Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Serenity now, insanity later

Things I wrote down watching Serenity:

1. Joss Whedon writes not for the consumer, but the enthusiast.
2. It's the characters, dummy.
3. Sample lines: "You know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed." "She's starting to damage my calm." "No more running. I aim to misbehave."
4. This movie has a brain, a heart, a nervous system.
5. These people aren't like normal movie people. They got shot, banged up, killed.
6. You're behind in the B.O. race when David Krumholtz is your most recognizable face.
7. Captain Mal Reynolds, a great protagonist.
8. Looks like the trusty Papyrus font has survived five centuries.
9. Franchise?
10. Franchise.

Things I wrote down watching Into the Blue:

1. Sample dialogue: "How much have you missed me?" asks Scott Caan. "Every minute," says Jessica Alba. Say what?
2. I don't want to watch someone else's tropical vacation.
3. Sometimes Paul and Jessica go underwater so we can admire their sinews in slower motion. Courteous.
4. Everyone in this movie has gills. They can breathe underwater for minutes and withstand great pressure.
5. If I had a dime for every time the camera swooped through Alba's cleavage.
6. Hurricane reference. Too soon.
7. Loose lips sink ships.
8. Finders keepers?
9. Was going to jeer Walker for his perm scruff, but I have a perm scruff.
10. It's the Blue Lagoon, with plumbing. And coke.

Both films open Friday, along with A History of Violence in many markets. See Violence or Serenity. Run like hell from Into the Blue. If you want to read my reviews of the films, leave a comment and I'll e-mail you a link.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A missing son, a missing daughter

If you ever get bored with movies, see the Dardenne brothers' The Son. It's like inventing the wheel. Go ahead, put it in your Netflix queue.

And no, Jodie, I will not be seeing Flightplan, even though I like you. The trailer for your film told me everything I would care to know about it. So I'll keep my $8.50. I want movies to be mysterious, to surprise me.

I pity the person who's seen the trailer for A History of Violence. If it comes up at your local multiplex, close your eyes and plug your ears.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I have a great idea!

How 'bout we give Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts their third and fourth Emmys for Everybody Loves Raymond? Let's not bother with Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter (who looked f*cking hot in her white pantsuit, at least 400 times hotter than dowdy Doris in her muumuu).

I'm going to go set myself on fire...

...after I watch the season three premiere of Arrested Development tomorrow, Monday the 19th, at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thoughts on Emmy

1. Some yo-yo brought back Star Jones Reynolds -- that blabbering Hindenburg of obsequious flesh -- for her second year of red carpet duties. Dumb. However, Kathy Griffin -- who delivers us from all things celebrity -- is back as a foil. Smart. Normally, I run from red carpet hoo-ha. But the prickly combination of Jones Reynolds (who takes herself very seriously) and Griffin (who recognizes it's all a circus) makes for great live TV. Example: On E!'s red carpet coverage of the Golden Globes, Griffin pointed and said, "I do see Nicole Kidman coming down the red carpet and boy is she wasted! Whoo! I guess it's five o'clock somewhere." Cut to Jones Reynolds, who scolds, "Do not say anything mean about Nicole. She is my queen of the glamazons." Yeah, I'm sure she knows you, Fat.

2. Ellen is back as host. Smart. Will & Grace got 15 nominations. Dumb.

3. Some shrewd politico at ABC deemed Desperate Housewives a comedy so that it wouldn't have to go up against the network's drama contender, Lost. Great. Now Housewives will snatch the trophy from the deserving show, Arrested Development, the greatest comedy of the past 20 years.

4. In the pre-given minor awards, Angela Lansbury lost her 18th Emmy, tying Susan Lucci's previous record for most nominations without a win. I've always thought of Lansbury and Lucci as artistic equals, nevermind that one is a certified national treasure of stage and screen and the other is, well, a professional soap bitch.

5. Emmy voters thought it best to fill the guest actor in a comedy series categories with celebrities who walked onto the sets of Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond. Do these voters watch TV? The most sterling guest work is done on Arrested Development, which has sported career-topping performances (performances, not walk ons) from Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Ione Skye, Jane Lynch, Martin Mull, Judy Greer, Mo Collins, Ben Stiller, John Michael Higgins, Ed Begley Jr., Martin Short, Carl Weathers, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. None of them were nominated. Bravo.

6. William Shatner will sing during the telecast. Smart. So will Macy Gray and Donald Trump. Dumb...?

7. Reno 911! continues to be ignored. Again, don't these voters watch television? Isn't that their job, to watch television? How could they miss Reno, and the seven most talented comedians on the airwaves? The only person who deserves to beat Jessica Walter for best supporting actress in a comedy series is someone who isn't even nominated: Kerri Kenney, who plays TV's greatest creation, Deputy Trudy Wiegel, on Reno.


