Thursday, May 31, 2007

He's the only kid ever to get into trouble before he was born

Christopher Lloyd is in those DirectTV commercials. Elisabeth Shue is back in the 'plexes with Gracie. I want to buy this. I've been saying "This is heavy" a lot. This is on a loop in my head. And I've been getting to work in the morning via skateboard (occasionally grabbing hold of car bumpers).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Starlets & scofflaws

This blog is more than two years old, and I've yet to mention Lindsay Lohan and the Hilton heiress (such restraint!) ...until now. The Lohan was arrested for DUI or something and the heiress might be going to jail, or something, because she didn't pay parking tickets, or something. Whatever. The point is this wonderful article about silent screen star Bebe Daniels (whom my aunts lunched with in London in 1970; long story). A 19-year-old Daniels was arrested and jailed in 1921 after she was caught going 30 mph over the speed limit in Santa Ana. Read the article. All of it. The details are sensational. My conclusion: the intensity of our celebrity-mongering hasn't changed in 86 years, but the tone of it has. We tar and feather our mischievous/woebegone celebrities with extreme prejudice today. In days of yore, people were a mite more classy with the tough love.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

'He's a treacherous ... yeasty ... codpiece.'

CHICAGO -- Went to the downtown AMC today to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End with the brothers, and who should be coming down the escalator as we go up? Barack Obama. In a White Sox cap. Without entourage or fanfare and without being noticed. He seemed to be with two guys, who kinda looked like security men in plainclothes. Was Barack moviegoing solo? Wonder what he saw. Didn't think to ask. Maybe Pirates.

Which was great, by the way. Close to perfect. A return to the grandness of the first one, even though I was never sure what was going on. But the Bloom-Knightley romance is resolved brilliantly and Geoffrey Rush is a treasure. What I have appreciated most about this trilogy is its celebration of language. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have a field day with the florid discourse of piracy, spinning screenplays that are at once showy and elegant -- a tapestry of delicious verbiage. This is how blockbusters should be: sensational both in production and in writing. Here's a sample of words, phrases and sentences that I was compelled to scribble down during At World's End:

"Feculent maggots." "Divulgatory." "If I may lend a machete to your intellectual thicket..." "Our destinies have been entwined but never joined." "Utterly deceptive twaddlestick." And there's so much more. Maybe Barack should hire Elliott and Rossio as speechwriters. He'd be guaranteed the nomination if he referred to an opponent as a "treacherous ... yeasty ... codpiece."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

'On the Lot' bombs

"Brett Ratner told me I could make commercial films! That hasn't really sunk in yet."

My God.

I had every intention of avoiding On the Lot -- a Spielberg-produced reality show that's dangling a million-dollar DreamWorks development deal over the groping hands of 50 wannabe directors -- because I didn't want to see Fox bastardize the magic of the movies. But you see, American Idol jumped right into it without commercial buffer time for me to switch off the TV. And then I had to watch, especially when they introduced Garry Marshall ("The king of comedy!" gushes one contestant), Carrie Fisher ("I'm sitting 10 feet from Princess Leia!" slobbers another) and Ratner as the judges/hosts/token dingbats. I'd be terrified to go in front of these three and pitch a movie, which is exactly what the contestants had to do in tonight's series premiere.

And it's a shame Marshall, Fisher and Ratner don't have a decent show to back up their crazy egos. I'd like to pick apart every piece of On the Lot, but let's not labor over this. Let's just conclude: Like any reality show about artistry, On the Lot doesn't use the magic of the creative process to craft its drama. It feeds on confrontations between contestants. It's all about discord and humiliation, not self-discovery and inspiration. Now that they're on this show, the contestants aren't artists. They are characters in a TV series and they are being duly manipulated by Fox. Yes, there were tears and yelling during the premiere. There was no delight or uplift. It's depressing to watch. So I won't be.

