Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Old but good

I knew there was reason I missed Alexandra Pelosi's HBO documentary on Evangelical Christians. David Rakoff slams Pelosi's logic (From January):

Coincidentally, in yesterday's New York Times, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, in talking about her documentary about evangelical Christians, was quoted as saying, "I believe in the culture war. And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war I'll take their side, because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I'll take Jesus." It's one thing for a credulous private citizen to swallow that bucketful of bullshit and believe that this is, in point of fact, the actual dialectic choice behind the rhetoric of the culture war. After all, the voluble gasbag-ocracy of the right has its own news network and a federal administration to make just this case. But as loathsome and talismanic-of-everything-that's-wrong as I find Paris Hilton, myself--and I do; I have a rantlet about her on page 85 of my on-sale-everywhere book--she was not, last I checked, trying to legislate my library choices, my bedroom, or make sure that I will never enjoy the rights of even a civil union. For a documentarian, essentially a journalist at the end of her journey and data-gathering, having synthesized all of her information to still come to this conclusion is downright embarrassing and can only lead me to the conclusion of my own that Ms. Pelosi must be some kind of reductive all-the-characters-smoke-soft-pack-cigarettes idiot {and remember please, as a deeply partisan fellow, I'm predisposed to be sympathetic to the daughter of the new Speaker}.)


The full post (which is actually about Woody Allen) is here.

"...it was this big, chrome chain in there and I said 'let's go put it on.' I'm offering you the role."

At Cinematical, director Craig Brewer talks abot casting Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan. I liked Brewer's Hustle & Flow, but the sexual politics of that film still make me question my own review of it. I'm looking forward to Moan with that anticipation/dread mix.

Films he has never seen.....

Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum implies he hasn't seen The Departed.....

Films I'll never see.....

....until they hit DVD. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't hear about them. Here's a great post at House Next Door about the African political satire Bamako.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Terabithia

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There's a minor hoo-ha at Cinemarati over Bridge to Terabithia, which despite its marketing campaign is really not a fantasy film. I'd argue it's about something more interesting than fantasy: the difference between fantasy and imagination. Or to put it more plainly, growing up.

It's not a perfect film, the lead child actor (Josh Hutcherson) is a bit stiff, but (look out Dakota!) AnnaSophia Robb is good as the free spirited middle schooler who blows into town and shakes things up. I do recommend Bridge to Terabithia, though there are some plot twists that might upset younger viewers.

Off-topic

This has nothing to do with movies, but political blogger Ann Althouse has a good NY Times op-ed about pitting "commenters" vs. political operatives in the blogosphere. I don't think this is something we have to worry about here, but still....(link through International Herald Tribune)

My review

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Loved Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen in The Astronaut Farmer, the rest of the movie was just OK.

Ring in the old

The Academy Awards as big-studio triumph. (NY Times)

Monday, February 26, 2007

In a nutshell...

Yes, there were films that were vastly underappreciated - as the Cinemarati folks feel about Children of Men. And yes, the thing was too long. But even though my predictions tanked I'm genuinely happy to see Scorsese & The Departed win and to see Dreamgirls underperform. We're into a new year of films, so here's one more look at my favorite actress of '06, and then I'll put this year's Oscars in the books:

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(photo by Reed Saxon/AP)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Returning the favor

Reel Fanatic is a frequent commenter here. I pay him back by chiming in as he despairs over the recently announced Ron Howard-directed remake of Cache.

Seen Scene 3 - Dave Chappelle's Block Party

There's just a moment at the end of the concert film Dave Chappelle's Block Party (d. Michel Gondry) that made me think. The film records a 2004 concert in New York put on by Chappelle and featuring a top-drawer lineup of "non-bling" hip-hop and R&B acts (Fugees, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Roots, etc.).

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Chappelle invites several people from his Ohio home to come to the New York concert, including the entire Central State University marching band. The young band members are understandably jubilant; they accompany Kanye West on a riveting "Jesus Walks." At the end of the film one of the band members, about to board the bus for home, observes that the concert has reminded him, "like Eminem says, you only have one opportunity." (I'm paraphrasing.)

