Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat is out, now watch Dick

In honor of W. Mark Felt's self-outing as the legendary Deep Throat, we should all watch Dick, one of the most underrated, overlooked comedies of the past 10 years. Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst are the "real" informants and Dan Hedaya plays Nixon as a temperamental and charming Godzilla. Clever and glorious puns abound.

"You suck, Dick!"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A D[e]arth of taste, subtlety, and artistry

I saw Episode III last night. I wonder what it would've been like if it had been made by an actual filmmaker instead of George Lucas, who is (let's face it) an animator. The movie was thrilling at times because of the narrative payoff. The dude's got a good story on his hands. But the execution is kind of ridiculous. Seventy-five percent of the movie is CGI, and most of the medium and long shots of characters are fake too. It's distracting to watch CGI Ewan MacGregor suddenly become real Ewan MacGregor when he gets within 10 feet of the camera.

And Lucas pulled a Peter Jackson: the movie ended six different times. There is one gorgeous shot after the Vader helmet is placed on Anakin's charred head -- it is a profile of him laying down, with smoke curling around him, everything black except the white gleam on the helmet. And then the famous breathing starts. It would've been perfect to cut to black right then and roll credits, with just the breathing over them. Can you imagine the impact? It would've created suspense even though we all know how the story progresses. Instead, Lucas has five or six more optimistic scenes telling us what we already know. Padmé has twins, and ceremoniously names them "Luke" and "Leia" as soon as they escape her womb. We know this already, George. Why beat us over the head with it?

Then the movie ends with a sunset. Are you kidding? Happy endings are for later, George, you jackass. And I'm not even remotely a fan. I can't imagine what real fans feel.

Other thoughts:

1. Yoda appears arthritic -- he walks hunched over with a cane -- yet he's able to flip around in a lightsaber duel with the dexterity of an acrobat.

2. Natalie Portman is woefully miscast. All she does is blubber and fret.

3. Hayden Christensen has the same drawly, stunted speech pattern in every movie. In Shattered Glass, it was great. Here, it doesn't fit. He's lucky he plays a character that is already weighty.

4. Why does Count Grievous have emphysema? Isn't he a robot?

5. Ian McDiarmid is pretty badass. He brings much-needed gravity to the film as the devilish Palpatine.

6. The Bush jabs were amusing, though unappreciated. "If you're not with me, you're my enemy!" thunders Anakin as he lifts his lightsaber over Obi-Wan. The Senate grants Palpatine extreme wartime powers. "The Siths deal in absolutes!" And so on.

7. Ewan MacGregor looks absurd with that beard.

8. Anakin and Obi-Wan have a fierce fight over a pit of magma. Yet Obi-Wan is not sweaty afterward.

9. The movie is clever in pitting the dark side and Jedi side against each other, and you can see how Anakin is frustrated with the politics of the galaxy. Who's good and who's bad when two sides are really just fighting with each other without anything at stake? What is at stake, anyway? The Force? Should the Force be capitalized? Does this have anything to do with Scientology?

10. Why are eating and sleeping so satisfying?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Guess this means I'm your father

Because I ran out of things to do at work. And because the entries of late were very estrogen-heavy (Beaches, Riding the Bus with My Sister, Streep, Crush, Monster-in-Law). And because I was curious. Aren't you?

Should I be disturbed by this result?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Frasier 'The Beast' Crane

Empire magazine reports that Kelsey Grammar is set to play Beast in the third X-Men movie, set for release in May 2006. Great casting, I say, because Beast and Frasier Crane's temperaments are identical: prudent, curious, extremely eloquent, bookish, etc. I'm interested to see how Grammar will look with a boatload of the necessary makeup and padding. This bit of casting seems to indicate an upward trend in the franchise. The first X-Men movie was a hideous tragedy of misdirection and disorder -- the story sucked, the movie was only 80-some minutes long, and Cyclops, Rogue, and Jean Grey were miscast. The sequel was glorious, mostly because of Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, and better writing that actually addressed the sociological issues the comic taps for inspiration. Now with Beast in the mix, and a new director, X3 looks promising. Now if we could only get David Hyde Pierce as, well, Beast's psychiatrist brother.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Frank Gorshin, 1934-2005

Actor Frank Gorshin, expert impressionist known best for his role as the Riddler on the '60s Batman series, died last evening in Burbank, reports the Associated Press. He was 72.

