Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Maybe he wants to get closer to Mrs. Featherbottom

Bonnie Hunt, whom I adore, is writing a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. What could possibly happen? Why would the Robin Williams character need to re-don the Scottish drag? Perhaps Scotland Yard needs him to infiltrate a nursing home to wiretap the phone in room 212, where a notorious crime lord is spending the autumn of his life. Now it's your turn. What could possibly be the premise of Mrs. Doubtfire 2?

Monday, December 19, 2005

I just got around to Mad Hot Ballroom...

...and it's shockingly bland. Kids saying the darndest things does not make a documentary. I know they're only 10, but they're just grabassing while being reprimanded by teachers who wield their power with an iciness hardened no doubt by a crumbled dancing career ("...and those who can't teach gym teach ballroom dancing"). The film builds to a citywide competition. One team wins, the rest dissolve into tears. Then the film ends. In life, there are winners and losers, OK 10-year-old dancers and not-so-OK 10-year-old dancers. In the end, we all die. This is perhaps my worst post ever -- such a harmless film doesn't deserve the vitriol -- but I'm angry for spending 100 minutes watching New Yorkers' tax dollars spiral down the shitter. Oh, the rumba saved Johnny from a life of crime? Please. The only thing it saved him from was math class.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Stoners, Transsexuals, Dreamers

1. The Family Stone sucks.

2. Transamerica doesn't. It's simpler, shallower, and funnier than you'd think. Felicity Huffman deserves the plaudits -- the role of Bree Osborne is an actor's dream: Huffman, a woman, plays a man who is becoming a fully transgendered woman. Fine. One question: Why wasn't a biological male cast? The Weinstein Co. was "brave" enough to commission the film, but not brave enough to cast it with a transgendered actor? I guess we can fall back on the "gender is a construct" argument. Why shouldn't a biological woman play the part of a biological man living as a woman? But part of me thinks about that transgendered female actor out there who could've made a mark with this once-in-a-lifetime role. Ah well. The movie is cute without being maudlin or depressing, and Huffman is expert enough to keep the whole operation classy. (And Fionnula Flanagan, Elizabeth Peña, Graham Greene, and Burt Young are in it!)

3. The premise of American Dreamz seems better than the trailer, so here's hoping. If there's any two things worth skewering, it's the U.S. government's image and the culture of "American Idol."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Heaving bosom versus kvetching cad

Today the academy released the, uh, disparate list of 42 tracks eligible to be nominated for the best song Oscar. I hate this category. [Let's go back to 2004, when Annie Lennox's "Into the West" won over Micheal McKean and Annette O'Toole's "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow." "West" played over the end credits of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. "Kiss" was an integral part of A Mighty Wind; indeed, it provided one of the year's great memories -- Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, excavating an old romance as aged folk singers. They did their own singing and playing, of course, and performed at the Oscars in character. And it's a beautiful song. This was the perfect opportunity to honor a deserving song from a movie about music, plus give an Oscar to a respected industry couple. But the Oscar went to exit music. This has happened countless times.]

Anyway, if anything, there should be an original song score Oscar, given to the composer of a set of songs for, say, an original movie musical (like A Mighty Wind). But whatever. The academy needs five hip artists to draw music lovers to the telecast (even though eradicating the category would shave 30 minutes off the show, thereby retaining more viewers). Here are the five I expect to be nominated, none of which are very hip:

"Dicholo," The Constant Gardener (performed by Oyub Ogada)
"Hustle & Flow (It Ain't Over)," Hustle & Flow (performed by Terrence Howard)
"In the Deep," Crash (by Bird York)
"There's Nothing Like a Show on Broadway," The Producers (by Mel Brooks)
"Travelin' Thru," Transamerica (by Dolly Parton)

It'll be Mel (who won a screenplay Oscar for the original Producers) against Dolly (whose last song nomination was in 1981).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Three thoughts on the Globes

1. In case it's not apparent year after year, the Golden Globes is a silly exercise, providing categories for both drama and comedy films and performances but not for their directors or supporting actors or screenwriters. So there was the usual shafting (no Cronenberg or Frears despite best pic nominations for A History of Violence and Mrs. Henderson Presents), plus the usual ridiculous inclusions prompted by a lukewarm movie year (Sarah Jessica Parker is terrible in The Family Stone, and must we always include Johnny Depp?), plus the genre juggling to fit everyone in (if The Squid and the Whale is a comedy, then the Hollywood Foreign Press is an association of sadists). Everyone better be good and liquored up for the ceremony so we can have some good TV.

2. This is the year of Clooney. George is nominated for directing and writing Good Night, and Good Luck and supporting actor for Syriana -- identical (and deserved) Oscar nominations will follow, which would make him, I think, the first person ever to be nominated for both a performance and direction (for different movies) in the same year. Correct me if I'm wrong.

3. Brokeback Mountain, which continued its awards-season dominance yesterday with a best pic/director/actor trifecta from the New York critics, has a leading seven nominations, including one for best song, which I didn't know it had (further evidence this category should be eradicated across the board). Some might say there is plenty of time for Brokeback to lose momentum (Oscars are conferred March 5), but what film would take its place? ... You see? It played in five screens last weekend and made a half million dollars total, a phenomenal ratio. And when it opens wide this weekend, it'll hit the mother lode. Glowing reviews, stellar box office, no Million Dollar Baby type in sight -- looks virtually unbeatable from here.

P.S. Zero nominations for "Arrested Development" in the TV categories. You're telling me that Charlie Sheen is doing better work than Jason Bateman, whose sublime performance on "AD" should be starmaking? I'm done trying to figure this out.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Boston throws Giamatti in the ring

Paul Giamatti, to whom Oscar is allergic, has his first notice of the year -- for supporting actor in Cinderella Man. The Boston critics have seconded Brokeback for picture/director, and Capote for actor, supporting actress, and screenplay. Again, what's the deal with Keener? She has no good scenes or lines. Perhaps she is being feted for her camouflage technique. Baffling. Also, welcome Witherspoon.

