Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spike on "Where the Wild Things Are"

I loved this interview with Spike Jonze on the concept for his new movie, "Where the Wild Things Are." I can't say that I was initially particularly attracted to the movie, but this interview made me want to see it.

Friday, August 7, 2009


I kept seeing this one—a Japanese movie which won the Academy Award for best foreign feature film—in The Quad listings and trying to get to it, but the timing during the day (my usual movie-going time) just wasn’t working. I was so happy when Paul noticed it, too, and suggested we use some sitter time to check it out.

Departures is the story of Daigo Kobayashi, a passionate cellist, with a dream job in an orchestra, who finds himself abruptly out of job—and in huge debt for a very pricey cello-- when the orchestra dissolves.

What do you do when your dream has fizzled and you’ve got to re-group?

You go home, and you look for another job. Daigo and his apparently unflappable wife, Miko, head to Hirano, in northeastern Japan, where Daigo grew up. Daigo has inherited the house he grew up in from his mother, who died while he was abroad some years earlier. (His father abandoned the family when he was a child.)

Daigo sees a job listing for handling “departures” that doesn’t require experience, and, assuming its some sort of job with a travel agency, figures he’ll apply. Turns out that “departures” was a typo. It’s the departed that he’ll have to handle.

The business is all about “casketing,” i.e. a Japanese ritual in which dead bodies are prepared for the casket, and, at the end of the ceremony, placed in the casket. And it pays really well.

Daigo, who has never witnessed a death nor been part of memorializing one, can’t say no. He’s enticed by the money and Sasaki, the endearing curmudgeon who owns the business, and he’s frankly too nice and well intentioned to find a way to back out of the situation. He ends up going along for the ride.

It’s a great ride.

Departures, like Ghosted, is a window into another culture’s approach to death. And it’s an interesting one. On the one hand, the ritual of casketing is truly gorgeous—a reverential process that involves symbolically wiping away the pain accrued during time on earth, dressing the body in burial clothes, and making the person up (if the family requests it), to look their best, before placing them in the casket. All things that happen here, at a mortuary, but behind closed doors.

Here you, and the family, who sit nearby, see it up close. You’d think that a culture that created this lovely ceremony would be better at handling these situations than we are. Nope, at least, not according to the movie. Turns out the Japanese are just as death-leery as Americans. Daigo is too embarrassed to tell his wife what he’s up to. He lets her assume he’s working for a travel agency. (There’s a predictable reveal and accompanying drama over this one.) And he's ostracized by people in the community who disdain what he's doing.

And the grief-stricken families are just as un-done and un-resigned to death as those we know. Each death, each family, brings it’s own assortment of heartbreaking and sometimes funny complications. The beautiful young woman, a suicide, who they discover, in the process of casketing her, is actually a man, leaving the two casketers in a quandary: make “her” up as a woman or man? The fight that breaks out, among the family and friends, over the question of who’s responsible for death of a young girl killed on a motorbike.

We see it all. So do Daigo and Sasaki. And we watch as people struggle to come to terms with their losses. Along the way, there’s a nod to the “ambiguous” ceremony-less losses in life—people, gone but not dead, and dreams, for instance—and how hard it is to wrestle with them, as well.

It’s all very real, and very touching. Ultimately there are many opportunities for one realization: It’s a privilege to be here, walking around, living our lives, and the death of a loved one, and even someone you don’t know well, is an opportunity to honor that fact both for the other person—and for yourself.

I left the movie humming with appreciation, both for the movie and my life.


All I needed to hear about this movie was that it explored the aftermath of grief and loss and, of course, I was interested. (To anyone unfamiliar with my history, the loss of my brother when I was 14 left me with an apparently life-long interest in these topics.)

So, last Thursday, on a pre-school day when we should have been working, Paul and I caught the 1 p.m. show at The Quad. Ghosted is the story of Sophie Schmitt, a Hamburg-based video artist, and her lover, Aing-Li, a young woman from Taiwan. They meet when Aing-Li travels to Germany to visit an uncle, work in his restaurant, and uncover a secret about her birth.

We learn all of this in flashback. The movie actually begins the tale after Aing-Li’s death. We don’t know how it happened for quite awhile. Or why. All we know is that Sophie, who we first meet as she opens a video installation entitled “Remembrance” in Taiwan, featuring Aing-Li, is sad, confused and lonely.

Enter Mei-Li, a Taiwanese journalist who first appears at the opening, trying, earnestly, to cajole Sophie into an interview about her relationship with Aing-Li. Both women are drawn to one another, so much so that Sophie drops her guard and agrees to hang out with Mei-Li for the day, though she knows Mei-Li plans to write about it.

The day doesn’t end well. And so unfolds a push-pull storyline in which Mei-Li keeps popping back up in unexpected places, trying to investigate the story of Aing-Li’s death. For a while, it feels very much like a detective story—with the potential for an unexpected truth looming around the corner. Ultimately, it's about searching from both sides--the living and the dead.

And I’d love to say more about that, but I’d spoil the tension for you if I did.

I really liked this movie. There’s not a whole lot of depth or “ah-ha” to it. There aren’t any huge revelations about the nature of grief and loss. When the credits were rolling, I leaned over to Paul and said, “What I like most about these movies is the sense that they’re visual travelogues.”

It’s true. We see Taiwan. We see Hamburg. We see it from an urban perspective. And we see it from the perspective of strangers visiting those countries. It’s also a travelogue on death and lost loved ones from a Taiwanese perspective.

As I said, it’s not a huge movie by any means, not in financing or in its point. But I did really enjoy it—and I was only a tiny bit wistful about not having spent the time working (huge for me). I’m grateful to co-writers Astrid Stroher and Monica Treut (who also directed) for this small window on the way another culture sees loss.

Monday, August 3, 2009

And now, a brief pause for a public service announcement...

Here's a story: A few years back, pre-Henry, so at least three, and probably four, I was at a movie theater (19th and Broadway) watching "Kill Bill." I was really enjoying it, but I had a familiar quandary on my hands: When to pee? (Apologies to the squeamish, who might want to cut and run, because it only gets worse from here.)

If was not a question. I always get the big Diet Coke. I LOVE the big Diet Coke. I can FINISH the big Diet Coke. But, inevitably, it means at least one trip, sometimes, two, to the restroom. And that means I've become rather good--or let's say rather interested in--learning to pick the best time to bolt for five minutes.

I'm pretty good at picking the right throw away moment in films to do this. Sadly, there are a lot of them. But in this case, we're talking Quentin Tarantino, who, with his cut-and-paste, out-of-sequence style, can be pretty hard to read. (Is he TRYING to mess with people who dare to eat and drink during movies? I wouldn't put it past him.)

I picked a quiet moment, when Uma Thurman is on the plane, crossing out names on her hit-list, to run. I was gone for maybe five minutes. When I came back, I couldn't get in, because the doors were open and people were streaming out the doors. Turns out, the movie was a two-parter, and, true to Tarantino's style, he'd concluded the first one at an unexpected out-of-sequence moment.

It was funny. Sort of.

So I was in hysterics (and very grateful) when Paul, my husband, who is quite familiar with my Diet Coke issues (and is frequently counted upon to recount what I've missed), sent me this article, about a guy who has established a web site telling you the opportune moments to bolt for a restroom break during new releases.

What a guy!!!! (Mr. Runpee, not Paul, though I like him, too.)

The site is And it's available as iPhone App. Too bad I don't have an iPhone. But I can check out the website, pre-movie, if I'm motivated enough. This won't help, I might add, in those movies that are so good, or so tight, that there really IS no opportune moment for a break. (I call these don't-get-the-big-Diet-Coke movies...creative, eh?).

