioned in the previous post (according to her website), but I couldn't find many details. She'll look like this in Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, which stars Norah Jones and opens the Cannes Film Festival.

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There's a good reason....

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket post this picture, since Natalie Portman is speaking out about the importance of "microloans" for women in poor countries. This is the same practice that Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for last year. (ABC News)


David Thomson likes the generosity of spirit in Richard Linklater's early films (Slacker, Dazed and Confused), but can't stand the pretension of the Hawke/Delpy walk-and-talks Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. (The Guardian)

Here's a hoop, jump through

Ornette Coleman deserved his Pulitzer Prize, but Terry Teachout wonders if the jury's flaunting of the rules was worth it. Highlights below. (Wall St. Journal)

I also wonder how many judges likely to be tapped for future Pulitzer juries will be equally competent to weigh the relative merits of jazz and pop albums and written-out classical compositions. In a perfect world, all musicians would be as familiar with Duke Ellington as they were with Aaron Copland--and some of them are. In practice, though, it's comparatively uncommon for classical musicians to have extensive knowledge of jazz, or vice versa. Yehudi Wyner, the classical composer and Pulitzer laureate who chaired this year's jury, acknowledged this fact by recommending to the Pulitzer Board that separate prizes be given to classical and nonclassical music, which strikes me as a realistic response to an otherwise insoluble problem.

Needless to say, the fact that classical music was shut out of this year's Pulitzers has not gone unnoticed. Nor should it. The Pulitzer Prize for music, after all, is the only award for musical composition that receives any kind of mass-media attention in this country. Because it is reported in most American newspapers, it gives a boost to the careers of the classical composers who receive it, most of whom labor in semiobscurity. On the other hand, it will make no difference to Mr. Coleman, who long ago wrote himself into the history of American music and needs no prize to retrospectively certify his importance.

That's why I have mixed feelings about Mr. Coleman's Pulitzer. Should the jury have stretched the rules well past the breaking point in order to give it to him? I wish I could say yes. He deserves it, and so does jazz. Yet I can't help but recall the footrace in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" that was judged by a dodo: "There was no 'One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked . . . At last the Dodo said, 'EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.'" That's no way to win an award--even one that you richly deserve.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Julianne Moore in Next

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I'm a huge fan of Julianne Moore, a four-time Oscar nominee and one of the stars of this week's Next. Moore plays an FBI agent trying to convince a psychic (Nicolas Cage) to help her track down a stolen nuke. Moore (along with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Laura Linney) is an actress I long ago decided was worth seeking out no matter what the role or co-star.

That said, she really phones it in with Next, which spends most of its time trying to hook up Cage's character with a woman (Jessica Biel) he picks up in a diner. Moore looks great in FBI combat gear, but plays her Fed without a flicker of the wit or irony which might have made a little something out of this connect-the-dots junk. To be fair, Nicolas Cage doesn't do much better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan. But I'm writing this post for the sake of my own credibility, since if I'm not able to call my favorites on their bad choices I should just start writing about Paris Hilton. Moore has several upcoming projects on the docket, and I'll be there.

Here comes Laura Linney..... Jindabyne, an Australian film based on the Raymond Carver short story "So Much Water So Close To Home." This story of what happens when three fishermen find the body of a young woman while on a trip is also one of the strands in Altman's Short Cuts. A.O. Scott likes the acting but thinks the filmmakers may have added too much to Carver's story. (NY Times)

There are few actors who convey the wounded intelligence of an ordinary person in distress as well as Ms. Linney. The characters she portrays are often, at first glance, satellites to a central male drama — the mother in “The Squid and the Whale,” the wife in “Kinsey,” the sister in “You Can Count on Me” — but in each of these cases it turns out that her psychological precision holds the key to the story. Here, Claire’s evident sanity and kindness draw the viewer to her side, and we are a bit startled to discover that she, like everybody else, has weak points and blind spots.

Danny Trejo

The actor pictured with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the previous post on SherryBaby is Danny Trejo, the prolific character actor whose career happened by accident after beating drugs and a stint in prison. Trejo plays Dean, a fellow ex-addict, who becomes a friend, lover, and sounding board for Gyllenhaal's Sherry.