L.A. crix push Vera into mix

Start your engines. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced its awards yesterday (click on the post title for the list), and the big splash is the naming of Vera Farmiga (left) as best actress for Down to the Bone. I've never heard of her or the film, and no prognosticator has tossed about her name, but she is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, so this isn't completely out of the blue. Otherwise, Brokeback Mountain has the early mandate, with best picture and director and a runner-up award for Heath Ledger (behind PSH). Catherine Keener grabbed supporting actress via that critics awards loophole: she had four movies out this year, so she won for omnipresence -- Capote (a minimal, crap role), The Ballad of Jack & Rose (haven't seen it), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (not bad), and The Interpreter (a throwaway role). Don't get me wrong, I love Keener, but come on. Where were the awards for Lovely & Amazing, when she had something to work with? Also, a strong showing for A History of Violence, which took runner-ups for picture/director and won supporting actor for William Hurt, who's onscreen for five ridiculous minutes. And Grizzly Man, cut from the Oscar shortlist, took best documentary. Several biggies were shut out: Walk the Line, L.A.'s own Crash, and the three that haven't been released but people are buzzing about anyway -- Munich, King Kong, Memoirs of a Geisha. Take that, PR spin doctors.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Might as well continue to blame the government for the second item

Item 1. Syriana is a masterwork, impressive in its scope and detail. It is an appropriate consummation to a year of topical, eloquent films that have something on their minds besides dollars: The Constant Gardener's illustration of the drug industry's exploitation of the Third World. Lord of War's caustic rollercoaster ride through international arms dealing. Good Night, and Good Luck's plaintive meditation on the cost of liberty. And now Syriana's resounding indictment of oil-slicked greed, brought to you by writer-director Stephen Gaghan (at right), who, with his Traffic script, is proving (slowly) to be one hell of a maverick. It's nice to have some movies with teeth.

Item 2. Notice how I didn't link to The Internet Movie Database via the titles. It seems IMDb, that essential movie research tool, has fallen prey to some sort of adware operation. When I click on "trivia" or "external reviews," for example, I am directed to a mostly blank page with a small ad tucked into one of the corners. The only way to get to where I want to go is to click back and click again. I find this troubling.

No, I don't want to download new Smileys. No, I don't want to find people with whom I graduated from high school. Does this happen to anyone else?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The other side of Brokeback Mountain

What I am really looking forward to is the scene where Jake and Heath throw each other all over the room and nearly break several bones in the process -- anticipating it makes me giggle.
So quotes the prurient New York Post from Jolie in NYC, the blog of a self-described "pop culture-obsessed (former) beauty editor," aged 25. Girlie, you're in for a surprise.

You see, there is no such scene. This is a 134-minute movie with two minutes of gay sex and/or gay-sex-related activity (snogging, cuddling, awkward goodbyes). Understand this. Ledge 'n' Gyll don't throw each other all over the room. They scrape the toe of their craggy boots in the dirt and squint under the brim of their cowboy hats. They thumb their belts and suckle beer bottles. They don't hurl each other over furniture.

The media torrent has spun Brokeback Mountain into, by turns, a gay Western and a sexually explicit romp on the range. There is nothing gay, explicit, or even particularly Western about the movie. But you'll find out soon enough, Ms. Blogger, when you're on your fourth Diet Coke and getting antsy for porn-tastic aerobics.

Back on Earth, Brokeback finally opens tomorrow, trailing a heap of hype that's been piling up since Venice in September, when the film snagged the fest's top award. At this weekend's box office, The Chronicles of Narnia will win, but Brokeback will have staying power. It has locks on Oscar noms for picture, director, actor (Ledge), screenplay, score and cinematography.

Finally: Anthony Lane is spot-on with his review and J. Hoberman is right to call it the "straightest" love story since Titanic. If the movie leaves you unsatisfied, supplement with Annie Proulx's short story, over which every movie executive has admitted to weeping.
"Love is a force of nature" vs. "Nothing on Earth could come between them"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Reasons to see Night Moves

Gene Hackman with a '70s power-stache. A 28-year-old James Woods as a feisty grease monkey. An 18-year-old and oft-nude Melanie Griffith in her film debut.

Then again, this is the first movie I've seen with no acting, no direction, and no point. But there's a riotous laugh around minute 90.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I waited more than a decade for the X-Men movie. It was terrible. X2 redeemed the franchise. It was spectacular. The X3 teaser trailer is tantalizing, and even though that means nothing for the actual movie, I can't wait. Kelsey Grammar looks badass as Beast. Shohreh Aghdashloo is a villain. Archangel shows up. Lalo Schifrin does the music. The one potential problem?

The director, Brett Ratner, Hollywood dude.

This is the guy who directed the Rush Hours, After the Sunset, and sundry music videos. In short, I worry that the story's social allegory factor will be played down in favor of cleavage and noise. I mean, yeah, there is cleavage and noise in any X-Men manifestation, be it comic books or TV shows. But it musn't be only that.

Monday, December 05, 2005

If you're a Nielsen family...

...we need you to watch "Arrested Development" tonight at 8 on Fox. Even if you're downstairs playing Sorry! with the kids or out to dinner with your book club, at least turn on your TV so it gets counted.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Kilmer + Downey Jr. = perfection

The most fun I've had in a movie theater in years. With any luck, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will pop up in the comedy categories when the Globe noms are announced Dec. 13. Robert Downey Jr. -- with luscious comic timing -- is a precious commodity in the movies. (Hey guy: keep off the smack for good.) Critics slapped KK,BB with lukewarm reviews because it's hopelessly meta, but they are vaccinated against enjoyment by virtue of their vocation. But I dare say Pauline Kael might've tee-hee'd.

