Friday, July 30, 2010

Winter's Bone


When considering a film, book, or play one of the strongest selling points for me is the unfamiliar. Are we going somewhere new? Have we met characters like this before, or do the situations or themes feel recycled? By these standards Debra Granik's Winter's Bone must be counted a huge success, and the Sundance prize-winner doesn't have serious competition to date as my choice for the best film of 2010. Winter's Bone doesn't open our horizons so much as make us look over our shoulder or cause us to slow down a little next time we pass a turnoff that leads to a neighborhood we don't frequent. Setting a film inside a closed society, a world with its own largely unspoken customs and strictures, is no light work; just ask most of the directors who have made Middle East-set movies in the last decade. Winter's Bone takes the audience to a deeply scary place that's also unsettlingly close to home.

Ree Dolly, played by an exceptional Jennifer Lawrence, is a 17-year old charged with the care of her two younger siblings and mentally ravaged mother on the family's small property in the Missouri Ozarks. Ree's world is one of deep woods and dirt roads, there's almost no modernity in the film other than brief scenes at a high school and a livestock auction. Ree's father Jessup is notoriously involved in the production of meth, which is the secret economy that gives many of Ree's neighbors and relatives some small standard of living. When Ree is visited by a cop (Garret Dillahunt) and told that Jessup has put his family's house up as bond after an arrest, her choices are clear. If Ree can't find her father and make him show up for trial in a few days, the family will lose its home. Ree's only ally is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), who is seething at the prospect of what may have happened to his brother but is just as caught up in the game. Ree's journey is a series of encounters in which she is told with increasing violence to give up. Chief among her antagonists is Merab (Dale Dickey), wife of the local kingpin and leader of a gang of frightening women who will brook no threat to their way of life.

In a late scene Ree tells Dillahunt's cop that she doesn't talk about the activities of men, and who can blame her? The options for Ree are all too clear: she can become subsumed by the culture of drugs and secrecy like Merab or fight the small fights to ensure a future for her family. Ree furiously teaches her brother and sister what she can about survival, from the preparation of squirrel to how to shoot a gun. Ree harbors dreams of joining the army but her responsibilities weigh her down; perhaps the scariest thing about Winter's Bone isn't the resolution to the mystery of what's become of Jessup but the way that Ree is forced to accept it. Jennifer Lawrence gives a searing breakout performance as Ree. Neither Lawrence nor the rest of the cast (Hawkes is also superb) makes the mistake of playing these characters as hicks. Look past the accents and the music; it takes plenty of innate intelligence to survive in Ree's world and dreaming of something more is the harder choice. Winter's Bone feels grounded in its setting "bread and butter," to steal Ree's phrase. It's an classic American story of dreams, hard work, and doing what it takes, but it's all the more important for offering no assurances that those things will matter at all.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Franco

This long profile of James Franco spends too much time being cute about what Franco's obsessive grad schooling means, though I'm not sure Franco explaining it would have been any better. There's an implicit association of grad school and effeminacy that isn't worth discussing. (NY Mag/HTV)

When Franco mentioned to me, via e-mail, that he was leaning toward going to Yale for his Ph.D., the faculty member he singled out was Michael Warner. Warner happens to be one of the pioneers of queer theory, a school of thought born in the early nineties (just as Franco was hitting adolescence) that argues that sexuality is not a trivial, personal matter but fundamental to how we all experience the world. “Queer,” in this sense, transcends the simplistic binary of gay versus straight. As Warner puts it in his canonical anthology Fear of a Queer Planet, queer defines itself “against the normal rather than the heterosexual.” Thinking about sexuality—particularly exposing the assumptions embedded in heteronormative culture—is a form of radical social critique, a way to challenge arbitrary boundaries and institutions.



