Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Strangers in the night

The most memorable thing about Baby Mama on Sunday was the trailer that preceded it. The Strangers comes out May 30. On paper it must read like every other horror film of the past five years: yuppie couple terrorized in remote cabin by three masked crazypeople. Then why do I want to see it? Well, obviously: The trailer. Beautifully paced. Artfully composed. And the "inspired by true events" tagline sweetens the scent of any horror film, even though these particular "true events" seem to be the Manson family murders (I can't find any other real-life parallels), rather than a more recent off-the-radar occurence. The movie is going to make a shit-ton of money, simply because it's going to attract both the bloodthirsty demographic (key to making every torture-porn film No. 1 at the box office) and people like me (who love suspense movies but bristle at torture porn). Anyway, that's all. Glenn and Gabe at Videogum already posted about points I planned to ponder: the marketing and the supposed "true events." In the meantime, here is the trailer.

Friday, April 25, 2008

She's not my secretary; she's what they call an executive liaison; and I'm not banging her, if that's what you're implying

Wednesday was Administrative Professionals Day, so here we belatedly honor the best secretary in cinema: Floris, played by Mary Kay Place, in Being John Malkovich. Damn fine woman, Floris.

"I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're saying to me right now."

"What magic those fingers could work on the right cabinet. Maybe you should alphabetize me. And remember: 'I' comes before 'U.'"

Above is one of the best-written, funniest scenes in movies, and Place knocks it out of the park. The Floris/Dr. Lester storyline is probably the most ingenious, textured, hilarious subplot ever. It's a miracle. Do you have a favorite movie secretary? (If you need inspiration, The Film Experience flagged Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary [duh] and Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And now the latest from Villa Fontana...

And here I thought she was a hermit. Joan Fontaine, who I consider my erstwhile penpal, filled out Vanity Fair's Proust questionnaire last month. Good to know the old dame remains vital -- nearly as vital as that sweater! -- and a tad randy; some germane excerpts:

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
D’Artagnan, from The Three Musketeers, who taught me some things were going on in Milady’s boudoir. My mother, when I questioned her at 10 years old, said, “You’ll have to ask someone else.”

She sounds exactly like my Aunt Loretto.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A year of Robert Downey

This is (or will be) the year of Robert Downey Jr., and it's about time we had one of those, right? He is the sole reason I will rush to see Iron Man, which I hope is a big fat hit for him; his Iron Man character also makes an appearance in the Ed Norton Hulk sequel. He will play a homeless musician in Joe Wright's next movie, due out in November (hello, Oscar). And, most intriguingly, he plays a respected actor playing a black man in Ben Stiller's industry farce, Tropic Thunder. The trailer is delectable.

(Tom Cruise apparently has a cameo as a crazy studio executive, which is perfect, and the exact kind of role he needs at this point to start straining the radiation from the toxic fields of his career.)

Anyway...Robert Downey! We were reminded of his life force when Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang came out (you saw it, right? Why not? Asshole).

He's a natural onscreen, and I hope he continues to steadily work. We shouldn't expect any less -- the man steadily worked even while he battled a massive drug problem. I could go on and on about him, but there are things to do. I leave you with my first introduction to him: the charming, funny Heart and Souls, when he was a lad of 28.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Come on with the rain, I've a smile on my face

This week a two-day rainstorm settled over the Washington area and soaked us with about four inches. Whenever I'm out in the rain, I whistle "Singin' in the Rain," of course, and twirl on lamp posts. I mean, why not. After 36 hours of raining and twirling, though, it gets tiresome. So I started thinking about effective rainstorms in movies to take my mind off the deluge. Here are ones that immediately jumped to mind. Please add yours in the comments.