Friday, December 02, 2005

For Your Consideration: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

He might have less to lose than Ledger & Gyllenhaal, but Gordon-Levitt does heavier lifting as Neil McCormick in Mysterious Skin, a tantalizing and tender tragedy about two guys destroyed by a shared childhood experience of sexual abuse. Gordon-Levitt's hypersexual-yet-somehow-underplayed performance got no love from the Indie Spirit Awards, which chose decidedly non-indie best-actor nominees (Ledger, the Clooney-backed David Strathairn), but his might be the acting feat of the year -- no role was as potentially disastrous and no performance is as comparatively triumphant. Due credit goes to his co-star Brady Corbet, whose character is Neil's inverse, and writer-director Gregg Araki, who wrangles Scott Heim's helical novel into visual grace.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mark's poverty-chic scarf was wrapped too tight

The Reliable Source shows how one man's sincere musical dream has deteriorated into someone else's obnoxious film snobbery.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like 1993

Here's a novel idea. Munich will not be preceded by the requisite media ballyhoo, says its director, Steven Spielberg. We must respect our subject, people! But seriously, it'll be great to go into a film without the conditioning provided by Oprah, CNN, and glossy weeklies. Spielberg, meanwhile, has set up a repeat of 1993, when he released blockbuster Jurassic Park in June and magnum opus Schindler's List in December. Twelve years later, he repeats the June-December one-two punch. Blockbuster War of the Worlds opened this past June; magnum opus Munich opens Dec. 23. Combined, Jurassic and Schindler's hauled 10 Oscars, including two for Spielberg. If Munich lives up to its pedigree, expect a repeat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

For Your Consideration: Jeff Daniels & Joan Allen

1. Last week, I watched 1985's The Purple Rose of Cairo, one of my favorites, starring a peppy and smooth-skinned Jeff Daniels as both a rising movie star and the adventurous character he creates. The next day I saw him as a grizzled, unforgiving lit professor in theaters in The Squid and the Whale. Twenty years separate these two roles, and Daniels proves how competent and comfortable he is in any kind of part (don't forget Dumb & Dumber). So it's great to see he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for best actor today.

2. Not sure how to defend The Upside of Anger and its sudden plunge into self-importance. It's flawed or bold, depending on how you sway once the twist hits. Regardless, Joan Allen...

Joan Allen. There were two moments in the film I had to watch multiple times because she's so damn good. The Gurus of Gold have her in the sixth spot for the best actress Oscar race, and the film came out in March. Only Kate Winslet can stick in peoples' memories like that (and did -- Eternal Sunshine was a March movie the year before and Kate snagged a nom). It's great if Joan sneaks in for Anger, which will make nomination No. 4, and no doubt another loss. But what about Sally Potter's Yes, the most ravishing movie of the year thusfar? It premiered in New York in June and evaporated after getting mixed reviews. A shame. It is Joan's career-best performance.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Premiere's 50 Greatest Movie Stars

The list is a magazine's friend. Look on any mag's cover and you'll see at least one bold, colorful number touting the XX best whatevers, be they skin creams or horror films. (Listing is also why movie people love the Oscars -- it's an orgy of top fives combined with the suspense of a horse race.) So, let's meditate on the latest list featured in Premiere's latest issue, keeping in mind that my definition of a "movie star" is one who makes a notable quantity of good and lasting films while exhibiting a radiance both onscreen and off (very different from a "celebrity"). Do they deserve to be on it?

50. Brad Pitt. Maybe. Hasn't made a great one since Thelma & Louise, but he's hot and smart.
49. Russell Crowe. Yes. Chameleonic, serious about work, and a rabble-rouser.
48. Nicole Kidman. Yes. Every inch the star, despite her shyness.
47. Johnny Depp. Yes. Everyone's favorite these days.
46. Meryl Streep. Yes. Because she's she.
45. Jack Lemmon. Yes. First on list besides Streep to have a secure spot in pantheon.
44. Will Smith. No! Certainly not ahead of Streep and Lemmon.
43. Clint Eastwood. Yes. And boy can he direct.
42. Gary Cooper. Yes. But awfully low on the list.
41. Peter Sellers. Maybe. More comic genius than movie star.
40. Elizabeth Taylor. Yes. Chops, marriages, violet eyes.
39. Denzel Washington. Yes. Has that gravity; doesn't sell out.
38. Robert De Niro. Maybe. Because he's really abusing his status as one lately.
37. Al Pacino. Yes. Rightfully ahead of De Niro.
36. Sean Connery. Bond alone takes care of this.
35. Harrison Ford. Yes. Even though he played Indy and Han the same way.
34. Rita Hayworth. Yes. I mean, look at her.
33. Shirley Temple. No. Child stars must grow into it to own it.
32. Jane Fonda. Yes. Hopefully she's learned from Monster-in-Law.
31. Steve McQueen. Yes. No range, but badass!
30. James Dean. No! Icon (via early death), not movie star.
29. Warren Beatty. Yes. First playboy-artist hybrid on the list.
28. Tom Hanks. Yes. Watch Big, then Philadelphia.
27. Gregory Peck. Yes. If only for longevity.
26. Errol Flynn. Dunno. Never seen his movies.
25. Bette Davis. Yes. And should be higher.
24. Doris Day. Maybe. She's still alive but dropped out of the movies in '68.
23. Fred Astaire. Yes. The definition of class and grace.
22. Judy Garland. No. I'm just not a fan.
21. Clark Gable. Yes. Especially when they called you the King of Hollywood.
20. Sidney Poitier. Yes. Still capable of another great performance.
19. Spencer Tracy. Yes. But what if he didn't have Hepburn?
18. Audrey Hepburn. No. The quintessential movie star, but she always seems phony to me.
17. Robert Redford. Yes. One hot hyphenate.
16. Jack Nicholson. Yes! The quintessential movie star, fascinating in every aspect.
15. Marlon Brando. Yes. What if he'd kept it cool like Jack?
14. Katharine Hepburn. Yes! The AFI rightly said she was the #1 female star.
13. Humphrey Bogart. Yes. The AFI said he was the #1 male star.
12. Grace Kelly. Yes. Heck, on looks alone.
11. James Cagney. Yes. Peck-like longevity, Pacino-like passion.
10. Henry Fonda. Maybe. Actor yes. True star...maybe?
9. James Stewart. Yes. Hanks' predecessor.
8. Greta Garbo. Maybe. Can mystique alone justify this spot?
7. Julia Roberts. Maybe. Premiere calls her career "uncompromised." What about Runaway Bride? America's Sweethearts? Stepmom? And so on.
6. Paul Newman. Yes! Utterly.
5. Ingrid Bergman. Yes. Grace Kelly + the deep reserves.
4. John Wayne. Maybe. I mean, if you say so.
3. Tom Cruise. Yes. Makes and anchors great movies.
2. Marilyn Monroe. Yes. Because she's she.
1. Cary Grant. Yes. And what if this man had talent in addition to charm?