Which is, of course, basically a description of Franco’s current career: He’s systematically challenging mass-cultural norms. Franco, you might say, is queering celebrity: erasing the border not just between gay and straight but between actor and artist, heartthrob and intellectual, junk TV and art museum. His obvious relish for gay roles challenges the default heterosexuality of Hollywood leading men like Clooney or Pitt. He seems more interested in fluidity, in every sense, than in a fixed identity. As a commenter on the website Queerty put it: “He’s the World’s Gayest Heterosexual!” But he’s also the world’s most heterosexual gay, the world’s highest lowbrow, and the world’s most ironic earnest guy. It is also possible that he’s just engaged in the world’s most public, and confused, coming-out process.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Clothes makes the (wo)man


So there's a (very) minor Internet flap about the clothes Ellen Page wore in Inception. Did you find them too "asexual" and "boyish"? A much bigger problem is the fact that Page's Inception character is merely a piece of script machinery, Nolan's not-too-subtle way of drawing exposition out of Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb. Page's look was accurate enough for a film that's not concerned with how its characters dress (the wardrobe changes with every new dream locale), but Page and Marion Cotillard are two opposite poles with nothing in between. Page's Ariadne is a might-as-well-have-been-a-boy sidekick while Cotillard's Mal (as we see her) starts and finishes as an emotionally ravenous soul-sucker, and that's it for the ladies in Inception.

I thought we'd moved on from the days where women had to wear dresses, and men had to wear suits and hats. Perhaps if Page's wardrobe was straight out a men's store -- with a bowler hat, short hair, and head-to-toe masculine clothing -- there would be some basis to link the look to little boys. But as it stands, not one of these outfits are traditionally masculine. They're simply comfortable, slightly ill-fitting, and not perfectly coiffed -- just like many women her age and older who go by their own sense of fashion. I'd love to see any male star get away with wearing Page's wardrobe -- low-heeled shoes, pops of color under blouses, and tank tops over long-sleeved shirts.

Are we all just masochists secretly wanting to punish ourselves? Just think of all the signifiers Hollywood uses to code an actor as ugly or schlumpy. They're given glasses, ponytails, baggy clothing, earth tones, and flat shoes -- all things that we don't negatively categorize in real life. Our reality is what Hollywood considers ugly these days, and we follow along as masochistic moviegoers, eager to deride our very way of life.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Julia Stiles? Still here.....


Checking in with Julia Stiles, who has quietly gone from budding starlet to producer, editor, college grad, and (still) actress. The next act should be worth watching. (NYT)

Ms. Stiles, though, has been nothing if not busy. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature. She starred in David Mamet’s play “Oleanna,” both in Los Angeles and on Broadway (and earlier in London). She directed a short film, called “Raving,” collaborated with Neil LaBute onstage and on film, and dabbled in online video, including teaming up with the comedy troupe the Vacationeers and editing music videos for indie musicians like M. Ward and the band papercranes. She is now shooting 10 episodes of “Dexter,” her first major foray into television. Most ambitious of all, she’s become a producer, striving to adapt “The Bell Jar,” the autobiographical novel by the poet Sylvia Plath, into a feature film.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My one piece of Comic Con coverage....


NP has been in San Diego talking Thor with costar Kat Dennings and plenty of others. Here's an account of all things Marvel.(Speakeasy)

Portman said she was excited to play a female scientist atypical for movies — “a real, frazzled, down-to-earth, grounded kind of character,” instead of one with “sexy cleavage and glasses.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Salt


The words "Angelina Jolie" and "action movie" conjure images of the skintight outfits and outlandish stunts of the Tomb Raider films or maybe the extracurricular hype about Jolie's personal life that attended Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Salt turns out to be something else, an old-fashioned, Cold War-era thriller that hasn't been edited to within an inch of its life for once and a chance for Jolie to remind us why we liked her in the first place. Jolie's role as American superspy Evelyn Salt is tricky, requiring her to balance the competing agendas of two countries without giving her true allegiance away to either her pursuers or the audience. While it would be easy to dismiss Jolie's work as a walk-through while cars crash and bullets fly all around her, the control she exhibits here is a choice in itself and one that deprives key information from the audience until the final moments.

