May 2010 posts
RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935/DVD) and MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937/DVD) Fans of Ricky Gervais’s live shows and his Extras sitcom-within-a-sitcom When The Whistle Blows will immediately recognize the hilariously heartwarming and totally weird tour de force performance by Charles Laughton that grounds McCarey’s best comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap, cuz Gervais pretty much mimics him outright. Being that up until recently I had only known Laughton as the fat dude Tony Curtis bathes in Spartacus and the director of the brilliantly creepy classic Night of the Hunter (a knockout debut that fared so poorly at the box office that Laughton was never allowed to direct another), his turn as Marmaduke Ruggles—an uber-Eeeeenglish turn-of-the-last-century butler that, as a result of a jolly poker game, is sent to serve a new master in the dusty American wild west town of Red Gap, Washington—is a revelation. While Laughton is mostly known for his great success with historical dramas playing the likes of Henry VIII and Nero, Ruggles makes it clear that Laughton was a first rate comic performer on par with Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, etc. It makes one wonder how much if any of that performance came from any collaboration with My New Favorite Director™ Leo McCarey, already a name in 1935 for directing/writing comedies with the Marx Brothers (1933’s Duck Soup), W.C. Fields, and Laurel & Hardy (who he is widely credited for teaming up in the first place).
What put McCarey’s direction head and shoulders above his peers, however, was his knack for coaxing more natural and unaffected performances from his actors than was the norm for that era. You’ll find the finest example of his low-key approach in 1937’s Make Way for Tomorrow, a film about an elderly couple who are separated and shipped off by their selfish and callous adult children that is so unbelievable heartbreaking that Orson Welles once famously exclaimed it would “make a STONE cry!” Read more »
We here at SML have a special place in our hearts for the fabulous Joan Rivers. It was after seeing her live show together one night that we sat in a bar and discussed starting a movie review blog together. And here we are! Joan: bringing people together for 40 years. So we are all anxiously awaiting the new documentary about a year in the life of the hardest working woman in show business. The movie was a big hit at Sundance, and there have been some great interviews floating around. A new trailer hit the interwebs this week, hinting that the movie will be as hilarious as we’d expect but also show the softer side of Joan that many people may not be aware of. Take a look!
Trailer: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
PEACOCK (2010/DVD) A couple of years ago, on Mark Lisanti’s sad last day at Defamer (he now writes occasionally for Movieline, thank god) he mentioned that a friend had co-written a brilliant script for a movie that would soon star Cillian Murphy and Ellen Page (fresh off Juno). When I noticed Peacock pop up in Netflix in April, I was pretty surprised—no theatrical release for a film that was buzzed about for years, which also starred Susan Sarandon, Keith Carradine, and Bill Pullman (OK, I probably could have left off those last two)? To the top of the queue!
Directed by Michael Lander and co-written by Lander and Ryan Roy, Peacock is the story of a young man named John who, after his abusive mother dies, takes on a second personality—a female caretaker (or wife?) named Emma. He’s able to keep his home life quiet until a freak train accident in his backyard draws unwanted attention from the town, and he’s forced to take drastic steps in order to be left alone again. Read more »
The title of this Serious Movie Lover series says it all—we saw it so you didn’t have to.
THE AMATEURS (2009/SHOWTIME) Remember a couple years back when it seemed like everyone and his/her hairdresser was making comedies about the trials and tribulations of (mostly) regular folks making porno flicks? I sure do. Well, those unfortunate dozens that braved Kevin Smith’s daring P.O.S. Zack & Miri Make a Porno, should take heart in knowing that the movie they watched could have been much worse. Worser, even. Cuz even that shitbox (a given, really, knowing plane-hatin’/frequent-bed-wetter KS was the auteur at the helm) looks like Boogie Nights in comparison to this notboiler.