Omissions from the classical set: Orson Welles, Joan Crawford (who would be furious), Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, William Holden, Rosalind Russell, Lauren Bacall.

Omissions from the golden age set: Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Diane Keaton, Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Michael Caine.

Omissions from the modern set: Jodie Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Bridges, Mel Gibson, Juliette Binoche, Susan Sarandon.

On Premiere's list, 34 are men, 24 are still alive (of which 18 are still working regularly and eight are under the age of 50 -- Hanks will hit the mark next year).

Your thoughts on inclusions, omissions, my thoughts? Let's see your list of top five or 10.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Anachronisms: Rent, Ice Harvest

If it was released as an original film musical in 1989, Rent would've been a cultural landmark, a lightning rod for the era's big what-have-yous -- AIDS, the drag queen revolution, etc. Instead, it embodied the era almost a decade later as an original musical, and now almost two decades later as the movie musical currently in theaters. So it's all very kitschy in a snappy multiplex as 2006 draws near. The songs are as agonizingly catchy as ever, but they're hollow without live applause to stamp the appropriate exclamation point. And all the fade outs -- real buzz killers. Every other reviewer makes the same disclaimer, and for good reason: The cast is magnetic and should be parlaying their talents to new, exciting material; Rosario Dawson continues to be an intriguing screen presence.

But see Rent before you see The Ice Harvest, which is the worst movie I've seen all year (and I've endured Bewitched). I was duped by enthusiastic reviews and a funny trailer and the promise of what Harold Ramis and John Cusack could do together. The reviews are inexplicable, the trailer lies, and Ramis and Cusack made an unpleasant, bloody, gratuitous thesis on the woes of modern manhood. What a mess. The story and message of the movie belong in another dimension. Can I mention again that I'm flummoxed by the decent reviews? J. Hoberman praises its classical structure (Double Indemnity? Really?) and Desson Thomson calls it a "good time." I've had better times with diarrhea.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Reasons why this is a movie blog

It's appalling that "Two and a Half Men" has remained on television for three years and that it pulls in 13 million viewers a week. It's crude and dumb and, for Christ's sake, it stars Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer. But I watched it because Cloris Leachman was guest starring as Cryer's romantic interest, and I'm that starved for quality on television.

Every "joke" was at her expense. Yes, Cloris is old, but she's 100 times more talented than Cryer and Sheen, who dropped witless one-liners every five seconds: "Her birthstone is lava." "Her prom theme was Fire." "Her first Christmas was the first Christmas."

Ugh. And now, as I'm typing this, here are Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler stumbling through "Out of Practice," which just stole a joke from "Arrested Development," which is where Winkler (and Cloris, for that matter) belongs. Reaching for the remote...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

If there's a lull in dinner conversation

The colloquial term for "cat poop" in Cantonese is pronounced similarly to "Melvin."

Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets.

The film's translated title in Hong Kong?

"Mr. Cat Poop."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

There goes next week's in-class showing of I Spit on Your Grave

Ed Youngblood, who has taught for 37 years in Gwinnett County public schools outside of Atlanta, was forced to resign after showing Elizabeth in his Brit lit class. Apparently, "people" were appalled that he'd allow an R-rated movie into a sanctified room harboring innocent minds. In other news, Elizabeth is a ravishing experience, a dramatization of cutthroat Elizabethan politics, a film of great beauty and craftsmanship, anchored by Cate Blanchett's startling embodiment of the virgin queen. There is a little sex and violence. In the interest of making sure high schoolers are protected from such things, administrators sent away a man who was trying to show that, yes, important movies are made about real things and can be enjoyed for both their educational and entertainment values. In other news, there is more sex and violence in a "CSI" than there is in Elizabeth. Although the above photo does scream "Rip my clothes off, tie me up, and filet your signature into me with a pocketknife." Oh wait, that's the plot of next week's "Law & Order SVU."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Devil & Daniel Johnston makes Oscar cut

Today the Academy announced the 15 documentaries eligible for nomination. When it's narrowed down to five in January, the real race will be between critics' fave Murderball and the popular juggernaut March of the Penguins. But keep an eye out for The Devil & Daniel Johnston, a penetrating and superbly documented portrait of madness and genius.