After a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) reveals that the President of Russia will be assassinated on American soil and that the assassin is named Salt, Evelyn must go on the run. The stunts are the movie's biggest selling point and director Phillip Noyce gives them center stage; watch Jolie scramble around the outside of an apartment building and leap between moving trucks. Noyce pulls back and lets the numerous chase scenes take place in space; we always know where Evelyn is and what she has had to do to get there. Salt plays on a paranoia so old that Tom Clancy would reject it as too hackneyed. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Russian sleeper agents in this country waiting for the right moment to strike against America. We only get brief images of the training the sleepers receive but it's enough. The Soviet Union may be history but it seems Russia is still gunning for the American way of life. I did see the climactic revelation of Salt coming and you probably will too, but there's enough pleasure in getting there that I didn't mind. Salt has plenty of personal motivation for her actions in the film and the ending leaves room for the character's story to be continued. I'd love to see Jolie reprise this role and fight the next battle in Salt's private war.

Reading Is Fun(damental)

There is nothing wrong with a good mystery novel in the summer (or at any other time), and I recommend The Long Fall by Walter Mosley if you haven't read it. This post makes me glad I don't live where people are so cutting about each other's book choices. (Constant Conversation)

But sometimes you don’t want to read a history of antisemitism in Great Britain or a memoir of a gay soldier or of the importance of the Talmud in the formation of modern republics (!?). No matter how well they’re written. Sometimes you want spies and sex and murder and, well, sometimes you want some good filthy fun.

Like Philip Kerr.


As I made my recommendations to the woman (There are new Parker novels out! Every Man Dies Alone!), the man, her husband, sidled closer and closer, and finally joins the conversation. The books are for him, but he was too shy to ask. An extreme example, but true. Now that we’re finally talking, he refers to his new-found (or so he’d have me believe) penchant for what he calls “page-turners” a bit sheepishly. His wife called it “that thing you’re doing that I’m not doing” before retreating to the poetry section

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cyrus


It isn't hard to believe that single mom Molly (Marisa Tomei) would join in a drunken singalong of "Don't You Want Me" to bail out John (John C. Reilly) at a party, but it's maybe a little more of a stretch to imagine Molly and John falling for each other. John, whom Riley plays with a winning befuddled quality, is a freelance editor stunned by the impending marriage of his seven years gone ex-wife (Catherine Keener). John and Molly getting together isn't as hard to believe as Cyrus being the first film in which Jonah Hill actually plays a character. Hill is Cyrus, Molly's 21-year old live-in son. Cyrus reveals his true intentions fairly quickly after a couple of benign scenes; this emotionally stunted boy-man wants to bounce John and stay the focus of his mother's attention. The bulk of Cyrus is the dance between John and Cyrus, culminating with an ill-timed brawl that threatens John's budding relationship.

Jonah Hill's comic persona has served him well in Judd Apatow comedies, but the role of Cyrus requires the use of different muscles. Cyrus, who composes blandly serious synth-pop, has been the focus of Molly's attention for over twenty years and isn't ready to give up the spotlight. The idea that Cyrus is the one blind spot for the flinty and self-aware Molly works thanks to Tomei; and I almost hate to say it but Hill's size is right for the role. Cyrus isn't fully formed yet, his immaturity is actually a little scary and Hill hits every note. I wanted to see Cyrus make his last stand against John, but everyone has to be nice to each other at the end and that's where things get fuzzy. Until then Cyrus is a tart pleasure thanks to its cast, despite the fact that it isn't interesting to look at and doesn't ask enough of its female leads (especially Keener). In a summer where big budgets equal blahs, Cyrus is a welcome bass note that uses its cast well.

Slow growing

What is going on with Terrence Malick's Tree of Life? An update: (via @mattzollerseitz)

The question now — aside from whether or not the film will live up to people’s high expectations — is how the aforementioned developments might impact its prospects for awards attention. On the one hand, the people who remain at Apparition can now give the film their undivided attention; on the other hand, the place is obviously in serious financial trouble, which makes one wonder just how strong of a send-off they’re actually going to be able to give it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You've got the look


This is what NP looks like in Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's ballet thriller out later this year. USA Today story here.