LEAD ACTOR (comedy): Jason Bateman, Arrested Development. Hey, they got it right!
LEAD ACTOR (drama): Hugh Laurie, House. Whatever.
LEAD ACTRESS (comedy): Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle, the most desperate housewife
LEAD ACTRESS (drama): Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under. I mean, if anyone saw the finale.

SUPPORTING ACTOR (comedy): Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond except me.
SUPPORTING ACTOR (drama): Terry O'Quinn, Lost. Gee, Alan Alda is nominated for an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy within nine months and loses them all!
SUPPORTING ACTRESS (comedy): Jessica Walter, Arrested Development. "Did I win the prize? I won the prize!"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS (drama): Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy. In a sea of white winners, an Asian.

COMEDY SERIES: Desperate Housewives


Congratulations, ABC. Maybe Fox should've entered Arrested Development in the drama category. It's got more serious talent than your entire network history. Boo yah.

"No touching! No touching!"

No laughs! No laughs!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Stream of conscience

Appears the movies have grown a global conscience in the past year. In the spring, there was Crash with its punch-drunk race parables and Hotel Rwanda with its portrait of heroes among warlords. Then the romantic indictment of Third World exploitation in The Constant Gardener. Now, the oddly fascinating Lord of War, which opens today and stars everybody's favorite crazy movie star, Nic Cage, as a freelance arms dealer.

I didn't see this movie coming. No trailer, no TV spot, no billboards. Andrew Niccol (of Gattaca and The Truman Show) wrote and directed. Cage plays a man who gunruns to various impoverished countries locked in bloody wars. That's all I'll say about the plot. Lord of War is like a good editorial -- it has both a story to tell and an opinion to accompany it, and it has a global perspective on the deadly cycle of arming and warring. And unlike other recent conscience flicks, it's also quite funny, and as bleak and original and purposeful as any movie of the past five years.

Movies have something to say these days. Who knew?

P.S. IMDb says the filmmakers worked with actual gunrunners, who were reportedly more cooperative and efficient than the studio or the crew. This will take on an entirely new meaning after you see the movie.

P.P.S. Notice the names of Jeffrey Wright and Donald Sutherland on the poster, which must be an old draft, since neither actor appears in the movie. Did anyone know about this movie prior to this week?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

She's in my hair, she's behind my eyes, she's under my skin, she's downstairs

Jonathan Caouette, for all the torment of his life, is kind of lucky. His mother was abused as a child, sent to mental hospitals and given electroshock therapy for no real reason. His father was gone when he was in the womb. His grandparents raised him after several years of abuse in foster homes. He grew up gay in Texas. Did the drug thing (once), the masochism thing, the punk rock thing, the lip-synching to Dolly Parton thing. Suffered from depersonalization. Had a strange and loving relationship with his grandmother. Reconnected with his mother when he was a little older, when she was, well, an altered woman. Moved to New York. Met his father. Watched his mother fall apart. Confronted his family on what it had done to itself.

He's lucky because he caught it all. On High 8, videotape, in photographs, audio diaries, answering machine messages. In bits of conversation, in late-night confessions in half-lit closets, dyed portraits and stills. With Apple's iMovie, he wove it all into Tarnation, a documentary, I guess, though it's more fitting to call it a testament. This is Jonathan Caouette's life, the life given to him (like a criminal sentence) by his mother, Renee. Because he always had a camera with him throughout his life, he has it all down, like stenography.

It's an hour and 25 minutes, but it captures the disintegration of a small family over decades. Real stuff mixed with staged stuff mixed with camera trickery. It's like Jonathan knew since he was 10 that he would make this movie. And then, as an adult preparing it, he confronts the material he recorded over his adolescence. It's difficult to watch, especially when he puts the camera on his grandfather and asks why he mistreated his mother. In all ways, Tarnation is an exhumation.

What else to say? Behold, the power of cinema.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Not Venice, not Telluride...

But Toronto. The 30th Toronto International Film Fest, the continent's glitziest fest, the New World's answer to Cannes. I was there Friday and Saturday and saw a less-than-ambitious helping of six films. I would've tried harder and stayed longer, but I was tired. I even forsook the schmooze and fluff -- skipped the Brokeback Mountain party last night in favor of heading back home to get some sleep.

To more pressing matters:

1. Mrs. Henderson Presents. First movie I saw. Early morning screening. What a delight. I hadn't even heard of the movie, and I knew nothing going in. Based on true events before and during World War II in London, Mrs. Henderson stars Judi Dench as a wealthy widow looking for a hobby and Bob Hoskins as a theatre impresario looking for some cash. You can fill in the blanks from there, but what's unexpected is the type of venture on which they collaborate (OK, it's nude vaudeville). Stephen Frears directs, and he really stirs the comic chemistry between Dench and Hoskins, who are perfectly matched master entertainers. The film is part musical, part war movie, part romance, part comedy, part Bob Hoskins' part (if you know what I mean). In short, true, pure enjoyment. Should make a splash. Opens Dec. 25.

