Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hey, they both revolve around weddings

Sitting through Wedding Crashers this afternoon, I was struck. Struck by the musical score. The comic theme was lumbering and goofy. The dramatic theme was sobering, almost despondent. Both relied heavily on strings. In short, the score was symphonic -- which you wouldn't expect from a Frat Pack movie.

But it was also very familiar. The musical cues set off memory synapses, and my mind's eye produced an image of Jack Nicholson, glum, slackjawed, brooding. That was it. This is the same score as About Schmidt, I thought, or nearly the same. Two movies, polar opposites in tone and content, with the same score. Thieves, mongrels! Just wait til Rolfe Kent, that inventive composer for Sideways and all things Alexander Payne, gets wind of this!

Then the credits rolled and it was Kent who composed the music. Uh huh. Running out of ideas (and money), are we, Rolfe? Hey, it happens to the best of 'em. Just look at John Williams' score for the Harry Potter films -- it's a complete recycling of everything from E.T. to Hook to Jurassic Park. So, Rolfe, I'm looking forward to your work on the upcoming Witherspoon opus Just Like Heaven, which, God willing, will be an aural homage to Citizen Ruth.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Corky St. Clair behind the camera?

The Guardian reports: "Christopher Guest [...] is to direct a mock documentary about an indie film crew whose hopes of fame and glory are raised by the prospect of an Oscar nomination. Entitled For Your Consideration, the movie will also send up the Oscars and the rest of the awards season."

Thank you, Jesus. When I interviewed Guest back in spring 2003, I unprofessionally suggested that he send up the election/campaign process. But this is just as good. Everyone's back, too: Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Shearer, McKean, Levy. Ricky Gervais will also be in it. Release date set for January 2006.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Two things I want to write about, and Frances Conroy connects them

The first thing is Broken Flowers, in which Conroy plays one of Bill Murray's old flames. What a sad, sad movie. I'm confused when people call these neo-Murray movies comedies. Lost in Translation was not, in any respect, a comedy. And neither is Flowers. It is an occasionally amusing, somewhat whimsical tragedy.

Murray is satisfactory for the role, just as he was satisfactory for the Translation role. The four women who play his counterparts do the real work. Sharon Stone (above, with Murray), Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, and Conroy--four of the best working actresses with some nice, tight, deep supporting roles. What a treat to see them create their own little worlds, which Murray invades on his road trip.

The day after I saw Flowers, I caught the series finale of Six Feet Under. I've seen the errant episode over the past four years. I remember discovering it my freshman year in the dorms and being intrigued. Never stuck, though. But I sat for the finale, as I do for many finales of TV shows I don't watch (to be a part of "history," you know?). I'm glad I did.

American Beauty is fine and whatever, but 6FU is Alan Ball's real contribution. And I say this having seen maybe two or three episodes the whole way through. But Sunday's finale was striking, and moving, and ambitious. I won't dwell on its operatic tone, or its subtleties and grand gestures on the human condition, but it brings me back to Conroy (below).

What an actor of great reserve and strength. I am judging her solely on this series finale. You can tell she anchors the show, not only because she plays the matriarch but also because she plays it so precisely and comfortably. This is a woman who knows her character and her show fully, perhaps even better than Ball and his team.

There is a scene in which she calls the woman her son was with the night he died. She asks the woman if her son was happy--not if his life was happy, but if he was happy that night. The answer she gets sets her free, resuscitates her from all manner of grief, and you can tell its the emotional crux of the series. I've rarely been so affected by television and by a performance.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

'Hello Mary. Hello. Dick.'

Ileen Getz. Click on the link for a photo. You don't recognize the woman, or even the name. I wouldn't. But let me prompt: She played the humorless, butch Judith in 33 episodes of "3rd Rock from the Sun," the most underrated of shows. Those of you who watched remember now. Her dry, tight-voiced delivery. Those thick glasses, pursed lips, all-black attire. The greeting she always issued Jane Curtin and John Lithgow. That Lords of the Dance gag the entire cast did, in which her stern face brought the most laughs. She did other TV, theatre, and movies, but what a treat she was on this show.

Getz died August 4 of cancer. She was 44. Click on the title of this entry for the Variety obituary.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Access to evil

The filmmakers of Chaos, a new horror flick uniformally shunned by critics, wrote a letter to Roger Ebert objecting to his zero-star review. Read what they said, and what Rog wrote back -- his response is a deft and sublime analysis of our relationship with the movies in the disguise of a level-headed retort. And if I was Jay Bernheim or David Defalco, I'd be crying, in the dark in the bathroom, about the futility of my life and art. Oh snap.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The 40-Year-OId Virgin

Notice how I punctuate the title correctly.

Thumbs up, three stars, go see it. Funny movie. Some real stupid parts, which I actually wasn't expecting, given the caliber of the cast and filmmakers. I trust Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, and Jane Lynch. And Carell wrote it, and Judd Apatow ("Freaks & Geeks" and "Undeclared") directed. So it's a smart mix, but you can tell some bits were thrown in for the Old School crowd. I await the day when I can see a comedy that is both marketed to my generation and doesn't have a gag with dogs humping each other. Or a gag with vomit.

