Friday, July 29, 2005

The great white bray

Despite no theatre experience, Julia Roberts will make her Broadway debut next year in Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain."

No doubt seats will fill instantly to see whether or not her wattage survives the trauma of being in front of a live Broadway audience. Hard to say. I don't think she's much of an actress, but she's certainly a movie star with movie-star charisma. Is that enough (or too much) for a three-person stage drama? She's a natural in front of people, but that's when she's talking to and at them -- think Oprah or the red carpet or the Oscars. What happens when she has to work in front of 500 people who sit silently in the dark, when she doesn't have the big-screen smile and voice? And what if that donkey laugh of hers turns out to be obnoxious in a Broadway theater (well, as if it isn't already on screen)?

I tend to think she'll do OK. I want her to do OK; I don't like her as an actress, but she seems like a swell person. But in the Times' article, Roberts says, "By the time I get there, I'll be entirely apoplectic. But the terror is part of the excitement." Is it? Or will it just result in a wavery voice and flubbed lines and extreme sweating? Either way, I hope she goes backstage at the Walter Kerr Theatre to ask her Erin Brockovich co-star Cherry Jones (below left) for some tips on treading the boards.

In the linked article, notice how "Doubt" director Doug Hughes praises Jones for her "commitment to transformation rather than the projection of a winning personality." Hmm...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dear Paul Thomas Anderson:

Most people know of my distate for your films.

They're virtuosic, yes, but self-conscious and indulgent in an irritating way. Boogie Nights and Magnolia are heaving Hindenbergs, pumped up with every maverick technique possible. What comes across from your movies is you. When I watch Punch-Drunk Love, I see you grinning, not two people falling in love.

Maybe I'm just jealous. You're young, talented, making films that people think are important and lasting. You're also shadowing Robert Altman as the master directs Prairie Home Companion; it's your job to pinch hit if the 80-year-old Altman croaks. Not a bad gig. And people call you by your initials, for chrissakes. PTA.

So, to re-acquaint myself with you, I checked your trivia on IMDb.

Your favorite movie of all time is Network.

My initial action was one of anger, and retaliation. "No, you bastard, that's mine" or "What the hell do you know about Network?" But it must mean something, right? If your favorite movie is Network and my favorite is Network, don't we have some common ground on which to build a long and sustaining director-viewer relationship?

I thought about it. Network has a big cast. It's angry, in-your-face, symphonic. It aims high. Kind of like your movies. Maybe. It pains me to even write that. Don't get me wrong: Sidney Lumet is a far superior (and older, for that matter) director. Lumet did not get in the way of Network like you do with your films. Network is genius. Magnolia is cocksmanship. But their components are similar. It's just the execution that separates them.

So where does that leave us, PTA? Will I go back and watch your movies again? Will your style eventually serve the film instead of yourself? Who's to say. Probably not. But I will take some measure of comfort in the fact that you appear to appreciate Network as much as I do. You can't be all bad.

Yours, grudgingly,

Get away from her, you bitch!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

We don't need no badges

Classics shouldn't be revered simply because they've been revered. You know what I mean?

I think Gone with the Wind is an insufferable bore. The Godfather is pretty from a technical standpoint, but is it really the The Wizard of Oz is maudlin. Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge over the River Kwai are two hours too long. The defense department should consider showing D.W. Griffith's filmography to detainees as an alternative (and more lethal) form of torture. I don't care if Intolerance or Birth of a Nation were watersheds in movie history; they may have pointed the way to better cinema, but that does not make them good cinema themselves.

That said, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is surprisingly stale. I saw it for the first time on the National Mall on Monday. Maybe it was the unforgiving humidity, or the bugs, or the distance from the screen. Or maybe it was the plodding, repetitive story. Or the lack of any sort of action or excitement. It's a Western, goddamnit. Let's run around a little bit.

Instead, Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt bum around the mountains of Mexico looking for gold. They get greedy, they got accosted by the natives, they go a little mad (it is kind of interesting to see Bogart bonkers). But it seems like John Huston never figured out what kind of movie he was making -- was it a shoot-'em-up adventure pic? A moral fable? The first Western noir? It's all of those, and each motive seems to be jockeying for position, thereby elbowing out any sort of pleasure or entertainment.

And why do people like Alfonso Bedoya's line: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges"? The otherwise sedate, sleepy crowd burst into applause when he said it.

It's one of the most famous movie lines ever, and I just...don't...understand.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sour Snozzberries

I ruined my friend Lindsey's summer by hinting, ever so slightly, that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might not be as good as the original. So skip this entry if you haven't seen the movie yet, I guess. I can't help but compare it to the original. I know it's its own movie, but it's very similar in many ways. So remember that as I comment.