The splendid Kelly Reilly as one of Judi Dench's "talented" "employees."

2. Brokeback Mountain. Those who want to see hot, steamy sex between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal might enjoy the movie, but those who want to see a stirring love story will be stirred and shaken. It's based on an Annie Proulx short story about two cowboys in 1963 Wyoming who fall in lust and then in love. It spans 20 years, as each goes on to marry and have kids, though their family lives are withered and hollow compared to their relationship to each other -- an enduring affair best exemplified by a wondrous and moving shot of Ledger standing tall, masculine, defiant in denim and cowboy hat, as fireworks burst behind him, symbolizing the rapture he hides. It's a sad but important movie, all about preserving a love when it seems to be everyone's business but the two who are in it. Opens Dec. 9.

One bad thing about the movie is that everyone's sideburns look really fake.

3. Capote. Everyone seems to be ga-ga over Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as Truman Capote in this quasi-biopic of the writer's saga constructing In Cold Blood. "I've never seen anything like" Hoffman's performance, wrote Joe Morgenstern in the WSJ. Uh, OK. Hoffman, for sure, is his usual chameleonic self. He's undetectable behind thick-framed glasses, expertly coiffed hair, and the high, mousey Truman voice. In short, he nails the impersonation. But the film did not hold my interest in its story, or Capote as its protagonist. I found it (and him) cold, sterile, lifeless, tiresome. Morgenstern also wrote that Catherine Keener's performance as Capote's pal Harper Lee is "the best thing she's ever done." Huh? She's not given one good scene, or even one good line. She is underused and misused. It made me sad. (Has Morgenstern ever seen Keener in Lovely & Amazing?) Just because a film reeks prestige doesn't mean it's prestigious. Opens Sept. 30.

Watch Phil and Cathy drown in dreary, poorly-written famous-people roles.

4. Be with Me. This would've made a glorious 40-minute film if two of the three storylines were snipped out. The credits say the film is inspired by the life of Theresa Chan, a deaf and blind woman living in Singapore who plays herself. And if Be with Me would've stuck with her storyline -- about her will to cope with and enjoy the world -- it would've been a triumph. Instead, it's a good movie with a lot of heart that rambles a bit too much on inconsequential sub-plots. Pity, but certainly worth it for Chan's bit. Release date TBA.

5. The Devil & Daniel Johnston. Documentary on the titular manic-depressive songwriter. As far as documentaries go, this one is unusually artful and graceful while being considerably upsetting at points. The film is aided immeasurably by a wealth of primary source material as well as very candid interviews. Opens March 31, 2006.

6. A History of Violence. Wow. Finally a cathartic moment at the TFF -- the gala North American premiere of Cronenberg's latest with him and the cast in the house. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello as a loving couple and Ed Harris and William Hurt as sinister shadows who come to haunt them. The film is based on a graphic novel, and I assert that this is the movie Sin City tried to be. I can't explain it. But the experience was shocking, moving, wonderful. There were scenes and sequences so taut with suspense and drama -- let's just say if you plan on seeing this movie (and you should), read nothing about it. Go see it as soon as it opens, before anybody spoils anything. It is a sleek thriller (at a blissful 90 minutes), a humorous tragedy, a heartbreaking love story, a remarkable commentary on violence and forgiveness and absolution and damnation. Opens Sept. 30.

Could've used that piece in Middle Earth.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Love. At any cost

Such is the tagline for The Constant Gardener, the newest thunder from Brazilian virtuoso Fernando Meirelles, who shocked us all with City of God three years ago. Gardener is another intense, finely woven, dense, supple masterwork. Who is this Meirelles guy?

And who are these people that come up with taglines and posters? "Love. At any cost" and the art of Ralph Fiennes brandishing a gun in African environs makes Gardener seem like Titantic meets Hotel Rwanda. Which it is not.

But it will no doubt be filed into this year's Hotel Rwanda slot. It has the same conscience quotient -- subbing in Kenya and profiteering pharmaceutical companies -- but it is infinitely more artful and direct. This is a love story, an adaptation of a John Le Carré novel, but it doesn't sacrifice its political message. Lives have value. All lives. Equal value.

Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are superb as a diplomat to Kenya and his hard-charging, "bleeding heart" wife, but have we come to expect anything less from these two peerless Brits? The screenplay is by Jeffrey Caine, who wrote the abysmal Rory O'Shea Was Here earlier this year. How could one man have written these two movies?

If you stay til the end of the credits, you'll see the movie is dedicated to "those who give a damn." There's also, apparently, a message from Le Carré tucked into the "All events and persons herein are fictional" disclaimer. I didn't catch all of it, but the end said something like "...based on my book, which is as tame as a postcard." It's followed by Le Carré's name.

If anyone else sees the movie, stick around til the very end and let me know what it really says. I think it's Le Carré dissing his own book and praising the movie for its more humanitarian, driven tone.