Someone give this man a job

His name is Peter MacNicol. He's on the show "Numb3rs," which, despite the fact it's unpronounceable, is still on the air. So technically he has a job. But it's not a good one. He is the most underrated, underused man in TV and movies today. Consider: "Ally McBeal," and how he kept that show interesting long after its expiration date. Dracula, Dead & Loving It, and his masterful comic performance as the sublimely inept Renfield. Addams Family Values, where he teamed with Christine Baranski to make a toxic pair of camp counselors. Ghostbusters II, as Dr. Janosz Poha, the gibbering, easily-possessed art curator who fires off lines with a clumsy semi-European accent: "He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!" and "You know, Dana, there are many perks to being the mother of a living god" and "Vy am I drippings vit goo?" All genius supporting performances in comedies. And he's adept at drama too, not only in his extensive stage work but also in one of his breakout movies, Sophie's Choice, in which he's our protagonist. His next project is "Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild," an animated direct-to-video. Come on, folks. At least give him a spot on Arrested Development, where he could join another "Ally" refugee and kick some ass.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Newsweek's listless entertainment reporting countered by...

...Sean Smith's sharp article on Brokeback Mountain. It accurately depicts the tone and potential impact of the film in an articulate, concise piece.

Poultry, Hardware, Aniston

The two genres raking in $$$ at the box office are children's films and grisly miserable horror films. Chicken Little and Saw II are the only two in the top 10 to have cracked $70 million -- Saw II did it in three weeks, Chicken Little in two -- the chicken and Zathura were Nos. 1 and 2 at the weekend b.o. I have seen none of the three (I mean, have you?) but there is a chunk of America that obviously flocks to these things. All this means is we'll have to put up with a lot of this stuff in the next two years. Saw III, IV, V. Chicken Little/Zathura 2, 3, 4. And so on. Money talks, and bullshit winds up on the screen.

Jennifer: You were a revelation in The Good Girl, so I was excited for Derailed, a return to adult fare after the bottomless crapfest of Bruce Almighty and Along Came Polly. But be careful. Just because Derailed seems like a good project doesn't mean your role is good. You settled for a hollow, senseless role in an otherwise passable adulteromp. You have six movies scheduled for the next two years.

You don't need the money, or the exposure, so tread carefully. Your talent deserves reserve.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

(Don't) return from whence you came!

The blogosphere is ablaze with protest at the news of Arrested Development's certain demise. Instead of inveighing, let's be practical. Everything you've heard about this show is true. Rent/buy seasons one and two on DVD. Start from the beginning and witness perfection. Watch season three, if it returns Monday, December 5 at 8 p.m., as Fox promises it will. If you're already a fan, fire off letters to:

Peter Liguori
President of Entertainment
FOX Broadcasting
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Building 100, Room 4450
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Marcy Ross
Senior Vice President of Current Programming
FOX Broadcasting
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Building 100, Room 4150
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Mr. Gary Newman or Ms. Dana Walden
Twentieth Century Fox Television
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Building 88, Room 259
Los Angeles, CA 90035

For revelry: The Balboa Observer-Picayune, Save Our Bluths, the video section of the official web site.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bergman & Bergman

Ingrid Bergman. The woman who validated the closeup. Remember her hidden by the brim of a hat until slowly, gently, Bogart guides her chin up, and we see those eyes, laden with tears, and the soft, soft entreaty of that face. That face. Was the camera as comfortable in closeup with anyone before, during, or since?

Sure, it's one of the ultimate pleasures watching Bergman in varying degrees of mistiness in Casablanca. But her last film, Höstsonaten, 36 years later, cements her status as the best expressionist in movies. It was the first time the Swedish actress worked in full capacity with Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director. Ingrid plays Charlotte, a renowned concert pianist who moves in with her daughter, whom she hasn't seen in seven years. After a grace period of politeness, the two engage in a vicious excavation of repressed emotions rubbed raw by years of separation.

Ingmar, of course, is the master of the closeup. His films are about faces, and in Autumn Sonata (the English title), he and Ingrid combine their two great talents: emoting and capturing emotion. The result is a devastating film grounded by a devastating performance, caught most of the time in extended takes and soliloquies as Ingrid acts or reacts, like when she recounts the death of her lover or when she listens to her daughter's inadequate interpretation of a Chopin prelude. We see age has taken nothing away from Ingrid, even when we're close enough to see every blemish, every pore. She still had the ability to command the magic of the screen, and Ingmar was wise enough to allow her the maximum exposure.

Casablanca to Autumn Sonata: the arc of a career in closeups.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

No better time for this expletive to first pop out in the movies

Chalmers: Come on, now. Don't be naïve, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public.
Bullitt: You sell whatever you want, but don't sell it here tonight.
Chalmers: Frank, we must all compromise.
Bullitt: Bullshit.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Steve Martin finally gets an Oscar nod

You say, "Finally? I thought Steve Martin was an Oscar host, not Oscar bait."

But don't forget the 1980s, when Martin delivered two performances that (aside from being critically praised) won prizes that are usually good predictors of Oscar nods. The perfs were in All of Me in '84 and Roxanne in '87. Martin was nominated for a Golden Globe for each, won best actor from the National Society of Film Critics for each, won best actor from the New York Film Critics Circle for the first, and best actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation and a screenplay award from the Writers Guild of America for the second. Yet no Oscar nom either year.

There's that tiresome (but true) adage that the Academy ignores comic work. But now they won't ignore Martin, because all the chips are in place. Shopgirl is no comedy, and Martin not only stars in it but also wrote the screenplay from his own novella. The film has grabbed favorable reviews, has a Lost in Translation vibe, and Martin has wowed the in crowd with his Oscar-hosting abilities. He's beloved by the right people.