Jurassic Park. The automated Jeeps break down. A rainstorm gathers, the sky darkens, drops begin to fall (the plop-plop-plop on the Jeep's roof gives way to the T-Rex's distant stomping). Vision is obscured and sounds are muffled. Terror can leap from anywhere. The rain, in addition to being nerve-wrackingly atmospheric, also saves Lex and Tim: without the quickly muddied ground, the Jeep would've been crushed under the T-Rex's foot instead of sinking slowly.
Match Point. Sure, you can argue the rain is nature's way of disapproving of adultery, but I'm pretty sure Woody Allen uses it here for its erotic qualities alone.
The Shawshank Redemption. The drama of Tim Robbins' jailbreak is amplified by the thunder and lightning, and when he finally wrests himself free of the drainpipe he is met with a purgative downpour. It's a second baptism.
Singin' in the Rain. Obviously. It's situational irony here. Guy is ecstatically happy in crappy weather. In fact, the crappy weather serves to capitalize his Ecstasy simply by contrasting it. Bring on the shit, he says. It doesn't matter 'cause I'm in love. The sun's not in the sky; it's in his heart.
The Sound of Music. Liesl revels in puberty in the gazebo with Rolfe, then whees outside as lightning cracks and her white gown gets wet. It's a low-level loss of innocence, a metaphorical deflowering. The moment wouldn't have seemed as rebellious and wild if it wasn't pouring.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I'm in New York for the weekend. Here's hoping it'll be an After Hours kind of time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Celebrity Death Watch: Demi Moore

My brother has edited together another Celebrity Death Watch. This one is a mite more disturbing than the first -- Demi Moore seems to be dying of childbirth in two of the four clips, and that provides a nauseating contrast with the pop execution of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. (What does it say about me that Charlie's Angels is the only clip I can identify with certainty?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

There is no person I like more than Emma Thompson

With Stephen Fry in "Cambridge Footlights Revue" in 1982:

In a remix of scenes from her first movie, 1987's The Tall Guy:

As Frasier Crane's first wife in a commercial for a 1992 episode of "Cheers":

Eloquently accepting her best actress Oscar in 1993:

In The Remains of the Day that same year:

Accepting (as Jane Austen) a Golden Globe for best screenplay in 1996:

Giving the best performance cable TV has ever seen in 2001's Wit:

As the only good thing about Love Actually in 2003:

Baring her soul for an anti-human trafficking campaign in 2007:

Here's to 49 more years of peerless brilliance.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Earlier this year, I left Blog for 40 days not to wander in the desert but to voyage the high seas as part of a crypto-cultural fellowship program thing. Since some of you have been asking (and since I promised to write about it), here are the vague highlights of what I did, with movie commentary where appropriate:

1. Sang karaoke in Tokyo. "A Whole New World" and "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," among others. It was archetypal, and cinematic. Sofia Coppola-ish. But much more high-energy than Bob Harris.
2. Bathed in a hot spring in the Zao Mountains in the north of Honshu. There is no appropriately corresponding cinema for this episode.
3. Spent 30-plus days at sea on an ocean liner. Threw up zero times. During some meals, the kitchen staff would frequently play not only "My Heart Will Go On" but also the parts of the Titanic score that accompany the sinking. The ship might as well have been vertical during those meals.
4. Had a stranger spirit me into the Gulf of Oman on his speedboat. It was very Antonioni. Shirtless, leaning against the bow of a boat with my sunglasses on, hurtling over small waves to some rocky deserted isle. I did not disappear, however.
5. Got ankle-deep in poverty in Chennai, India, the first third-world country I've visited. I'm woefully undereducated when it comes to Indian movies, but suffice to say the experience was not Bollywoodish.
6. Made it from a southern harbor in Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia (and back) in four hours.
7. Memorized and performed the first half of the climactic dance in "Dirty Dancing" (up to and including Swayze's stage jump), with the movie projected behind me and my dance partner. I'm not joking about this. It was perhaps the most fun I've had on stage ever.
8. Acquired a surprising and valuable perspective on myself and my country. Can't really tell you what that is, though, other than we're like the oldest brother of the world behaving like the youngest.
9. Developed a severe affection for Finns, Costa Ricans, Brazilians, Omanis, Spaniards, Bahrainis, Kiwis and Solomon Islanders.
10. Truly realized, for the first time, how expansive the world is, humanistically, despite globalization. The world is a big-ass place. I'm hoping this is just the overture to the adventure.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Carrying a torch (no, not the Olympic one)

There's another group you gotta watch your foodstamps around: the hopeless. They break down into three major categories: married, just in for the weekend...

[Awkward glances, mugging, half-laughs.]

At least I don't have to cook you breakfast.

When the only sound in the empty street/ is the heavy tread of the heavy feet/ that belong to a lonesome cop,/ I open shop.

Most people when they see me just want conversation.

David, get over here!

Kiss goodbye?

Ma, they're so different.

