Friday, June 30, 2006

Watch Peggy Sue Got Married if you want to see...

... Joan Allen doing her Trudy Wiegel impression ... A 23-year-old Helen Hunt playing the daughter of a 22-year-old Nicolas Cage ... Jim Carrey and 7th Heaven's Catherine Hicks doing a line of coke ... A 15-year-old Sofia Coppola (left) giving the first hint of why she belongs behind the camera. [Here, she plays the little sister of Kathleen Turner (right). The two would work together to better effect -- as director and actor -- 13 years later in The Virgin Suicides.]

The class of 1960 in 1986, left to right: Catherine Hicks (still 10 years away from her 10-year run on 7th Heaven), Jim Carrey ("Couple of lines of this and I could drill my own teeth"), Wil Shriner (who just directed Hoot), Joan Allen ("Michael Fitzsimmons doesn't look like the barbecue type!") and Nicolas Cage (channeling Dion DiMucci).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Get your "S" in gear

I see it this evening. Will Superman Returns extend the supple screen treatment of D.C. comic heroes started by last year's Batman Begins? Will Frank Langella chew the scenery into splinters? Will James Marsden finally realize the only roles he can get in superhero movies are Weepy Boobs? Either way, here's hoping that Singer & Co. didn't forsake the X-Men for nothing.

Update 19:28. I shall not be seeing it this evening, due to work- and weather-related phenomena. Like the weather, the news never stops.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why Deadwood is better than most movies (and everything else on TV)

by Alanna S.
of gimme fiction and The Boob Tubers

1) The Writing. Most of the dreck on television [and at the movies] assumes its audience suffers from low-grade mental retardation, but Deadwood’s writers never underestimate their viewers. Episodes demand multiple viewings if you want to absorb every last scrap of dialogue, and trust me, you will. If the talk of the town sounds suspiciously melodious (though liberally seasoned with “fucks” and “cocksuckers”) that’s because much of it is written in iambic pentameter. And where it’s not beautiful, Deadwoodian speech will knock you over with its inventive vulgarity.

In one episode, regarding a man who is having an affair, Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) utters the filthiest and funniest metaphor I’ve ever heard on TV: “He’s been pickling his prick in the cunt-brine of another.” Wonderful. For a drama, the show has countless hilarious exchanges, but Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) gets the juiciest monologues. In a Hamletian moment from season two, Swearengen soliloquizes about political upheaval in the camp to the severed head of an Indian chief. To balance such high-falutin’ talk, he also delivers expletive-laden speeches while getting blowjobs from the myriad whores in town.

2) The Performances. Along with Hugh Laurie, Ian McShane is one half of an unholy duo of washed-up Brits finding new life on American television. His performance as Swearengen -- pimp, proprietor of the Gem Saloon, and unofficial overlord of Deadwood -- is electrifying. Yet despite his towering presence, he never eclipses the supporting actors. Brad Dourif is comfortingly familiar (because he’s a character actor who’s been in, like, everything) in the role of Doc Cochran, the most decent human being in the camp, who nevertheless is an alcoholic. Robin Weigert is a pathetic Calamity Jane, the town drunk who routinely wakes up in a puddle of her own piss, yet charms the hell out of a group of schoolchildren with stories of her work as a scout for Custer. Timothy Olyphant plays Sheriff Seth Bullock, who hopes to bring order to Deadwood but is always on the verge of explosion himself. No black or white hats here -- Swearengen isn’t as bad as you think, and Bullock’s not as good.

3) The Plot. As The New Yorker recently observed, with the caliber of writing and acting here you hardly need a plot to keep engaged. Yet Deadwood has plot coming out its ears, circuitous and long-ranging in its significance. Wrongdoings from past seasons echo through the current one, and characters get their hands very, very dirty building their society. It’s fascinating to watch as the formerly anarchic town gets annexed to the Dakota Territory and assumes the thin skin of civilization. The patience that goes into constructing the stories is clear, and the research behind Deadwood makes the show the world’s grisliest history lesson. Don’t expect such authenticity from Marie Antoinette, folks. Why aren’t you watching? Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Lake House: A kiss ain't just a kiss, regardless of where you steal it from

It has been 12 full years since Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves drove (and flew) a bus to superstardom, and they haven't worked together since. But they attended the Oscars "together" in March, and their "togetherness" on the red carpet reminded us of their excellent chemistry on Bus 2525, and how strangely fulfilling it was to see them finally make out on a rolling wooden board at LAX, and then make out again after a thunderous subway crash a short time later. They were young and supple and focused and available. Now if only they'd make another film so we could once again revel in --

Behold: The Lake House, a romantic comedy about two people (a doctor and a quasi-architect) who are separated by two years but can communicate instantly via a magic mailbox. [SPOILERS AHEAD.] I accept that premise at face value. I love movies that include time travel/manipulation. I attended a showing yesterday, ready to be charmed.