The performance is worth mentioning because Trejo has rarely gotten to play a sympathetic, 3d character as he does here. Trejo gives SherryBaby a much-needed note of warmth. Dean is the one character that Sherry connects with after prison and one of the few men who doesn't want something sexual from her.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Netflix This 5 - SherryBaby

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In SherryBaby (2006, d. Laurie Collyer) Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Sherry, a recently paroled drug offender who returns home to try to reestablish a relationship with her young daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins). Gyllenhaal received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, which far outstrips the dramatically thin but moving film.

SherryBaby is richly detailed when it comes to Sherry's reentry into life, from her dealings with a parole officer (Giancarlo Espositio) to life at a halfway house. Sherry's well-intentioned brother (Brad William Henke) and sister-in-law (Bridget Barkan) have been raising Alexis, and the girl's discomfort with her unknown Mom is palpable. This relationship is at the heart of the film; I have no idea how Laurie Collyer directed young Ryan Simpkins, but the scenes between Sherry and Alexis crackle with a wonderful verite energy.

Far more trite are the scenes of Sherry trading sex for a post-jail job opportunity and hooking up with the boss at her halfway house (Rio Hackford). Every man in SherryBaby wants something sexual from Sherry except her brother, and that includes her father (Sam Bottoms) in a plot line that's picked up then abandoned. But, SherryBaby is really about the vulnerability of its main character. The movie is a success because of Gyllenhaal's raw and emotionally pinpoint performance. There's a reason (more than one, actually) why I added her name to the header of this blog.

K.H. interview

Kristin Hersh interviewed at Minnesota Public Radio....

She's talking about her new CD Learn To Sing Like A Star.

Gender gap

The NY Times blames the lack of female-driven films on the difficulties of women's advancement at the studios.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

O for Orson

Loved The Hoax, especially the performances of Richard Gere and Alfred Molina. But since the film is based on forger Clifford Irving's own writings, how much can we believe? According to this article, Orson Welles was working on F for Fake at the time of the events portrayed in The Hoax. Welles' film uses Irving and art forger Elmyr de Hory as vehicles to explore the relationship between art and artistic authorship.....wouldn't it have been interesting to see someone play Welles in The Hoax? How did Welles' presence influence Irving's behavior? (Blog Critics)

Monday, April 23, 2007

David Halberstam

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam has died at age 73. Halberstam is of course famous for his writings on Vietnam. I particularly recommend his book on the early Civil Rights movement "The Children," published in 1998. (NY Times)

Amis & Amis

The complicated relationship between British father & son writers Kingsley and Martin Amis. (NY Times)

The exception these days is the curious writerly firm of Amis & Amis, founded by Kingsley, who died in 1995, and now run by his son Martin. Kingsley Amis, an indelible figure in British letters, is the subject of an immense and sympathetic new biography by Zachary Leader (published this month in the United States) that has already caused a stir in England both by reminding readers of how funny Kingsley could be and because of its frankness about his personal life. (Leader is a friend of Martin’s, who encouraged him to write the book and put no restrictions on him.) Martin, meanwhile, who published his first novel when he was just 24, has recently brought out his 10th, “House of Meetings,” and at 57 is arguably writing better than Kingsley was at the same age.

Where are the book reviews?

The National Book Critics Circle is rallying bloggers to call attention to the fact that newspapers are devoting less and less space to book reviews. Read more here.


IFC has the 2007 Cannes Film Festival lineup.

Movies & VA Tech

Good article by A.O. Scott criticizing the laziness of blaming movies for the VA Tech shootings. Pulitzer Prize-winning Stephen Hunter comes in for some knocks due to (what Scott perceives) as sloppy thinking. (NY Times)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

You can listen to...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket acoustic performance by Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses) here. Hersh has long been my top alt-rock crush, and her new CD Learn To Sing Like A Star is worth picking up. She also talks about the effect motherhood has had on her songwriting.

Does anyone....