Authenticity was key. Says Portman: "I took ballet until I was 13. I had always hoped to do a dance film. It is the most emotional form of expression." She started training six months before shooting with a veteran of the New York City Ballet and also did toning and swimming exercises to attain a dancer's form.

Aronofsky is proud of Portman's achievement. "Most of these women who are here started dancing when they were 4, 5 or 6 years old. Their bodies are shaped differently because they started so young. She was able to pull it off. Except for the wide shots when she has to be en pointe for a real long time, it's Natalie on screen. I haven't used her double a lot."

Despicable Me


If I had had the chance I probably should have seen Despicable Me in 3D, since there are so clearly moments in the film designed to be shared by parent and child as a 3D experience. A roller coaster ride shared by Gru (Steve Carell) and the three orphans who eventually become his family would be an ideal first 3D moment for the members of a generation that may have to watch movies in 3D whether they want to or not. Despicable Me works just fine the old-fashioned way though; Carell is agreeably silly and the supporting cast (Kristen Wiig, Jason Segel, and Russell Brand stand out) doesn't work too hard to provide additional laughs. Refreshingly free of irony and pop-culture references, the story (would-be villain Gru has his heart melted by three orphan girls) feels like it's taking place in a children's picture book as opposed to a sharply defined and expensive animated world. I wish the succession of animated previews I'd seen beforehand had looked as appetizing, but Despicable Me does a great deal by not trying to do too much.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Amazon as gatekeeper

The quiet, subtle ways that Amazon limits choices....(Nation)

Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice. But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception (spoilers!)


The world of Christopher Nolan's Inception is at first glance a few degrees closer to our own than the murky, stylized vision of Gotham City that Nolan brought to the Batman films. Inception takes place in a not-too-distant future where the technology exists for shared dreaming, a sort of communal mind trip that is bewitching participants for hours on end in third world countries. Who else participates in shared dreaming? In this bleak Hollywood summer, maybe studio executives should do more of it. We're never told who developed the technology or why, and Nolan obviously isn't interested. Underneath the trippy visuals and multiple plotlines Nolan is after something much pulpier and less complicated.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team orchestrate and then plunder the dreams of others in search of corporate secrets; another thing we never know is who Cobb works for. The team is hired by an energy tycoon named Saito (Ken Wantanabe) to infiltrate the mind of Fisher,a rival (Cillian Murphy), and persuade him to break up his company. "Inception" is the name given to the dicey technique of planting an idea in a subject's subconscious. The job requires travel through multiple levels of Fisher's dreams, with rules and limitations explained in great detail. If Cobb is successful Saito can reunite him with his children; Cobb has been on the run since being wrongly implicated in the suicide of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard in an impossible role), who has the annoying habit of popping up in dreams as a projection of Cobb's subconscious. To buy into Inception one must not only follow the rules that Nolan lays out but also forget our modern understanding of dreams. The dreams in Inception aren't a collection of metaphorically represented desires or buried traumas, but rather carefully designed worlds through which Cobb can lead his subjects to a key piece of information. Cobb's subconscious keeps bursting in; he keeps seeing Mal and his children. But no one else on Cobb's crew must have any issues, because we don't see any clowns chasing his sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) or a spider menacing his architect Ariadne (Ellen Page). Ariadne designs the dream worlds and functions as the audience's surrogate. She asks plenty of questions and extracts a good deal of exposition from Cobb, who is screwed up in ways no one else seems to have noticed. Page brings her intelligence and considerable charm to bear on the role but Ariadne is a cog, designed to articulate what's at stake and provide insight into Cobb that the movie doesn't have time to explain through dramatic action.