An acting nomination? No. But adapted screenplay certainly. I'd even say he's a lock, as long as Buena Vista backs him with a moderate campaign. And if the hollow Lost in Translation can win a screenplay Oscar, Shopgirl can certainly snag a nomination.

Side note: Forget Shopgirl anyway. It's interesting if you want to see a musical score save a movie, but it's nowhere near as good as All of Me. Rent that, save a couple bucks, and have a blast.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ickiest Headline of the Week

Goes to Entertainment Weekly for Jeff Jensen's story on the now-pubescent actors of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Some puns should never see print.

"Down there? You too?"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Men behaving suspiciously

In Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, a photographer takes a roll of shots of a woman and a man, in a park outside London, from a distance. In Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, a sound expert records a couple's whispered exchange in San Francisco's busy Union Square for a client. These men are left with a record of an event, one visual and one aural, from which they piece together a mystery and are sucked into the lives of their targets.

I love this dramatic premise. The lonely voyeur reconstructs a situation out of what he observes and realizes he must act, lest someone get hurt. Think Rear Window, though Hitchcock's masterpiece of voyeurism is cute and classic in its storytelling. Blowup and The Conversation are not.

The first is a product of the mod '60s (which Austin Powers sends up), the second of the bitter '70s (tainted by Watergate). Blowup was Antonioni's first English-language feature, his second in color. It's revered. But it doesn't add up for me. There is one stunning, fascinating sequence in the middle, when the suave, swinging photographer (David Hemmings) begins to blow up the faraway photos he's taken to look for clues for a possible murder. But the film siphons away any sort of build-up and payoff soon after, taking the allegorical route. If the film arrives at a conclusion, it's an abstract one. Was it a murder? Is anything really real, or is one person's reality another's fantasy?

The Conversation came in between the first two Godfathers, when Coppola had some down time. It's Coppola's best. It forgoes the flexing typical of a major filmmaker (The Godfathers, for me, are all muscle) and gets back to the arthouse maverick style Coppola probably exhibited as a film student. He did write the script as a student at UCLA, and it shows in the simplicity and directness of the story. A shy, paranoid man (Gene Hackman, in his finest performance) slowly refines the recording of a private conversation, word by word, until he thinks he's uncovered a murder plot.

Just like Blowup, right? The characters go deeper into their media to come to some sort of clarity or reality or truth, and this journey is commentary on the filmmaking process, naturally. Now that we know what we know, we have power and must act. But is it the right thing to do, and will people believe us and stand by us when we do it?

Again, wonderful premise. But I like where The Conversation takes it, from its exquisite opening sequence to the thrilling climax, the story propelled by a wonderful character who must break his own shell and, in the process, breaks his whole self. Blowup mopes through self-concious self-examination and is deliberately opaque, keeping us at a cold distance. It's very much "cinema of the cool." I resist that.

But side by side, Blowup and The Conversation engage in a nice tug-of-war over the same idea. Hemming's playboy photog and Hackman's introverted soundman. Both exposed by the expertise they hide behind. Like Antonioni and Coppola.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Trailer trash

Nothing has depressed me more than the trailer for The Producers. Mel Brooks has prostituted his beautiful baby into banality. Classic gags have been rendered redundant, fading like a Xerox copy run through the machine one too many times.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cover girls: Meryl to Charlize

The Newsweek cover is from Jan. 7, 1980. Meryl, blonde, the rather academic headshot radiating classic beauty and classical training. Inside, an analytical think piece: five consecutive, text-heavy pages uninterrupted by ads. "A Star for the '80s: Meryl Streep," by Jack Kroll and others.

The issue of Entertainment Weekly is dated Oct. 28, 2005. Charlize, blonde, wearing only a pillow, apparently, and exuding centerfold lustiness. Inside, a Q&A: six pages, two consisting entirely of photos focused on her limbs. "Charlize Gets Dirty," by Josh Rottenberg.

What a fun difference a quarter century has wrought in the magazine industry's coverage of major film actors. Granted, different magazines and different readerships, but I'm ready to take Charlize as seriously as Meryl across the board. Charlize is our star for the '00s and beyond, regardless of how the media present her.

In each cover story, Ms. Streep and Ms. Theron are 30 years old. In two months, Meryl will win her first Oscar (for Kramer vs. Kramer), in three years her second (for Sophie's Choice). Charlize won hers a year and a half ago (for Monster), will be nominated again this January (for North Country).

The Newsweek story details Meryl's rise through the Yale School of Drama and the waves she sent through New York theatre. Joe Papp, who hired her for the Public Theatre after graduation, is quoted:

There are only a few people around I would call pure actors. Meryl is one. That means the entire body is an instrument that is used to constantly serve the character. You can see it in her face. I've seen her cheeks get red, so that you can see the internal thing through her skin, which means that there's a total emotional involvement in the situation. And she takes tremendous risks, both physical and emotional.

Watch Monster and North Country, and see that Charlize is cut from the same cloth, which is kind of fascinating. Theron grew up in South Africa, moved to Hollywood at 18 to model and look for a big break. She was discovered in line at the bank, mingled in bimbo second-banana roles for a couple years, then shocked everyone with Monster.

Neither saw success coming, or even wanted it to come. Meryl "didn't think [acting] was a legitimate way to carry on your life." Charlize says in EW, "It's not like I was a little girl going, 'I want to be an actress.' This had kind of found me." And neither has lived the life of a shooting star. Meryl got married in '78 and has stayed married. Charlize has had one steady boyfriend throughout her rise. They are not wild, or reckless with money, or whatever. In short, the tabloids are powerless to distract the public from their abilities. They may enjoy the spoils of fame, but they are in it for the work.

