Thursday, June 28, 2007

NY Film Festival Opener....

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The Darjeeling Limited
, directed by Wes Anderson (above right w/ Owen Wilson) will open the New York Film Festival. The film stars Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Natalie Portman. (IndieWire)

Denis the Menance? (Rescue Me spoilers)

Jack McGee (the heart-troubled chief on Rescue Me) goes off.....(Television without Pity, House Next Door)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Mighty Heart

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News flash: when you're watching Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart and Angelina Jolie's full-immersion performance, you don't think about Jolie's activism or parenting skills. You don't think about celebrity journalism or the countless outrageous things Jolie has done or said over the years when she didn't have films this strong to back her up.

Instead you're lost in the richly detailed Pakistan that Mariane Pearl (Jolie) and a host of cops and diplomats must unravel in order to find journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), kidnapped and later murdered in 2002. Winterbottom favors a semi-documentary style, keeping his camera lurking around the corner in Mariane's house as conflicting information slowly trickles in and a dogged Pakistani cop known as "The Captain" (the excellent Irrfan Khan) pursues every lead.

Since we know the ending, the unfolding of A Mighty Heart brings other thoughts to mind. Pakistan seems like a world that even the most thoughtful Westerner could never hope to understand. Even the civil authorities represented by the Captain and his men seem befuddled by the network of jihadists behind which lies the secret of Pearl's disappearance. The U.S. government (represented by Will Patton as a diplomat) offers sympathy but little practical help, and Patton's character seems to be centrally interested in riding along as the Captain raids suspects.

The flashbacks to Daniel and Mariane pre-kidnapping are restrained and inserted at just the right moments. They're as fleeting as memories and bittersweet as anything good cut short. As for the much-discussed wailing when Mariane learns her husband's fate? It's to Jolie and Winterbottom's great credit that the scene (and indeed the entire movie) never devolves into easy sentiment.

We need A Mighty Heart at this time not just for the moving story of a journalist's sacrifice. The complexity of the culture we're fighting (and in the case of Pakistan, "allied with") still isn't understood by enough people. The combination of religion and socioeconomic factors that give rise to Islamic fundamentalism - which the film glances off but doesn't attempt to dumb down - is of course the great problem of our time. To steal a line from The West Wing, what does winning this war look like?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We're going there

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSo Ron Rosenbaum, in his Slate piece and his disheveled appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources today, thinks the Tom Junod profile of Angelina Jolie in the July '07 Esquire is the "worst celebrity profile ever written." In his interview with Howard Kurtz, Rosenbaum rambled for a time about the utter meaninglessness of celebrity profiles and made the preposterous assertion that there's no real difference between Jolie and Paris Hilton. (There's a track record Ron)

Rosenbaum rightly slams the recent fiasco in which journalists covering A Mighty Heart were asked top sign a contract asserting they wouldn't ask Jolie personal questions. I agree with him there. Then he goes to say that his his piece isn't an attack on Tom Junod, whose "noncelebrity work" he has often admired. Here's the first paragraph of Junod's piece:

This is a 9/11 story. Granted it's also a celebrity profile—well, a profile of Angelina Jolie—and so calling it a 9/11 story may sound like a stretch. But that's the point. It's a 9/11 story because it's a celebrity profile—because celebrities and their perceived power are a big part of the strange story of how America responded to the attacks upon it. And no celebrity plays a bigger role in that strange story than Angelina Jolie.


What? In the piece Jolie describes her 2001 trip to Sierra Leone and subsequent work as an ambassador for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees. Junod writes that Jolie's new career path has "nothing to do with 9/11" but is the "representative story of the post-9/11 years." I don't know where Junod spends his days (the TriBeca Film Festival? Coachella?) but for many Americans the representative story of the post-9/11 years would be one about spending a lot of time watching CNN and then realizing that US troops weren't greeted as liberators and that Saddam wasn't about to nuke the U.S.

The mistake Rosenbaum makes is taking the view that just because this Esquire piece is badly written - it continues in this vein of pseudo-serious rumination - that it's not possible to do a thorough and informative piece on Jolie's career and activism, and that indeed such a piece is not worth writing. Rosenbaum wasn't asked during the CNN interview about the fact that Jolie had appeared on Anderson Cooper's show earlier in the week. I think that if there's one star of cover-of-Esquire caliber who'd be open to doing more than dispensing cliches about their latest movie and their family life, it's Angelina Jolie. Rosenbaum (an estimable nonfiction writer whose books on Hitler and Shakespeare I've admired) should stop whining and do a story following the actress through an African refugee camp or one of Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Villages (Jolie is funding the only Asian Millennium Village) Celebrity journalism is only as good as the journalists who work in the genre. If the media outlets whose reporters refused to sign the Jolie contract all deign to write more probing pieces, Rosenbaum should get off the sidelines and join the fun.

