Friday, July 28, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine: fun for the whole family

Little Miss Sunshine is a darling ensemble movie about family. With some cussing and corpse-napping. And a semi-striptease by a 10-year-old. But despite its efforts to behave badly, Sunshine is cute as punch, often funny and deliciously simple. Sunshine takes a basic conceit (family must get daughter to beauty pageant in time) and adorns it with engaging characters thrust into situations of compounding absurdity. Oddly, the tenor and climax of the film reminded me of The Full Monty. It's equal parts ribald and wholesome, with a penultimate scene that is over-the-top in its aim to crowdplease. This'll be a sleeper hit, just like Full Monty was, based on word of mouth and the presence of Steve Carell, whose wardrobe suggests that he walked to the Sunshine set right after finishing the end-credits sequence of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Meryl, Meryl, Meryl. She farts, and the world kisses her ass. God love 'er. Let's talk about The Devil Wears Prada. I've been poo-poo'ing it for weeks, even though I hadn't seen it (sue me). The bloggers are talking of a surefire Oscar nomination for best actress. I waved a small scarlet flag of bafflement. Then I felt guilty. I really should just go see it. Surely Streep is as ravishing as they say.

I saw it Sunday. I -- listen. The movie blows. There is no conceivable narrative or conflict. It is pornography for Generation Cosmo. It is a witless hit of fashion/girlpower heroin that will no doubt compel half its young viewing audience to struggle for the very magazine assistantship the film tries to define as soul-sucking. The main problem: the Anne Hathaway character never changes for a moment throughout the film. She just works more. She's still nice and considerate; now, she's just late for things. And might I add that there are worse tasks than flying to Paris (for free), getting (free) high-end clothes, enjoying a sterling health plan, hobnobbing with the glitterati of Manhattan, and bedding a renowned semi-hot writer, using his connections, spurning him and then still being on good terms with your lovey-dovey boyfriend.

But what can we expect from the writer of Laws of Attraction (which -- fathom this -- made Julianne Moore look like a hack) and the director of sundry Sex and the City episodes?

The film -- even though it was really about nothing -- was mostly about how robotic and remote Miranda Priestly is. The title should've been "Demonstrations of Her Steeliness." The only thought that Streep must've put into this performance was: "I'll play it low-key." The rest is autopilot. And now she's being heaped with praise for a one-note parlor trick. Yes, it's fun to watch Meryl vamp. She does it all the time in the movies, and real life. But vamping involves revving and rolling and reversals. Priestly is a flatlining character. Meryl will not be nominated for it.

OK, yes, she has two moments of "vulnerability." But in these moments, we get a glimpse of what's really inside the character: the screenwriter's panic to anchor the film to something. Look, she's human! Except she's the devil! Now let's watch a sequence involving her assistant trying to procure the next Harry Potter book!

. That ain't cinema. That's dollar signs. That's Disney Channel. That's Christy Carlson Romano shit. As Roger Ebert so deftly put it, that's "Don Brown, Boy Announcer."

Or, as I'll put it, that's all.

Related posts: Cover girls: Meryl to Charlize. The Independent on La Streep.
Also: The funniest thing I've read all week.
Next post: Little Miss Sunshine = great fun.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

If only Yul Brynner was alive to co-star...

Look at that poster!



Nice. In The Reaping, Hilary plays a former Christian missionary who travels to Louisiana to investigate reports of biblical plagues that do not involve FEMA. For those of you who (inexplicably) loathed Million Dollar Baby and divorced yourself from its star after her "I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream" speech, The Reaping must be a plague all its own. Is this where everyone concludes Swank is a hack? Or will she excel in another trailer-trashy role? I happen to think she's a fine actress, though I have seen neither The Core nor The Affair of the Necklace. But I say it's high time for a pestilential blockbuster. Can't wait!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Crash course for D.C. cop

Washington police inspector Andy Solberg, who made a racially insensitive remark at a Georgetown community meeting, was ordered yesterday to prepare a lesson plan for the police academy based on Crash, the "best picture" that people love to love and love to hate. The comment came after a white British citizen was killed (allegedly by four black suspects) in the ritziest section of D.C.

The inspector's insensitive remark? "This is not a racial thing to say black people are unusual in Georgetown. This is a fact of life."

The first substantial scene in Crash? Two affluent white folks curtail their suspicion but are carjacked anyway by two streetwise black men in a ritzy section of Los Angeles.

I hope Solberg watches the whole movie, in other words. Perhaps Matt Dillon will teach him a thing or two. In all seriousness, I think it's good that D.C. police are not only aware that Crash exists, but also assigning it as homework. Sure, the movie is derided for leaning on and (in some cases) reinforcing racial stereotypes. But talking about this stuff is good, right? I'd love to sit in on his lesson plan, especially if he gets it wrong:

"Good morning cadets. A few lessons I learned from Crash. Never trust your Hispanic locksmith. Never let your Iranian daughter buy your bullets. And never disregard anything Tony Danza says."

Next post: Meryl, and The Devil Wears Prada, and why there is no chance in hell she will be nominated for a best actress Oscar.

Monday, July 17, 2006

King Leer? The Absurd Man? Citizen Shame?

I adore him, but Orson Welles must've done something in his life to earn this bit of posthumous YouTube humiliation.

I can't...stop...laughing...

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Tandy-Cronyn Geriatric Sci-Fi Legacy

I look at them and my heart swells. The late Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Fifty-two years of marriage, sparkling theatre careers (six Tonys between them), and then a shared career renaissance in the '80s with a trilogy of science-fiction films: Cocoon, Cocoon: The Return, and *batteries not included (which I viewed repeatedly when I was young -- so much that Cronyn and Tandy became like a third set of grandparents to me).