Things I wrote down while seeing it in IMAX:

* Johnny Depp's Wonka is a big failure. It doesn't belong in the movie. Whatever Depp is doing (and a teeny bit is funny) is not what the movie is doing. He seems to have based the character on Dana Carvey's Church Lady. A gay candyman in the midst of a sex change. Michael Jackson. Wrong, sir. Wrong.

* Gene Wilder's Wonka was great because he always made us think he knew something we didn't. He was alternately loving and cold. Depp's is too preoccupied; he's haunted by childhood flashbacks involving his dentist father, and there's never any warmth from him. Wilder was magical. Just watch the "Pure Imagination" sequence. The wistfulness. The perfection.

* Dentists are evil.

* I now hate Danny Elfman. His scores have really gotten on my nerves. The Wonka music is grating, derivative.

* Too much CGI. Looks fake and ridiculous. The great thing about the original is that the Wonka factory, while amazing, looked like it was just stapled and schellacked together. Wilder looked a stutter step away from being a used car salesman.

* It's a highly moral story. TV is bad. Parents who spoil their children are bad. Greedy people are bad. The villains are flushed down various trash chutes. And the meek shall inherit the Earth.

* Wonka is a sadist.

* In the new one, there is nothing at stake. There is no seriousness. In the original, everything seemed to be riding on Charlie finding that golden ticket; and everything (in retrospect) was riding on Wonka finding someone to carry on with the factory. The new one needs a Slugworth! We need that test -- we need Charlie to give back the Everlasting Gobstopper! To prove himself! So shines a good deed in a weary world.

* Freddie Highmore's Charlie is a brown-nosing snot. He's too smiley for an impoverished youth.

* The songs in the original are beautiful and moving and wonderful. I missed them here.

* Also, Depp's Wonka has hints of pedophile in him. It's kind of creepy.

* Has the feeling of being mass-produced, like a Disney theme park ride, with no cleverness. It rushes through. The original took time.

* Re: Veruca, Violet, Augustus, and Mike Teevee. Their makeup -- which appears spray-painted on -- makes them look like dolls with creepy eyes. Not feeling it.

* After all this, I kind of liked the very end of the movie. And although the rest of the film is joyless, it's not a complete trainwreck. Except for Depp. Which is curious and unfortunate.

* I love Gene Wilder.

* I gotta pee.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Those eyes how familiar they seem

Gene Tierney made some movies. Then went crazy. Laura came before that, thankfully. It's an improbable story. Tierney's character is believed dead, all the men in her life piece her existence together to find her killer, then Tierney shows up, fresh from a weekend in the country. That said, it's a great movie (Clifton Webb is a hoot) and it has a great, intoxicating score. Tierney is all but forgotten these days (plus, she's dead, so that doesn't help), but her star quality is undeniable. She was Grace Kelly meets Katharine Hepburn meets Shirley Temple. Elegant, severe, innocent. Deserves a place in the pantheon.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Spamapoop, or How the Grinder is Making Taco Meat of Our Culture

Get ready for another tantrum. From

Producer Jeff Gardner has secured the rights to the 1993 hit movie "Grumpy Old Men" and hopes to turn the property into a stage musical and bring it to Broadway in spring 2008, Variety reported. ... Other titles on their way to Broadway include "Legally Blonde," "Moonstruck," "Ball of Fire," "The Wedding Singer," "Heartbreakers," "Those Lips, Those Eyes," "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Mermaids."

This goes back to a previous entry about The Lord of the Rings musical. There's this grinder, you see, and it is a big machine that recycles ideas over and over, through each art form, for maximum profit. Think of The Producers, which was first a movie (a great one), then a musical (an average one), and will next be a movie musical (the trend, as well as rumors of on-set fritziness, could mean it sucks). Soon, we will get a musical based on the movie musical, then a movie based on the movie musical musical.

And just as I type this, Playbill reports that Sunset Boulevard is being made into a movie. "But it already is a movie!" you cry. Yes, but this is a film adaptation of the stage adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Weber starring Glenn Close. Now Close and Ewan MacGregor will be starring in the movie of the musical of the movie and oh my God I'm cross-eyed.

I ask why. I saw Spamalot in April, and it sucked. Bad. And I love Monty Python. The Holy Grail is British humor at its best and most unstoppable. But when you Xerox its appeal, stuff it with bad songs, and process it for the stage, it becomes, well, spam. The prime rib has been ground into chuck. This is obviously my problem; the rest of the audience at the Shubert Theatre was roaring. But I felt like the producers made me pay $100 to watch a live version of the damn movie with second-rate performers, without granting a discount for having to sit through the pitiful songs.