Both women's reserve of talent is deep and wide in front of that great equalizer, the camera lens. Meryl has cemented hers over a long career of celebrated roles. With North Country, you can see already how lasting Charlize's work will be. It's even more impactful than Meryl's, in some ways. Did we ever see Meryl do something as ferocious and fearless as Monster? Or even North Country? Perhaps in Silkwood.

Perhaps. But I always see Meryl Streep in Meryl's performances. She's very much a Katharine Hepburn in that respect -- a great actor and movie star, but also very present in her roles.

But Charlize disappears. Yes, it was with the aid of heavy makeup in Monster. But in North Country, it's just a wig. The rest is some gritty, instinctive, teeth-clamping acting. Thirty-year-old Meryl could've pulled of the role of Josey Aimes without a problem. For sure. It would've been a dignified and true performance. But it wouldn't have worked for me. Why? I dunno.

I'm sure if you were to put Charlize on a Broadway stage, she'd go flat faster than a Steinway in Death Valley. Film is a tricky performance medium, and you either have it or you've had it. Meryl and Charlize have it in different ways, but they both command the screen. They are both stars and actors. Meryl has survived almost 30 years. I think she and Charlize will command the next 30 together. The movies are lucky to have that kind of varied continuum.

I'm not just a moneymaking machine. There have been some offers, but I just didn't feel ready to spend eight months on a film set. Not one day goes by where I go, "Oh, fuck, what am I missing out on?" I love my life as much as my work. I don't want one to take over the other. Charlize Theron, Entertainmently Weekly, 10/28/05

I feel pulled in a lot of different directions but I haven't shattered yet. I feel that I've made commitments professionally, to my marriage, to my baby, to the community. ... Everyone should put their life on the line according to their art, because everything else is easy. Meryl Streep, Newsweek, 1/7/80

Meanwhile, in North Country...

One of the best movies of the year, with the greatest cast of film actors ever assembled. North Country should be shown in film classes as an example of superb screen acting. I emphasize the word "acting." This is not a film of grandstanding, or epic performances, or whatever. It is, simply, a film brimming with pitch-perfect work in every role, no matter how small. And it all fuels the most moving courtroom scene in memory.

The cast: Jillian Armenante, Sean Bean, James Cada, Thomas Curtis, Linda Emond, Woody Harrelson, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Monaghan, Frances McDormand, Elle Peterson, Jeremy Renner, Rusty Schwimmer, Sissy Spacek, Charlize Theron, and the ensemble members who give the film a bristling texture.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

58 countries vying for Oscar

A record number of countries will contend for the five spots in the best foreign language film category in January. Costa Rica, Fiji, and Iraq are first-time submitters. I've seen only one film on the list, Singapore's Be with Me, and heard significant buzz about only one other: Palestine's Paradise Now, a tense dramatization of suicide bombers' last 48 hours. It has been getting much press since its splash in Toronto. Of note: both Be with Me and Paradise Now weld fiction and reality into a narrative, more so than your typical film.

Frequent Cannes winners the Dardenne brothers represent Belgium. Anyone recognize other names or titles?

Argentina, "El Aura," Fabian Bielinsky
Bangladesh, "Shyamol Chaya," Humayun Ahmed
Belgium, "The Child," Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Bolivia, "Say Good Morning to Dad," Fernando Vargas
Bosnia & Herzegovina, "Totally Personal," Nedžad Begović
Brazil, "Two Sons of Francisco," Breno Silveira
Bulgaria, "Stolen Eyes," Radoslav Spassov
Canada, "C.R.A.Z.Y.," Jean-Marc Vallée
Chile, "Play," Alicia Scherson
China, "The Promise," Chen Kaige
Colombia, "La Sombra del Caminante," Ciro Guerra
Costa Rica, "Caribe," Esteban Ramírez
Croatia, "A Wonderful Night in Split," Arsen Anton Ostojić
Cuba, "Viva Cuba," Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti
Czech Republic, "Something Like Happiness," Bohdan Sláma
Denmark, "Adam's Apples," Anders Thomas Jensen
Estonia, "Shop of Dreams," Peeter Urbla
Fiji, "The Land Has Eyes," Vilsoni Hereniko
Finland, "Mother of Mine," Klaus Härö
France, "Joyeux Noel," Christian Carion
Georgia, "Tbilisi-Tbilisi," Levan Zakareishvili
Germany, "Sophie Scholl – The Final Days," Marc Rothemund
Hong Kong, "Perhaps Love," Peter Ho-Sun Chan
Hungary, "Fateless," Lajos Koltai
Iceland, "Ahead of Time," Ágúst Gudmundsson
India, "Paheli," Amol Palekar
Indonesia, "Gie," Riri Riza
Iran, "So Close, So Far," Reza Mir Karimi
Iraq, "Requiem of Snow," Jamil Rostami
Israel, "What a Wonderful Place," Eyal Halfon
Italy, "La Bestia Nel Cuore," Cristina Comencini
Japan, "Blood and Bones," Yoichi Sai
Korea, "Welcome to Dongmakgol," Kwang-hyun Park
Luxembourg, "Renart the Fox," Thierry Schiel
Mexico, "Al Otro Lado," Gustavo Loza
Mongolia, "The Cave of the Yellow Dog," Byambasuren Davaa
The Netherlands, "Bluebird," Mijke de Jong
Norway, "Kissed by Winter," Sara Johnsen
Palestine, "Paradise Now," Hany Abu-Assad
Peru, "Días de Santiago," Josué Méndez
Poland, "The Collector," Feliks Falk
Portugal, "Noite Escura," João Canijo
Puerto Rico, "Cayo," Vicente Juarbe
Romania, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," Cristi Puiu
Russia, "The Italian," Andrei Kravchuk
Serbia & Montenegro, "Midwinter Night's Dream," Goran Paskaljević
Singapore, "Be with Me," Eric Khoo
Slovak Republic, "The City of the Sun," Martin Šulík
Slovenia, "The Ruins," Janez Burger
South Africa, "Tsotsi," Gavin Hood
Spain, "Obaba," Montxo Armendáriz
Sweden, "Zozo," Josef Fares
Switzerland, "Tout un Hiver sans Feu," Greg Zglinski
Taiwan, "The Wayward Cloud," Tsai Ming-liang
Tajikistan, "Sex & Philosophy," Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Thailand, "The Tin Mine," Jira Maligool
Turkey, "Lovelorn," Yavuz Turgul
Vietnam, "Buffalo Boy," Nguyen Vo Nghiem Mihn

Friday, October 21, 2005

Just a comma...