How did this trilogy even happen? Can you imagine the pitches to studios? For Cocoon: "So we got these old folks at an old folks home, and then they break into an old mansion and use the pool, and it makes 'em feel real good, and eventually they hitchhike on a flying saucer and blast off to an eternity of no-aches-and-pains." For *batteries: "So we got these old folks who are too old to run their diner, and the woman has Alzheimer's and still thinks her dead son Bobby is alive, and it looks like the end of the road until a family of robotic aliens shows up and helps them out with the cooking and the serving and their apartment building, which is about to be torn down by greedy developers."

Suffice to say: These movies would've never gotten made today.

The Cocoons are throwaways, but *batteries is priceless. Amid the sci-fi wizardry and general mayhem, Cronyn and Tandy fashion a portrait of a marriage that is both wearing thin and getting stronger because of age and affliction. It seems ridiculous to say this, but with the help of these aliens ("the little guys," as Tandy calls them), they find a way to connect through the haze of Alzheimer's. It's beautiful and moving and unexpected. Does anyone else have a special place in their hearts for *batteries not included?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Four weeks with Barnard Hughes in Buffalo

Actor Barnard Hughes died Tuesday in New York at 90. My grandfather was his stand-in on the Buffalo set of the film Best Friends in 1982. Hughes and Jessica Tandy played the parents of Goldie Hawn, who was bringing her new beau (Burt Reynolds) back to Buffalo to meet them. The movie is fair, but certainly worth a look for any Buffalonian. (It is my grandfather's arm that hangs out of a car window in one shot when Hughes' character drives away -- the fleeting fame of a stand-in!)

Here are my grandfather's recollections of his time on the set:

Barnard was a very quiet man. When I was introduced to him as his stand-in, he shook my hand and said, "I'm happy to see that they have selected a young fellow for this Buffalo segment." Later in our conversation I gleaned that I was three years older than him.

Barnard was a quiet man, and spent most of his off-camera time in his trailer, reading The Wall Street Journal or other periodicals from the New York City area. Barnard usually ate in his trailer, while Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (when he was in town) would eat with the "day gang," or second team, as we stand-ins were called.

We spent four weeks together while the Best Friends segment was being done in Buffalo. Barnard always had his lines and procedure ready when the director (Norman Jewison) called for the first team. We, the second team, would retire and watch the "professionals" (the first team) do several takes for the evening -- dailies to approve or advise, and retakes. The four principles were real professionals. It was an experience to spend four weeks with Barnard -- to see the care that he took with the preparation for his part and the way that he and Jewison worked together.

Three or four years later, when Patricia and I were in Arcadia, Calif., we went to see "The Iceman Cometh," which starred Barnard. I called him the next day to say that we enjoyed the play. When I said my name, he said, "Buffalo, New York. I will stop over when we close here, next week, and see my friend, Bradley Fiske." Bradley was the merchandise manager at Flint & Kent, a quality department store on Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

Barnard was a real professional -- stage, screen and radio. In the four weeks that I was his stand-in, he was always ready with lines, procedure and availability. He complimented me regarding my "patience," but I learned what professionalism in the workplace really meant from him.

I am saddened to hear that Barnard has died, but he did have a grand career in all the facets of life!

Link buffet: obits from The New York Times, Playbill and an appreciation by critic Jami Bernard. [Photos: Second one is from 1971's The Hospital, in which Hughes played a mad patient -- here seen strangling George C. Scott. Third photo is from 1978, when he won a best actor Tony for "Da," alongside Liza Minnelli, his future co-star Jessica Tandy and John Cullum.]

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hollywood's own form of piracy

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Half as good as the first, but it got double the opening weekend box office. Savvy? See instead: Wordplay.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Boys & Girls Club for the Rich & Nervous

The Academy sent out invitations today to 120 sundry folk who must now decide whether to join its noble ranks and pay dues to vote Oscars to the best of the best, year after year -- and thereby endure the ire of foul-crying movielovers for generations.

Selected by the committees of each membership branch (acting, directing, cinematography, casting, etc.), the lucky ones weren't invited for their proven track records or the intensity of their talent. From the disparity of this list, it seems they were selected simply because the Academy likes them. Right now, the Academy likes them!

I have obtained the personalized messages from the Academy's governors that were scribbled below each official invitation:

+ David Strathairn. "Dear Dave: You've acted in over 70 movies, so we figured it was high time to get you into the club."

+ Tony Kushner. "Dear Tony: You've written one movie, so we figured it was high time to get you into the club."

+ Hayley Mills. "Hayley -- 45 years later, we're still reeling from your double-duty genius in The Parent Trap. It made us think: Let's get together, yeah yeah yeah! Congratulations, and welcome."

+ Jon Polito. "Um, the Coens said they'd put the hurt on us if we kept ignoring your solicitations."

+ Jake Gyllenhaal. "Don't tell Maggie!"

+ Rachel Weisz. "Don't tell Darren!"

+ Dakota Fanning. "Hi Dakota! Enclosed, you will find a lolly. Enjoy! To balance out the bevy of Academy members with false teeth, we decided to round up some who still had their baby teeth. Just kidding! We love your filmography and, since you are the youngest human to ever grace the A List besides Shirls, you are a natural choice for membership -- nevermind that you're still five years away from being legally allowed to view R-rated movies! Welcome!"