When Spamalot is made into a movie, you'll know where to find me. I'll be at home, under my desk, with a rosary, praying for the eschaton.

Oh yeah, this should make for some riveting theatre.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

If there's any justice in the world

Next Thursday, the Emmy nominations shall read thus:


Jason Bateman, Arrested Development


Will Arnett, Arrested Development
Michael Cera, Arrested Development
David Cross, Arrested Development
Tony Hale, Arrested Development
Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development


Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development
Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development
Jessica Walter, Arrested Development


Ed Begley Jr., Arrested Development
John Michael Higgins, Arrested Development
Justin Lee, Arrested Development
Carl Weathers, Arrested Development
Henry Winkler, Arrested Development


Mo Collins, Arrested Development
Judy Greer, Arrested Development
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Arrested Development
Liza Minnelli, Arrested Development
Ione Skye, Arrested Development

This is not about being on a "bandwagon." Obviously, there is no bandwagon, because the show has no viewership. This is the greatest show in the history of television. Rent/buy season one. Watch season two as it starts reruns over the rest of the summer. Look forward to season three in the fall.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

No? No. Yes.

Critics aren't drooling over Yes like I thought they'd be. Which is fine, but disappointing. Even more disappointing, though, is how brutal some of the reviews are:

"...a harlequin romance novel masquerading as a dissertation" (Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe).

"Mostly unbearable" (Mick LaSalle of The San Francisco Chronicle).

"A bad poem" (A.O. Scott of The New York Times).

"...has nothing of real depth or profundity to say" (Scott Foundas of Variety).

And despite my furious disagreement with his opinion, Anthony Lane wrote a really funny pan of the movie in The New Yorker.

Regardless. Ouch. Ebert, thankfully, is championing the film. Yes opened in New York June 24, and I'm not sure how and when it's rolling out elsewhere, but see it if you get the chance. Joan Allen is incandescent and Sally Potter is one of the most interesting directors working today. The movie really is a breathtaking work that seeks to turn the concept of movies inside out.

Which is why a lot of critics got pissy. It's fine if a movie sucks, but to deride it for simply aiming high -- that's counter-productive. Andrew Sun of The Hollywood Reporter said "The movie is too ambitious." Uh huh. Understandable. There's too much ambition in movies these days. It's distracting. Where's our American Pie 4?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Why, God, why?

From IMDb:

Brett Ratner is spicing up the new X-Men 3 movie with the addition of his very own fantasy - a sex siren mutant who seduces her opponents rather than battles them. Ratner takes over from departing director Bryan Singer, who made the first two movies, and the Rush Hour film maker is determined to leave his mark on the comic book series. The new mutant has not yet been cast but unknowns Kate Nauta and Aya Sumika will reportedly audition. A source tells the mutant will be, "An unbelievably hot and sexy hooker. Her super power is that she secretes a pheromone that helps her to seduce men. She can seduce anyone." The source adds of the auditions, "They are open to all ethnicities who are in their early-to-mid 20s."

Pictured here is Brett Ratner, the man I will put the kibosh on if he steers the X-Men franchise back into the shitter.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Alexander the Great

Jane Alexander, though she's been around longer, has never gotten as much face time as Meryl. Pity.

While in the throes of a post-War of the Worlds adrenaline rush, I sought to continue the theme of the apocalypse by Netflixing Testament, which I hadn't seen in a while. I watched it last night. Probably the saddest, darkest, and most affirming movie I've seen.

Testament premiered quietly in 1983. It was supposed to be a PBS made-for-TV movie, but the rumor was that the producers were so impressed they released it theatrically. I hate giving away the fundamentals of movies, but suffice it to say that Testament confronts global destruction in the simplest, most domestic way possible.

Alexander plays a mother who must see her family through the destruction, which creeps into their small California community like a fog. How she does and why she does are unimaginable, but are made perfectly accessible by Alexander's brave performance. She must live with death while imparting to her children the joys of life they will not grow up to experience. It's a frightening prospect.

The DVD has a feature called "Testament at 20," a documentary filmed by the movie's director, Lynne Littman. It awkwarldy reunites the children, but has thoughtful insights by the filmmakers, including composer James Horner, who was on the cusp of becoming Hollywood's go-to scorer.

Alexander (who headed the National Endowment for the Arts in the '90s) hasn't been in much lately -- some stage work, The Ring, a nice cameo in Sunshine State, Warm Springs on HBO. Next is Fur with Nicole Kidman, set for release in 2006. Maybe she'll be discovered then.