There are truly arresting images in Inception: Page and DiCaprio sit in a cafe as books and vegetables explode around them; Cobb and his team, still dreaming, plummet slowly backwards as their van heads for the water. My favorite was a footbridge that assembled itself before Ariadne, since she's the one character in the film that's good at something that the audience can understand. Let's return to that van, since its fall off a bridge (after a chase away from gunmen "defending" Fisher's subconscious) takes up what feels like a good portion of the movie's last act. The difference between dream time and real time is discussed at length, but again not clearly dramatized. We're told Ariadne has been asleep for five minutes, but to her it feels like an hour and in fact it's somewhere in between. With the action ping-ponging between three different settings, Nolan captures that slowly building feeling of dread as a dream spins out of control. To what end? Without giving too much away, Inception really isn't a movie about dreams one has while asleep but about the dreams we construct while awake. The key image of the movie is a dollhouse with a child's top spinning inside. The dream world of Mal's marriage wasn't enough for her, and Cobb's guilt over that fact motivates everything that happens afterwards.

Inception is Christopher Nolan's third science-fiction film about a haunted man after The Prestige and Memento. While Nolan's imagination has gotten bigger his thematic concerns haven't. Those looking for the the easy revenge fantasies of the Batman films will be disappointed, but so might those who were expecting something more than a sentimental love story.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Like Magic, Ironically

Penn & Teller are doing quite well for themselves thanks, and behind all the jokes the excitement remains. (Telegraph)

“Doing beautiful things is its own reward,” he says, when I ask what enjoyment he can still derive from a trick he has pulled off many thousands of times before. “If you do something that you’re proud of, that someone else understands, that is a thing of beauty that wasn’t there before – you can’t beat that.” He gulps suddenly, like a snake trying to swallow an egg, and when he speaks again his voice has a wobble to it.

“There is that great line in Sunday in the Park with George,” he says, referring to Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 musical about Georges Seurat, “ 'Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat’.” He falls silent again and, as unexpectedly as those coins turn to fish, big fat tears start rolling down his cheeks. “I can’t say that line without choking up, because it states, in profoundly poetic terms, what I have always wanted to do with my life. It’s so simple and so funny, but boy it hits me deep.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes


Without having seen the competition I'm not at all bothered by the Argentinian crime drama The Secret In Their Eyes winning last year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Director Juan Jose Campanella's camera doesn't stray very far from the faces of his two leads; Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) clerks in a Buenos Aires judge's office where his duties seem to include shepherding cases to their conclusion without actually going to court. In 1974 Esposito is instantly smitten with his new boss, the wealthy and connected Irene (Soledad Villamil), who regards Esposito and his drunken colleague Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) with bemused exasperation. Although Secret has a furiously beating romantic heart it's also a procedural, and there's some fun, edgy banter between Esposito and his colleagues over workloads and personalities in the opening scenes that feels completely natural. Campanella and his actors have created a fully realized world.

Reality intrudes into Esposito's ordered existence when his office must deal with the brutal rape and murder of a young woman. The action unfolds in two time frames: the 1970's investigation and 1999, when a retired Esposito reconnects with Irene and begins to turn the events of the case into a novel. The plot of The Secret In Their Eyes is twisty and surprising; in fact the last twist could arguably be one too many. Ricardo Darin as Esposito is marvelous as a man surprised by his need for justice and simultaneously stupefied by love for the radiant Irene. Villamil gives Irene a warmth that hardens to anger at the right moments, but the grand, showy role goes to Francella as Sandoval. Paul Giamatti, call your agent. If Secret ever gets an American remake he's ideal casting for the role of a man whose talents can't keep up with his baser appetites.

Campanella loves intimate scenes between his characters, even the interrogation of a suspect turns personal and sexual. Yet he can also pull off the bigger stuff, a chase at a soccer match incorporates both handheld cameras an visual effects. Why can't Hollywood films contain such diversities of scale? It would be easy to write a pat, dismissive sentence about Hollywood summer fare when confronted with the humanity and easy skill of The Secret In Their Eyes. Instead I'll remember Villamil's smile and won't think about The A-Team at all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rickie Lee Jones - "Young Blood"



From 2007; I've been digging the live version on her Naked Songs album.

Bad news for people who love....