But the cast is likable, and the laughs flow from Carell, who has great on-camera comic rhythm. And The 40-Year-Old Virgin may be the first movie to feature a gag involving an erect penis and urination. Correct me if I'm wrong.

This movie is going to make a crapload of money. It'll easily be No. 1 this weekend, and in the top 10 for the year. Carell must feel like the luckiest bastard in the world. And why not? Between "The Office," "The Daily Show," Anchorman, and this, he's got a good thing going.

[Side note: Cedric Yarbrough, of the masterpiece series "Reno 911!", has a cameo. He's misused and under-used, but it was great to see him anyway. And if you're not watching "Reno," you're insane. Tuesday, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. Second only to "Arrested Development," which you should also be watching.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Walken 2008

It was inevitable, really.

Or should be. For a second, I thought this was real. Then, as part of my current job, I called Walken's people to see what's what. Completely false, they say, he has no intention of running.

Maybe he should. Hell, I'd vote for him.

My favorite Walken performance? Mousehunt. No question. What's yours? (And who should be on his ticket? My vote is for The Rock.)

Friday, August 12, 2005


Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms."

If there ever was a movie begging for prompt dissection and thesisization, it's The Night of the Hunter (1955). It straddles the absurd and the chilling, like it's riding a rabid horse of religious allegory straight into the jungle of the human psyche.

Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a deranged fire-and-brimstone preacher who insinuates himself into a condemned man's family to steal a stash of cash. Only the man's children know where the cash is hidden. Powell marries the man's wife (Shelley Winters) after brainwashing her with his crypto-religio-chauvinist head games, then torments and stalks the children looking for the loot's location. The children run away, but he follows, always just out of sight, calmly singing a hymn, his shadow advancing.

Sounds like a grand time, right? Well, it kind of is. It's intentionally a very funny movie. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, like when Powell covers for himself after killing his new wife by saying she ran away in the night:

Woman: "What could have possessed her to do such a thing?!"
Powell: "Satan."

The way Mitchum says it is great -- quick, with a shrug. "Satan, obviously." But for every funny moment, there is a moment of terror. Like when the two children run into the basement to hide from Powell, who then stands at the top of the dark stairway, coiled like a snake.

Powell: "I can hear you whisperin' children, so I know you're down there. I can feel myself gettin' awful mad. I'm out of patience children. I'm coming to find you now."

Yikes. Powell is one of the great movie villains, bested only by John Huston's horrifying Noah Cross in Chinatown. Night of the Hunter is black and white, very dark, with many shadows and warped sets and expressionistic composition. It's very biblical too; the end sequence is a war of Bible-quoting between Powell and a scrappy matron (silent film star Lillian Gish) who protects the children. It's like archangel versus devil, and there seems to be something cosmic at stake -- children, innocence, the future.

You don't hear much about this film--it was a critical and commercial flop and has never secured its place on top-10 lists--but it has colored modern works. Spike Lee used Mitchum's right hand/left hand speech (the story of love and hate) in Do the Right Thing. Christopher Durang lifted the last line ("They abide, and they endure") for his play Baby with the Bathwater. You can see aspects of Night of the Hunter in Polanski and Lynch and any good horror movie.

This is the only film the actor Charles Laughton directed, and the rumor is that he completely re-wrote James Agee's script. So what we see is a complete Laughton invention with a Mitchum twist. What in the world was on the minds of these two men?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Consider Rod Steiger

and his performance in The Pawnbroker, the most relentless of Holocaust films. It's easy to forget Steiger was one of the movies' greatest actors. We think of him giving that one fine performance, like in In the Heat of the Night or On the Waterfront or Death of a Salesman or (in all seriousness) Mars Attacks! But then look at them all together, anchored by The Pawnbroker, and the breadth of his work is chameleonic and rich. Equal to or greater than that of George C. Scott, Steiger's bald, stalwart counterpart and contemporary. Would've loved to have seen them in a movie together. Can you imagine?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A tale of two blondes

I was at a screening of The Dukes of Hazzard and walked out after an hour. It was terrible, but not as bad as you'd think it'd be (but still terrible, you know? Don't see it). I wanted to catch Suspicion, which was playing on the National Mall on the big outdoor screen.

Why bother to talk about these movies in the same breath? They're both stinkers. Sure, one's a Hitchcock, the other's the latest trash remake from Hollywood. One's got Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, the other's got Jessica Simpson and her exquisitely trashy breasts and buttocks. Both aren't very good.

Even now I struggle to find a purpose for this post. Is it just the novelty of regarding Fontaine and Simpson side by side, so close together? They're both ingenues, I guess, though Simpson is no actress. Both are blonde, pretty, popular. Fontaine is still alive, in her late 80s, living in Carmel. Completely out of the spotlight, a la Johnny Carson. I wonder if Simpson will someday retreat to some mansion on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Or whether we'll even remember her, as I do Fontaine now, decades after her retirement.