...have any theories why Meg Ryan is shown shaving her head in In The Land of Women but is shown sans hair for only the most fleeting instant? The movie is really about the relationship between Ryan's character and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) anyway; the protagonist played by Adam Brody seems to have wandered in from somewhere else.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"I am the police of your soul" - October Road

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The ABC series October Road is the story of Nick (Bryan Greenberg), a young man returning to his New England hometown of Knight's Ridge after a ten-year absence. Nick left to "find himself" and in the process wrote a bestselling novel inexplicably titled "Turtle on a Snare Drum" which we're told described all of his old friends as small-town hicks. Nick decides to stay in town when he learns he may be the father of his old girlfriend Hannah's (Laura Prepon) son, and strikes up an attraction with college student Aubrey (Odette Yustman).

It's hard to see why any of Nick's old buddies should be offended, since his novel could only have made them more interesting. One has become a shut-in, one seems to mow lawns, another is a husband and dad with a marriage so stale he and his wife (who's cheating on him) have to dress up in costumes for each other. Only Hannah seems capable of surviving anywhere else, but she hangs on as a single parent and employee at a vet's office.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne of the minds behind October Road is screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, who seems to be revisiting some themes from the script he wrote for Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls (1996). In that film, a man (Timothy Hutton) returns to his home and enjoys a flirtation with a hot stranger (Uma Thurman) and a weirder quasi-flirtation with a preteen (Natalie Portman, previewing her Garden State performance) before deciding to get married to his fiance. All the old buddies are stuck in what-to-do after high school mode and the women (Martha Plimpton, Lauren Holly) left shaking their heads.

Rosenberg isn't much of a fan of flyover country, since his version of going home again involves a good deal of male immaturity and unhappy relationships. There's plenty of plot in October Road; last night's assault on a frat house by Nick's aggrieved buddies seemed a particularly aggressive bit of wish fulfillment. But the writer's refusal to let the characters dream big enough or engage with each other as adults (the budding romance between the town playboy and the cool best friend waitress is one exception) gives the show a hothouse quality that may not wear well. Think Dawson's Creek for folks in their late 20s.


Serious films are the order of the day at the Tribeca Film Festival....(NY Times)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

This is funny

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Courtesy of the new blog Scribes & Scoundrels, Fox gets fair & balanced on Ms. Avril Lavigne...

As You Like It trailer

Trailer for Kenneth Branagh's version of As You Like It, starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind...

Warning signs....

From a long Washington Post article by David Maraniss about the VT shootings:

One of the early flights from the West Coast brought Nikki Giovanni, the renowned poet and Virginia Tech professor. At the end of her red-eye flight, she had heard about the shootings and the early reports that generally described the gunman. "When I heard the suspect was an Asian student, I had no doubt in my mind who did it," she said later. Cho had been in one of her classes, and his writing was so violent, so focused on death, that he had scared other students to the point where Giovanni had felt compelled to remove him from the class, sending him to a colleague for tutoring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mamet's Ford commercials

MY friend Rob sends this link.

Julie Christie... happy to be out of the spotlight (NY Times). She stars as a woman suffering from Alzheimers in Sarah Polley's Away From Her.

I CAN miss a movie with....

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...Kate Beckinsale. Nothing personal Kate, I loved Cold Comfort Farm, Serendipity, Much Ado About Nothing, and a bunch of your other work. But this week's Vacancy, in which Kate and Owen Wilson must escape snuff-film making crazies at a hotel, reeks of check-cashing.

Ornette Coleman wins Pulitzer Prize

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When I was in college I tried to impress myself and everyone else by doing a 2-hour radio show of all Ornette Coleman, and by the end I was climbing the walls. Coleman's music defintely isn't for everyone, but it is beautiful in its own way and he certainly deserves the title "American original."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Nothing against.....

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.....Jennifer Aniston, but I wasn't aware she was a gay rights activist. She got a major award from GLAAD over the weekend at a star-studded ceremony. Can someone enlighten me?

I've got work to do...

What does a film critic need to know? (Boston Globe)

NY Times grab bag

  • Raymond Carver goes Australian (with Laura Linney!)

  • Death is never very far away in Robert Altman's work, even in The Long Goodbye.

  • Hilary Brougher's Stephanie Daley sounds like a hard watch, with great performances by Amber Tamblyn and Tilda Swinton.