But there are few like those, alas. Most of them are eminently intermission-able. And when they're not, there's always Paul.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

I know, I'm lame. I have a huge list of movies to write up, and no time to do it. My dry spell doesn't end here, sadly. But I am going to link you to a GOOD review of "Drag Me To Hell" by Dana Stevens of Slate. In a million years, I would not have guessed that this was or could be a good movie. But Stevens likes it, and I like her taste, so now I'm intrigued. (Those of you who've spent some time on my blog know that I'm partial to horror movies.) Happy reading!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek Rocks

I'm so embarrassed that it's been so long since I posted. I've been extremely busy catching up after my month in Florida, my two fun-filled weeks of viral infections, gratis of pre-school, and one thing or another. And this, I'm also ashamed to say, will not be a long post. But I did want to express one movie-related thing here today, which is that the new Star Trek movie is great! I grew up on Star Trek, thanks to my cool older brother, Ted, who wasn't about to let me pick what went on the one T.V. in the house. So I watched, and loved it, and later went to Star Trek conventions and made Star Trek models with my brother, and played Star Trek (needless to say I never got to be Kirk) and...well, I was a big fan. It's not easy to win over die hard fans with re-makes. But J.J. Abrams, the director of this one, did a wonderful job--new enough, but connected enough to the old one. A nod to the backstory and mannerisms of some of the original characters, without making them caricatures. I immediately got on the ride--and stayed on it. I can't wait for the next one. Okay, that's my film thought for the day--hopefully more soon. Meanwhile, check it out, friends--and live long and prosper.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Greg Mottola and The Comeback

I got curious about Greg Mottola, the director of Adventureland, so I did a quick IMDB search on him (when I should have been doing “real” work). I discovered that he directed two episodes of The Comeback, Lisa Kudrow’s all-to-brief series on HBO.

It was a smart show that I thought had real potential and I was sorry to see it go. Occasionally, it shows up on HBO In Demand, so if you’re ever caught without something to watch, and you see it pop up—give it a shot.

The Comeback is the story of Valerie Cherish, a forty-something actress who’s fighting desperately to re-claim the adoration and status she enjoyed as a twenty-something hottie on what appears to have been a popular but dorky show (something along the lines of Threes Company. Ouch.)

At the start of the series, she lands her big chance—a small role on a new show, and a reality show documenting her “Comeback” (though like Nora Desmond, she laughs of the idea that she was ever gone). Valerie, with her feathered hair and seventies wardrobe, is every bit as awkward and self-conscious as Larry David, and what’s worse, she’s always smilingly trying to deflect the moments (and there are many) that show her in an un-fabulous light.

Other characters include her dorky but loyal husband, her bitchy step-daughter, who’s scornful of Valerie but loath to turn down a few moments in front of the camera and a shot at Nicole Richie-dom, a gay hairdresser who keeps Valerie’s hair in seventies fabulosity, and some snarky twenty-somethings (mainly writers on the show) who think being nice to her will diminish their coolness. Episode after episode, they try to humiliate her, and she gamely takes it all in, insisting on seeing it as peers teasing a peer.

You know, it wasn’t a perfect show. It was occasionally unwatchable in that I’m-so-uncomfortable-I-can’t-watch way that Curb Your Enthusiasm sometimes is. And it hadn’t quite found it’s pace—kind of like the first season of Seinfeld, in which the jokes are a little slow yet.

Seinfeld was given a chance to mature, though. I wish The Comeback had been given the same chance—and with directors like Mottola. I think we would have seen some great stuff.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Was James supposed to be played by Michael Cera?

This one's for Deborah, who asked if the part of James in Adventureland was possibly supposed to be played by Michael Cera (of Juno fame), i.e. was Eisenberg a substitute? Never occured to me until you mentioned it, but I did a Google search and found an interview with Greg Mottola, Adventureland's director, in which the interviewer raised the same question. (It's an especially relevant question because Mottola has directed Cera before....which I didn't know. I only know Cera from Juno.) Unless Mottola is doing some very diplomatic dancing here, it sounds like Eisenberg was meant to play the role. (Though I'm sure Cera would have been up to it.)

It’s hard to avoid some comparisons with Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg. Who would win in a cage match?
A cage match of awkwardness? Who’s the awkward king of America? Of young adult America?

Well, I knew of Jesse before I knew of Michael Cera, actually, because I had seen [Jesse’s] first film Roger Dodger when it came out because I was friends with Campbell Scott. I really liked him and I liked the movie, and that came out before I did Arrested Development. When I did Arrested Development, I was very excited because I was already a fan of Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor and the whole cast, pretty much, and Michael was the only person I didn’t know, and he was the one who I was like, “I can’t believe this fifteen-year-old kid is the funniest person in the room.” It kind of blew my mind.

Michael is a very specific ... He’s unique. I mean, there’s no one like Michael Cera. He’s his own thing, and I feel the same way about Jesse. I mean, Jesse has a slightly more neurotic New York Jewish energy to him, but Jesse, I think, is a little more sexualized than Michael. Michael is so sweet that some of the stuff, some of the yearning in Adventureland I wanted to have something of a sexual component, and I think that felt better, that felt more correct with Jesse, although Jesse has a lot of the sincerity and sweetness. You know, I’m glad that there are two actors like that out in the world because there’s not a lot of young people who could have played parts like that, in either Superbad or this, so I’d say it’s a toss-up. I love them equally.


I didn’t really know what this movie was about. I just knew it had gotten some nice reviews, and that my friend Nancy, who has very trustworthy taste, had actually read them—and wanted to see it. (Apologies to Nancy for seeing it without her.)

In truth, I’m not very good at the what’s-it-about question—with regard to movies OR books. Generally I enjoy the ride, and then puzzle over what it all means, later. Sometimes I just savor a few seconds or minutes of them, over-and-over again, and forget about worrying over the big picture.

After I saw Doubt, for example, what kept coming back to me was not so much thoughts about the nature of doubt itself (though this was clearly the intention of the movie), but a 20 second or so scene in which the kids are learning to dance in the school gymnasium, and Amy Adams is sitting in a chair on the side, clapping awkwardly. She clapped the way my mom might clap if she were watching me do something I was enjoying, even though she’d never want to try it herself. There’s something so piercingly right and true about those moments. And I felt it again and again in that movie. Does the total movie add up to the greatness of those few moments here and there? I don’t know yet. I’m still enjoying the moments. Haven’t totally gotten to the big picture yet.

That’s sort of where I am with Adventureland right now, too.

It’s 1987. James Brennan, a nerdy but sweet kid with annoying hair (a shelf of bang-curls…were the eighties really that egregious?) is graduating from college and making his plans. He’s going to travel in Europe for the summer with his best friend, then go to journalism school at Columbia.

That’s the plan, at least, until graduation weekend, when his bitchy mom and passive-aggressive dad inform him that his dad’s been demoted and plans have changed. If he’s going to make it to journalism school, he’s going to have to kiss the summer in Europe goodbye and get a job to earn his keep in the fall.

This is one of those movies where the parents are kind of set up as oblivious assholes—the kind who don’t realize that fair’s fair and a deal’s a deal. (The kid only needs 200 bucks to make Europe happen, and it was his graduation gift, for God’s sake.) Other parents are similarly dim-witted or incapable of handling situations with their kids fairly. It reminded me of Peanuts, where we see Charlie Brown and his buddies tangling with painful kid issues (and a few existential ones), while the parents are notably absent or prattling nonsensically in the background.

At any rate, James gets home, only to discover that his nerdy intellectual resume doesn’t get him far. The only job he can get is at a kind of embarrassing local theme park, run by a husband and wife team, Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), who met while Bobby was running the horse-racing game. The interview consists of him asking for the job. Five seconds later, he’s handed a “Games” t-shirt, because Bobby and Paulette proclaim him "definitely" a games guy, not a ride guy, and he’s good to go.