Had you stumbled across this junk on cable (as I did, on Showtime, between SUCK airings of Nurse Jackie), your initial reaction to seeing this many of your fave TV and film actors sharing the screen would be Oh! I LOVE those actors! But in only minutes your reaction is more like Oh. I love these actors? (How embarrassing for them!) A tubby Jeff Bridges leads this bombsamble cast, with locks a-flowin’ like the Fisher King after attending one too many Lebowski Fests, mush-mouthing all over this spastic, sputtering thing like a bargain-basement Brando after a bowl or two. As Andy Sargentee, an unemployed recently divorced dad ashamed that he can’t afford to give his son stuff like the kid’s rich step-dad, an affable chap played by, uh, the funny brother from TV’s Wings, he sequesters himself in the local tavern screaming and cursing and scrunching up his face and tearing pages out of notebooks while waiting for divine inspiration to strike. As he does this very antisocial thing for which I’ve seen many a homeless men booted from my neighborhood White Castle, all of the townspeople start talking like, “OH, NO! We’ve seen that look before and we DON’T LIKE IT!” and “You know that look only leads to NO GOOD!” and “OH, I can’t believe he’s DOING IT AGAIN WITH THE LOOK!” until he finally breaks out of his trance, sufficiently inspired to make his mark and great fortune by making a porno. “OH NO!” his pals all shrug, as if to say, “This will only end in TROUBLE, but at least BOOBS will be involved this time.” Read more »
CHERI (2009/DVD) Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons), I was hoping for something absolutely charming in Cheri. I love Rupert Friend, love Kathy Bates and sometimes really like the older Michelle Pfeiffer (as in her wonderful turn as a witch in Stardust). But this movie didn’t hit the mark. It feels sluggish and very stage-y, opening with a lengthy narrator’s set-up (all in voice over, of course), introducing us to the courtesans of the French Belle Epoque, just prior to WWI. We see actual period photos of famous ladies, all very voluptuous, and then are introduced to Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea de Laval, theoretically one of the all time greats in this league. The problem: she is skinny! She’s a modern woman and despite the wonderful period hair, jewelry and costuming, looks all too modern and much too thin. Perhaps the director is trying to compensate for that fact by casting Kathy Bates (who is never thin) as Lea’s friendly competitor whose son Cheri (Rupert Friend) at the ripe old age of 19 is in need of care-taking. Lea and Cheri head off to the country and proceed to fall into the habit of one another, in a casual May/December romance. Later on, Cheri marries a wealthy younger woman as arranged and directed by his mother and the obvious triangle ensues. The film is based on a famous 1920 novel by the courtesan Collette (b.1873, d.1954) and the screenplay is the work of Christopher Hampton who also wrote Atonement. The sets are gorgeous but they do not make up for a stiff movie. The ending, to me, was the only really affecting part of the movie and ironically it is also told to us by the narrator, who turns out to be Frears himself. Worth renting, but don’t get your hopes up.
Grade: B- Ultimately a very British interpretation of a very French tale.
Sarah and Kimberly (at left; the Rest of the World, at right) are nothing if not “gals on the go.” They barely have time to honor each other via Luna bar and pick up a new pair of jeggings, let alone finish watching Center Stage for the tenth time. They are dancing as fast as they can! Wasted Weekend is a weekly discussion of the films they watched, half-watched, or turned off in disgust during the previous few days. We hope you still respect them after reading this.
Sarah: So, there has been a disturbing amount of Golden Girls reruns being viewed in my house lately. The Hallmark Channel airs like 40 episodes a day! The giant flow-y outfits are mesmerizing! I’m lucky to have any movie-related viewing to discuss with you at all, frankly. I did manage to watch the first hour of Quantum of Solace, though. I really liked the first Daniel Craig Bond movie, but this one makes no sense at all. This isn’t even the first time I’ve seen it, and I still had no idea what the hell was going on. The action sequences are well-edited and fun to watch (I love a good old-fashioned boat race!), and Craig makes such a great Bond. But after the first few fights and explosions, I was mostly just confused. And after they switch continents for the third or fourth time, it’s just annoying. Archeology seems to be involved? Or ecology, maybe? And the CIA is in league with the bad guy? But maybe not? The newest installment is having production problems, too, which isn’t helping this negative momentum at all. For shame, MGM. I’ll be sad if this is the last movie in the series. Maybe you had better luck in the plot arena this weekend?