Netflix This 11 - Diggers

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Katherine Dieckmann's Diggers (2006) is a lovely minor-key portrait of a way of life in flux. Set in 1976 Long Island, the film written by Ken Marino follows a group of independent clam diggers coping with personal crises and the arrival of a corporate fishing interest called South Shell that threatens their livelihood.

We know that Hunt (Paul Rudd) has ambitions outside fishing because he's constantly taking artsy pictures. Hunt and his sister Gina (Maura Tierney, who makes working-class characters sexy like no one else) have just buried their father, an event that gathers all the principal characters early in the film. There's ladies' man Jack (Ron Eldard), drug dealer Cons (Josh Hamilton), and Lozo and Julie (Ken Marino and Sarah Paulson) with their noisy family.

The ensemble cast is strong, but my opinion of Paul Rudd continues to grow based on his work here. As the summer wears on Hunt enjoys a fling with New Yorker Zoey (Lauren Ambrose), who views the relationship only as a distraction. Hunt's disappointment, which Rudd underplays superbly, proves a catalyst for his decision about where to take his life. As a writer Ken Marino displays great affection for the bustle of a household where feeding every mouth is part of the daily grind. Marino gets great mileage out the emotional plate tectonics of family life, where the kids are always veering between annoying him and winning his heart. It's good to see Sarah Paulson away from her tiresome born-again Christian/late night comedy star role on Studio 60.

Not too much really happens in Diggers 87 minutes, and much of that won't surprise you. But the movie feels lived-in and heartfelt, capturing a way of life and an attitude to the world that no corporate fishery can displace. The most significant moments in Diggers may be the scenes of the clam diggers greeting each other with middle finger salutes. Diggers is a winner.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Gesture confused with meaning - Mumblecore, Say Anything, and the boombox

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..."mumblecore" refers to a group of American filmmakers who tend to work on each other's movies, and whose films are performance-based and focus on the everyday problems, often about relationships, of middle-class twentysomethings.
--Jette Kernion, Cinematical, 2005

I saw my first "Mumblecore" movie the other day. If you read magazines like Filmmaker, follow movie blogs, or are aware of what's happening on the film festival circuit then you know Mumblecore is a much talked-about no-budget movement beginning to make inroads thanks in part to Netflix, Greencine, and online support. The best known mumblecore practitioner is probably Andrew Bujalski, who has been profiled in Esquire and whose films Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha have received strong critical endorsements.

Both of Bujalski's films are near the top of my Netflix queue, so I'll be writing more on him in days to come. But to business: The Puffy Chair (d. Jay Duplass, 2005) is the story of Josh (co-writer Mark Duplass) and his girlfriend Emily (Kathryn Aselton), who drive from New York to Atlanta to deliver the titular chair to Josh's father as a birthday gift. Along the way they're joined by Josh's brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins), who provides most of the excitement by deciding impulsively to get married during one of the trio's overnight stops.

In the opening scene, Josh and Emily are eating dinner and discussing his plans to make the trip alone. Emily, as she does throughout the film, seems to want a definition of the relationship from the I-don't-want-to-talk about-it-now Josh. When a phone call about Josh's work (he's a failed musician turned booking agent) interrupts the talk, Emily gets angry and storms out.

The next morning Emily is awakened by the Death Cab for Cutie song "Transatlanticism." Josh is standing outside her window playing it on his boombox. He apologizes and invites Emily along on the trip. This moment is of course a direct allusion to the famous scene in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything in which Lloyd (John Cusack) gives a Peter Gabriel boombox serenade to Diane (Ione Skye).

In Say Anything, lovelorn Lloyd has just graduated from high school. Josh however is a grown man in his mid-20s. What the does the choice to reference Say Anything say about the character and indeed about the makers of The Puffy Chair? Throughout The Puffy Chair Josh is unable to express or even apparently to think about where he wants his relationship with Emily to go. He repeatedly avoids confrontation, though it must be said Emily has a habit of wanting to have big talks right as he's about to fall asleep. Josh is a man who addresses his girlfriend as "dude" and answers a phone call by saying "What's up motherfucker?"