It’s at this point where we meet the freaks and geeks who will people his summer—and the next hour-and-a-half or so of our time. A friend of mine wanted to know if this was a movie about intellectual slackers. Not really. James and a few others are there because they simply can’t get jobs elsewhere and they need the money. Other vacillate between attractive enough but not distinguishable in any other way, or dim-witted, or stuck. It’s a pretty good cross-section of humanity, albeit one within a certain age-range.

And I suppose you could say it’s a growing up movie, which normally wouldn’t appeal to me, except that the lesson learned here is one I wish I’d learn at the tender age of 21: You can’t just avoid the people you fuck up with. I’m not sure I’m quoting that correctly, but I love it. Because we all fuck up, so if you start the avoiding game, you’re going to run out of people to hang with, or need a constant supply of new friends and lovers, on a pretty regular basis.

I’ll say it again, Oh, if I’d only learned this at 21. Or even 31.

There are some great performances here. Jesse Eisenberg (who was in The Squid and the Whale, though I don’t remember him). And Kristen Stewart, as Em, whose performance actually makes me want to see Twilight. Oh, and Martin Starr as Joel, James’s buddy. The coolest nerd you’ll ever encounter.

What’s it all about (Alfie)? I don’t know. I’m not really prepared to say yet. But I’m definitely still savoring its bits….the tube socks, the turquoise jewelry, the way James uses his line about wanting to be a travel writer in the same way that Charles Dickens was several times, knowing that, with the right audience, it makes him sound cool. The scene were Bobby goes after a thug with a baseball bat, and, a second later, goes back to tabulating his accounts.

I could go on.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday the 13th

(A still from the ending of the first Friday the 13th--the dream sequence that allows for the possibility of a sequel. Ha. Little did we know we'd be enjoying Jason's antics twenty years later.)

I trudged off to see this one rather guiltily. Guiltily because, let’s face it, I knew I was going to while away a few precious work hours, not to mention babysitter time, on a crap movie. I mean, Friday the 13th the original was a crap movie (though I loved it). The re-make was bound to be crap, too, no?

Well, it was, but…I still loved it.

It has what feels like three beginnings. It starts with a little montage from the very first story, just in case you don’t know the back-story (though they used different actors to depict it, rather than footage from the original…maybe they couldn’t buy the rights?)

Then it goes to what seems like the real, modern-day beginning—a bunch of hormonal kids go camping too close to the former site of Camp Crystal Lake. Predictably, they get slaughtered by our pal, Jason. But it happens so fast—they’re all dispatched within about ten minutes—that you’re left wondering how the hell they’re going to fill in the next hour or so of the movie.

On to part three. This is where the brother of one of the randy campers (I think his name was Clay) comes to town looking for his sister, Jenna. The locals are mum about goings on at Camp Crystal Lake, though one particularly odd one does allow that smart people know where not to go thereabouts.

Clay runs into some kids at the local gas station, while posting flyers of his missing sister. One of those kids, a snarky forgettable jerk, has a family cabin in the area. He’s brought a bunch of his buddies (all pretty annoying) and a sort-of girlfriend up to party/exercise their hormones for a few days.

Long story short, they all end up at the snarky guy’s house, getting slaughtered in one way or another. (I think there might be a few colorful dismemberings on the lake, but most take place in or around the house.)

There are a few attempts at Jason-psychology—a suggestion that he thinks Jenna looks like a younger version of his mother (killed in the end of the first Friday the 13th). I’m not averse to a little pop-serial-killer psychology…but in this case, it really didn’t go anywhere.

I really tried to remember some of the horrendous dialogue so I could repeat it for you here. But it’s been awhile now. (I really should have written some of it down.) The only line I think I’m remembering correctly is: “Your tits are spectacular!” (Fab, huh??)

The ending is sort of a nod to the ending of the first movie…but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a dream (like the end of the first one) or real…Either way, I suspect Jason will live to kill on another day.

You know what I found myself utterly amused by, as I was walking out of this movie? I realized that the kids in this movie were SO obnoxious, I kind of found myself rooting for Jason.

Kill, Kill, Kill, Now, Now, Now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Coming soon: Adventureland

I saw this last night and adored it. I'm on a deadline right now, so more to come, but for the moment just wanted to share one of my favorite lines: "You can't avoid everyone you've fucked up with."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

DVD: Then She Found Me

I actually had a lot of fun checking out Blockbusters when we were in Florida. At one time, a membership at a movie rental place (a place you actually have to go to, and browse) was a must. Now, with Netflix, it seems so passé….I don’t mean to sound snotty. It’s just that I’m so computer dependent now---services like Netflix, Fresh Direct, and have made my disorganized life so much easier. It’s hard to imagine voluntarily taking more time to do something I can do online.

I do occasionally go to Alvin’s Alley, the goofy rental place—half antique store, have DVD/VHS rental—on 9th between 22nd and 23rd. They have almost everything, even the very obscure. And they’re always willing to dig it out of a back recess of the store. Plus most of the people who work there are the nerdy movie types who’ve actually watched everything in the place and are happy to chat movies or make a recommendation. (And they’re only a block away.)

But a suburban Blockbusters is a different deal. What shocked me more than anything was that they have stuff that’s still in the movie theaters, or just recently out of them. I had NO idea. In other words, it’s possible to do some pretty sophisticated and current viewing with just the aid of a little suburban store. It was, I must say, a pleasant surprise. I mean, I love Rachel Maddow, but sometimes (a lot of times) I don’t want to think, I want to be entertained.

Anyway, I was looking for something I’d wanted to see, but missed. Looking, I might add, while occasionally disentangling Henry from a rack of DVDs, or pulling three bags of gummy bears out of his enthralled little hands. Once he scared the cr*p out of me by utterly disappearing and not answering when I called, thus raising the specter of myself on national T.V., begging for the return of my son, who I lost while checking out the current releases in the video store. I’m sure people would be VERY sympathetic.

But I was spared the humiliation. I found him. (Gummy Bear aisle again.) And I also found “Then She Found Me,” Helen Hunt’s directorial debut (she also co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on a novel by Ellen Lipman), which I wanted to see when it was out in 2007.

I wanted to like it. I like Helen Hunt. She’s a capable actor who, I think, knows what she’s doing—as an actor, anyway. But I guess there’s more to directing than that. My assumption was that someone who has been in the field as long as she has would get it, but there’s clearly more to it than having been in a zillion films since you were a teenager. In fact, one of my thoughts, after watching this movie was “Wow, I guess Ron Howard really has a unique talent.”

At any rate, here’s the plot: April (Helen Hunt) gets married at 39 (or possibly late 38, it’s not spelled out), to Ben (Matthew Broderick), a fellow grade school teacher. We learn, shortly thereafter, that she herself was adopted, and desperately wants to have a biological child. She and Ben have been trying, we discover (about ten months into the marriage), but to no avail.

Helen’s adoptive mother, Trudy, keeps telling her to adopt. To which April responds that she wants the biological connection, that she always knew there was a difference in the way Trudy looked at her and Ben (April’s brother, not adopted). Trudy glares at her, tells her there’s no difference, but April is adamant. There is, and she’s having a baby biologically, come hell or high water.

Then hell and/or high water arrives. Ben decides the marriage isn’t for him after all, Trudy dies, April discovers she’s pregnant after a round of goodbye sex with Ben, and April’s biological mother, Bernice (played by Bette Midler), tracks April down. Oh, and April meets a guy, Frank (Colin Firth), who’s very charming, for the most part, but also very fucked up after having been left by his wife to raise two kids on his own. Phew.

The tagline for this movie is: “Life can change in a heartbeat.” April certainly experiences a lot of changes. And I think, in the end, we’re to take away the idea that our hearts often have a greater ability to love and take risks than we give them credit for. It’s our fears of the heart’s limitations, not their actual ones, that get in our way. But, frankly, I’m digging, based on the last minute or so of the movie. Because most of this movie is a mess that doesn’t lead much of anywhere.