Maybe its release was timed poorly, or perhaps it's the distracting status of "made-for-TV movie," an HBO scrap. Or maybe it's the subject material. Impervious college professor of 17th-century poetry has stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer (there is no stage five). She tries to vanquish death by channeling the works of John Donne, her specialty.

Wit is one of the greatest films ever made, and certainly the greatest made for and exhibited on television. It aired on HBO in 2001, got positive reviews, won director Mike Nichols two Emmys for directing and producing, and that was it. No fanfare beyond.

Wit is Nichols' best work (in a career that includes The Graduate), as it is Emma Thompson's, who is rapturous as the distinguished scholar staring down doom. The film further blurs the quality distinction between the big and small screens. HBO was, and still is, making better feature films than traditional studios because they can afford to be fearless.

But oh, the movie. Perfect -- every moment, every line. The pacing, the power, the performances. Thompson is, of course, the divine axis, but the supporting work is sterling, especially Audra MacDonald as a compassionate nurse and Eileen Atkins as Thompson's mentor. Nichols and Thompson adapted the story from Margaret Edson's play of the same title, but it seems to belong on screen. Very heavy, theatrical themes -- salvation, human connection, agonizing regret, isolation -- glow on celluloid. It is a feat.

And oh, these wonderful characters dovetail into a quietly climactic scene of such deep, deep beauty and power. It is my favorite scene in the movies. I fawn, yes, and perhaps it's pathetic. After all, these are fake people in a fake story. But I charge you to watch and resist its pull.

Wit is one of the most ennobling, sweetest surrenders in cinema.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Flatlining in Elizabethtown

Cameron Crowe movies have much heart, but Elizabethtown is all heart and no brain. Watching the movie is like being in the ER with a gigantic heart on the operating table. It throbs and hops and convulses, spurting blood on everyone.

Crowe has directed six movies in 16 years. Say Anything... is classic in its earnest adolescent authenticity. Singles took the earnestness to maturity. Jerry Maguire was good, Almost Famous was spectacular, Vanilla Sky wasn't that bad.

Elizabethtown is. It basically feels like Crowe is saying: "I love life and music more than you do." Most Crowe movies make you want to hug yourself; this one makes you want to hug yourself and vomit. The film is so joyous and life-affirming that it sacrifices a connection with reality, spinning into some sort of fantasy world in the last act and stopping everything cold. There really isn't a true moment throughout, and you'll find yourself thinking, "Why isn't my life as carefree and whimsical as this? What am I doing wrong? Should I take more road trips? Gee, I hope my father's death resurrects my lust for life, or something." Sure, we go to the movies to escape reality, but that doesn't mean we should be granted that wish completely.

Also, the film misuses Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon, which is criminal. Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst are milky-skinned specimens of prettiness, but he has trouble conveying the joy and her character is a stutter-step from stalker. As Rog says, it's the most relentless Meet Cute in history.

I mean, you gotta hand it to Cam. He makes movies from the heart. But this one is constant fibrillation.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

Listen 'ere, you ol' sod!

You do well to slouch to your nearest theatre palace and see Oliver Twist, a grand feast o' delight and terror. Wallow in the filf and bad dentistry of 19th-cen'try London! Marvel at Sir Ben Kingsley's prosthetical poetics, at Roman Polanski's confident yarnspinning!

Thank Christ that barmy bastard Burton dint get his sug'ry claws on this story! I'd'a puked in my porridge! ROIT!

'If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in His name, He'd never stop throwing up'

Woody Allen's movies are medicine for me. I pop them as an addict would his pills. When I have a specific ailment, I prescribe myself a specific dosage of the Woodman. Wednesday night was a Hannah & Her Sisters night. I don't know why, but I know I needed it. The header on this entry is a line delivered with perfect caustic accuracy by Max von Sydow. I don't know whether it's the line itself, or the fact that the Swedish mandarin delivers it, but I always have to pause the movie to get the laughing out of the way.

Clichéd as it may be, I've always maintained Allen's best is Annie Hall. There's a reason it's worshipped by the culture. But Hannah nearly overtakes it every time I watch. It's an episodic Chekhovian amble through the love lives of a dozen or so Manhattanites. I revel in Michael Caine's sublime performance as Elliot, Hannah's scattered husband who can't squelch his infatuation with his wife's sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey, disarming and wonderful before she was swallowed by Beaches). The awkward/loving scenes between Caine and Hershey are -- all I can do is resort to adjectives, which are boring.

Watch the movie instead, and let Caine take you there. "I have my answer! I have my answer!" he says breathlessly to himself after Lee doesn't deny that she shares his feelings. "I'm walking on air!" Ah, so are we!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Three Days of the Condor

Redford plays Joe Turner, a lackey working for a CIA front that is suddenly "dispatched." He spends the next three days on the run, unraveling the agency's rotten insides. 1975 or 2005?
Higgins: It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Turner: Ask them?
Higgins: Not now -- then. Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em.

Turner: Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?