I was. Somewhat. Until, that is, they actually meet (don't yell at me -- you knew they were going to meet). They stride toward each other, gaze, and kiss. And kiss awkwardly. Like, little pecks and bites -- sometimes on the lips, sometimes on the cheek or chin. None of that erotic, smooth, velvety, tongue-y, horizontal smooching at the end of Speed. At the end of The Lake House, it was like watching two narcotized woodpeckers bob languidly against each other's beaks: uncomfortable, uneven, stilted. In short, anticlimactic and unfulfilling.

Pity, I thought then. I had been confused by the mechanics of space-time in the movie's last 10 minutes, but had nevertheless enjoyed much of it; Sandy and Keanu are still likeable, attractive and capable of helping us tolerate and even pardon a movie's absurdities. Then why the ugly snogging? Had 12 years of abstinence disrupted their kissing chemistry? Surely there was a better explanation...

Then, this morning, the eureka: Clips of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman's famous kiss in Notorious are played multiple times (by happenstance) throughout The Lake House. One of Sandy's patients watches it in a hospital room; Sandy herself views it at home later. When Notorious was made in 1946, the motion picture production code forbade liplocks over three seconds long. So Hitchcock, ever the clever cad, directed Grant and Bergman to interrupt their kissing at least every three seconds. He kept the camera on them for almost three minutes as they smacked, released, and smacked again. It was, in essence, a multi-minute kiss that was technically permissable by code.

My theory: Agresti directed Sandy and Keanu to emulate that kiss, thereby bringing one of The Lake House's visual themes full circle. Nevermind that The Lake House finds no other inspiration in Notorious besides the kiss, or that the kiss has the opposite effect in 2006 as it did in 1946. Film directors love their paeans, though, even when they make absolutely no sense.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Happy (or sad?) Bloomsday

I intended to view the screen adaptations of Ulysses -- the aptly named Ulysses, starring the eyebrow'd wonder Milo O'Shea, and Bloom, with the Bloom-ish Stephen Rea (rhymes!) -- and measure them against the novel for this day of days: the 102nd anniversary of 6/16/1904, when James Joyce's two heroes of meek courage and Brobdingnagian wonder lolled and farted through Dublin on a quest for purpose.

But J.J. has been busy with more terrestrial matters, with nary a tick or tock to devote to existential philanderings. In his failure he feels much like Stephen Dedalus -- marooned on an isle of missed opportunities and dead-end cosmic tangents. Woe.

So I have naught to say, save this: If you're looking to revel in the gleeful passion of Being in honor of Bloomsday, then rent Yes, the overlooked and underappreciated Sally Potter pic starring Joan Allen. It is a gorgeous feminine take on Joycean ambition and sensibilities. Expect a post on Ulysses and Bloom eventually...perhaps in time for Bloomsday 103. In the meantime, please leave your own Ulysses-inspired cosmic rant in the comments, for who knows when I'll post again!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Assorted Tony tidbits & bonbons

From her perch in the first balcony of Radio City Music Hall, Millie Goldfarb reveled in the pre-show and live-TV drama of the 60th Annual Tonys Awards Sunday night. What follows is her stream-of-consciousness note-taking, with post-show addendums in brackets. For supplemental commentary, see Beedow's play-by-play.

NEW YORK CITY, June 11 -- You can see the people getting into place! You can hear the fans outside screaming for celebrities during the first hour pre-show. They’re screaming. Boy the pre-show is boring. Just a lot of kudos to everyone whose names no one knows.

[The first mezzanine was completely full during the entire pre-show, but the orchestra where the majority of the celebrities sit was almost entirely empty.]

There is SRO at the Tonys?

[Apparently they sell a limited number of standing room only tickets, but those people still need to wear black-tie attire. I would not want to be a girl wearing nice shoes and standing for 4 ½ hours. No thanks!]

The stage manager just said: “We thank you for listening to all these worthy thank yous.”

Sondra Gilman [chair of the theatre wing] is mad plastic.

In 1947 there were 1,200 guests at the Waldorf Astoria. Now there are 5,000 gathered at Radio City and millions of people watching on CBS. If you think tonight is going to be long, in 1947 they gave the awards beginning at midnight.

The stage manager just compared the Tonys to ancient Greece. Think, laugh, cry and make them applaud.

