Thursday, August 31, 2006

Telluride '06: Secrets revealed

DENVER, Colo. -- Those mischievous festival planners released the top-secret lineup earlier today. It's a doozy! I'm most excited for Little Children, Fur, Babel, the Alloy Orchestra, the restored print of Playtime, and the bestowal of the silver medallion on David Thomson. But one question: Why is Penelope Cruz one of the esteemed festival honorees? I mean, please.

Back to reality. I'm not sure how many films I will actually get to see. My ticket to the festival (which is small and selective and expensive, and sold out months ago) is volunteer work. I'm driving down tomorrow to start work as one of those dogged Telluride volunteers. Hopefully I'll be serving popcorn to Kate or Nicole in between screenings at the Sheridan Opera House.

If my residence has Internet access, I will blog in real time about what I see and hear as I work behind the scenes. If there's no Internet, expect one big post after the festival ends Tuesday. Hold on to your hats. They don't call this the purest film festival in the world for nothing.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Where am I?

I'm Apologies for the lack of updates. It's busy busy busy at work. But here are some coming attractions: I'll be crashing the Telluride Film Festival Sept. 1-4, so expect correspondence. Also, I'll review Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, which, unfortunately, plays like Ambien. Let's see, what else ... Oh! Happy 70th birthday to Bob Redford, the handsomest man in the movies (after Paul, of course).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Film title colonoscopy

The top three movies at the box office last weekend:

1. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
2. Barnyard: The Original Party Animals
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Funny how movie titles get longer and more complicated as movies themselves get simpler and dumber. Seems like film titlers have taken a cue from the wildly successful -- though clumsily titled and overly colon-ized -- Lord of the Rings trilogy. In particular, Will Ferrell seems to be taking a shine to the colon. The last movie he both wrote and headlined was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ferrell seems to be creating cinematic archetypes via the stodgy, ceremonial use of the colon (the "legend"! The "ballad"!). I can't wait for Fist Full of Sewage: The Saga of Curd Smiley: The Septic Tank Expert of Dayton, Ohio.

For the rest of 2006, we can look forward to DOA: Dead or Alive, Jackass: Number Two and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Beginning. The one colon-ized film that looks like it's worth its verbiage? Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. See the divine trailer here.

But does a colon in a title indicate a movie's quality? One might argue that all the movies listed above are either bad or ridiculous. Can you think of examples of good/clever colon usage? And name some great/prestigious movies with colons in the title.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Night Listener: You may or may not want to see it

Whilst on holiday in Conway, N.H., over the weekend, friends and I saw The Night Listener at a one-screen 50-seat theater called the Majestic. Before it started, the manager stepped in front of the small screen (which looked like a large window shade) and presented his thoughts on the film and the coming attractions. It was cute. Small-townish. A perfect venue for a "Hitchcockian" thriller. We were ready to be scared -- in spite of the roaring dehumidifier right next to the screen (window shade).

When it ended, I was left with one question: How did this movie get made? At best, it's a B+ film school project with the requisite lack of refinement (curious framing, disorienting setups, mismanaged actors). And those actors! This is Robin Williams and Toni Collette -- not some middle-aged never-was putzes you acquire for your student film via CraigsList -- and their performances are misguided to the point of farce. Williams as the melancholic writer who may or may not have a father complex! Collette as a crazy blind woman who may or may not be crazy and/or blind and may or may not have an adopted son who may or may not be imaginary! They have a great confrontation scene in the middle of an icy road. Words are exchanged. A truck fails to break. Collette snaps at her seeing-eye dog. La la la. I sunk into my seat, overcome by embarrassment for the pair.

And this was the featured film on IMDb (and many blog banners) for a while! Who's behind the marketing strategy? If anyone has seen this movie and enjoyed it (or recognized any of its merits), please enlighten me. I will say this: It's almost worth a look for the end title cards, when it tries to relate the ridiculous story to its "real-life inspiration." It's like if, say, The Piano ended with this title card: "This story was based on a real-life woman who started taking piano lessons when she was 14. She is now 28, and quite good, despite the fact that a crazy lover chopped her index finger off."

Plus: The Toronto Star interviews Robin Williams, who is cornering the cinematic market on middle-aged melancholy (and is only zany on awards shows).
Upcoming post: Movie title colonoscopies. You'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The blog days of summer

To inaugurate August 2006, the D.C. region and much of the Northeast plans to weather a heat advisory this week. Point of order: "advisory" is too docile a term. The temperature is 101. With the swampish humidity, walking outdoors feels like sinking beneath the raging, flaring surface of a supernova. It's incapacitating. So let's not play its game. Let's not beat the heat. Let's revel in it. Consider these three films and their ability to both convey and evoke rising mercury. Lug your TV set onto your back porch/yard/alley, suckle on a beer and melt into:

Body Heat. In the opening shot, William Hurt suffers the Floridian heat while watching a building burn. From the get-go, Body Heat -- Lawrence Kasdan's pulpy paean to Double Indemnity -- lays it on pretty thick. White polyester sticks to tanned bodies. Slippery brows are constantly wiped. The napes of necks glisten perpetually. Every conversation in every scene starts with chitchat about how hot it is. Even the dialogue is hardboiled. (Ned: "Maybe you shouldn't dress like that." Matty: "This is a blouse and a skirt. I don't know what you're talking about." Ned: "Maybe you shouldn't wear that body.") Those ever-present windchimes at Matty's house hardly cling-a-ling. No breeze. No respite. And no turning back, once Hurt and a ravishing Kathleen Turner commit to murder. Right down to its equatorial end -- and final word -- watching Body Heat is like having one long, steamy roll in the hay.

Do the Right Thing. If Rosie Perez's hot tamale aerobics during the opening credits don't make you pass out, surely the ensuing saga of race relations will. Do the Right Thing turned Bedford-Stuyvesant into more than just a location. It was a place in time -- a living, breathing, sweating, sun-drenched sauna of good and bad neighbors in 1989 Brooklyn. I think of Do the Right Thing and my olfactory nerves kick into overdrive: pizza, belching manhole covers, body odor, suntan lotion, lipstick on sweaty lips, broiling blacktop and then, of course, smoke and fury and hate. When things get too heated, we'd do well to listen to Mister Señor Love Daddy: "Whoa. Y'all take a chill. You got to cool that shit off. And that's the double-truth, Ruth."

Rear Window. The setting: air-conditionless Manhattan. You're stuck in a wheelchair (ass sweating into cotton pants that stick to the seat) with a gunky cast covering your leg (which is sweating doubly and creating a foul cast stench). You can't even sit still because there's a murderer living across the courtyard. Instead, you wheel feverishly around your apartment, struggling against diaper rash and a sinking feeling that you're the killer's next mark. Such is life as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, in which almost all of Hitchcock's shots and setups originate from within Stewart's apartment. This choice turns stuffiness into claustrophobia. We're stuck in the summer, in a wheelchair, in a stew of hot-blooded murder. As the wise old IMDb tells us, the 1,000 arclights used to convey summertime on the Paramount set were so hot they once set off the soundstage sprinkler system. Yee-ouch.

Now your turn. What hot pics deserve a look in the mucky month of August?

Side note: Apologies if the formatting of this post (and others) is off. I don't know how to wrangle photos and text so they look neat and flush on everyone's browsers everywhere. If anyone has any Blogspot tips, fire away.