  • Feist!
  • Early returns

    Cinematical has links to some early Spider Man 3 reviews, and they're good. (Watch for spoilers)

    Here's one... blogger who doesn't like the GLAAD Media Awards and does a pretty good job explaining why.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    This may be.... favorite painting of all time. I saw it recently at the Whitney on my trip to NYC.

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    (Willem de Kooning, Door to the River 1960)

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Death Proof

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    The second half of Grindhouse (after some tonally uncertain mock trailers) is Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, an ode to '70s car chase films and the story of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and his two attempts to use a "death-proof" stunt car to kill carloads of young women.

    I've been as up and down on Tarantino as anyone over the years, and I'll give a quick summary:

  • Reservoir Dogs: I'm the only person I know who has seen this in a theater. Structurally daring, live-wire performances, and I thought a great overcoming of the limitations of budget.

  • Pulp Fiction: This is of course where everyone got on board with QT, and I was no exception. I still like the film today, though not as much as I did back then. The attempts to be cool, mostly involving Travolta, and the ironic attitude towards violence haven't worn well. Also, I have to admit that part of the reason I was so excited about it was that a woman I liked was all about us going to see it together. (see here)

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  • True Romance: Tarantino wrote it, Tony Scott directed. I still look at this film every time it comes on cable. I have to say that I care more about what happens to Clarence, Alabama, and Clarence's father (a great turn from Dennis Hopper) than I do about any character in a film QT has directed (except maybe....)

  • ...Jackie Brown: My favorite QT directed film. Thanks Elmore, Pam, Bridget, Sam, and Bob. (Also an issue of a crush turning me on to this one)

  • Kill Bill: A disappearance into style, and in my opinion a complete disaster. I certainly don't claim any originality of thought on this, but it's the lack of any attitude at all towards violence that disturbs me the most. I hope QT has gotten it out of his system.

    So that brings us to Death Proof, and I'm pleased to say it's good to see an entertaining if minor work from QT. He loves his actresses, and with apologies to Grier and Thurman I think Death Proof is his greatest mash note yet. The first group of ladies (Sydney Poitier and Vanessa Ferlito get most of the camera time) smoke, drink, and listen to music while waiting for a connection to show up. There's more fun and humanity in the writing and performance here than anything I've seen from QT in a long time, but I was unprepared for how much I liked the second group of women we meet.

    Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, and real-life stunt woman Zoe Bell take center stage after a car test drive turns into a battle with Stuntman Mike. Other critics have noted that QT didn't make a "Grindhouse" film, he made a QT film. That's 100% right, and the women of Death Proof sound just like the men of other QT films - shooting the bull and rendering their lives almost indistinguishable from the pop culture they experience. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed QT's characters, as opposed to the nihilistic love of style for style's sake that has been on his mind the last few years.

    I want to close with a quote from blogger Matt Zoller Seitz, from a long and important post at his blog called "My Tarantino Problem and Yours:"

    My Tarantino problem in a nutshell is that I recognize the things that he’s trying to do, and I concede that if the goal is to create an entertaining movie that is very much about other movies and very much informed by film history, then Tarantino has to be considered a major, major success, there’s no doubt about it; but as I get a little older, and get further away from my twenties, I look back on my positive review of Pulp Fiction, and I cringe a little bit, because what I’ve come to value in movies more than anything else is emotion, and a sense of connection to life. That is the one thing that I think is consistently missing from Tarantino's movies, with a couple of exceptions, which I think we’ll get to as we go through his career film by film.

    An excellent summation. I don't read the meaning into QT's work that many do, but with Death Proof I feel as though I've been reunited with an old friend.
  • Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Planet Terror

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot much to say about the Robert Rodriguez-directed half of Grindhouse, except that oozing and pus have never really been big drawing cards for me, and I'm not just talking about the movies. I did admire the performance of Marley Shelton(pictured above) as Dakota, the doctor who perseveres despite being attacked by her zombie husband and the accidental suicide of her son. Planet Terror as a whole is neither funny enough to be a parody nor exciting enough to be much of anything else. More on the superior Death Proof to follow.

    Something to think about...

    The I-man was 100% wrong, but: Don Imus spends most of his time being a total boor when he's not interviewing Frank Rich, but (as conservative blogger Michelle Malkin points out) a glance at the Billboard rap charts reveals people getting rich using the same language.