It makes perfect sense that Josh might profess feelings for his girlfriend by emulating a scene from a movie. Although I don't think the moment is meant to be satirical, it's also right somehow that he'd pick a song the chorus of which is a single line repeated eight times ("I need you so much closer"). While I certainly wouldn't attempt to generalize about mumblecore from a single film, The Puffy Chair attempts to suck profundity out of inarticulateness. Josh, Emily, And Rhett all want to say deep things but lack the vocabulary and the self-awareness to do so. The Puffy Chair is observational, but not especially dramatic. The character in Say Anything who'd fit in best with this crew is Loren Dean's Joe, the vacant dream guy who inspires an evening's worth of songs from his ex Corey (Lili Taylor). Lloyd and Diane would find more interesting company.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I knew this would happen

"Specialty" films are now fighting for release dates the way summer blockbusters do. Was it really a good idea to open three of this summer's most anticipated films in the same month. The decision when to open a smaller film like Once or the forthcoming Evening matters just as much as the release date of Transformers. (NY Times)

Festive festivals

The L.A. Film Festival gets it right....(LA Weekly)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I've been tagged

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMy friend at Talking Moviezzz has graciously named me a "Thinking Blogger," the details of which you can read here. Not wishing to disappoint a frequent reader & commenter, I take up his challenge to name the blogs I keep returning to for analysis, entertainment, and insight:

  • One Letter at a Time - My friend Jason is both better-read and in possession of a better DVD library than I am, how could I not be impressed? Most of Jason's posts are literary in theme, and I turn to him when I get tired of writing and thinking about Jessica Alba, weekly box office numbers, or why people talk in movie theaters.

  • House Next Door - We all know this one, but I mention it because of the willingness of Matt Zoller Seitz and other writers to engage in back-and-forth with readers via the comments section. This leads to spirited debate, especially on whatever episodic TV show is most provocative at the moment. There's a great appreciation for TV as an art form here. (Deadwood, Lost, and The Sopranos being particular favorites)

  • The Daily Dish - Anti-Bush gay Christian conservative Andrew Sullivan on politics, Iraq, gay rights, religion, conservatism, and where they all intersect.

  • Chloe Veltman - Just discovered this one recently. A San Francisco blogger spends time writing about all things theatrical. This is close to my heart because theater is what I spend most of my time thinking about when I'm not here writing about movies.

  • Critical Mass - The official blog of the National Book Critics Circle. Critics campaign for their own relevance!

    If there's one thing I can take from this selection it's that I tend to go for the big name blogs at the expense of many, many people doing good work out there in all subjects. Keep blogging and being active on other sites, and we'll find each other.
  • M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable - Ambitious Failure?

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    My entry in the "Ambitious Failure" blog-a-thon at This Savage Art...

    There are many ways to achieve heroism or villainy in the world of comic books. One can be an alien (too many examples to mention), involuntarily exposed to radiation (Spider-Man), motivated by revenge (Batman), or able to put others ahead of oneself (the Silver Surfer, who is of course also an alien). But what if you found out you were a hero the whole time but hadn't been taking advantage of your gifts? That's the premise of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable (2000), a film that attempts to put a comic book "origin story" into the real world.

    We know David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is unhappy from the get-go, because in the opening scene of Unbreakable he slips off his wedding band to try to pick up a woman he meets on the train. A few minutes later that train crashes, killing everyone on board except the amazingly uninjured David. David's wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) and son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) are glad to see him, but David's home life isn't going well. He and Audrey are sleeping in separate bedrooms (for reasons never clearly explained) and he had been on the train in the first place returning from an out-of-town job interview. Not long after David goes back to work as a security guard (a job with obvious metaphorical implications) he's contacted by Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book store owner who views David's survival of the crash as a portent of his heroism and indeed his invulnerability.

    David is of course skeptical, but a series of events lead him to accept his destiny. One of the best scenes in Unbreakable, and may be the sweetest scene in the whole Shyamalan canon proves David's strength. While weightlifting David discovers Joseph has put more weight on the bar than he's accustomed to. Joseph promises to take weight off but instead adds more, which David again lifts successfully. As David becomes more aware of his own strength, he and Joseph continue to add more weight until there are paint cans dangling from the bar.

    Much of Unbreakable has the "airless" feel that runs throughout Shyamalan's work, and here we begin to consider the reasons for the film's failure. All the actors except Samuel L. Jackson (including Willis) seem a little dazed, no one is quite up to normal speed. Shyamalan never lets up on the mood of foreboding and eventually we become anesthetized to it. The climactic scene in which David rescues children who have been victims of a home invasion is dragged out far too long and lacks a sense of David's fear or surprise at his own abilities.