It’s possible that Hunt just can’t get past relatively surface, quick-to-resolve sitcom scenarios at this point. Because no character really totally makes sense. And no storyline really goes much of anywhere. When you see Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick and Bette Midler in a movie, and it still can’t come together, you know it’s because there’s just crap writing underneath it all.

Maybe Hunt should have skipped the writing credit and just gone with a tried and true screenplay. But I suspect that Hunt, who had a baby at about 40, was trying to do something personally meaningful here. No harm in that. But…it kind of sucks to have done that when the movie, well, kind of sucks.

Things that particularly bothered me:

*Hunt is distractingly gaunt and aged looking in this movie. She can’t be much above 40, but she looks 50, and she’s all bony and hunched over. I know there’s pressure to be thin in Hollywood, but God, she looked AWFUL.

*Colin Firth’s character…charming in stereotypical Colin Firth way, but there’s one outburst scene from him that made me think his character was irretrievably fucked up, mean and awful…though that was not, I think, what you were supposed to take away from it. I think you were supposed to think the outburst was endearing and honest. But….yikes. Psychotic is more like it.

*The non-exploration/resolution of the there’s no difference/there is a difference between a biological and adoptive relationship. I think in the end you’re supposed to come away with the there’s no difference attitude. But though this question is the premise of the movie, they don’t explore it at all. Okay, there’s one weird scene with April and Ben in which he talks about how hard it is to be the biological child…. embarrassing at times, he tells her. And…that’s the end of that exploring.

*Paul also felt that the music was strangely paired with the scenes….I didn’t notice this so much, but he’s much more attuned to music than I am. It kind of did feel like Hunt chose music she liked, more than music that fit the scenes, though.

And there you have it. High, or reasonable hopes, not such a great movie. Oh well. I wonder if she’ll try it again.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

DVD: Rumor Has It

Okay, normally I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a movie starring Jennifer Aniston. No offense to Jennifer, but her presence in a movie connotes adjectives like dumb, surface, and cute. (Okay, I’m willing to bet she’d find that summary a tad offensive. But what can I say? It’s true.)

But, here we were in the Florida rental, Henry in bed, limited cable…and no Netflix. We turned the place upside down and found a few DVDs the owners had left, the most palatable of which was “Rumor Has It,” the 2005 flick, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Aniston, Kevin Costner, Mark Ruffalo, Shirley MacLain, Richard Jenkins and Mena Suvari.

Here’s the plot summary: A young woman from Pasadena realizes that her now-dead mother both knew (and slept with) the guy who was the inspiration for the character, Benjamin, in “The Graduate.” And she wonders if she might be his daughter. (And whether her grandmother, played by MacLain, was Mrs. Robinson.) The rest of the movie is Aniston trying to figure out the truth.

It’s cute. In fact, it was better than I expected it to be. Shirley MacLain is good for a laugh or two, as usual. And there’s a bit of physical comedy from Jenkins, as Aniston’s father, that left us laughing out loud for a good five or ten minutes.

In short, if you’re ever stuck in a beach house with nothing else to watch, I wouldn’t suggest that you, say, play backgammon instead of watching this movie.

Two Lovers

It made a lot more sense for me to work than to go to a movie last Friday. I mean, I’d just gotten back from a month in Florida, I’m way behind, and I’d hired a sitter for the day. Isn’t that a scenario that spells catch-up?

But I woke up hearing the sound of tires on wet streets, and rain pattering the window. And it was gray out. It was a day, in short, that just screamed buy a bagel, a ticket, and a huge Diet Coke (in that order) and settle into a nearly empty theater. So, I did. Bliss.

(Bliss except for the peculiar, slightly dead-in-the-eyes, afternoon movie-goer ahead of me at the concession counter, who peppered me with questions as we waited…I let some distance accrue between us as we both made our way to the same theater, to make sure he wasn’t going to suggest we sit together. Shiver.)

So, Two Lovers, a movie that was suggested by several other movie fans.

It’s a lover’s quad, I guess. On the one hand, there’s the depressive, and, in her words, “fucked up,” Michele, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and her boyfriend, the much older, cringe-inducing, married-lawyer boyfriend, Ronald (Elias Koteas).

And then there’s Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), the oafish, endearing, slightly unstable son of Jewish immigrants who own a dry cleaning business in deep dark Brooklyn. Leonard’s heart was broken by his former fiancée, who ditched him (I’ll let you find out why). He’s home with his parents after a stint in an institution, trying to put his life back together.

He seems like a hopeless case, frankly, until he finds himself in the spotlight of a woman’s gaze—at which point he turns into an endearing clown who wants to please, amuse and entertain. And he does. The transformation is striking. And though it’s jarring, Phoenix makes it believable. Here is a man who comes alive at the prospect of love.

Leonard is torn between Michele, whom he’s technically friends with, but really pines for, and Sandra, the beautiful daughter of family friends, who doesn’t give off even the slightest whiff of crazy. Obviously Sandra is the right choice. Even Leonard knows that, occasionally blowing off Michele’s histrionics to focus on Sandra.

But crazy, as many of us know (okay, maybe just those of us with a checkered relationship history) has a strange allure. And, of course, it’s Gwynie, who looks like Gwynie in a photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar for most of the movie. Kind of hard to turn your back on that, I imagine. Plus she’s needy in a way that lights up that male I’ll take-care-of-you gene. (Leonard lights up the female version of this gene in Sandra.)

The performances in this movie are really good. I loved Isabella Rossellini as Leonard’s mom. She didn’t need dialogue. It was all in her beautiful, worried, aging face. Phoenix is great. (I really do hope he hasn’t gone off the rails.) And Gwyneth seems to have a knack for depressive characters. (Though, with the exception of a gum-smacking, big hair club scene, she seemed a little too pretty and polished to me.)

It’s a solid movie, though a bit like an emotional horror flick (“Oh, no, don’t go in the basement/answer Michele’s call!”) Nowhere was I as horrified, however, as at the end—which, I lift my hat to the director, James Gray—I could not predict.

I think what troubles me is that I don’t ultimately know what it all MEANS. Is it, I thought, as I left the movie (after checking that dead-in-the-eyes was gone) about the lies we tell ourselves, and the compromises we accept, in love and relationships? Or is it merely a portrait of some hapless attempts at love?

Either way, it rang unnervingly true.

Friday, April 3, 2009


(This was the pier in Deerfield Beach, Florida. We spent a lot of time taking walks on it, checking out the pelicans, and seeing what people were catching.)

Hi all. I was away all of March in Florida without a close movie theater (or sitter, even if there had been one). To make matters worse, my internet access was spotty. Which is more of an explanation, I suppose, than an apology, for why this blog has been so quiet of late. There WAS, however, a Blockbusters nearby....(boy did browsing those aisles recall junior high school) so I did some good renting. And I've seen two movies this week, so there'll be more activity soon.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Quad Newsletter

Remember I mentioned The Quad, and Elliot Kanbar's email newsletter in an earlier post? He always summarizes what's playing at the theater, and ends the newsletter with an interesting commentary. Here's this weeks offering (and p.s. I think he's right about all of them):

THE LAST WORD (AT LAST) ABOUT THE OSCAR WINNERS. Matt Damon recently remarked that "the only way to judge movies is at least 15 years down the line. You'll be able to see if the films and performances endured, divorced from the heat of the race and the craziness of the costly Oscar campaigns".

The magazine "Entertainment Today" launched an extensive survey asking Academy members: " In the last 15 Oscar races would you vote today for the same performers and films who won then?" Here are some answers including some of my own.

I think it should have been:

RALPH FIENNES ("Schindler's List") over Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive") for Best Supporting Actor. 1993.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN over "Shakespeare In Love" for Best Picture. 1998.