Harvey Fierstein, the unlikeliest of performers, is a master of faces. He would've made a great silent star. These moments come from Torch Song Trilogy (1988), which he adapted from his Broadway play. I enjoyed this movie — despite its hurried pace — because of him.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

For a delicate mindf*ck, watch Petulia

Hey you.
I'm drunk.
It's all that stuff Barney gave you.
I'm drunk.
I'll drive you home.
I'll get a bus.
Don't be silly.
Don't pry, Archie.
How am I prying.
I'll get a bus.
If I were prying I'd ask you how you broke your rib, right?
So you fall on a tuba and you break your rib, right?
Wrong. Your rib was broken hours before your fall.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I'm into leather(heads)

Crap. I was planning to properly review Leatherheads and post an essay last Friday, but life gets in the way. What I would've said, if I was disciplined enough to produce the review on time: George Clooney has been working his way to Leatherheads his whole career. We know he's a matinee idol, we know he's a talented producer and fine director and a great actor, and we know he's got great comic talent. But never has one movie shown us all these things at once. With Leatherheads, Clooney cements his status as the new (old) Warren Beatty: handsome, talented, keen on choosing and making great projects. Suave looks, suave industry acumen. Charisma of Cary Grant with the eye and ambition of Orson Welles. As I said, we've known this, but Leatherheads is visual proof.

It's a great movie: funny, charming, intelligent, sharp, easy-breezy, chugging along on nostalgia and classicism and star wattage. All the characters are named Dodge and Suds and C.C. and Curly, Clooney employs the old Universal logo at the beginning, Randy Newman's score is a fresh ragtime throwback, Zellweger recaptures a tangy '20s dameness (despite her weirdly morphed countenance). Leatherheads has every trait of a quality crowd-pleaser despite its periodness, yet it has performed poorly at the box office. Why? Go see it, dammit.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Watch Geoffrey Rush die four times at once

My brother is an editor, which means he weaves reality from scraps of fantasy (or is it the other way around?). Either way, here is his latest mini project: a synchronized split-screen of Geoffrey Rush expiring in -- clockwise starting from top left -- Les Miserables (self-drowning), Quills (fatal madness), Pirates of the Caribbean (gunshot wound) and House on Haunted Hill (monster? falling ceiling tiles?). The contrast between the sequences works beautifully, as does the manipulation of sound levels to catch bits of dialogue and swells of music. Sometimes things aren't special until you put them side by side, or one after the other. Who would you want to see die four times at once? An obvious one is Meryl Streep: of cancer in One True Thing, of poison in Sophie's Choice, pushed down the stairs in Death Becomes Her, assassinated in The Manchurian Candidate. And isn't she run off the road in Silkwood, or does that happen off-screen? And I've never seen Ironweed, but I know her character overdoses in the novel. My brother thinks Demi Moore might be next on his list, but hopefully Meryl will be soon after.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Whither Rene Russo?

We have forgotten about her. Or maybe she doesn't want to be remembered. Featureless for three years now, and with no projects on the horizon, Rene Russo, you think, may just be another heap of 50-something female flotsam in the unforgiving, ageist waters of Hollywood. Bullshit. Bullshit! She's married to screenwriter Dan Gilroy, who is the younger brother of recent double Oscar nominee Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton). Hey, bros, get something cooking, will you?

And why the hell is she not in the remake of The Women? And she could be popping up in cheap, good, independent movies. God knows she's already had a reliable string of quality, popcorny blockbusters in the 1990s: the Lethal Weapon movies, Outbreak, In the Line of Fire, Get Shorty, Ransom, The Thomas Crown Affair. She's terrific at comedy, compelling with drama and has a definite movie-star aura. She's a female George Clooney. Come to think of: George! Why wasn't she in the Ocean's movies (instead of that insufferable Julia Roberts)? She's one of the boys, one of the few actors who actually deserves comparison to Rosalind Russell. Russo has sparred with Mel, Travolta, Costner and Clint -- why not you? Cast Rene in one of your movies. Have her play a shrink, you play a master gardener, go to her for therapy and fall in love with her. Call it Couch Tomatoes. Done. I'm happy.

P.S. Still, though, it seems the paparazzi remember her. She says to them, justifiably, "Why aren't you with Nicole Richie?" in this YouTube clip, which seems recent. And the unofficial fan site has photos of her at recent events. But why no work?