I grew up watching old tapes of Batman, and remember how Gorshin's manic performance as the Riddler crackled against the deadpan Adam West and over-earnest Burt Ward (as the caped crusader and Robin). He was Jim Carrey before Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey. Gorshin did plenty of B-list movies, some more mainstream (like 12 Monkeys), some TV (his final performance will air tomorrow on CSI), and proved a success on Broadway with his embodiment of George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie a few years ago.

He also did a little movie called Manna from Heaven in Buffalo in the spring of 2001. I was an extra, and sat opposite him in Shea's Performing Arts Center for a very long day of shooting. He was lively, a born agitator, but not impatient with the disorganization of the shoot. For the climactic scene, Gorshin danced onstage at Shea's with Shirley Jones. He played a cantankerous poop named Ed. It was a fine performance in a sub-par movie, which I guess was the story of his life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The worst movie ever made

For me, it's Crush, a 2001 Brit flick starring Andie MacDowell and Imelda Staunton in her pre-Vera days. Insulting to men, insulting to women, insulting to humanity. Insulting in that it pretends to be, in its attempts at manipulation, in its careless regard for its audience. The worst movies are the ones that believe they're shooting high when they're really shooting the audience directly in the face. Crush fires repeatedly, and everyone's a bloody mess at the end.

Click on the title of this entry for a listing of some critics' and writers' least favorite movies, as compiled by The Independent. Some choices are obvious (The Wiz) and others less so (Leaving Las Vegas).

What do you think is the worst movie ever made?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Arrested Development rescued

Thank Jesus. It's official. Do yourself a favor and rent season one on DVD. Your life will improve dramatically.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

La Streep

Click on the title of this entry for a worthwhile think piece on Meryl Streep in The Independent by Elisabeth Vincentelli. It's a practical analysis of Streep and her place in show business, and how the business has shunned her methods while celebrating her status. At one point, Vincentelli says that Streep has a "serious lack of humor." Preposterous. Death Becomes Her is a gas, as are her moments in Adaptation, and look at any awards show where Streep is presenting -- her comic timing and ease with improv are effortless. Other than that, though, the article is on the money.

Here are the best excerpts:

'Still, an idea has developed over the years -- and it has been assisted by such judges as Pauline Kael and Katharine Hepburn -- that her brilliance is intellectual, theoretical, or mechanical. It is sometimes said that she is so good an actress, or a pretender, as to be out of the common range of feeling. I think that's nonsense, and doubly unfair in that it amounts to an actress being criticised or envied because of her astonishing ability. But it is a fascinating issue, and one that leads to a pernicious fallacy that has hovered over American acting ever since the foundation of the Actors' Studio -- that "sincerity" is more important than pretending in acting.'

'[Streep] takes the attitude: I want you to believe every time that you are seeing a new person -- it is my job to be empty until a character fills me up.'

On the difference between Method actors and Streep: 'In On the Waterfront we are always watching Brando (made up to seem damaged); in Sophie's Choice we are riveted by this pale, delicate, Polish woman and the inner damage done to her.

'Furthermore, if you were to suggest to Meryl Streep that the "pain" of being an actor might be so great as to prevent her working, I think Streep would tell you to brush your teeth and get on with it. She is eminently professional, and she works to the assumption that if she is a cellist playing Bach, then Bach was the genius and she is the performer and the enabler.'

'Too many actors have fallen into the thinking that the movies are about them.'

'And nothing has done more damage to movies in the last 20 years than the power of actors to shift their characters so that they become guaranteed "likeable."'

Thursday, May 05, 2005

It must have been lonely in my sha-a-dow

Click on the title of this post for my review of the Beaches: Special Edition DVD.

I'm trying to keep my chin up. Really. But it's so hard when one's eyes are besotted with tears. Of anguish.

* On a side note, my sidebar is on the fritz, as you can see. Anyone know how to fix this, or know someone who knows how to fix this?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

People on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Might be easy to call it Magnolia with snow instead of frogs, or Grand Canyon with more guts, or Traffic sans smack, or Amores Perros in English. And maybe Crash is all of those.

What it isn't is timid or ironic, even though much of it is built on irony. But then again, "ironic" has taken on a second definition in pop culture: "bitter, harsh, unfortunate, without sentiment." Crash is not that kind of ironic. It is ironic in that Greek tragedy sense. And from there it drills for its humanity, which gushes from it like crude oil.