    Link from The Daily Dish

    Kurt Vonnegut

    Novelist Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five) has died at age 84. (NY Times)

    To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” summed up his philosophy:

    “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Does anybody else.....

    .....wish they could just see Death Proof, the Tarantino-directed half of Grindhouse? There seems to be some feeling (at Cinemarati for example) that QT is back to his early form after the bloated Kill Bill. I wrote about outgrowing QT here, but I'd be happy to see another great film from him.

    First look

    Courtesy of New Line Cinemas, Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter from this fall's The Golden Compass.....

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    Seen Scene 6 - The Baxter

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    There isn't enough of Michelle Williams in Michael Showalter's The Baxter. This slightly too clever romantic comedy is the story of Elliot (Showalter) an accountant and self-proclaimed "Baxter." A Baxter is the kind of guy who doesn't get the girl in a romantic comedy (see Mulroney, Dermot - filmography).

    Elliot fancies himself a Baxter until he meets Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), a client who falls for him almost too quickly. An engagement is announced. Meanwhile he's getting advice from sweet-natured Cecil (Williams), a temp in his office who thinks he should take more chances. Cecil appears to have been beamed in from a New Yorker short story, wearing her hair in a kind of neo-1920s style and just awkward enough to capture Elliot's attention.

    Cecil eventually spends a non-sexual night in Elliot's apartment disrupted by the arrival of Caroline and a wedding planner (Peter Dinklage). Forced to hide on Elliot's bed, Wiliams pulls off some physical comedy to avoid being seen and thereby seals her place in Elliot's heart. The ending of The Baxter involves an ex-boyfriend of Caroline's (Justin Theroux) and will surprise no one, but it's further proof of who the most talented Dawson's Creek alum is.

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Manners for bloggers

    Some folks want to create a code of conduct for bloggers. (NY Times) I haven't had to delete any comments yet, but don't give me a reason!

    I didn't know this

    A small item in Paste magazine reports that Rushmore director and all-time best American Express pitchman Wes Anderson is at work on a new film called The Darjeeling Limited. The cast includes Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman (who is also listed as a co-writer) as well as Natalie Portman and Adrien Brody. Release date TBA. Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox seems set to be made after Darjeeling.

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Blades of Glory

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    Will Ferrell's latest sports-themed vehicle is the story of two figure skaters (Ferrell and Jon Heder) who team up to form a pairs team after each is banned from singles skating due to a brawl on a medal platform. The two must outwit a scheming brother/sister pair (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, who get some laughs by underplaying) while coming to grips with their own not so latent homophobia. (Many jokes about men grabbing other men....)

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIf you like Ferrell's particular take on hypermasculinity you may enjoy Blades of Glory, but compared to Anchorman and Talledega Nights the laughs are few and far between. Jon Heder isn't much of an actor, but his faux-solo routine at the beginning has a couple of physical comedy laughs. The only recognizably human character is played by Jenna Fischer of The Office, she goes from being Poehler and Arnett's sibling to Heder's girlfriend.

    I had my problems with Stranger than Fiction, but it did prove Ferrell has some range. Check him out in the indie Winter Passing as well. Blades of Glory is another ride on the merry-go-round.

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Cormac, meet Oprah

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt seems there's no site yet for the Coen Brothers' version of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, which will be one of the Cannes highlights mentioned in the previous post. Make do for now with the IMDB page for the film, which stars Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, and Javier Bardem. (McCarthy's most recent novel The Road is an Oprah book club pick. Will he appear on the show?)

    Cannes stuff

    Cinematical report that the Cannes Film Festival lineup this year sounds juicy....

    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    The Lookout

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    Scott Frank's The Lookout is a thriller that succeeds because of it's simplicity. The trailer hints at narrative games a la Memento, but the film as a whole is refreshingly concerned with character and story as opposed to cleverness. The result is a rewarding and unpretentious effort for the big-time screenwriter (Out of Sight, Minority Report) turned director.

    Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a high school hockey star/golden boy. In the film's prologue a showboating Chris crashes his car, killing two friends and maiming his girlfriend. Four years later, a severe head injury sustained in the accident now has Chris struggling to remember the particulars of daily life (what a can opener is, taking keys out of ignition before locking car) while living estranged from his rich family with blind roommate Lewis (a funny and affecting Jeff Daniels).