    M. Night Shyamalan was riding high after The Sixth Sense (Unbreakable was his follow up) and at the time it was said he envisioned Unbreakable as the first of a trilogy. The Sixth Sense was of course sold on the basis of it's twist ending, and in Unbreakable we get a similar conceit. David's telepathic abilities have manifested and a handshake with Elijah reveals the comic-book dealer (wheelchair bound due to a brittle bone disease) to be a terrorist who has engineered a plane crash, a hotel fire, and David's train crash in a quest to find a "sole survivor" who is "miraculously unharmed." Only the quest for a hero will cement Elijah's self-image as a villain. Unbreakable ends on an open-ended note, as a word of advice to aspiring screenwriters I'll say here that a fiction film should never end with titles on the screen describing the character's fate.

    Shyamalan planned (plans?) to revisit these characters, and Unbreakable frustrates as it ends just when David accepts his fate and the Elijah-David adversarial relationship begins. But of course the failure of Unbreakable is based largely on expectations. I'd argue that the premise of Unbreakable is considerably more original than any of Shyamalan's other films, and that the presence of a strong hero and villain makes the film play better than say, Lady in the Water. But the mother and child so developed in The Sixth Sense are pushed into the background here; no disrespect to Robin Wright Penn or Spencer Treat Clark, who both perform well. Clark is every bit as good as Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, but he's a little older (or at least reads that way) and thus there's no cuteness factor. We were expecting a twist that resolves everything (instead of one that leaves us wanting more) and fraught emotional relationships, but Willis' reticence is overdone; he's in his own world.

    I'd also say the lack of scares doomed Unbreakable, thought for me the scariest thing in The Sixth Sense is still vomiting Mischa Barton. After Unbreakable Shyamalan has gone on to attempt bigger and bigger statements in each film with diminishing returns. Was his biggest ambition to be a fanboy, and wasn't that enough?

    DVD Diary - Fay Grim

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    A word of warning. Hal Hartley's Fay Grim (2007) will be just about incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with Hartley's Henry Fool (1997), the story of a garbageman/philosopher (Thomas Jay Ryan) whose "Confessions" (written in those old school notebooks with black-and-white covers) incite extreme reactions in anyone who reads them. During his time on Long Island Henry befriends Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and inspires Simon to become a famous poet. We never get to hear Simon's poetry but its implied that it's a. obscene and b. not very good. Henry also weds Simon's sister Fay (Parker Posey) and fathers a child (Liam Aiken) with her.

    Henry was last seen escaping the country, and as Fay Grim opens we learn Simon has been jailed for aiding him. Fay is living off the royalty checks from Simon's poetry when a mysterious toy arrives which may contain a message from Henry. Soon a CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) is calling with information about secrets that may be contained in Henry's books. Fay is dispatched to Europe to retrieve the notebooks, where she stumbles into a web of intrigue involving an Israeli secret agent (Saffron Burrows) and a stewardess (Elina Lowensohn) who seems to be the last person to have seen Henry.

    That's about as much plot as I can sensibly describe, though its not giving too much away to say that Henry's notebooks are both much more and much less than they seem to be. If Fay is a American everywoman (Hartley offers words to that effect on a making-of doc on the DVD) then Fay Grim can be read as a movie about how little American's understand the world around them. More importantly, if Henry's claims about his colorful past from Henry Fool are true then Hartley wants to make a statement about American interventionism in other countries' affairs.

    Parker Posey is at her deadpan best throughout Fay Grim, but take my advice and watch Henry Fool first.

    Funnel cake anyone?

    Terry Teachout visits Gatlinburg (a place my family swears by but to which I've never been drawn) and the Smokies. (About Last Night)

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    What a way to make a living

    The Atlantic Monthly profiles thriller writer Harlan Coben (no free link). I'd never read Coben's books but in my former career I'd sold his stuff for years. In response to the question of whether or not crime fiction can ever rank with more literary fiction Coben's answer would seem to be "Who cares?" Coben never seems to deviate from his work habits, freely admits he doesn't outline, and is much more concerned with sales than themes. That said, I read this article in an airport; after learning that the arriving flight I was waiting for was delayed I went to the airport bookshop and bought Coben's Promise Me. I had about 2 extra hours to read, and of course I can't wait to find out how the @#$%^^ing thing ends.