[I guess I see the similarities.]

They are still screaming outside.

It’s David Drumlin from Contact! [aka Tom Skerritt, an actor who made a notable (notable to me, not to anyone else) appearance in Contact]

The Intiman Theatre in Seattle is getting the regional Tony. Oh, they premiered The Light In The Piazza.

Bartlett Sher. Ooh, Piazza music. Nice touch.

There are people peeking behind the curtains.

VICKI AND NORBIE! [Victoria Clark and Norbert Leo Butz]

Vicki’s wearing blue.

Sarah Jones does a great speech.


When they announce the nominees, they turn the lights all the way on really, really bright so that the cameras can see everyone. [It’s the only show I’ve been to where you are not sitting in complete darkness.]

The camera guys tell the winners which stairs to use. [The camera guys walk backwards as the winner is charging up towards the stage, and if they were seated somewhere in the mid-section, the camera guy gestures extremely emphatically to get them to go the right way.]

Norbie just said some people like to go both ways. [This was in response to designers doing plays and musicals.]

Norbie is too close to the mic. [Ironically, they later showed a video before the start of the televised portion that told winners how to get to the stage and warned winners and presenters not to touch the mic and assured them it would pick up their voice. They showed a hilarious video of Madonna desperately trying to adjust a mic that didn’t need adjusting. They ended with “If you are not a card carrying member of IATSE, do not adjust the mic stand.”]

Techies not meant to speak in front of groups.

Score: Drowsy 1, Jersey 1, Sweeney 1

Bob Crowley: “But between you and me, I should have won for the other one.”

Score: Drowsy 2, Jersey 1, Sweeney 1

Gallo just loves his job. Oh, he thanked his high school drama teacher!

Weird and awkward silence. Everyone whips out their cell phones and Blackberrys.

Some guy [who will henceforth be known as VOICE OF GOD] says: “OK. Here we go! Please take your seats.”

Funny cell phone thing. [They played a video of Kelli O’Hara and the girls from The Pajama Game singing a song from the show re-written about turning off cell phones. During the whole thing, Michael McKean’s cell phone was going off in the video. Very funny.]

60 sec call.

VOICE OF GOD: “We have a big opening with wide shots and we don’t want to see any empties so sit down in front.”

60 people talking backstage. [After the anti-climactic opening with the 60 stars standing on the stage, they moved on with the show, but the stars were talking loudly backstage. During the whole first award presentation you could hear them cackling as they made their way back to the house. Way to go, guys.]


The 60 people from the opening are now sitting down.

You get commercials, we get entertainment!

COMMERCIAL BREAK #1: We are shown a video of people who started out in the chorus of shows and then became famous. This is hosted by Seth Rudetsky. His signature word is “amazing” pronounced “ah-mah-zing.”

“Show Off” instead of “Toledo Surprise”? [This is my question as to why The Drowsy Chaperone decided to do the solo Sutton Foster number “Show Off” instead of the hilarious big company number from Act I. Muy enjoyable anyhoo.]

COMMERCIAL BREAK #2: Memorable production numbers from past years.

Paul Rudd can’t see.

Score: Drowsy 3

Barbara Cook is wearing a muumuu.

Score: Drowsy 4

COMMERCIAL BREAK #3: Commercials from old shows. Equus???? [Equus is a creepy play about a boy who loves his horse a little too much. Weird commercial.] Art, Agnes of God, Noises Off, Burn This, Tru.

Oliver Platt is wearing sneakers.

Score: Sweeney 2

Sondheim mentions: 3

Crazy woman in audience wants to see Jersey Boys now because Joe Pesci is in it. [Woman in front of me remarks to her husband that she wants to see Jersey Boys because she loves Joe Pesci. He calmly explains that Joe Pesci is not in the musical.]

COMMERCIAL BREAK #4: Seth Rudetsky explains that people on the Tonys are performing to impress TV producers so they can get a series. They do this by not blinking. He proceeds to show videos of past Tony performances where actors did not blink for more than 30 seconds.

David Drumlin is back. "And moi"? [Tom Skerritt just referred to himself as “moi” like Miss Piggy.]

Hal Holbrook totally made Brian Stokes Mitchell laugh.

Jamie-Lynn + Molly? Ugh.

They made The Wedding Singer look good.

Number of times announcer lady has reminded us that Julia Roberts is coming up: 2

COMMERCIAL BREAK #5: Seth Rudetsky reminds performers that the Radio City stage is a lot bigger than the stages that they are used to. He reminds everyone to mark properly. As an example, he shows a video of Patti LuPone in Evita. At the end she makes a sweeping motion to link arms with Peron and totally misses his arm.