What if you finally see a band everyone has told you is good, and they aren't? I can't imagine ever voluntarily going to see Modest Mouse live, and apparently I shouldn't. (The Atlantic)

Brock, like David Byrne or Ric Ocasek, seems uncomfortable with the inherent imperfections of performing live. He was visibly distracted, if not outright pissed, by the ongoing tech problems. He took it out on his own songs, too, screaming more than he sang, replacing that ethereal tenor-alto with rasp and a rolling epiglottis. His stage presence was aloof at best. At one point, he even remarked how he "hates this stage-banter shit," as though it were news.

Brock and the band also seemed flat-out disdainful of anything that smacked of rock showmanship. Even late in the show, when momentum should have been building, they took long breaks between songs. Standing around, noodling their instruments, they let absolutely nothing happen on stage. There were no band intros or pre-song patter, no audience chit-chat or call-and-response, and you could feel the crowd's excitement draining with every second of dead air.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eclipse


Do I risk my credibility by saying that Eclipse is an entertaining movie? While it's no less ridiculous than the first two Twilight installments, Eclipse rises from the torpor of New Moon thanks to an action-heavy plotline and a welcome dose of humor. Attention must be paid to director David Slade, who made a psychotic Ellen Page sympathetic in Hard Candy and has no patience for the moony, soulful gazing-into-eyes that took up way too much time in the first two films. I don't know if it's thanks to Slade, but Kristin Stewart wakes up here and while Eclipse doesn't bring her to the heights of Adventureland, Stewart's Bella is a much more spunky and appealing creation this time out.

If only Bella weren't hurtling so fast towards the effacement of her own identity. Despite the protests of everyone from Edward (Robert Pattinson) on down Bella is determined that Edward "change" her into a vampire after her high school graduation. The greatest benefit of Eclipse for those ignorant of the Twilight novels (like me) is to develop more of the Cullen clan and put Bella is risking into perspective. Rosalie (Nikki Reed) and the rest of the Cullens each have found some measure of peace within the coven but all carry with them a memory of their human lives and what was lost. Edward has no real desire to change Bella but the stronger argument for Bella's humanity comes from Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the shirtless werewolf with the big heart who proclaims his love in the middle of preparing for a siege from Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) and an army of "new bloods" (undisciplined new vampires). Lautner's physical transformation has gotten plenty of attention since Twilight but the films wouldn't work without his growth in confidence as an actor. Lautner's way with a sly joke (the "I am hotter than you" line is priceless) will serve him well in years to come and helps keep things on a human (so to speak) level.

Eclipse rises to the level of pop opera in its last act, as the Cullens meet the new bloods with a little assist from the werewolves and Edward and Victoria battle on a frozen cliff. I haven't the faintest idea what the two part finale Breaking Dawn will hold, but since Edward and Bella have to get on with getting down it feels appropriate that Eclipse ends with the dismissal of lurking enemies...with the exception of the Volturi, the effete vampire royalty led by Dakota Fanning. Fanning is still the only actor in the series who convinces me she's not human, but she doesn't get enough screen time to compete with all the barely repressed passion on display. There is plenty in Eclipse to induce swoons like those I heard from the young ladies behind me; for the rest of us there are enough thrills to make Eclipse a (mostly) guilt-free summer pleasure.

Friday, July 09, 2010

For Rent: In The Electric Mist


For Dave Robicheaux, the recovering alcoholic cop at the center of James Lee Burke's novels, life is a roiling gumbo pot in which long-buried secrets simmer around, above, and below life in present-day Louisiana. That's certainly true in In The Electric Mist, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, an humid adaptation of one of the earliest books in the series. Robicheaux (previously played by Alec Baldwin in this) is played Tommy Lee Jones, who may be a shade too old for the role but who is an ideal choice to play a man with a heavy weight on his shoulders. Jones doesn't overplay Dave's demons and is right at home in the movie's fetid, close atmosphere. There's plenty for Robicheaux to do: a movie production nearby leads to Dave's encounter with a drunken celebrity (Peter Sarsgaard), the murder of a prostitute puts him in the way of a childhood friend turned pimp (John Goodman), and 40-year old remains found in a swamp bring up memories of a traumatic event from Dave's past. Jones only seems a little baffled during a scene in which Dave hallucinates a conversation with a Confederate General (Levon Helm). Burke's novels are as much about Dave's soul as they are about police procedure, and Tavernier honors the source material by cutting abruptly between scenes; the energy of the editing gives Jones's performance a harried edge and nicely dovetails with Dave's jagged psyche. An eclectic cast (John Sayles, Buddy Guy) adds color and there's great character work from Ned Beatty and James Gammon. If the resolutions to the various plotlines are a little underwhelming, that's because (as one character says), "This is still the state of Louisiana."