    An encounter in a bar with a seedy acquaintance named Gary (Matthew Goode) gets Chris into a jam, since Gary and his buddies want to rob the bank where Chris works as night janitor. At first Chris is flattered by the attention of new friends, especially the hot ex-stripper Luvlee (Isla Fisher, playing a character who literally runs away halfway through the film for no good reason). The money Gary dangles in front of Chris is a chance to gain a measure of independence from his family and satisfy his desire to open a restaurant with Lewis.

    Do these things ever go as planned? The robbery is interrupted by a cop (Sergio Di Zio) whose gunfight with the robbers causes Chris to wind up with the money. Frank stages the robbery and shootout impeccably, and the climax on a desolate highway is carried out with subtle elegance.

    I'm really becoming a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, Mysterious Skin) who gives another in a series of seemingly effortless performances. Chris disability is observed in great detail, both in the way he gets frustrated when something goes wrong and how he uses a small notebook to keep track of things and help himself out of a jam. Chris can be pretty smart when he needs to be; he takes some advice on how to "sequence" events in his memory early in the film and uses it to deal with Gary after the robbery. Chris and Lewis's relationship feels completely believable and lived-in. Jeff Daniels plays Lewis as a mix of surrogate father and conscience.

    Isla Fisher of Wedding Crashers makes an ideal femme fatale. The biggest failing in Frank's script is the lack of definition in her relationship to the criminals, and her disappearance at a key point short-circuits some interesting plot possibilities. Still, by trying not to do to much The Lookout speaks volumes to bloated box-office rivals. Go see it.

    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Opening day .... (by the way I'm a baseball fan)

    Braves win ....5-3 in 10 innings over the Phillies. 2 run HR by Edgar Renteria to win!

    I've got to read this book

    Director Sam Mendes recently announced plans to film the beloved Richard Yates novel Revolutionary Road with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This blogger at Indiewire pleads for Mendes to reconsider, which has the intended effect of making me want to (finally) read the book all the more.

    In Nick Hornby's book A Long Way Down one of the would-be suicides plans to jump while clutching a copy of Revolutionary Road. Can it really be that depressing? I'll let you know.

    (Link from On Film)

    "You want to get your ego out of the way."

    Jazz pianist Bill Charlap on what it's all about for an artist:

    People still worry about innovation and modernity a lot, but the best you can do as an artist, what you ought to do, is be yourself, here and now. If that self is avant-garde, so be it. But maybe who you are is something else. The things I like to listen to have purity and are balanced, and I hope my playing is getting more like that. More honest. Maybe that sounds pretentious, but I think jazz is all about being honest. About being who you are, never playing anything you don’t mean. At the same time, you’re not there to impress people. You want to get your ego out of the way. The music doesn’t need it. It’s never just about me. That’s the best I can say it—I’m trying to get out of the way. The less I’m in the way, the better the music is going to be and the more fun I’m going to have.

    (See the quote in context at About Last Night)

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    "Don't take any notice....."

    Playwright Tom Stoppard (The Coast of Utopia) on the dramatist's art. (Charlie Rose)

    An actor's life for me

    Theater star Michael Cerveris on a busy day. (NY Times)

    (Cerveris' best known film role was as Frank, the gay postal worker in Gore Verbinski's The Mexican. You may remember that after hooking up with the hitman played by James Gandolfini, Frank comes to an unfortunate end.)

    New York Story

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    I had the privilege of attending a "marathon" performance of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy in New York this weekend. Being crammed into a small seat for 9 hours isn't pleasant for a tall drink of water like me, but it was worth it.

    The plays chronicle the personal and political lives of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals and their families. An all-star cast includes Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup (very funny), Josh Hamilton, Martha Plimpton, Jennifer Ehle, and Brian O'Byrne (in the central role of Alexander Herzen).

    Some critics (Robert Brustein in The New Republic) claim the plays are too much about ideas and not enough about character, but I can honestly say I was never bored since the production is acted, directed, and designed by top-drawer artists. I'll no doubt be sharing more about the plays in posts to come, but for now just share in my excitement.