The Spamalot bit with the knights and Sondra Gilman was not live. We saw that on a screen.

Lots of Purple fans. [There were a lot of loud fans of The Color Purple fans around me.]

BETH!!!! “Who would put an olive … in a Gibson?” [Beth Leavel’s best line from The Drowsy Chaperone] She thanks LIFE! She jumped and posed.

Why are people clapping for Cyndi Lauper? This is reaffirming my decision to not see this show. This is why middle-America thinks theatre people are weird. [The staging of the musical number for The Threepenny Opera probably had several effects: 1) It offended most of middle-America, 2) It did not sell any additional tickets, 3) It caused people who already had tickets to ask for their money back.]

COMMERCIAL BREAK #6: Past Tony performances. TITANIC! Rosie O’Donnell? Rewind? [After the video ended, they rewinded it on the screen before turning it off.]

Phantom needed more practice. [The Phantom of the Opera f*cked up the words.]

I’m sitting near the mother of someone involved with Jersey Boys.

COMMERCIAL BREAK #7: More commercials from old shows.

Look at all these Grey’s Anatomy people. [Sara Ramirez (Dr. Torres), T.R. Knight (George), Kate Burton (Ellis Grey)]

No one really clapped during the deathy thing until Shelley Winters. Which was nice.

COMMERCIAL BREAK #9: More commercials from old shows.

Why does EVERYONE go on stage when a show wins an award?

Why do producers talk?

Oh look! GOD! [Oprah]

Flashbulbs for Oprah [They confiscated cameras at the door and gave you a claim check to pick them up later. Women must have been shoving them where the sun don’t shine because as soon as Oprah walked on stage it was SNAP SNAP SNAP.]


People started leaving. Weird.

Leading actor before leading actress?


LaChanze thanks Oprah the way some people thank God.


Wow. Jersey Boys.

[After the show I planted myself right at the exit of Radio City and watched everyone come out. Some people (Oprah, Julia) must have snuck out side entrances but I managed to brush up with Elisabeth Withers-Mendes, Brian F. O’Byrne, Kate Burton (who was pacing in front of Radio City in her poofy dress desperately looking for someone or something), Kelli O’Hara and Michael Ceveris.

And then I saw Gregg Barnes, who won for his costume design of The Drowsy Chaperone and he was just walking down Sixth Avenue with his Tony (second photo above). Just walking down the street! I didn’t realize you actually leave with the award. I thought they would deliver it to you or something. A guy walked up to him and was like “Can I touch it?” And he responded, “You can hold it!” He let the guy hold it and take a picture with it. Then Bob Martin, from The Drowsy Chaperone came out and I got a picture with him (third photo above). He was so nice.

As I was making my way to Fifth Avenue to catch a cab, I literally walked into Beth Leavel, winner for best featured actress for Drowsy. I asked if I could get a picture with her and she was totally game. When I admitted I didn’t have any friends to take the picture for me, she said “Oh, my husband can do it.” She ganked it out of my hands and shoved it at him and said “Here.” It was a priceless moment (fourth photo above).

Overall, this theatre devotee and true addict had a marvelous time. Well worth the price of the ticket ($202.50) and just a really great experience.]

Monday, June 05, 2006

An open letter to Jennifer Aniston

Dear Jen,

Stop it. Just stop. Get off -- or on -- the meds. Whichever one it is, do the opposite. Fire your agent. Remove yourself from under Vince Vaughn. You need help. Look at your last five movies, all made in the last three years: The Break-Up (in which you are an accessory of Vaughn's), Rumor Has It (in which you were an accessory of Kevin Costner's), Derailed (in which you were an accessory of Clive Owen's), Along Came Polly (in which you were an accessory of Ben Stiller's), Bruce Almighty (in which you were an accessory of Jim Carrey's). I sense a pattern. You have created your own niche market -- the sidekick chick who looks and acts smartly but is really just window dressing. These are bad parts in worse movies. You can do better.

Remember when you did Office Space in 1999 -- how adorable and engaging you were? That's because you had writers who wrote a character that uses your talents and a director who plugged you into the movie as a whole. Remember when you did The Good Girl in 2002? I was, and am, incredibly impressed with your acting ability. The Good Girl was a triumph, one of the best movies (and performances) of the millennium. The way you're going, it was the role of your career. Treasure it.

Even though it was ultimately a letdown, Friends with Money has been your sole step in the right direction in the past three years. Keep working with people like Nicole Holofcener, but stop doing these other flim-flam projects. You don't need the money. You don't need the exposure. All you need do is make sure your talents are being served. Make a film only when it's right, and you'll be more than just a Friend. You'll be a movie star.