CATE BLANCHETT ("Elizabeth") over Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare In Love") for Best Actress.1998.

KATE WINSLET ("Sense and Sensibilites") over Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite") for Best Supporting Actress. 1995.

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS ("Gangs of New York") over Adrien Brody ("The Pianist") for Best Actor. 2002.

SEAN PENN ("Dead Man Walking") over Nicolas Cage ("Leaving Las Vegas") for Best Actor. 1993.

EDWARD NORTON ("American History") over Roberto Benigni ("Life is Beautiful") for Best Actor. 1998.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

David Denby on the Oscars--and why the picks were off

I'm just catching up on New Yorkers, so I'm late in remarking upon this...but David Denby's piece in the February 9/16th issue, entitled "Curious Cases" really nails it. Below are a few of my favorite observations....but click on the link and read the full piece. It's worth it.

-As you may have noticed, 2008 was not a great year for movies. There was nothing comparable to the hair-raising "There Will be Blood," or the ravishing "Diving Bell and the Butterfly," or the sinister "No Country for Old Men," from 2007. Even so a nod for best picture could have gone to more deserving movies, such as Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married," which settles down into a revelatory examination of a family's anguish and joy; or "Happy-Go-Lucky," Mike Leigh's startling look at the power and the limits of goodness....

-The total of thirteen nominations for "Benjamin Button" has to be some sort of scandal. "Citizen Kane" received nine nominations, "The Godfather: Part II" eleven, and this movie, so smooth and mellow that it seems to have been dipped in bourbon aging since the Civil War, is nowhere close to those two.

-Boyle has created what looks like a jumpy, hyper-edited commercial for poverty--he uses the squalor and violence touristically, as an aspect of the fabulous.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Charlie Rose and Mickey Rourke

Thanks to Rebecca Skloot for posting this on twitter, where I stumbled upon it....

Science at the movies

Check this out....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why are re-makes necessary?

I was just reading that they're doing a re-make of Karate Kid, starring Will Smith's son...a child who already poses like an unbearable Hollywood star. I don't mind re-makes of bad movies, i.e. the Friday the's not like the new versions have a lot to compete with. But why mess with the good ones? I'd like to hear a smart movie producer/director on the subject of re-makes and why they are as inevitable as bad movies in January......

Coming soon: Friday the 13th

(An image from the original Friday the 13th...recognize Kevin Bacon?)

You know, it was right in the spirit with good-bad movies. And I forgave it for not having that dated '80s look (tube socks, short cut-off shorts on guys, etc) that I adore (in retrospect). It was, dare I say! (killkillkillnownownow)

More to come...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wow--someone else not raving about Slumdog....

I'm having a hard time getting as excited about this movie as most people. I found it adept movie-making with an absolutely disturbing undercurrent--not uplifting at all. Here's a reviewer who felt similarly.

And more on Joaquin Phoenix

Here's a really interesting article that says Phoenix is dead serious about his new career. Shrug.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jane Austen Meets Aliens and Zombies

Actually (to use one of Henry's favorite words), I'm not kidding. Or making it up. There are two movies in the work that merge Austen's Pride and Prejudice (aka the Bible, for some people) and storylines involving zombies and/or aliens. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I'm always game for a little ridiculousness....but Jane, well, Jane is kind of sacred. I'm not at all sure how I feel about this. Click here for more details.

Joaquin Phoenix--Crazy or Kaufman-esque?

Chances are you've been encountering snippets of gossip about the decompensation of Joaquin Phoenix. I'm not accusing you of reading Perez Hilton (though I do). It's just hard to entirely avoid celebrity gossip, especially when it increasingly makes the headline news.

Here's the short version: Phoenix said he was giving up acting for a music career. He had one spectacularly bad performance, raised eyebrows with some pretty diva-like behavior, and apparently (though I missed it) was absolutely bizarre in a recent interview on the David Letterman show.

Some say he's falling apart, others that this is an Andy Kaufman/Sacha Baron Cohen-like bit of performance art--the latter theory supported by the fact that his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, is supposedly making a film about his fledgling music career.

I confess, I don't know what to make of it all, though I hope he's not falling apart. I really like him as an actor. So I perked up a little when I read this piece about Phoenix (and his new movie) on Slate.

Quentin Tarantino Trivia

I had so much fun with that Hitchcock trivia I dug up a tidbit on Quentin Tarantino, who, for the record, dropped out of high school at 16 to pursue a future in movies. Guess it worked out for him.

Anyway, here's a quote from him that I really like:

"When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, 'no, I went to films.'"

Source: IMDB

Hitchcock trivia

My friend Nuna just gave me a great book on Alfred Hitchcock---The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book. It's chock full of stuff I don't know. And, I have to confess, I'm doing terribly on the quizzes--mainly because (and this shocked me) there are still so many of his movies I haven't seen. This guy was prolific--he made more than fifty films. I've got work to do!

Meanwhile, here's a trivia question for you: Who inspired Hitchcock to make suspense films? Scroll down for the answer.............

Edgar Allen Poe!

The Class

Read a synopsis of this movie on Moviefone or Fandango and you're likely to, maybe I'll see Doubt again. The idea behind The Class is not so riveting--watch a teacher wrangle with a bunch of 13 and 14 year old French kids, trying to teach them the finer points of the language over the course of a school year. But if you, as I did, decide that there must be something behind the talk about this movie and go so far as to buy a ticket, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The kid actors are amazing--so real it feels like a documentary. The teacher, Francois Begaudeau, who is playing a fictionalized version of himself, is also thoroughly convincing. I would say that's hardly surprising, except I think it would actually be hard to play a slightly fictionalized version of yourself. Which parts do you fictionalize?

The movie, incidentally, is based on a book written by Begaudeau, and he also helped write the screenplay. And the realism of the performances? The product of a year long process of improvisational workshops. I don't know what impresses me more--the idea, and the committment to making it feel so real, or the final product.

There are a lot of things to chew on here:

What's the better way to be, as a teacher, with unruly kids--understanding and flexible? Or strict and no-nonsense?

Should teachers be authority figures or friends?

When do you give up on a kid?

And how do you impose one identity (in this case, French--though there are certainly parallels in our country) on an increasingly diverse population? And how do they take to that? We see that process at work here, via what would be any culture's most difficult sell--13 and 14 year-old kids. (Having heard some horror stories, mostly second-hand, about well-intentioned friends of friends who attempted to teach in the New York City school system, I actually expected these kids to be a lot tougher.)

I liked this film a lot, was thoroughly engaged while watching it, admire the way it was made--but I have to confess I haven't thought about it that much since leaving the theater. I don't know why. I did really like it.

For those of you who want to read more about this film, I think the Times did a really nice review, which I just stumbled across.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Guest Blog: He's Just Not That Into You

It takes a village to run a movie blog. Seriously. Just when I think I can't---or won't--go to a certain movie, a friend steps up and does it for me, and agrees to write about it! Here's Wesley Clark on "He's Just Not That Into You"...Hint: He wasn't all that into it, either. -EDR

In a fraternity-basement temple somewhere in Hollywood, a group of men in The Business, upset at the three-dimensional, strong, interesting women in such movies as Happy Go Lucky and Revolutionary Road, were praying to the Misogyny God. And lo, he answered their prayers. “I will give you,” he said, “a devilish entertainment. On the outside it will look like a chick flick, luring women and their dollars from all across the land. Once they are comfortably seated, however, settled back in their chairs in the dark, I will heap them with insults, make them look shallow, devious, and self-centered, and show them to be obsessed with you, my tribe, yea, even unto the least attractive and most boring among you.” And therewithal he delivered unto them a script, and on the cover of the script it was written: “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

Apparently, this is the top-grossing movie in America right now (which makes me wonder how much “change” we’re really in for in the next few years). I can’t give a full review of it, since I eventually walked out, something I almost never do. Suffice it to say that it involves a number of very smart and attractive women, played by a crew of extremely capable actresses, who spend the entire movie thinking of, apparently, nothing else but how to attract and keep a bunch of men with all the appeal, interest, and charisma of a local news anchor.