    High concept

    Buddy cop movie + war on terror = The Kingdom (NY Times)

    Why we love Mexico

    The first film from the Inarritu/Cuaron/del Toro association will be directed by Alfonso Cuaron's brother Carlos and reunite Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna of Y tu Mama Tambien. (Cinematical)

    Saturday, June 16, 2007

    Son Volt

    Going to see Son Volt tonight with my friend Catalina...I discovered Uncle Tupelo when I was in college about the time their last CD came out. Since then I've usually preferred Jeff Tweedy's Wilco to Farrar's Son Volt in part because Farrar always seemed to take himself so seriously, but I do like the Son Volt CD The Search. I guess Jay Farrar is growing on me. A sample:

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Silver Surfer

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    My take on Rise of the Silver Surfer is similar to what I thought of the first Fantastic Four movie. Here's a comic book adaptation that runs a tidy hour and a half, uses special effects judiciously, and all in all doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a pleasant contrast to the bloated sequels out there, and a film you can safely take your kids too.

    I posted a link to some Marvel comics information on the Silver Surfer (played by Doug Jones but voiced by Laurence Fishburne) yesterday, and with my curiosity up I visited the comic book store and picked up one of those Marvel anthologies that collects early issues of different character's comics. To quickly summarize the Surfer's origins, Norrin Radd becomes the Surfer after making a deal with a pan-dimensional creature called Galactus to save his home planet in return for seeking out new worlds for Galactus to devour. When the Surfer reaches Earth he switches sides, recognizing the value of the (admittedly imperfect) human quest for survival and improvement. There's a poignancy in the selfless choice to put a whole world ahead of oneself (twice) - it stacks up well on the heroism scale against revenge or involuntary exposure to radiation. I'm not surprised there's a Surfer movie reportedly in development, but will there be an audience for a film where the main character's silver coating precludes him being played by a major star?

    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    For the comically challenged...

    More than you could ever want to know about the Fantastic Four's costar, The Silver Surfer. I have no idea if any of this back story is used in the movie, so read at your own risk. (Marvel Universe)

    Keira!

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    Keira Knightley - The best thing in Pirates 3? (Newcritics)

    Alba on parade

    What bit of corporate synergy prompted Jessica Alba's appearance on the "Hot Seat" segment of Sports Center last night/this morning? Are Fox (Fantastic Four) and Disney (ESPN) allied somehow? I suppose it was just ESPN's attempt to score with the Maxim magazine crowd, and Alba played along.

    Insert joke here

    Paris Hilton dropped by acting agency (Cinematical).

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Shmashmortion

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    Here's more from Dana Stevens in Slate about the presentation of abortion in Knocked Up. I won't insult Stevens by trying to outline her arguments, but in response I'll just point out that writer/director Judd Apatow seems to me to be paying a compliment to Katherine Heigl's Alison character by allowing her to attempt both motherhood and and a career. Making that difficult choice feels a lot more in tune with where we are as a culture at the moment. Would anyone want to see a movie about Alison's mother (played by Joanna Kerns), who (it is strongly implied) has sacrificed some level of personal happiness to raise her children?

    Another point: Alison's brother-in-law (Paul Rudd) mentions that he married Alison's sister (Leslie Mann) due to a pregnancy, which means Alison's family has dealt with this issue before. We don't get a great deal of information about the dynamics of Alison's family, but it's reasonable to assume that Alison is modeling her choices on those already faced by her sister.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Street Legal, anyone?

    John Sellers (who I wrote about here) on how to display your musical obsessions. (The Believer, partial article)

    John, 2nd episode

    I've seen the second episode of HBO's John from Cincinnati, anyone with 48 minutes and HBO On Demand can do so. I'll save plot specifics until after the "official" airing, but I will say the family relationships feel much more lived-in and fraught. Bruce Greenwood and Rebecca DeMornay (as married heads of a famous surfing family) strike up a chemistry, and Ed O'Neill seems to be finding something in his eccentric character (a mostly shut-in who keeps birds). The one bit of "magic realism" comes not from visitor "John Monad" (who everyone seems to think is mentally handicapped) but from another surprising source. Stay tuned.....Oh, does anyone know what the theme song is?

    The Book I Read 2 - Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThomas Mallon's novel Fellow Travelers takes place mostly in Washington, D.C. of the mid-1950s, during the rise and fall of Senator Joseph McCarthy. State Department employee Hawkins Fuller meets young Tim Laughlin by chance. After Fuller sets Tim up with a Capitol Hill job, the two begin a sexual relationship which due to the restrictions of the day is of course clandestine.

    The younger Tim is overwhelmed with desire for Fuller, but the older man shrewdly keeps things at a distance. Fuller is so detached from his own inner life he even aces a lie detector test during a attempt to purge the State Department of homosexuals. Eventually Tim's religious convictions take him away from his lover and into the Army.