Crash has about 15 major players, and they are each their own people despite being stereotypes. Movies like Crash need to lean on stereotypes in order to get the message across. There is the pretentious, angry, spoiled housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her powerful, pragmatic, angry husband, the district attorney of Los Angeles (Brendan Fraser). The good-natured, green, angry rookie cop (Ryan Phillippe) and the sharp, racist, angry veteran cop (Matt Dillon). The two philosophizing angry street thugs (Larenz Tate and Ludacris). And so on.

Everyone's angry -- either at themselves or their partners or their fate. And when we're angry, we see red, and when we see red, we crash into each other, Crash says. Everyone in the movie crashes into each other, plot-wise, either by fender bender or by head-on collision, literally and figuratively. And all of it is perfectly believable and executed with as much dexterity and sensibility as possible.

The extent to which Crash succeeds is because of Paul Haggis, who wrote Million Dollar Baby, one of the finest screenplays ever. Haggis knows people (or film people at least) and he makes them interesting without pandering to our expectations. This is his directorial debut, and the film runs on more than just regular unleaded juice. It crackles and keeps a decent pace, hits a few bumps along the way, but keeps it together. I admire its earnestness. Crash is a message movie, which I usually resist: People need to wake up. We need to see not beyond color necessarily, but beyond our capacity to prejudge color. We need to breathe, relax, empathize. We need to WAKE UP, as Do the Right Thing screamed.

All right, all right already. We're human, and aren't we something? Us humans, man, we are wonderful and hideous, but aren't we at our best even when at our worst? The horror, the horror, the happiness, the happiness. And so on.

Though enough of Crash worked to keep me from gagging, enough of it didn't to keep me from fully digesting. There are some what-were-they-thinking moments, but those are delicately balanced with some real lovely sequences, one which involves Thandie Newton, playing the well-bred wife of a TV director, and Dillon, as the bigot cop. Let's just say it involves a car accident (surprise!), but the scene is amplified by what we know about these characters going in. It's striking, cathartic, moving, beautiful in its craftsmanship, etc. The urban twangs of Mark Isham's score add much.

This particular thread -- the Newton-Dillon one -- is the most real and resonant. Dillon and Newton are so good themselves that an entire other movie could've been built around them. The other characters would also be decent studies for a series of 10-minute movies about life in Los Angeles. Don Cheadle, who also produced, and Jennifer Esposito (why isn't she in more movies?) have a true and fascinating dynamic as two detectives. Terrence Howard, as Newton's husband, has a ballsy scene that turns the concept of racial profiling on its head. You end up caring most about Ryan Phillippe, which makes his story all the more shattering. Bullock has less screen time than any of these actors, but she proves she can play nasty without it looking like grandstanding. Ludacris and Larenz Tate's story is the axis of the movie, plot-wise and laugh-wise.

Then there is the "news peg," the storyline about the Persian family trying to make a living but constantly facing vitriol from the "Go home Osama" group (wasn't 9/11 the ultimate crash?). Shaun Toub and Bahar Soomekh play father and daughter and find themselves tangled up with another father and daughter, Michael Peña and Karina Arroyave, who are hispanic, and --

Well, I could go on. The movie's narrative is deep and wide, and it falls back on itself many times, and there are so many racial and moral conundrums, and so many awful and frustrating and beautiful parts that keep one-upping each other. Isn't that life, though? As the rap song that plays over the credits says, "Fate's a disease and we're all infected." Word.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sunday Night Travesty

Andie MacDowell now has the distinction of being in the two worst movies on my worst movies list: 'Crush,' and last night's 'Riding the Bus with My Sister,' the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie on CBS.

It is an alternately appalling and hilarious movie. Rosie O'Donnell plays Beth, a retarded woman who likes to ride the city bus. When her father dies, she must reunite with her not-retarded but very bitchy sister, played by MacDowell. They must live together, because such a movie requires it in order to be a movie.

I can't begin to describe further. I only hope you saw it. I also hope you didn't see it. It's that kind of thing.

O'Donnell's Beth is a combination of that loudmouth character she played in 'A League of Their Own' and Adolf Hitler's voice if he spoke good English and recently had a concussion. The voice is kind of like "SS officer meets Animal from the Muppets."

Sample dialogue:

BETH'S SISTER: "How can you manage [having a baby]? You can't even hook your own bra."

This exchange encapsulates the experience of watching the movie. It's insulting and glorious. And yes, there's a hysterectomy subplot.