There’s Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who waits by the phone for days and days (and days), hoping for a call from Conor (Kevin Connolly), with whom she has had one utterly generic date. There’s Beth (Jennifer Anniston), who frets after leaving Neil (Ben Affleck), a man who apparently has no job (although he has a very large boat), and whose explorations of why he doesn’t want to get married after living with Beth for seven years display all the nuance and perceptiveness of a 15-year-old boy. And let us not forget Mary (Drew Barrymore), who, although she is smart, confident, and stylish, just goes all SHAKEY when, egged on by the obligatory crew of gay-man friends, she calls her voicemail to see if last night’s date has left her a message.

Oh, I lie. One of the women (Scarlett Johansson’s Anna) does think about something else. She thinks about how to break up the marriage of Janine (Jennifer Connelly) to the Bud-Light-ad-ready Ben (Bradley Cooper). As the prospect of doing this seems to cause her no anxiety whatever, I suppose she could be called one of the movie’s happy characters. Extra happy, no doubt, that she manages to escape arrest when, having agreed that Ben and she should be “just friends,” she strips naked and jumps into a health-club pool.

The offensiveness of all this – women are not only man-obsessed, incapable of self-direction, hell-bent on marriage, and willing to abase themselves for any dumb jock who happens to pass by, but ruthless and backstabbing, as well – is impossible to overstate. But the movie has more to offer. Dialogue that is often, to put it kindly, daytime-TV-level. Black actresses who are allowed on screen just long enough to do a little “street-talk” vignette about how their men have made them, yes, fat. Some jolly ribaldry on the subject of Beth not being married. And I didn’t even stay for the whole movie.

It all raises some questions. Did the people behind this actually think they were making a “hip” or “modern” film (I know slightly one of the people who wrote the book that inspired it, and she seems, anyway, like a normal, interesting woman)? Did they INTEND to insult half of the human race? Is this some sort of real-life version of “In the Company of Men,” where a movie acts all fun and funny, only to get its ya-yas by sticking the knife in and twisting it as soon as you let your guard down? Was it made by a bunch of small, bitter, angry men? Was it made, maybe, by the driving instructor from Happy Go Lucky?

Mostly what I want to know is, what were all those actresses thinking? Drew Barrymore, for God’s sake – she’s a funny, quirky, go-your-own way sort of presence. Was she really willing to become a spokeswoman for idiocy for a few million dollars? My only hope is that the original version of the script was substantially different, and more intelligent, than the finished product. Otherwise, I’m going to begin believing that women out there – or, at least, actresses – really are that desperate.

Well, that’s about it. Boring, conventional, embarrassing, insulting. Just what you’ve come to expect from America’s top films. I’ll be curious to hear if anyone found anything to like in it.

-Wesley Clark

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friggatriskaidekaphobia and other fun facts about Friday the 13th

I didn’t quite make it to see Friday the 13th today…but soon. Meanwhile, here are some fun facts, gratis of

*Fear of Friday the 13th - one of the most popular myths in science - is called paraskavedekatriaphobia as well as friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.

*The next Friday the 13th comes in March, followed by Nov. 13. Such a triple whammy comes around only every 11 years, said Thomas Fernsler, a math specialist at the University of Delaware who has studied the number 13 for more than 20 years.

*President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.

*Superstitious diners in Paris can hire a quatorzieme, or professional 14th guest.

Flicks are for kids!

The Quad, that great little theater on 13th between 6th and 5th, is starting a new movie series for kids ages 5 and up. Elliott Kanbar, president of The Quad says that if people like the program, he’s likely to add another kid’s movie slot at 4 p.m. on Mondays. I so wish Henry was old enough. This weekend’s fare: Charlotte’s Web (the animated version, not the human version I bought by accident, which is vastly inferior...has anyone else got Dakota Fanning fatigue?) All tickets $7. Oh, and take a moment to go to The Quad's web site and sign up for Kanbar's email newsletter--he updates you on what's coming and opines on such topics as the 10 best movie entrances of all times and who really deserved The Oscar. It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coming soon: The Class

Saw it, extremely engaged while watching it, haven't thought about it much since. The performances--particularly the kids--were AMAZING, however. I think I might be more interested in the process of making this movie, the casting, etc. than the actual movie. More later....

Random un-deep thoughts on un-deep movies

I just caught the last ten minutes of Best in Show, a movie I love to pieces. I adore pretty much every one of Christopher Guest's movies (not to mention his great go-to cast), but this is the most perfect of them, I think. Waiting for Guffman may be my second favorite.

I'm currently (like, at this very second) watching Blades of Glory on HBO in Demand. (Will Ferrell and the dude from Napolean Dynamite, wearing a curly blonde wig instead of a frizzy red one, this time). It's kinda dumb....well, that's kind of the point, right? But in the genre of dumb movies, I really like it.

And p.s., I saw Will Ferrell walking in front of my building today, wearing a baseball hat, trying not to be recognized, and seeming not at all as light and amusing as he comes off in movies, interviews, etc. In fact he gave off kind of a cranky vibe. Maybe he was just having a bad day?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jason is coming sooooooon.....

Jason is coming sooooooon.....kill kill kill now now now....I may see it Friday.

The Reader

Let’s say you have an astounding, soul-etching affair with someone you admire—a lot. You have nothing bad to say about him or her, except that suddenly, without warning, that person is gone.

Now let’s say that, years later, you find out that this person has allegedly done horrible—really horrible—things to other people. Does it un-etch this person from your soul? Change the good things you remember about the affair?

Who is the “real” person? The one you knew? Or the one to whom these other deeds have been ascribed? Can humanity and evil co-exist in the same person? What does it say about you if you feel compassion for someone who has committed an atrocity?

These questions (and more) are at the heart of The Reader, which tells the story of Michael, a 15-year-old innocent who accidentally encounters Hanna, a thirty-something trolley-worker with a healthy libido and no problem with younger men.

(SPOILER ALERT: I found it hard to talk about this movie, beyond this graph, without giving away some details….if you want to go in blind, don’t read further. If you like knowing the details….read on…)

Through Michael, we see Hanna as a gruff, tender, and sometimes bossy and dictatorial lover. Their most intimate moments are when Michael reads to her. That’s because the key to Hanna’s soul is the beauty of words and music. The affair comes to an end—leaving Michael heartbroken.

Fast forward seven or eight years to the mid-sixties. Michael is now a law student, and like many of his generation, he’s trying to make sense of his country’s behavior during the Holocaust. He’s attending a Holocaust trial for a class taught by a camp survivor. And there, lo and behold, is Hanna—on trial. It seems she was a guard in one of the camps, and that one of her jobs was to select ten women, periodically, for execution. Testimony reveals that she tended to single out the ones she’d made pets of—those who read to her.

One of the key moments in this movie is a speech given by one of Michael’s fellow students, which indicts all the older generation of Germans. He says they all knew what was happening to Germany’s Jews, even if they didn’t actively take part, and that they are all guilty.

What interests me is the notion that individual Germans behaved the way they did for different reasons. And that even people with a discernible soul were capable of it.

The temptation is to say that the people who were capable of atrocities were just evil. That let’s a lot of us who don’t perceive ourselves as evil off the hook—we’d never do that. And perhaps it makes the world feel safer—how many Hitler-like monsters can there be? It divides the world into us and them, which is the way we tend to like it. It makes a neat kind of sense.