Own terms


Keeping it light on a Friday, what's new in the world of celebrity profiles? I've been trying to keep my mind clear of Inception stuff so I can see the movie with no expectations or preconceptions. This interview with Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a charmer though, both for how unaffected the two are and for what it says about actors of their caliber doing work in multimillion dollar films. Each proposes a sort of counterlife to the Hollywood factory; Gordon-Levitt is an advocate of the democratizing power of technology while Page takes a more analog, one-film-at-a-time view.

Gordon-Levitt gave a hearty laugh and nodded in agreement. He has a number of film projects lined up, including “an untitled cancer comedy” with Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick, but he says as technology shifts he isn't sure that his future will be defined by major-studio feature films. He runs a production company called HitRecord.org that is an open collaborative effort -- people around the Internet contribute images, music or ideas for a final product that is as much a tapestry of its audience as it is a mural by its makers. For example, he said, a documentary filmmaker might post a message that they need a visual that represents poverty, and around the Internet the audience would submit video, animation or some blend of both that would become that part of the movie.


Far more bizarre is this conversation between Zach Galifianakis and Megan Fox in Interview. This isn't the first thing I've read about Fox where her refusal to play the young starlet role becomes a kind of weird metaperformance in itself, and here she freely admits to making up things in earlier interviews because that is what's expected. The interview is conducted via cell phone, and it perhaps unintentionally becomes (with Galifianakis providing an overly detailed account of his movements) a send-up of one of those journalist-as-star Esquire pieces. The high fashion shots of Fox interacting with a mannequin designed to look like her are unusually apt given the interview's focus on private v. public life. (Hero Complex/Interview)

Cloud Atlas returns


I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but there's again talk of NP being one of a stout ensemble that Tom Tykwer is assembling for an adaptation of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Here's what I posted in February of '09 and here's a review of Mitchell's latest book that gets into some detail about Cloud Atlas. (Film Stage/New Yorker/photo by Hedi Slimane)

Acclaimed German filmmaker Tom Tykwer is currently working on his script adaptation of David Mitchell‘s popular novel Cloud Atlas, a project with six main characters that spans thousands of years and several different genres. Ambitious to say the least, it only makes sense that Tykwer is going after some of the best talent Hollywood currently has, as The Playlist reports that roles in the film were recently offered to Tom Hanks (Toy Story 3), Natalie Portman (Brothers), Halle Berry, James McAvoy, and Ian McKellan.

Tykwer, who directed the kinetic action movie Run Lola Run and, most recently, helmed The International, has always had a taste for the unusual. Although his casting aspirations may seem like an array of random Hollywood stars, some may recall that Portman appeared in Tykwer‘s contribution to Paris, je t’aime. (He helmed the “Faubourg Saint-Denis” segment.)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dept. of Deserving


Sorry I've been away, but there's a show opening this week and you know how it is. Despite my best efforts I don't think Billy Wagner is going to make it for the last NL All-Star spot, but I'm not as upset about it after reading this about veteran relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes of the Reds. (I'll settle for the Braves being in 1st anyway.) What might have been...... (Scocca)

But working mostly in the middle and as a setup guy, Rhodes has 65 wins in relief, a .607 winning percentage, and 232 holds. You have to go deep into the stats to get those numbers, but there they are. Arthur Rhodes gets his job done, and he has been getting his job done for a long, long time.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sunday Music: The Decemberists - "July, July!"



