Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Paris je t'aime - a mini-review

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I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the performances of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman in their respective segments of the anthology film Paris je t'aime, a collection of vignettes about the City of Light. Portman appears in a segment called "Faubourg Saint-Denis" (the short films are organized by neighborhoods) directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).

The plot: A blind young man named Thomas (Melchior Beslon) gets a break-up phone call from his grlfriend. We go into a stylized flashback that recounts the whole history of his relationship with his actress love Francine (Portman). There are lots of shots of Francine and Thomas standing still while everyone else moves in super-fast motion around them (time's a wasting!), and the ending casts doubt on how strong Francine's grasp of fantasy v. reality is. This is a director's piece, the cutting and narration dominate; Portman's looks right but doesn't have much room to give a performance.

In Olivier Assayas' "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an actress named Liz who makes a small time drug connection with a dealer named Ken (Lionel Dray). Liz invites Ken to the film set she's working on, but later is disappointed when she needs his services on-set and he sends someone else. Gyllenhaal at least gets a chance to act in this bleak sketch, which illustrates just how much addicts depend on their dealers.

The worst segment: Gus Van Sant's generic bit of homoeroticism. The best? I'll go with "Place de Fetes" by Oliver Schmitz, a tale of an immigrant's one brief connection with true love. All in all Paris je'taime would play better on DVD, the inconsequential leavens the good stuff too much to prevent restlessness in a theater seat.

You knew this was coming

Trailer for Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, out this fall and costarring Natalie Portman (who is alas not in the trailer).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I know I'm going crazy... (Jonathan Richman)

...with the YouTube stuff, but it gives you something to look at while I'm in NYC. This one made me and my friend Kate happy....

Monday, July 09, 2007

Cross your fingers....

...that while I'm up here I have the chance to see Neko Case (7/20, Central Park)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Two funny trailers

This New York thing is working out are the trailers for Rocket Science:

(I hope there's as much Violent Femmes in the movie as there is in the trailer. It's an obvious choice, but if you're going to make it why not go for it?)

and The Ten:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The future of this blog

On Friday I fly to New York for a 5-week "Chekhov intensive" at the Stella Adler Studio. I'll be taking acting classes 4 days a week and plan on using some free time to take what the city has to offer theatrically, as well as art house movie theaters and museums. While I'll have my computer with me and anticipate filing movie reviews and blog posts here and here, I haven't the foggiest idea if I'll be able to keep up this blog while I'm away. If I do it certainly won't be at the same pace.

I do plan to write of my acting classes here, though that blog may be of interest only to those who are students of the theory and practice of acting. That blog will undoubtedly be more personal, which should take me into some interesting new territory.

So what I want to say to my small but loyal group of readers is: hang in there. Mostly Movies is not disappearing, it's just taking a hiatus. When I return to Greenville, I'll be blogging here again - although it's possible that this blog could morph into something different. Thanks for all your comments and encouragements, and keep reading...

Monday, July 02, 2007

This show is good

I wasn't wild about the first episode, but I'm now a fan of HBO's eccentric but understated Flight of the Conchords. Tony Award winner Sutton Foster (The Drowsy Chaperone) will return in a recurring role as Bret's crush, as shown here....

Evening Shadows

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Here's a good summary from LA Weekly about all that's wrong with Evening. You can find my review here, in which I'm split down the middle but like the acting much better than anything else. (...and yes I know this is an old picture)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"...please buy yourself the phone directory of Manhattan."

Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn in conversation...(NY Times)

Where's The Wire?

Top 10 finaists for Best Comedy & Drama Emmys. (LA Times)

Mr. Magorium trailer

Trailer for Zach Helm's Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. I was on the fence about the Helm-scripted Stranger than Fiction, which I felt had a conceit more literary than dramatic. But you can't accuse Helm of not being original. I'm encouraged by the presence of Jason Bateman here, and of course there's Natalie Portman.....

Ratatouille - You've got to be kidding

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If you haven't seen Ratatouille, read at your peril:

Here's a quote from A.O. Scott's NY Times review of Ratatouille:

A nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised.

I entered Ratatouille with great hopes, since not only am I a fan of Pixar Studios but in particular of writer/director Brad Bird (The Incredibles). What a disappointment. While it's unfair to compare Ratatouille to The Incredibles (though the NY Times makes that connection), I'd have to argue that Ratatouille is not only inferior but contains a diametrically opposite message.

First the structural problems. We begin by following the journey of Remy the Rat (Patton Oswalt) from the French countryside to Paris. Remy is an atypical rat in that he lives for more than just foraging and snacking on garbage. Remy's highly developed sense of smell (and his literacy) have led to an interest in cooking, particularly the egalitarian cookbook of a famous Parisian chef named Gusteau (Brad Garrett). After a perilous journey through the sewers, Remy finds himself in Gusteau's kitchen. But the chef has died and the kitchen is now run by a pint-sized tyrant named Skinner (Ian Holm), who betrays the Gusteau's legacy by putting the old boss's name on frozen burritos.

At the same time, Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) has arrived at Gusteau's wanting a job. Despite Skinner's scorn, Linguini lands a job as a garbage boy. Linguini has no ambitions or skills, yet in an early scene Remy sees him add ingredients to a soup in the kitchen. (This is the only time in Ratatouille that Linguini cooks on his own initiative.) Remy intervenes and he and Linguini soon devise a method by which Remy will control Linguini's movements by pulling his hair (?) and Linguini will get credit for the recipes. The point-of-view is split between Remy (who Oswalt voices engagingly) and dull Linguini, who spends most of his time feeling sorry for himself.
Human and animal never communicate in words, a wise move but one that winds up leading to a good deal of dawdling.

In the end Linguini and his fellow chef/girlfriend Colette (Janeane Garofalo) become famous after a meal Remy prepares (ratatouille, of course) impresses a snobbish critic (Peter O'Toole). Linguini reveals Remy's existence, and Gusteau's is eventually shut down by the health department when Remy's fellow rats come to his aid in a fanciful climax.

My issues with Ratatouille: It's boring. Keeping the point of view on one character would have turned the film into a pretty good animated kids' film or a satire of French snobbery tarted up with computer-generated animals. But more importantly, a film in which a co-lead character finds love and success without learning, changing, or trying to better himself in any meaningful way isn't worthy of the studio that produced The Incredibles, much less Toy Story. Would it have been too much to ask for a scene in which Linguni asks Remy to teach him to cook? Instead we get repetitive scenes of Linguini flailing around the kitchen while Remy hides under the chef's hat.

What's up Brad Bird? You won an Oscar for a film about rising to the occasion and finding strength and purpose in family, and you follow it up with a story about mediocrity winning out thanks to a rat who likes to cook. Ratatouille is my early nominee for most disappointing film of 2007.

More Sad News...

Taiwanese director Edward Yang, whose Yi Yi (A One and a Two) is one of my favorite films, has died at age 59. (Greencine Daily)

In Memoriam

ABC critic Joel Siegel has died at age 63. (Cinematical)