A parting note to Mr. Spielberg: You were born to make movies. Through pluck, luck and talent, you got into the industry and proved to be a consummate commercial artist. I know you want to give some kid the same kind of shot you had. That's great, but this is not the way to do it. You've thrust a bunch of budding, bushy-tailed filmmakers into a sitcom. It's a mockery of the filmmaking process and, on a superficial level, it warps the allure of "making it big." And it's delusional to think, in this digital age of populist filmmaking, that anyone would look to a reality show for the next big director. The next big director is unfolding his mind in his small apartment somewhere, writing and dreaming in private for now, instead of clamoring to be seen on Fox.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tony nominees' Hollywood detours

A fun fact before we start: Grey Garden's Mary Louise Wilson played dressy Tessie Tura opposite Angela Lansbury's Mama Rose in the 1974 Gypsy revival. Both Wilson and Lansbury are nominated for Tonys this year at ages 74 and 81, respectively (and current nominee Christine Ebersole played Tessie Tura in the Bette Midler Gypsy in 1994). Anyway, as you can see, I'm finally getting around to looking at the Tony nominations. I've pulled out some nominees to flag their sterling (if abbreviated) film work. I love seeing Broadway greats slumming in silly movies to make a buck, and I love seeing their talent blaze in material that actually deserves them. Their film work, regardless of pedigree, is always enjoyable.

Dana Ivey, Butley. She's never won a Tony! Madness. I love how committed she is to the weirdness of The Addams Family and Addams Family Values (above, with Anjelica Huston), in which she plays a haughty woman who slowly succumbs to the romantic wiles of Cousin It.

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon. Admire him for Dracula -- it was the start of a long film career playing baddies. My favorite is his slimy work in Dave as the jealous White House chief of staff.

Brian F. O'Byrne, The Coast of Utopia, has a crucial role as the Irish Catholic priest engaging in spiritual joust with Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. O'Byrne's dark, worldly portrayal is definitely not Crosby-esque.

Billy Crudup, The Coast of Utopia. His flawless, charismatic performance as Stillwater's frontman in Almost Famous shoulda been a starmaker. It's probably better that it wasn't. Crudup is top-knotch in anything he does, unless the material is crap.

Audra McDonald, 110 in the Shade. The woman with the Midas touch. She's peachy in 110 and perfect perfect perfect as the nurse who attends Emma Thompson in Wit.

Debra Monk, Curtains. I didn't much like Solondz's Palindromes, but Monk is hilarious and damn frightening as the crazy Christ-obsessed mother of a flock of handicapped children.

Jennifer Ehle, The Coast of Utopia. She outshines her temporal counterpart Gwyneth Paltrow as one of the four leads in Neil LaBute's time-jumping, now-forgotten romance, Possession.

Christine Ebersole, Grey Gardens. She plays a nasty governor in the Farley-Spade movie Black Sheep, delivering zingers with classically-trained bitchiness: "Neushwender are you finished stirring that drink or is this some kind of fucking science experiment?" and, as she notices Chris Farley being strung up by his underwear on a satellite dish during a stump speech: "I have heard the voice of the voters and the voters said...holy shit!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Now, shall you deal with me, oh Prince, and all the powers of HELL!

I'm not a Disney guy, but I'm convinced Maleficent is the most frightening villain in all of Disneydom (and maybe all of movies). Sleeping Beauty was a movie I grew up with, and I watched it again last year and was struck by how scary the whole spinning wheel sequence is. When Maleficent's green eyes flick open in that dark fireplace...jeepers. I watched this as a kid?

I Googled her. It brought up Disney's archives, which has this to say about Maleficent's decades-spanning quest to spread her wrath: "Beyond a matter of honor, this has become a matter of ego. Her pride, her evil, will not be denied." Insightful for a Disney synopsis, right? Just wait.

Here's what the site has to say about Ursula from The Little Mermaid: "She has the gross unsubtlety of Ratigan from 'The Great Mouse Detective' but substantially more brio."

Substantially more brio?
I'm loving this site. More: "Bejewelled and lip-pouting like an overweight, over-rich, over-pampered, over-the-top society hostess gone mad, she is all flair, flamboyance and theatricality mixed with a touch of con-artistry. Except when her wrath -- the only genuine emotion she seems capable of expressing -- bursts through, her every movement is a deceitful artifice, as if she's performing for an audience." Read the rest here.