    Thomas Mallon's novels (Dewey Defeats Truman, Two Moons) feature political and historical backgrounds, and Fellow Travelers offers rich details of the workday habits of government employees and lively descriptions of Congressional hearings. Mallon offers numerous theories for the motivations and behavior of McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and controversial committee staffer David Schine. All these historical figures make cameo appearances and Tim even encounters Clay Shaw, the shady character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the film JFK.

    Fellow Travelers is a deeply sad book in its recording of the casual and not-so casual prejudices of the time and its much belated granting of self-acceptance to Tim. Fuller's behavior towards Tim once the younger man returns from the Army may strike some readers as abrupt, but (like the Sopranos ending) it's growing on me. Fuller's choices make sense given the climate of the time. There's no author-imposed happy ending here. Look at this time in America, Mallon says. This is how it was.

    Casting call...

    Rachel Weisz to play mother of murdered girl in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. (Cinematical)

    Africa awareness

    You've probably heard about the Vanity Fair Africa-themed issue, but having just picked it up I can say its well worth a read. There's a profile of economist Jeffrey Sachs, and article about what the (Product) Red brand is doing to help get drugs to Africans with AIDS. Also photos and writing about music, film, and the arts scene. (I of course bought the issue with Madonna on the cover...)

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    There are some things I know...

    HBO's new drama "John From Cincinnati" has an infamous reputation. Series co-creator and co-writer David Milch was so busy working on the pilot script that he didn't notice HBO went ahead and canceled another Milch series, a little thing called "Deadwood." As a "Deadwood" fan I have to say: Mr. Milch, "John" had better be good.


    More here...

    Oh please.....

    If you don't buy the premise, why review the movie? Yes, Katherine Heigl would probably never go to bed with Seth Rogen...but is that the point? In Slate, Dana Stevens notes that Judd Apatow writes men better than women. That's so self-evident a point that it's not really worth making - Woody Allen writes New Yorkers better than Southerners and George Lucas does aliens better than humans...

    Frightening horror news

    Is the horror boom over? (NY Times)

    Last night

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    For me, this last batch of Sopranos episodes has been about how tired series creator David Chase is. The more cynical interpretation is that his conclusion to the series is him having fun at the expense of his audience, but I see instead an attempt to put the show in relief against something larger.

    Remember how in the beginning Tony and the boys frequently joked about The Godfather and other pop-culture portrayals of Italian-Americans? No one has done that for some time; this year we got A.J. driven to the point of suicide by the news of the world and direct references to the war on terror and the U.S. political scene. Because A.J. was the character delivering this point of view, I think that many critics either tended to dismiss it as filler or misread it as a commentary on Tony's lifestyle. But I think Chase may have had a bigger picture in mind. Note the "Karl Rove dancing" and "Bush with South American musicians" footage that was shown on a T.V. in last night's episode. I haven't seen anything on this but I'm assuming that at some point a decision had to be made to insert that footage after the episode had already been written and shot.

    The conclusion to the Tony-Phil "war" was a bit of grotesque slapstick, with Phil being shot and then crushed by his SUV in full view of the public at a gas station. Has there ever been a good scene in a film or TV show involving spontaneous vomiting? The perfunctory and not entirely credible wrapping up of the Melfi-Tony relationship is perhaps Chase's most authoritative statement of a worldview, since Tony seems doomed not to gain even a whisper of self-knowledge. It also lends credence to the view that Melfi may not actually be a good therapist, pushing the "Chase hates therapy" idea.

    The final Soprano family meal is at what appears to be a faux down market diner, and I couldn't help thinking of another season finale that concluded with a meal in the familiar confines of Vesuvio's. Look how far these characters have fallen, Chase seems to be saying. Although they surely could have afforded on a literal level to go to Vesuvio's, the bloodbath and the specter of indictments has pushed the family outside its comfort zone.

    For me the perfect Sopranos finale would have been the episode in which Tony has to walk home after escaping the feds at Johnny Sack's house, with the callback to the "bear in the woods" from earlier that season. The image of Tony emerging from the woods to be welcomed home by Carmela said more about the duality of his life and the lengths he would go to protect it than anything we've been given since.

    Simply the best....

    In his review of Mr. Brooks, David Denby writes that William Hurt is "the most brilliant character actor in American movies..." (The New Yorker)

    Marshall, pleading with his host to commit murder, is a roguish wit, seductive and amused, who knows that he’s being unreasonable but presses his needs anyway. Once satisfied, he becomes the ultimate kibbitzer—he doesn’t have to do anything but give advice and render judgment on Brooks’s criminal panache. Hurt, tucking in his jaw and alternating irony, sarcasm, and mockery, hits one spinning serve after another, and Costner hits them right back at him. The two have a fine time, as if they had been doing this routine for years.