Happy July 4th to all. Please don't infer anything from my choice of song this week, I've merely chosen to celebrate July 4th as height of summer as opposed to patriotic holiday.....

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Other Side of Town: Friday Night Lights


This season's Friday Night Lights has expanded the universe of Dillon, Texas and become a much richer and deeper show than it was before - and that's saying something. At the end of season 3 Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) fell victim to redistricting and to the pressure applied by the wealthy father of the school's up-and-coming quarterback. Taylor is forced out of Dillon High and becomes coach of the newly reopened East Dillon, school for the city's predominantly African-American lower to lower middle class population. There's no money and no tradition and almost no team; Taylor is forced to forfeit the first game at halftime because he's afraid his shorthanded team will be physically overrun. The Lions (who still don't seem to have many players) have slowly become a team and recorded their first win last week, thanks mostly to quarterback Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), running back Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria), and ex-Dillon Panther and series stalwart Landry Clark (the wonderfully understated Jesse Plemons).

Race and class are now at the forefront of Friday Night Lights; when Eric was at Dillon there was a reliable network of boosters to depend on but the economically deprived East Dillon program must get what it needs from the community. I'd argue that Friday Night Lights might be the closest network TV can come to depicting a community with the layers and complexity of Deadwood. There's a wonderful scene in which Eric has invited East Dillon leaders with roots in the school's distant football history over for dinner. The conversation flows awkwardly until the arrival of Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), Eric's former Dillon ally and occasional tempter. It's a pleasant surprise to find out that Buddy (who had divorced himself from the increasingly ugly Dillon boosters) is more than just a car dealer to Dillon's wealthy, he's a man of the people and liberal in his friendships. Well known to the East Dillon group, Buddy is warmly welcomed and uses his charm to line up support for the budding Lions program. Leland's performance suggests a lifetime of Buddy's pancake breakfasts and Rotary Club meetings; the character is one of TV's greatest Middle Americans.

Tonight's episode, "The Lights of Carrol Park", deals with race more explicitly and had me worried at the start. Eric, looking a for a truant player, wanders into an underlit and dangerous East Dillon park at night. Shots ring out, and a young boy is wounded while Eric looks on. Eric's determination to restore proper lighting to the park at first feels like the most inappropriate do-gooderism. He's still being greeted with suspicion in some quarters because of his methods and the Lions' slow start. Eric finds an unexpected ally in Vernon Merriwether (Steve Harris, who gets something to do for the first time on the show.) Vernon, a successful barbecue joint owner, is part of the first generation of Lions football and suspicious of the enthusiasm Eric is trying to generate. Vernon reveals his doubts about two white men turning East Dillon around in a refreshingly honest scene with Buddy, but he provides an introduction to an anti-gang activist (Larry Gilyard, Jr. aka D'Angelo Barksdale) which leads to a fund raising touch football game between the Lions and what appears to be part of East Dillon's criminal element. What could have been a working out of liberal guilt turns into to something hopeful, complicated, and unresolved, since star player Vince is still trying to escape the life that's lining up across from him in the touch game.

This season of Friday Night Lights has already aired on Direct TV. I can only assume there's a game between Dillon and East Dillon coming that will end the season on a competitive note, but the slow courtship between Eric and East Dillon has been the show's real heart. By so lovingly offering its small slice of America, Friday Night Lights remains one of TV's biggest shows.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Yes, and.....

I think the full article may only be available to subscribers, but the New Yorker profile of Steve Carell in the 7/5 issue is worth reading both for fans of the actor and those with a finer appreciation of the way Hollywood is making comedy nowadays. Carell is depicted as making substantial contributions to his upcoming film Dinner for Schmucks through improvisation; it's apparently becoming more and more common for comedies to rely on improvised lines and a sort of communal writing process in which large numbers of writers are invited to give notes, ideas, etc. as a script gets developed. We learn what makes good improv, and how Carell's process was shaped by roots in Second City and the Chicago comedy scene. To top it all off, the star seems a genuinely good fellow. Pick up the article if you get a chance.