This story doesn’t buy that explanation. Evil behavior and, tenderness can live side-by-side. It’s a much harder truth to live with. We watch Michael struggle with that—pitying Hanna, repulsed by her, wanting her to pay for her crimes, embarrassed by his pity and the enduring mark his first lover has left on him.

I don’t think, as some have said, that this take makes light of the guilt of those who participated, one way or another. I think it just makes it harder to separate ourselves from them. At the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. , there used to be (may still be—it's been awhile) an exhibit celebrating non-Jews who put their lives on the line to help Jews escape. My reaction: God, I hope I would have been one of them. But would I? It’s kind of a chilling question.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Okay, my friend Alex (of Star Trek opera fame) mentioned this trailer earlier, but I just got a chance to watch it. It's clearly a re-worked version of the story,'s awesome! I helps, I suppose, that the original show was so bad (I'll confess this, much as I love it) to begin with. In the trailer, at least, Will Ferrell makes the movie both funny and true to the story. I'm LOVING it so far.


I doubt I'm seeing this animated kid's feature. Not because I don't like kid's movies.

I saw Toy Story and Toy Story II IN THE THEATER. Now I watch them a minimum of three times a week because my two-year-old, Henry, loves them.

Recent conversation:
ME: "Hey, Henry, you look like Buzz Lightyear!"
HENRY: "No, I NOT look like Buzz Lightyear! I not pretend to fly in the sky!"

Even Henry gets Buzz's problem. I love it.

Anyway, Coraline does not hold huge appeal. At least at the moment. So I'm linking you to Dana Steven's review in Slate. I like Dana, and her taste, so you're in good hands. If I actually see this I'll comment more, but in the meantime....

Also, look out for a future post on crossover kid's movies that work for adults.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Wrath of Kahn...The Opera!

Thanks to my friend Alex for finding this beautiful rendition of The Wrath of Kahn as an opera...Sweet!

Let the Right One In (Lat den ratte komma in)

Let the Right One In, a Swedish horror/thriller based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who’s been described as Sweden’s Stephen King, has been at the Angelika, one of NYC’s arty theaters, all fall. The Angelika has pretty good taste. And no theater is going to keep a movie in their queue if it isn’t pulling in customers. So there was every reason to think this movie was worth seeing.

Rationally, I knew this, and yet…I couldn’t make myself see it.

Why? Two words that kept showing up in every synopsis: Bullying and Vampires. Ugh and blech, in that order. I really (really) didn’t want to see either in action. But, I finally ran out of things to see. Almost every theater in Manhattan is either endlessly showing all the Oscar nominated films, all of which I’ve seen (with the exception of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s “gifts” to us) or they’ve got Paul Blart Mall Cop on three screens. And, though I have willingly seen any number of really bad movies, that one has utterly no appeal for me.

So, dear reader, we went. (That would be me and Paul, my husband and movie sidekick. He’s my Alice.) And an eerier, cooler, movie I have not seen in a long time. Having just posted about my soft spot for sucky 80’s horror flicks like Halloween, I have to say, this brings horror movies to a whole new level. Sure, there’s The Ring, which I adored, and which, incidentally, scared the pants off me. But, with its Japanese revenge-theme, not to mention that the main victims tend to be high school kids, there’s still something of teenage/pop flavor about it.

Let the Right One in, which stars Kare Hedebrant as Oskar, a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives with his high-strung mom in a depressing apartment development in Stockholm, and visits his dad (who’s okay as long as he’s not drinking) on weekends. His co-star, is Lina Leandersson, as the gamine, sensitive, ferocious, vampire, Eli, who has been about 12 “more or less” for a long time. How long is never clarified—but we’re led to believe she’s actually quite old. Oskar, who is an innocent 12, never seems to entirely grasp this.

We’re never told exactly what happened to Eli, but based on intelligence from the movie (no spoiler, me!) I’m guessing she was bitten by a vampire at age 12, survived, but got stuck that age forever more. She was also stuck with all the vampire traits, i.e. an overwhelming thirst for blood, a rather thrilling agility, and an inability to tolerate light, among others.

There is shockingly little of the stereotypical vampire movie in this vampire movie. In fact there’s none, it’s directed as a real story, not a horror movie, which makes it that much bleaker and scarier at times. Here’s a bit of an interview I found online with the author of the book, who also wrote the screenplay. In it, he talks about what he was trying to do in the film:

“I wanted to approach my subject completely seriously and absolutely reject all sort of romanticized notions about vampires, or what we’ve seen earlier of vampires, and just concentrate on the question: If a child was stuck forever like, in a 12-year-old existence and had to walk around killing other people and drink their blood to live – what would that child’s existence really be like? If you disregard all the romanticized clichés. And then it struck me when I wrote the book that it would be an absolutely horrible existence. Miserable, gross and lonely. And hence, the way Eli is depicted.”

There IS a bleak and melancholy feel about this movie. There’s Oskar’s loneliness, his game attempts to take it all in stride, and, of course, the hideous bullying I didn’t want to see. (I’m now afraid to send Henry to school…Okay, I was already afraid to send him. Now I’m NOT sending him.) And there’s Eli—emaciated, dark circles under her eyes, drawn, in spite of herself, and despite the fact that she knows it’s a bad idea, to Oskar’s tentative attempts to befriend her. Did you ever think you’d be touched by the sight of a vampire, bent intently over a Rubik’s Cube? I sure didn’t.

Somehow, as Paul and I both remarked later, you find yourself rooting for the vampire, who’ve you’ve seen—with your own horrified eyes—do some pretty bloody things. Of course you worry about Oskar’s fate, throughout, too—that’s part of the tension.

This is a real movie about childhood loneliness and friendship, with a vampire theme thrown in. (By thrown in I don’t mean it’s haphazard…it’s obviously carefully crafted…it’s that it’s not JUST about the blood and gore.) Because the writer, as well as the director, Tomas Alfredson, went for the real story, instead of the special effects cliché version, I found myself utterly drawn in and moved.

I can’t believe how much I liked it, in fact, and now, of course, feel stupid for avoiding it for so long. (Incidentally, there are a number of people who are incensed that it got snubbed by the Oscars in the best foreign film category…that’s how good it is.) The only thing that’s spoiling it for me is the fact that, as I noted in an earlier post, there’s an American version coming out soon. That, my friends, is bound to be the cliché Lindqvist was trying to avoid.

Star Trek

How could I have done that little nostalgia binge a week ago and not mentioned one of the best things coming down the pike (May 9th)---Star Trek! And directed by J.J. Abrams of Lost and Alias fame, no less. Click here for a trailer.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speaking of Gwyneth

Those of you who dislike Gwyneth as much as I do should really invest a couple of hours in Duets, the last movie directed by the late Bruce Paltrow (sorry, Bruce) and starring his daughter, Gwyneth (who actually, I have to confess, does have a pretty voice). It's one of those so-bad-it's-good train wrecks that just won't let you look away. Especially gratifying is Gwyneth's dorky attempt to clap while singing (see above). You can actually see the concentration...all for naught, alas.


(An image from the REAL Shall We Dance)

Excuse the profanity. But a little googling just revealed the fact that an English-language re-make of Let the Right One In is in the works, by director Matt Reeves (who also directed The Pallbearer--a gag-fest starring what's-his-name from friends and the precious Gwyneth Paltrow.) That's never good. (American re-make or Gwyneth, for those of you who need clarifying.)

Three little words: Shall We Dance?

That's a reference, for those of you who didn't see it, to the Japanese movie Shall We Dance, which was a beautiful poem of a flick that Hollywood utterly dumbified for the English-speaking masses with the help of Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere. Lopez I get. It's the perfect I'm-a-serious-actress delusion for her. But Gere? Maybe he had some alimony to pay? Needed another house in the Hollywood Hills?