    Friday, June 08, 2007

    Good advice

    Matarazzo is proud of the work she did on the film. But she doesn't think it's for everyone. "I definitely don't think that my Mom would see Hostel Part II. And I would encourage her not to."


    -from the June issue of Out magazine, article by Christine Champagne

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    Eli Roth, friend of the artist

    The director of Hostel II in his own words (Cinematical) - Roth on the MPAA:

    Cinematical: So should more filmmakers work with them instead of against them?

    ER: I think filmmakers, in general ... there are some awesome, really great filmmakers -- but on the whole, filmmakers, actors, I think they are the biggest bunch of whiny, over-paid babies on the planet. I just wish they would f**king shut up and realize how lucky they are. If you don't want your voice stifled, be a playwright, go write a book, go paint things. If you want to make movies, there's a lot of money at risk and a lot of people's jobs depend on it. It's compromise; that is the name of the game. I think these filmmakers who are whining ... I saw that documentary on the MPAA [This Film is Not Yet Rated], and I thought 'You guys are f**king nuts.' Some of them, yeah -- I love John Waters. I agree with John Waters. But a lot of these directors ... I just don't know what f**king planet they're on.

    Back from the dead?

    New life for Veronica Mars? (Reel Fanatic)

    One more take....

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    ....on Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights (IFC). (Yes, I know Portman only has a supporting role and the film stars Norah Jones...but as regular readers know I tend to post pics of Portman at any excuse.)

    Shield stuff

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketGood appreciation of The Shield, both last night's Season 6 finale and the show as a whole. I'm still impressed by how events that transpired early in the show's run are still resonating in these late seasons. Vic's murder of another cop in the pilot led to Shane killing Lem; it created a spirit of "this is how we deal with things."

    This season the "San Marcos" mass murder and Vic's quest to save his badge got tied together with Acevedo's political career and the Acevedo rape storyline from Season 3. Of course, Shane's alliance with the Armenian mob brought up the gang's robbery of the money train. I wondered if the choice to sign on with the Armenians was smart, but I guess Shane didn't have many choices. If only they could find a way to work in Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker next season. The shaky Acevedo-Vic allaince promises lots of fireworks in the show's final season next year. (NY Times)

    Nasty marketing

    A consideration of the use of disturbing images in film marketing, and why we can't look at real-life images of war from Iraq. (LA Times)

    What I find depressing is that while "Hostel: Part II" will play at multiplexes everywhere, the disturbing images of carnage in Iraq are largely hidden away from view, in part because the Defense Department refuses to allow them to be shown, in part because the public acts outraged whenever the media put them on display.

    It's hard to imagine anything more moving than "The Sacrifice," a series of war photos by James Nachtwey in December's National Geographic that captured in unflinching detail the price our soldiers in Iraq have paid on the battlefield and on the home front. But this is a reality no one wants to see. Imagine the uproar if these photos — simple evidence of the price of war — were on billboards across America, depicting our own horror movie sprung to life.

    The next time you see a "Hostel: Part II" poster, perhaps you'll ponder for a moment why so many of us get a kick out of movies in which kids are gruesomely hacked to death yet so few of us will bother to look at the carnage when it's real kids in a real war. It must be why they call the movies escapist art. When it comes to real gore, we like to turn away.

    Fantastic Simpsons secrets

    I actually liked the first Fantastic Four film. It's running time was under two hours, special effects were used economically and well, and it didn't take itself too seriously. (Also, how good was Michael Chiklis?) The Rise of the Silver Surfer is out June 15th, and the screenwriter answers questions at Cinematical. There's also some insight into the writing process on The Simpsons here.

    Friedkin

    Director William Friedkin is happy with his latest film Bug and the opera he's directing. (LA Weekly)

    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Songs that make Mary-Louise Parker....

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    ....want to sleep with you. A classic from Esquire.

    Moore & McKellar

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    One of my can't-miss ladies Julianne Moore is starring with the reliably good Mark Ruffalo in an adaptation of the Jose Saramago novel Blindness. Saramago is a Nobel Prize winner from Portugal who (from what I can see) thinks in paragraphs rather than sentences. The script was written by Canadian actor/writer Don McKellar, who's great as a pompous theater director on the Sundance show Slings and Arrows. (The Reeler)

    Faris watch

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    I remember seeing trailers for a yucky comedy called Waiting, which put me off by the mere fact of Ryan Reynolds presence. I'd forgotten that one of my favorite comic actresses, Anna Faris was in it. Now, there's talk of a sequel....(Cinematical)

    Final films

    The final films of long-lived directors. (IFC News)

    Apparently...

    it's OK to play a professional baseball game with only one umpire. I went to a day game of our local single A team today. After an inning and a half one of the umpires had to pack it in due to heat, so the game was played with the plate umpire running out from home when the ball was hit to make calls on the bases. The potential for disaster in this situation seems big - what if there's a ball the ump must call fair or foul in the outfield and a base runner misses third?