P.S. The New York Times, not to be outdone by me, also has your welfare on its mind.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cinema al fresca in D.C.

The illuminati in charge of programming for Screen on the Green did not heed my advice and have therefore missed some great opportunities. They picked a disparate smattering of films, some good, some bad. They'll be shown weekly at dusk on the National Mall starting July 17. Here they are, with suggested replacements for the duds:

July 17. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). A pickled dash of kitsch borne out of post-war nuclear clothes-rending. Aliens come to Earth and tell us we must live in harmony or be destroyed! We're a danger to ourselves and to other planets! Agreed. But is a hokey, Robert Wise-directed black-'n'-whiter the right vessel to stimulate a flock of tired, humidified Districtians? No. Suggested replacement: Three Days of the Condor, with its no-longer-retro paranoid tendencies.

July 24. The Band Wagon (1953). Fred and Cyd, with Vincente and Adolph and Betty behind the scenes, in a backstage musical comedy. Haven't seen it, but it sounds grand. One of these years they have to bring Singin' in the Rain out, but this works for me.

July 31. Bullitt (1968). The famous car chase is better than the film. Steve McQueen, in a role that Brando would've turned into a magnum opus, plays the lieutenant in the lowest gear possible. Suggested replacement: The Blues Brothers, if you're looking for a populist, rousing (and better) movie with great car chases.

August 6. To Have and Have Not (1944). Screen on the Green loves them some Bogart. Last year, it was the grossly over-venerated Treasure on the Sierra Madre. Now we have Bacall, and blowing, and all. Works for me.

August 14. Rocky (1976). Definitely works for me. Great to watch with a crowd.

But why not show something galvanizing? What about Network, which an entire generation simply has not seen (or even heard of)? What about an Altman movie, like Nashville, a slanted slice of Americana that would be fantastic (and ironic) to watch on the Mall? Or The Conversation, Coppola's oft-forgotten masterpiece? All these are searing social commentaries in various guises from the golden age of the 1970s, but they all briefly exhibit the naked female torso. And, clearly, we can't expose our youth to such smut.

It could be worse, though. The lineup for the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda is atrocious. Plus, Comcast sucks as a company, for reasons I won't get into here.

Upcoming topics: An open letter to Jennifer Aniston. The Tandy-Cronyn Geriatric Sci-Fi Legacy. Plus, a special report from inside the Tony Awards.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

To herald the month, let us marinate in June-ness

Eileen June Atkins. That superior British dame (and Woolf interpreter, and breast cancer survivor, and theatre goddess) with the cunning diction and startling capacity for compassion. Let her break your heart with a pair of brief scenes in Wit. See her turn a throwaway cameo in Cold Mountain into a master class. Being the only apt artist who could succeed Cherry Jones, Atkins is currently at the wheel of the great ship Sister Aloysius at the Walter Kerr.

"The Ballad of Bobby & June." The beautiful, elegiac Civil War love song written and performed by immortal country act Mitch & Mickey. It is a churning melody, a latter-day riff on love's wartime sacrifices. "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" may be the duo's signature, but "Bobby & June" is their anthemic triumph. This is the story of Bobby and June/ A boy and a girl who kidnapped the moon/ But they fell in love/ To the sound of guns/ The year was 1861.

Benny & Joon. Remember Mary Stuart Masterson? It may be time for her return. Sure, Johnny Depp was the eyecatching presence in this 1993 movie. "A latter-day Buster Keaton!" screeched the critics. MSM was left to hold steady the ship with nary a nod in her direction. I saw her on Broadway in Nine a couple years back and while I couldn't get past all those Italian accents, MSM was, yet again, a grounding-yet-gossamer presence.

June Foray. The Cartoon Queen, with roots in Looney Tunes, Disney and Warner Bros. Known best for voicing Rocky and Natasha Fatale on Rocky & Bullwinkle, and most recently for her work as Grandma Fa in Mulan. As Chuck Jones said, "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray." Eighty-eight years old and, up until recently, an active member of the Academy's Board of Governors. I saw her presenting at the student Academy Awards in June 2000, and she was as spritely as ever.

Junebug. Last year's best picture and one of the great film experiences of the past five years. Has a movie gotten closer to the truth of our condition? This is pure, exciting, pioneering filmmaking on the same level as David Gordon Greene's. The cast is a who's who of the screen's underappreciated go-to cast fillers: Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson and Amy Adams (the next great movie actress, a la Streep). Why have you waited so long to see it?

What are your favorite Junes?