I would love to meet the clever, smartass intern who was assigned to make these up. But suffice to say: Disney doesn't make villains like these women anymore. Can you imagine a G-rated movie character employing the word "hell" these days?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I've-Got-Nothing-Else-to-Post-About Pie

It's cute and tart and all those things, but Waitress was most successful with inspiring in me a deep, predatorial desire for pie. Any kind of pie really, as long as it consisted of a crust and a filling. I not only wanted to eat pie; I wanted to make pie. I saw Waitress on Saturday and I haven't had pie yet. I want pie. I want to make pie.

I'm trying to think of other movies that've triggered a craving. Chocolat, of course. The Contender really makes me want a shark steak sandwich, even though I've never had one and I hate seafood. Do the Right Thing makes me want pizza. Sleeping Beauty makes me want cake. What about you?

Friday, May 11, 2007

The censors take on filters: casting a pall (mall) on the alluring, noirish coolness of the movies

The ditherbrains at the MPAA are now factoring the act of smoking into their rating considerations. Fine whatever. I don't have any use for the MPAA. (I don't have any bloody use for it!) If the wellbeing of the youth of America is at stake, then they should've slapped any of the Austin Powers movies with an R rating and made Requiem for a Dream a PG. It still boggles my mind that Almost Famous was an R. And that Whale Rider was PG-13 instead of PG or G. Whatever.

The point being: Yes, on rare occasions (i.e. when I've had a stinger, or four) I do pop a cigarette in mouth. I do this because I am drunk and therefore inured to the harmfulness of the product. And because I like to imagine myself as part of a movie. There, you have my confession. Movies can make smoking look cool. Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart were the parents of this coolness. (Of course, if you listen too closely, you can hear cancer in their famous voices.) But if I so deign to smoke a cigarette, I make sure I'm backlit. It's only proper.

Public service announcement: In real life, smoking doesn't make sense. I fail to understand how people get hooked on it. It tastes like garbage and sours your complexion and puckers your lips and stains your teeth. I'm less concerned about the health problems and the dying. All I have are my looks, and I'm not about to give those away. Especially to something that tastes like garbage. It doesn't make sense.

Anyway, the point of all this poopycock:

1) I want your favorite smoking moments from the movies, just in case we never see anyone smoking in a movie ever again. My favorite is when Faye Dunaway fumbles to light a cigarette in Chinatown, and Jack Nicholson informs her that she's already got one lit. Smoking in this case is aesthetically pleasing, contextually appropriate and serves a narrative purpose. Dunaway's character is clearly on edge about something...

2) If a studio wants to secure its film a PG-13 or PG rating but needs a character to convey a sense of alluring, noirish coolness, what should said character do instead of lighting up? My vote: snap into a Slim Jim.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Thought of the Day: These days, visual effects suck

The relentless banality of Spider-Man 3 reminded me that I haven't seen expert, plausible special/visual effects since Minority Report. That was 2002. Shouldn't the technology of CGI be improving? When I think about towering achievements in visual effects, I think Titanic (1997) and Jurassic Park (1993). Seamless and utterly real. Maybe it's because they supplemented CGI with real set pieces and dummies. With Spider-Man and every other action/adventure/science-fiction movie that's come out in the past five years, everything is generated by computer. Looks like Saturday morning cartoons. Back to the drawing board, folks.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Integriwatch: Alien not Alien 3

Because I can't think of anything better to post about, here's this: Thomas Haden Church, the fun actor who's marooned with a poorly formed (literally) character in Spider-Man 3, is interviewed in the Spotlight section of the most recent Entertainment Weekly. He says Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien is the movie that made him want to break into Hollywood. EW accompanies this declaration with a photo from 1992's Alien3 (pictured). How does a mistake like this happen? (I've been a little perturbed about the old rag recently, but can you blame me? "Heroes" on the most recent cover? "Heroes"?)

Speaking of Ripley: June 12 is The Film Experience's Action Heroine Blog-a-thon. I'll have my arms elbow-deep in the intellectual muck of gender and genre (genrder?). My topic? No, not my beloved Sigourney (though I'd love to watch the Alien quadrilogy in one sitting). Instead, I'll examine the women of the Indiana Jones films. Allen. Capshaw. Doody. (Ha, doody.) Get ready for a barnburner.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I think my days at Grey Gardens are limited

This is the best thing to wear for today, you understand. Because I don't like women in skirts and the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt, I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today.