At any rate, tragic. And lord only knows what they're going to do with my precious vampire movie. If Jennifer Lopez is in this one, I'M gonna go bite someone. In Hollywood.

And p.s. rent Shall We Dance--the Japanese version. It's lovely.

More Sally Hawkins

Okay, she didn't get nominated for an Oscar. (F*ck you, Academy). But she's on to bigger and better things. Sally Hawkins is rumored to be signing on to a new flick called We Want Sex, the story of a bunch of female auto industry works who went on strike in 1968 to protest sexual discrimination in the workplace. Rumor is Imelda Staunton (the fabulous star of Vera Drake, also a Mike Leigh film) is also in negotations. F you, Oscars! Can't wait to see what she's up to next.

Coming soon: Let the Right One In and The Reader

Okay, I am way, way behind. I owe you some deep thoughts on The Reader. And since I saw that, I saw Let the Right One In...a Swedish vampire flick I've been avoiding for months (for obvious reasons). But all the Oscar nominees are hogging the line-ups at all my theaters so I've had a dearth of options. Long story short, we went last weekend. And it was...AWESOME. More soon. Sorry. I'm tired and it's been a nutty week. But let me just say the 12-ish year old female lead of this one is DA BOMB.

Friday, January 30, 2009

HBO On Demand: Juno

(I want this T-Shirt)

I missed this one last year and watched it, yesterday, on HBO on Demand, as I "enjoyed" the bug Henry passed on to me. (Thanks, pre-school.) I liked it, it was fun, great dialogue, but as someone else (Hi Andrew!) pointed out, the dialogue and delivery was a little too snappy and clever to be believable. It bugged him. I'll say I NOTICED it, but still appreciated the humor.

The plot in a nano-second, for those of you who didn't see it: 16-year-old hip, but sweet, girl has sex (once) with a geeky guy she has an inexplicable crush on, gets pregnant, and decides to go through with the pregnancy.

There aren't a lot of deep ah-ha moments in this one. But it's nice to have a non-movie-of-the-week version of this age-old story, isn't it? The performances, especially Ellen Page, as Juno, are first-rate.

Other things I liked, aside from Juno--who is, I must say, an incredibly appealing character:

All the cultural references--slasher movies, classic rock, Les Pauls, etc etc.

Jason Bateman's understated and cool performance as the potential adoptive dad...I didn't know he had it in him

Jennifer Garner...Her character was uptight, but in a believable way, not in the OCD, unsympathetic way people of this ilk are usually portrayed. Again, a nice understated and real version of a stereotypical type of character. I didn't want to be her, thought she was annoying, but liked her and felt sympathetic toward her...that's a lot to pull off.

Allison Janney...Again, too witty, but her delivery is so great I totally forgave her.

Blue Slushies. I need a blue Slushy, like, now. Though I'd prefer not to throw it up upon consumption. (Bit of a spoiler, sorry)

I also need that Slinky t-shirt Juno is wearing toward the end.

All in all, great rental. I was happy I got to check it out.

It just keeps getting better: Friday the 13th out February 13th

Full disclosure: I watched Halloween about three times in a row, just for fun, about a month ago. Yes, that's the kind of person I am. I cut my teeth on the 80's horror flicks and have a ridiculously warm attachment to them. So while I'm a little apprehensive at the idea of a slick new re-make, I'm also game.....I think I need a Camp Crystal Lake T-Shirt, though. (Kill Kill Kill Now Now Now)

Holly Marshall: Where is she now?

Kathleen Coleman was born on February 18, 1962. Her claim to fame is for her portrayal of Holly Marshall on 'Land of the Lost', a show which first ran on Saturday mornings on NBC from September 1974 to December 1976. Her straight bangs and braids, along with her red and white checked shirt and corduroys became her trademark. Holly was the first love for many who grew up watching the show. She married at age 18 and had two sons. She worked on her father-in-laws dairy farm in Fallon, Nevada with her husband for several years before they divorced around 1987, after which she moved back to the Los Angeles area.

(p.s. I have no idea who the guy in the picture is, but if I were Kathleen, I'd watch out for him)

(p.s.s...a little more research has revealed that the due gripping Kathleen is Enik, from the original series...I'm still scared of him.)

(Source: IMDB)

Trivia for Land of the Lost Fans...

  • When Spencer Milligan left the show after the second season, his absence was explained by having Rick Marshall disappear after he was trying to use one of the pylons to get home.

  • The producers came up with a very interesting idea to keep their viewers looking at the show during the hiatus between the first and second seasons. In the first season's final episode, the Marshalls discover that for some reason they aren't supposed to be there. Enik later informs them that due to a time disturbance that they never really arrived in the Land of the Lost and must go back in time and relive the accident that brought them there. By going back in time, they also would experience everything that happened to them up to that point in a sort of time loop.

  • During the final season two new monsters were introduced, a two-headed monster named Lulu and a fire-breathing monster named Torchy. Lulu was based on the Pleisiosaur, an aquatic reptile from the Cretaceous period, while Torchy was based on the Dimetrodon, a reptile that died out before Earth's Paleozoic Era transformed into the Mesozoic Era.

  • During the final season, the Marshalls and Chaka moved from their cave to a Sleestak temple. This was partially forced because of a fire that destroyed substantial portions of the studio between the show's second and third seasons.

  • Wesley Eure would often perform songs at the end of several episodes with lyrics pertaining to the lesson learned in the course of the episode.

  • Former Clevland Cavs and Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer was a Sleestak during the show's first season
-Courtesy of IMDB

New in Town

Okay, I didn't really have any plans to see this one, but just in case you're considering it, here's a review from Slate. Looks like Rene's nipples made an impression...

Tragic News: There's going to be a Mall Cop sequel

In two weeks, Blart pulled in $64 million. And it's expected to make at least $100 million at the end of its US movie theater run. That's got Sony excited. Read it and weep.

Oh Joy: Land of the Lost is Coming Soon!

It's baaa-aaaack.

It is Land of the Lost, the Saturday morning show that I adored when I was a kid. For those of you unfamiliar with this brilliant piece of work, it starred Rick, the dad, and his two kids, Will and Holly, who were on an innocent rafting trip when something happened and they fell back in time to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. All kinds of hijinks ensued, including some involving a race of creepy aliens called Sleestaks.

To say that I loved this show, which ran from 1974 to 1976, is actually an understatement. I Netflix-ed it awhile back and showed it to my son, Henry, who was still teething at the time. It was hopelessly dorky when I saw it again, but I didn't care. I still loved it.

At any rate, there must be other middle-aged fans as lame as I am, because there's a Land of the Lost MOVIE coming out, starring Will Ferrell. I didn't recognize the rest of the cast list, but there are AWFUL lot of Sleestaks on the list, so I'm expecting loads of Sleestak shenanigans in the re-make. Release date is June 9th. Can't wait!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on Wendy and Lucy

As you know, I didn't rave about Wendy and Lucy when I saw it. But it's growing on me. For another take--from a movie lover who dug it from the get go--click here.

Kelly Reichardt---okay, she's great

Remember in an earlier entry, when I said I didn't get Wendy and Lucy and all the fawning it--and its director, Kelly Reichardt--got from the critics?

I thought maybe I needed to see some of her earlier work to get why they were so excited about her. So we rented Old Joy (2006), an award winning movie about two old buddies who take off to check out the hot springs in the backwoods of Oregon.

We're only part-way through, but it's spectacular. Quiet, observant, beautiful and atmospheric. In parts, I felt like I was in the passenger seat of the car, watching the landscape--which, of course, tells its own story--roll by. Given that that's one of my favorite things to do, I'm really enjoying the movie so far.

I think I'm going to end up a Reichardt fan. I'll post more about Old Joy soon. Meanwhile, here's a Q&A that ran in the NYT with Reichardt when Wendy and Lucy came out.

She sounds very cool.