Perhaps more appalling than the film itself were the commercials played during the telecast. Each break, Hallmark aired two two-minute commercials in a row. Two minutes. That's an eternity in air time. They were ham-handed mini-movies involving crusty professors and uncles, charitable children and, of course, a retarded guy -- all of them receiving Hallmark cards from friends and smiling, with tears in their eyes, as the Hallmark logo comes up. As my friend Lindsey said during the telecast, "I'm going to jump out of my skin if I hear more inspiring oboes."

What is Hallmark thinking? Who is making these decisions? The company is eroding our moral fabric. Why do we need greeting cards to say things we should say out loud? Why can't we have heart-to-hearts instead of dispatching cute, curt ditties to hide behind? Why must a retarded person be represented by an ex-talk show host who completes her characterization by wearing mismatched shoes, impossibly short shorts, and a lethal underbite?

This is mass madness, you maniacs.

Thankfully, my friend Beth (not the retard in the movie) was on the phone with me throughout the bulk of the movie. We consoled each other as we laughed our asses off. We concluded that Rosie's character was not, in fact, retarded, but just a loud, obnoxious woman. To help you further understand the experience of watching 'Riding the Bus with My Sister,' here is an IM exchange we had during it:

Drz198: what the hell kind of accent is that
ansky222: it's not an accent
ansky222: it's a retarded voice
ansky222: pardon, fat-retarded
ansky222: it's a dialect
Drz198: no, the driver's
ansky222: oh
Drz198: "I'M NOT A THING"
ansky222: hahaha
ansky222: oh, this is going to be very bad for you
Drz198: OH MY GOD
ansky222: why does she sound german every now and then?
ansky222: schnow cohns
Drz198: yes, that's it
Drz198: it's hitler after a concussion
ansky222: hahahahahahahhahahaha
ansky222: my head hurts so bad right now from laughing
Drz198: that waitress does not like retardation
Drz198: look at her! wary of blacks, wary of retards
ansky222: we have to do this next time we eat out
ansky222: LOTS OF CHOICES!!!!
ansky222: oh, so many memorable quotes
Drz198: OH MY GOD
ansky222: DON'T BE STUPID, DAN
Drz198: where's my bike helmet?
ansky222: AHHHHHHHHH
Drz198: the moon's following us!
Drz198: and...flashback!
Drz198: aekjfhw;jlkefaa
ansky222: i think my heart is going to give out
ansky222: still the blue shorts
Drz198: "it's going to be in the high 80s, you should wear shorts"
Drz198: i'm going to call you one day after i check the weather in south bend
Drz198: and if it's in the 80s, i'm going to leave a message like that
ansky222: haha
ansky222: please don't answer the phone when i call from now on
ansky222: i just want to leave messages
Drz198: what a snot
ansky222: she put MAYONAISE in it!
ansky222: oh wow
ansky222: what a photo shoot
Drz198: still photos
ansky222: ew
Drz198: and blurry ones to boot
Drz198: oh, it's about the government!
ansky222: ooooooooh, report her!!!
Drz198: fight fight fight
ansky222: no permit!!!!!!!!
Drz198: smackdown
Drz198: what a guy. what a bus driver.
Drz198: ZONE 1
ansky222: hahahahah
ansky222: CHILLIN OUT
Drz198: she's got the hots for him
ansky222: hahahah
ansky222: he's SEXY
Drz198: what the hell kind of exhibit is she going to make this into?
Drz198: "Retard with Buses"
ansky222: do you KNOW how fast we're going to hell?
Drz198: no no no
Drz198: we're not going to hell. the people who made this movie are.
Drz198: for making such a trivial, ham-handed, disrespectful movie
that makes people like us disrespectful
ansky222: right
ansky222: amen
ansky222: wow, my head hurts
ansky222: rosie is killing me
Drz198: these commercials!
ansky222: he was a smoker
Drz198: you'd know
ansky222: hey!
Drz198: aren't you an expert?
ansky222: i thought you meant takes one to know one...
ansky222: oh, man. tweety bird
ansky222: looks like loooooooooove
ansky222: man, hotter than a summer DAY
Drz198: OH MY GOD
Drz198: she wants to bonk will smith
ansky222: this is so awful
ansky222: hahahahahahhaha
Drz198: still with those shorts
ansky222: seriously
ansky222: what is the deal?
ansky222: they were at the laundromat
Drz198: i bet jesse dies
ansky222: uh oooooooooh
Drz198: jesus

There's Rachel Simon, author of the book the movie was based on, and Rosie, all dowdy'ed up to look like a retard because, as Hallmark teaches us, all retards are dowdy. But we can still learn from them!