Kimberly: Hopefully they won’t take a break and recast again—I am having visions of Robert Pattinson as Bond and it is not good. Though I haven’t seen the “Girls” in a while, I made the terrible error in judgement of watching No Such Thing. I have often praised Hal Hartley’s early ‘90s films (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust) for their odd dialogue and cacophonous scores (also composed by Hartley)—they have a very distinct personality that I found pretty intriguing, particularly when I was just a young film snob. But I don’t think he’s grown a bit in the past 20 years—in fact, maybe he has some brain damage? The plot for this movie (an Icelandic monster kills the fiancee of our heroine [Sarah Polley], who tries to travel to Iceland to investigate, is in a plane crash and temporarily paralyzed, quickly recovers and successfully makes the trip, brings the monster back to New York where they become famous [which involves Polley wearing bondage gear for press conferences??], he goes back to Iceland, doctors euthanize him) makes no sense. I cannot emphasize this enough. Characters conveniently appear on continents where they were not five minutes prior. News producers have control of the FBI. Please, even Roger Ailes doesn’t wield that kind of power. No one behaves like a real person—they’re all caricatures who chain smoke, wear pigtails, or drink straight from liquor bottles instead of having personalities. And as insane as the plot sounds, it’s still painfully dull. Honestly, I can’t even convey. It exhausts me. I don’t often feel sorry for actors because, you know, they’re actors, but this entire crew deserves our pity. Helen Mirren’s shameful performance is testament to the theory that actors are only as good as their director. And poor Julie Christie has the wear these goggles…I can’t talk about it. Because I am trying to be a more positive person (as you can tell), I offer this small comfort: I assume this set is where Polley met Christie, whom she cast in Away From Her, which we both love for a good, solid cry. (Side note: When you google images for “no such thing,” this comes up. Internets, don’t ever forget how much I love you.) Read more »
THE SECRET LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (2009/DVD) Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Critics ranking for this movie is 58%… 7 “fresh” and 5 “rotten.” Not bad, actually, for a film which feels like it’s trying hard to be original and not end up in the standard “chick flick” pile, but is really hard to place. How to explain this quirky, strangely distant-feeling film? The movie is the work of Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day Lewis) who wrote the novel and the screenplay and also directed. This film is her 4th as a director—perhaps you caught some of her earlier efforts: The Ballad of Jack and Rose, as well as Personal Velocity. If you did, you’ll know that women play difficult and complicated roles in these films. Robin Wright is very good as the adult Pippa Lee married to the older and wiser Alan Arkin, a publisher and very literate and observant man. Pippa’s life is changing as the film begins—her husband has suffered several heart attacks; they have moved from the city to an elegant version of a retirement community; her children are more than grown. Unfortunately (for us the viewers anyway), the film then launches into dreaded voice-over as a way of introducing us to the young Pippa and her “secret lives,” which include her crazy mother played by Maria Bello in an over-the-top performance, a younger “wild thing” Pippa played by the aptly-named Blake Lively and a crazy lesbian porn film director played by Julianne Moore. Back in the present tense, we meet Keanu Reeves as the attractive but very strange son of Pippa’s neighbor. Winona Ryder also makes several appearances as a “woman on the verge.” Talk about an over the top performance. I’m sorry for Winona—I like her and I am always hoping her career will get back on track. At any rate, all these pretty faces cannot save this movie. It makes a good rental, but by the end, you find no one is all that interesting, no matter their secrets.
Check out this Filmindependent interview with Rebecca Miller about what inspired her “Pippa Lee” book and also how she transformed it into the film.
Also be sure to check out some of the really nasty comments on the New York Times site.