    In fact the game wasn't close enough for any single call to matter (we lost 12-5), but know I'm glad that childhood interest in being an ump never worked out.

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Couldn't resist

    Too much YouTube in one day is no good, but:



    CBS is doing seven episodes of the Aardman Animation series Creature Comforts

    A Mighty Heart trailer

    Happy Birthday Angelina Jolie! Here's the trailer for your new film A Mighty Heart.

    Netflix This 10 - Old Joy

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    Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy (2006) couldn't have been much longer than its 76-minute running time, because the film is about things that can't be spoken. The story of a camping trip taken by former close friends Kurt (Will Oldham) and Mark (Daniel London), Old Joy resonates with loss, the changes brought by maturity, and the pain of choices not made.

    Mark is married and about to be a father. Kurt's life is less specifically detailed, though there are references to trips to hot springs, Big Sur, and nights spent by bonfires on the beach. The idea of an unfulfilled quest emerges from Oldham's nervous performance. The pressures on Mark are expressed by the liberal talk radio excerpts Reichardt inserts, in which callers rage about Democratic malaise and the high cost of living. In the stilted conversations that interrupt meditative silences (Yo La Tengo contributes an austere and moving score), Mark refers to a "community garden" and teaching woodworking to kids. We never find out what his job is, but Mark's activist spirit is clearly struggling for purchase.

    While they're sitting in front of a campfire, Kurt expresses a desire for the return of his and Mark's former friendship. The moment is awkward and passes quickly; we never what set the two men on different paths, but their conversation is dotted with mentions of former friends and a now-defunct record store that has given way to a smoothie joint.

    I haven't done it justice, but Old Joy is a beautifully specific film for everyone who wonders what happened to all their friends from 10 years ago. I hope Reichardt's next project arrives quickly.

    Originality v. Execution

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    When I know I'm going to be reviewing a movie I never read other reviews, so I can come my own opinions with fresh eyes. But after I've written and sent in my piece I do like to get an idea of what other critics are saying - a check to see if I've strayed from critical orthodoxy, if you will.

    To my surprise I enjoyed Mr. Brooks because it stayed away from so many tired cliches of serial killing in films and novels. Mr. Brooks doesn't have a dank dungeon where he salivates over his conquests; he wasn't (as far as we know) abused as a child and he doesn't irrationally hate women. This isn't a perfect movie. We didn't need to spend so much time on the divorce of Demi Moore's character and I'm not sure whether the performance of Dane Cook was good acting or art imitating life.

    Critics are split down the middle on Mr. Brooks, it has a 54% score on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. I'm wondering if I gave too much weight to the original (if a tad unlikely) premise and not enough to how the story was told.

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    David Fincher

    After mentioning Alien 3 and getting some comments in an earlier post, I came upon this appraisal of its director David Fincher. It's by David Thomson in The Guardian.

    At the same time, Alien3 was wickedly brimming over with cinematic energy, and an increasing sympathy for the great monster of the series. But it shaved Sigourney's head, and the film stock itself seemed to have been processed in a mixture of formalin and urine. It was a prison colony film where young Mr Fincher could scarcely restrain his enthusiasm for the metaphor. And he was allowed to send Ripley to her death, as if closing out every hope for the series.

    The face on the poster

    Seth Rogen (Globe and Mail)

    Peter Cowie

    Good interview with writer & film historian Peter Cowie. Cowie's new book is a history of the explosion of world cinema in the 1960's. (Greencine Daily)

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    You didn't want....

    ...the presidential straw poll, so it's gone.

    This is terrific....

    The Charlie Rose website now has a big archive of old shows available. Here's an episode from last December with Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in conversation. It's great stuff, and the friendship these guys share really comes through.

    Musical interlude (Jeff Tweedy)

    Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs the Uncle Tupelo song "Acuff-Rose." This performance can be found on the bonus DVD of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    I've been thinking

    I don't know why I've been so low on blogging ideas the last couple of days, but I kept up the pace pretty well before that. I have been thinking about Guillermo del Toro since I watched The Devil's Backbone earlier this week. Wouldn't it be interesting if.....

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    del Toro tried to resurrect....

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    the Alien movies? The real ones, with Sigourney Weaver, not the vs. Predator nonsense.