Eminem? I didn't notice the line the first time I saw the film but it really stood out on a repeat viewing. The music throughout Block Party is by turns personal, political, socially relevant, spiritual, funny, and performed with a total lack of self-aggrandizement. Whereas the music of Eminem, to my ears, hasn't gotten far out of the solipsistic angry vein that has been so profitable.

Why aren't the musicians in Block Party heralded with Rolling Stone covers and MTV play? Why are excuses continually made for sexism and homophobia in hip-hop? Why (other than record sales) is so much attention paid to mediocre stars like Ludacris and the aforementioned Eminem? Why didn't the guy from Central State know the difference? I'm no hip-hop expert, but I know the good stuff when I hear it. Will somebody enlighten me?

Spirit Awards Live Blog

I'll be blogging about the Spirit Awards this Saturday at 5 here. A lot of you visited this site when I did the same thing for the Golden Globes, so come on back.....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Seen Scene 2 - Husbands and Wives

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIn Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (1992), Australian actress Judy Davis plays Sally. Recently divorced from her husband Jack (Sydney Pollack), Sally finds herself both eager to and frightened of beginning a new relationship. It looks as though Michael (Liam Neeson) might be a prospect, but its not clear if the now exceedingly brittle Sally is capable of opening.

Husbands and Wives is one of Allen's best films, a lacerating look at the lies men and women tell each other. The film's release was overshadowed by the media blitz involving the end of Allen's relationship with Mia Farrow. (Allen and Farrow play Gabe and Judy, the disintegrating couple at the center of the story) There's a harrowing scene where Jack, at a party, learns of Sally's relationship with Michael. Jack is there with new girlfriend Sam (Lysette Anthony, who lectures the party guests on astrology). Unexpectedly wounded by Sally's moving on, Jack berates Sam at the party and drags her screaming to the car. It's one of the most honest and disturbing scenes in Allen's canon, and impeccably acted by Pollack.

Judy Davis certainly hasn't had the career she's deserved, her recent roles include The Break-Up (a parody of uptight neuroses) and a lady-in-waiting in Marie Antoinette. Her biggest recent acclaim came for playing Nancy Reagan on TV. Davis' work in Husbands and Wives makes the point that Woody Allen's gift for writing complicated women could be the cornerstone of his legacy.

Worth seeing

Breach in review.......

Into that good night

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI take no pleasure in reporting that Studio 60 officially went into limbo last night with irrelevancy, which is pretty much where it began. I can't quite grasp Aaron Sorkin's thinking with this show, and I'd ask him just who he thinks would bother to make a movie about Anita Pallenberg (starring Sarah Paulson's Harriet character) in which the facts were right as opposed to one in which liberties were taken.

Still, one of the biggest canards about this show is that the characters "aren't funny enough." It takes just as much energy and effort to produce a bad episode of SNL as a good one, folks. Just because the setting is a late night comedy show doesn't mean people are doing pratfalls in the office.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Line finds its way

What's the future of New Line Cinema? (NY Times) Any studio that uses its Lord of the Rings profits to make a film with Terrence Malick is OK by me.

Lynch & Dern join the pantheon

This post at the Chicago Reader movie blog puts David Lynch and Laura Dern in perspective against other director-actress combos. The two don't have an offscreen relationship, but the comparison to Cassavetes-Rowlands feels right to me. I'm looking forward to seeing Lynch and Dern get a special Spirit Award this weekend.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

DVD Diary - If I Should Fall From Grace

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHere's a picture of a younger Shane McGowan; enjoy it because the McGowan we meet in the documentary If I Should Fall From Grace (d. Sarah Share) is a considerably less pleasant character. Drink-addled and seemingly enabled by everyone around him, this McGowan doesn't seem credible as the leader of the high-energy Irish band the Pogues.

Director Sarah Share must have decided she liked McGowan. Apparently even ex-bandmates like him as well. Everyone's very casual about the Pogues creative downturn after a couple of albums and McGowan's eventual split from the band. Even McGowan's wife and family don't seem too worried about his alcohol consumption. This documentary doesn't provide enough information about what made the Pogues good, and it doesn't consider carefully enough what's happened since then.

Seen Scene 1 - She's All That

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOK, this isn't a movie I've seen before. But I have to stop and look at any movie with a scene of someone watching bad performance art. She's All That (1999, d. Robert Iscove) looks like a fairly conventional high school romance, in which a popular guy (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) accepts a challenge to turn an "ugly duckling" (Rachael Leigh Cook) into a prom date. Cook's character sends the guy to watch performance art; it's something with midgets painted blue, so you know it's got to be good.

A glance at the film's IMDB page reveals a large crop of actors who've gone on to better things: Anna Paquin, Keiran Culkin, Matthew Lillard, Usher, Dule Hill (Charley on The West Wing), Gabrielle Union, and Clea Duvall.

The performance art thing caught my eye because I'm trying to write a play about how creative people's response to art can affect their lives. Despite the description I've just given, hopefully it will be very funny and entertaining. Cook's IMDB page contains a lot of credits, though nothing too memorable recently.

UPDATE: The button on the scene is that after the performance art piece, Cook's character (who had been in the show) makes Prinze's get onstage. He wows the crowd with a hacky sack routine. Perfect.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Seen Scene - a new feature

Whether you can work at home or are just blogging between looking for a new job on the Internet, if you're a movie blogger there's a good chance you've got a cable package with a bunch of channels showing movies 24/7. I find myself looking for films I know rather than trying out new stuff. So, as long as I'm at home during the day I thought I'd do a daily post where I free associate after watching 5-10 minutes of a movie I've seen before. Who knows where it will go, it may be dull, but I figure it's worth a try...

Think Global

Good NYT piece about the politically engaged crop of Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees. Go Pan's Labyrinth! (but I'm dying to see The Lives of Others)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Breach

This week I'll be reviewing Breach, the tale of traitorous FBI agent Robert Hanssen. Chris Cooper gets a welcome lead role as Hanssen, with two of my favorites Laura Linney and Ryan Phillippe also starring. The director is Billy Ray of Shattered Glass, returning to the theme of deception in important places.....

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Blog-a-thon alert

Good links about romantic movies over at 100 Films. I wrote the post prior to this one inspired by Valentine's Day and a movie I just saw again on TV.

Obstacles, by a Chicken

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingYesterday I gave a Valentine to a woman to whom I'd been attracted for some time. The word "gave" is used a bit generously here, since what actually happened is that I left it on her car after a paroxysm of butterflies the likes of which I haven't felt since I asked a certain someone to a certain party back in high school....(we've all been there, I won't belabor the point).

There was nothing preventing me from giving Herself the card, or from asking her out a dozen times, except my own nervousness. These feelings, combined with some recent time spent channel-flipping at home, have me thinking about obstacles in romantic comedies.

It's hard to believe, but before cell phones there was actually an entire subgenre of RC's in which the characters didn't meet until nearly the end of the film. The most famous is still Sleepless in Seattle, Nora Ephron's tale of a widower whose son's call to a radio talk show host attracts Meg Ryan from across the country. But I recently got reacquainted with a better example of the form, Brad Anderson's Next Stop Wonderland.

In this low-budget 1998 affair, Erin (the always welcome Hope Davis) gets dumped by her boyfriend (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the opening scenes. Erin is down on love and looking for a change when her mother (Holland Taylor) places a personal ad on behalf of her daughter. (This somehow seems more believable than it did in Because I Said So)The ad attracts a mix of zany suitors, each with their own personality tic. Erin shows some spine when she realizes that three of her dates are actually colluding to get some voyeuristic thrills. She sets up a meeting at a restaurant and then watches from across the street when all three show up and there's no girl.

At that same encounter, Erin trades a lingering glance with Alan (Alan Gelfant). Alan's a plumber with ambition. He's taking classes in marine biology and volunteering at an aquarium. Alan's love life seems to consist mostly of fending off advances from a fellow student. (Cara Buono) Alan's character isn't quite as well developed as Erin's; his temperament runs towards serious though he causes an uproar by kidnapping the aquarium's star attraction.

I won't spoil the ending, but the meeting between Erin and Alan occurs with no more than 6 or 7 minutes left in the film. It's so arbitrary, open-ended, and potentially complicated that to me it feels exactly right. If someone ever made a sequel, it's possible that Erin and Alan wouldn't even be together anymore; that's how real and tenuous the connection feels.

Here's a quick comparison: In You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan unwittingly exchanges emails with Tom Hanks. Hanks is a corporate bigwig in a big-box bookstore chain, who shows up to annoy her when he's not busy putting her indie store out of business. The final meeting between Hanks and Ryan (who doesn't seem too bothered not to have a career) is a cliche-fest of dogs, Central Park, and generic New York rom-com music. Plot mechanics, anyone?

Screenwriters can come up with all the techno-obstacles they want, but there's nothing like deciding to open yourself up to another person a la Erin & Alan for drama. (The 40-Year Old Virgin may be the best recent studio example of this, oddly enough)So, put a card on someone's car, exchange anonymous emails, or talk to the cute stranger at the coffee shop. Don't forget to take the leap.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It's the day....

About Last Night blogger OGIC has some thoughts on Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story and romantic comedy in general. I'm enjoying the latest Sturges DVD set right now, even if it is a little light on features. What's happening to romantic comedies these days? In my judgement writers are working harder and harder to keep characters apart until the end. I just saw the better part of Next Stop Wonderland (d. Brad Anderson) on TV and liked the way that there's really nothing offered at the end but the slightest hope of connection, as two damaged souls meet by chance on a crowded subway. Contrast that with the wheezing plot mechanics of Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail, to name one. Happy Valentine's and here's to a genre that needs a comeback.....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dime-store Eddie

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It's easy psychoanalysis, but after watching Eddie Murphy's session on Inside the Actors Studio, I think I understand why the likely soon-to-be Oscar winner has buried himself in garbage like Norbit rather than doing the more interesting work he's obviously capable of in films like Dreamgirls.

Murphy describes a childhood with parents splitting up when he was three and his father dying shortly thereafter. A stepfather came along and became a positive presence in Murphy's life, but there was a period of obsessive TV and movie watching that pretty obviously shaped Murphy's choices to this day.

The life-affirming messages and happy families of TV must have been a tonic for the kid with an absent father and distant mother (Murphy's mother contracted TB and had to be isolated). It's also understandable why Murphy was drawn was to heavy makeup (Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a particular influence) What child of divorce would want to regularly delve into pain and self-doubt on a regular basis the way Eddie does as James "Thunder" Early?

Of course, other actors have been products of divorce and had brilliant careers. For the first time after a James Lipton interview, I have an insight into how a childhhod may have led to the career we know. On one level Murphy is brilliant in Norbit, but there's a crass, unfunny movie built around his characterizations.
Don't be afraid, Eddie. Go into the well-written roles.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

This is important - Charles Burnett

The debut film by a critically lauded but underwatched African-American director finally gets a theatrical release. Wonder if it will make it to Greenville? (House Next Door)

How could I forget ?

I can't imagine why I forgot to post my review of the underwhelming Because I Said So.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Changing teams

There's a piece in Filmmaker magazine about how director Maria Maggenti's fluid sexuality influenced her new film Puccini for Beginners. Maggenti made The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love a decade ago but now no longer identifies as a lesbian.
After establishing herself with the successful no-budget first feature The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, which was distributed by Fine Line Features, Maggenti relocated to Los Angeles and moved into television writing for the crime series Without a Trace. She also veered from the gay, activist lifestyle she’d become strongly identified with due to her high-profile work with the AIDS activist group ACT UP as well as her own self-identification as a lesbian. With Puccini for Beginners, in which a twentysomething lesbian writer (Elizabeth Reaser) has secret side-by-side affairs with a male college professor (Justin Kirk) and the woman he just dumped (Gretchen Mol), Maggenti, who is, for all intents and purposes, now straight, decided to explore the complexities of her own personal life by making a tart and traditionally structured romantic comedy.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Calling Spike Jonze

Why aren't the best young directors of the '90s making more films? The NY Times asks the question and poses one very provocative answer:
But it is possible that the self-indulgent American culture that shaped these filmmakers and made them so successful in the 1990s has left them ill equipped to take on the weightier questions facing society in the new millennium. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino, child of the video culture, feels at a loss when faced with the war in Iraq and global terrorism. And yet Mr. Russell made a movie about Iraq in 1999, well ahead of the current conflict, while the projects he now has in development are in the light comedy vein.

“It’s part of the larger culture,” said Laura Ziskin, who was in charge of Fox 2000 when it made “Fight Club” and is now producing the third “Spider-Man” movie. “There’s not a lot of encouragement to go deep on anything. In the ’70s people had the feeling they could change things through art, through creativity.”

Hollywood itself has a responsibility too, said Jeremy Barber, a leading agent for writer-directors like Noah Baumbach. “There’s no one pushing back,” he said. “It takes an oppositional force” to bring out the best in an artist, like a strong-minded studio executive or producer.

“We have an indulgent system,” he added. “The industry celebrates them prematurely, and we don’t enter into a dialectical relationship with them.”


Peirce does have an Iraq-themed film out this year called Stop-Loss, starring Ryan Phillippe.

After 10 years....

....director Maria Maggenti is back with Puccini for Beginners, a pansexual romantic comedy set in New York. Maggenti's first film, The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, is as sweet and genuine a story of people falling in love as I've ever seen. Here's a NY Times review of Puccini.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

How I learn about Sundance

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Right after the Sundance Film Festival every year, Entertainment Weekly and other magazines always run those spreads with lots of small photos of actors and other key players from the festival acting goofy in "candid" shots. (See EW's Feb. 9 issue)

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis year is no exception. But it's wrap-ups like this that provide info to most of the film-loving public about the highs and lows of the Festival. You'd have to be a close reader of newspapers and blogs to get a day-by-day account. So, if you haven't heard I'm happy to announce one of the most bittersweet stories from Sundance '07 was Adrienne Shelly's film Waitress. Shelly (at left in the first picture) is best known for roles in Hal Hartley's Trust and The Unbelievable Truth (1989-90); I was surprised to learn the Keri Russell-starring Waitress was her sixth directorial effort.

In November '06, Shelly was killed in NYC in a case originally thought to be suicide. The film's showing at Sundance was obviously a hollow triumph, but the film was bought by Fox Searchlight and will have a theatrical life. It will probably be some time before I get to see Waitress, but I hope the film matches its director's singular talent.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Because I Said So

Quick rundown on the cast of Because I Said So, the movie I'm reviewing this week:

  • Diane Keaton: Legend
  • Lauren Graham: Great on Gilmore Girls
  • Piper Perabo: Good in a small role in The Prestige
  • Mandy Moore: Hmmmmmm...a jury's still out situation
  • Thursday, February 01, 2007

    DVD Diary - 24 Hour Party People

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting24 Hour Party People (d. Michael Winterbottom) is the story of Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), the man behind the Manchester music scene of the 1980's. As a journeyman TV reporter in the late '70s, Wilson wants to expand Britain's musical horizons past the old classic rock gods (an early scene of Bowie and Pink Floyd posters being torn down makes the point). Founding a club (later a label) called the Factory, Wilson soon becomes the vehicle by which bands like Joy Division reach the world. As Joy Division prepares for its first U.S. tour, the 1980 suicide of singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) rocks Wilson. (As New Order, the remaining band members remain a source of income for Factory.)In the late '80s the drug-addled Happy Mondays put Factory back on top, but Wilson's new club (the Hacienda) is the center of much uglier and violent scene.

    Winterbottom's structurally daring film coasts along on Coogan's bravura performance for a time. The handheld semi-documentary style is broken up by Wilson's direct-to-camera addresses, in which he is (hilariously) convinced of his own importance. (Steve Coogan had similar fun with a bloated ego in Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy meta-film) Coogan's performance is at his best in the early scenes, when he's trying to reconcile his own ambition with his genuine love for the music and for his wife Lindsay (Shirley Henderson, underused).

    As Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) and the Happy Mondays take the stage, 24 Hour Party People loses steam. The Mondays moment was brief, and the movie becomes a standard-issue druggy rock picture. Wilson loses definition as a character by this point, throwing up his hands as money and time are wasted and Factory goes down the tubes.

    Despite narrative stumbles, 24 Hour Party People captures the music scene with brio and confident filmmaking; I'll welcome all future Winterbottom-Coogan collaborations.