THE MESSENGER (2009/DVD) Even though it was Woody Harrelson who won the Independent Spirit Award for Supporting Actor in this film (and mind you, he’s terrific, as always), for me, it was Ben Foster who really held my attention. I am a Ben Foster fan. I loved his crazed performance in Alpha Dog and loved even more his crazed sidekick role in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. But in The Messenger, he is calm (for the most part), quiet (inward looking) and very effective, believable, and compelling. He looks a bit bulked up—muscled—not his usual thin, jittery self. As I’m sure you’ve read, the story is of Harrelson as the experienced Captain and Foster as the Staff Sergeant temporarily assigned to the Captain to hand-deliver the worst news of all to named relatives of men and women killed in action. The film is directed by Oren Moverman in his first attempt as director—we will remember Moverman as the genius who wrote the screenplay for I’m Not There, certainly one of my favorites from the past few years. The acting in this movie is universally strong, with Samatha Morton in the key role of widow and object of Foster’s attention, Jena Malone also in a key role as Foster’s former love (now lost, but still a friend) and Steve Buscemi in a small but very effective part as a grieving father. The story builds credibly and well, and the scenes felt honest to me. There is great chemistry between Harrelson and Foster. Oscar nominations went out to Alessandro Camon for original screenplay and to Harrelson for Supporting. Nothing for Foster, but perhaps since he would have been in the main acting group, it was too strong a year. Here’s hoping we see him up for something in the future.
CITY ISLAND (2009, IN THEATERS) Looking for something small and light-hearted? Then City Island is for you, particularly if you also like strong New York accents, lots of yelling around the dinner table (all at the same time, natch) and plenty of plot—most of it contrived. But don’t get me wrong. The movie is fun and warm, and heaven knows, in the theater where I saw it, people were laughing out loud in places. Mind you, there were only three of us at the showing, so if you’re interested in this movie, better move quickly. Featuring Andy Garcia in a fine comedic turn as Vince Rizzo, middle aged family man with a secret (well, actually more than one) and Julianna Margulies as his sexy but mouthy wife Joyce, City Island introduces us to what appears to be “Cape Cod” in the middle of the Bronx. The movie also features lovely small turns from Alan Arkin as an acting coach and Emily Mortimer as one of his students. And you get to see Andy Garcia doing a (purposefully) horrific Marlon Brando/Godfather style movie audition. I will not offer any plot spoilers here so just enjoy the ride and all the little twists. My ultimate verdict on City Island: definitely worth watching, but maybe save yourself the $9.00 and rent this for a night when you just want to relax and enjoy your popcorn.
Grade: Solid B
BTW: This movie won the Audience Award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (2010, IN THEATERS) Where to start with this film? First off, it is a NOT TO BE MISSED documentary (mock-umentory? or perhaps prank-umentory?) for art lovers and film lovers everywhere. Presented as “a Banksy Film” from “Paranoid Pictures” (with a fabulous mock-up of the Paramount Pictures logo), you’ll find yourself at the end saying, “Wait! Who made this movie? Where did this come from?” And just how much is Banksy putting us on? The film presents us with Thierry Guetta, a French transplant to Los Angeles, who is obsessed with filming street artists—where artist is the operative word. He introduces us to quite a number of very talented street artists before connecting with the ultimate: Banksy, the world-famous British street artist whose works have adorned no less than the infamous Israeli created Palestinian Wall and whose art show in Los Angeles was a mega-hit. But wait…this film isn’t about Banksy after all. It’s about Banksy telling us about Thierry who eventually morphs into Mr. BrainWash (MBW) and launches his own mega-Warhol-ripoff show in LA. Say what? This film is FUN!! And has sparked excellent debate about whether Thierry is just an actor, fronting for Banksy, in a mega-prank, or is a legit pop-culture rip-off artist raking in the bucks. As Be, fellow film and art lover and SML reviewer says, “Just remember that this is all art.” She’s right!
BTW: They even manage to get DisneyLand into this film….I’ll say no more.
Follow these links, among many, for more “buzz” about who’s pranking whom: