June 2010 posts
Kimberly: Sarah! I could not be more excited about the new Whit Stillman movie in the works, currently titled Damsels in Distress. Can you believe it’s been 12 years since The Last Days of Disco? Twenty since Metropolitan? That is unsettling, but I will try not to let the fast approach of my twilight years/osteopenia get me down. We could read the screenplay here for $10, but who pays for anything on the Internet? (Best of luck, New York Times.) I’ll see if I can find it on a shady Russian download site. After reviewing the casting call (for FREE), I think our man Chris Eigeman would be perfect for this part:
PROFESSOR RYAN Male, Caucasian, mid 40s and up, the teacher of a college course in “Flit Lit,” Professor Ryan lectures (rather defensively) on the literary career of Ronald Firbank.
“Rather defensively” is his specialty! Are you interested in entering a suspended animation chamber until this film’s release? We can go halvsies!
Sarah: Kimberly! Count me in! So excited that this seems to actually be happening, after the last few Stillman rumors turned out to be nothing. And, based on our thorough exploration of the internets, the material seems just right for our old friend. Readers unfamiliar with Mr. Stillman’s previous classics should take the time to Netflix them now in their (mostly) Criterion glory, so they can be all caught up when this one finally arrives. I recommend starting with Metropolitan and moving forward from there. We’ll be vigilantly monitoring developments in the meantime. Unless we’re in our suspended animation chamber, in which case you’re on your own.
WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009/BLU-RAY) If somebody would have told me that there was a Robin Williams flick written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait that was actually pretty good, my response would have been: “Somebody, you have rocks in your box.” But I would have been wrong (sorry, Somebody!), because with 2009’s World’s Greatest Dad, Goldthwait has crafted a fine, near-scathing dark satire that, while borrowing a wee bit from dark-ish high school comedies like Heathers and Election, stands quite comfortably on its own two filthy feet.
Williams shines here in a mostly dramatic role as Lance Clayton, a way wiener poetry teacher and spineless single father to a horrible, horrible A-hole of a 15yo son, Kyle, played hilariously and painfully right on the money by Daryl Sabara, who steals every unpleasant scene he’s in. Sabara’s intensely unlikable, irritable, mostly friendless (for good reason), sexually obsessed social misfit—picture a serious and seriously sweaty Napoleon Dynamite less into bike ramps and tater tots than German shizer porn and autoerotic asphyxiation—is so real and angry that you might not notice on a first viewing just how funny his performance actually is.
Do yourself a favor and check out this little seen gem—but whatever you do, DON’T preface the viewing by reading the gabby blurb on the DVD box, or the Netflix envelope, or the IMDB page, or Ebert’s review, or whatever. This story takes quite an unexpected and interesting turn forty minutes in that you will appreciate SO much more if you aren’t tipped off in advance. Remember when we DIDN’T know everything about a movie before we’d see it? Bliss.
Anyway, if Goldthwait’s directorial career doesn’t pan out he can always get work supervising movie soundtracks. The diverse tunes culled for Dad are an exceptional bunch of wonderful and varied should-have-been pop classics, including my new fave perfect pop song “Genius” by Inara George and, uh, several eclectic and actually kinda cool Bruce Hornsby songs? (Who knew?!) Although this wikked collection is slightly marred by Goldthwait’s penchant for using songs whose lyrics closely mirror the action happening on screen. Ick. The world is not a Fresh Prince video, people.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE (2009/ DVD) Never heard of this film? Not many have. A Sony Pictures Television release, this well-cast biopic aired on Lifetime in September 2009 as a “made-for-TV” production purposely kept short (89 minutes) in order to fit its 2 hour time slot, allowing room for advertising. Joan Allen stars as Georgia O’Keeffe and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Stieglitz, the famous photographer who was her husband of 25 years. Of note, Irons is a dead ringer for the real Stieglitz who, according to all reports, put O’Keeffe on the map in the late 1910s and early 1920’s. The film basically explores the turbulent relationship and marriage between these two–from the time of O’Keeffe’s introduction to the New York art world, through her discovery of New Mexcio and its landscapes, until Stieglitz’s death in the mid-40s. A brief final shot and quote collapses the remainder of O’Keeffe’s life (she lived until 1986) and art in New Mexico, which is certainly the part of the story most of us know best. Bob Balaban directed the film from a script by Michael Cristofer who won a Writers’ Guild Award in 2010 for his work. Shot entirely in Santa Fe, the movie is rumored to have been produced and green lighted by Joan Allen, which would explain her prominent role as O’Keeffe. Both Allen and Irons were nominated for Golden Globes in 2010 and the film itself was nominated in the “made for TV” category—yet I must say, I don’t remember hearing about it at all and Rotten Tomatoes lists not even one review (at least not yet!). A movie waiting to be discovered? Perhaps. As a docent at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe said to a group of us recently: O’Keeffe was difficult and Steiglitz was impossible. Watching the two of them tangle, portrayed by two strong actors, is indeed a treat. And the costumes and settings are well done. You will learn much you never knew about O’Keeffe’s early life but don’t expect to learn too much in detail about her art — for that, visit the Museum in Santa Fe or read one of the many books about her.
Grade: B+ It’s tough to fit complicated stories into 89 minutes!
BTW: O’Keeffe famously stayed one summer with Mabel Dodge Luhan at her house and artist salon in Taos. Dodge is wonderfully portrayed by Tyne Daley in the film though she’s not on screen very much. Her husband, Tony Lujan, is played by Robert Mirabal who is a Taos native and one of its real life treasures of today.
A really good and longer review of this film is here.
THE VICIOUS KIND (2009/DVD) Among a limited portion of the television viewing population, Adam Scott is having a moment. He’s on two highly praised but grossly under-watched shows, the hysterical Party Down on Starz (seasons 1 and 2 streaming on Netflix now!) and Parks and Recreation on NBC. Will Ferrell fans will recognize him from Step Brothers. Or, if you’re my dad, you know him as “that guy from the funny baseball commercial.” Anyway, with crushable, talented Adam Scott as the lead and a handful of Independent Spirit Award nominations (and J.K. Simmons as a salty dad-type!), I expected to like The Vicious Kind a lot more than I did. It’s not bad, and there are some nice moments. I really enjoyed the soundtrack, for instance, and Scott’s stand-out performance is compelling and subtle, as always, despite some pretty melodramatic material. He plays Caleb, a seriously troubled construction worker going through a horrific break-up who falls for his brother’s new girlfriend (Brittany Snow) after driving the two of them home for Thanksgiving break. Complications ensue. But most of the movie sort of disappeared from my brain as soon as it was over. It’s also a bit heavy on the lady-hating for my taste (executive producer, Neil LaBute, ahem) – Scott’s character opens the movie with a speech to his innocent (and uninteresting) younger brother about all women being whores. Fun! Worth watching when it shows up on IFC, mainly for Scott’s performance and the bleakly pretty cinematography.
PLEASE GIVE (2010/ IN THEATERS)
Rebecca: Either you like Nicole Holofcener’s films or you don’t. This one is the fourth in her series featuring complex, not necessarily likeable people—primarily women. In Please Give, Holofcener focuses on six characters: Kate (Catherine Keener, fabulous as always) is the main stay, married with a teenage daughter who is suffering from bad skin and embarrassment (Sarah Steele who made her debut in Spanglish, essentially playing the same role), a funny and pretty darn charming husband (Oliver Platt, very good), a crabby old next door neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Gilbert—perfect New York accent) and Andra’s two grandaughters—Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet). The plot, such as it is, centers on the interactions between these six characters, as Kate and her husband wait for Andra to die so they can connect the two apartments (they have already purchased hers) and the two grandaughers try to take care of and deal with their seriously awful grandmother. Rebecca is the primary care giver and shows much patience. Her sister Mary is the opposite, selfish, razor sharp and unforgiving. Not much action, but pretty well rounded characters which is Holofcener’s long suit. But not as funny as some of her earlier works and the characters are perhaps less likeable. Definitely a must see for fans of this director, but certainly not for anyone else.
BTW: Love Catherine Keener in every movie she’s ever been in.
Sarah: Totally agree on all counts. The acting is outstanding from everyone here. Catherine Keener is so natural, it feels like she’s just a person who happened to walk in front of a camera. And Sarah Steele as the insecure teen was perfect. Her fights with her mom made me laugh out loud with recognition. Holofcener’s characters always feel so familiar to me – funny, imperfect, real. Her touch is usually so light that it seems almost like she creates the characters and then just lets them roam around in the world, doing whatever they need to in their day-to-day lives. She casts no judgment on their choices, misguided as they can be, and so the viewer doesn’t need to either. It’s refreshing. But I felt like Please Give is less subtle than her previous efforts. The handling of subjects like old age and homelessness felt a little clumsy and manipulative in spots, which isn’t like Holofcener at all and was a little disappointing to me. Still, this was only disappointing because I hold her movies to such a high standard, and a slightly disappointing Holofcener movie is still more interesting than 98% of movies out there. Worth seeing for the performances, all of which are fantastic.
CHILDREN OF MEN (2006/BLU-RAY) Alfonso Cuaron’s bleak 2006 masterpiece Children of Men is as harrowing as ever in this pristinely produced Blu-Ray edition. The superb HD transfer of the theatrical feature alone makes this a worthy purchase, capturing every speck and scrape of splattering bullets, blood, mud, etc. in an intense, overwhelming presentation—Cuaron more than proves here that you don’t need 3D to create a truly “immersive” experience. But what makes this edition absolutely essential is the stellar bonus content, including some sweet interactive Blu-Ray exclusives, like pop-up info windows that allow the viewer to closely examine newspaper headlines (with actual stories to go along with them!), TV news reports, and commercials that only blip across the screen for a moment during the film. Another Making Of pop-up window feature shows production footage and interviews that play along with the scenes in real time, an interesting hybrid of Behind the Scenes featurette and director’s commentary. Read more »
TOWELHEAD (2007/DVD) Originally titled “Nothing is Private” (and still listed that way on IMDB), this movie premiered at Sundance in 2008 with its current title—more “in your face” but also the title of the novel on which it is based. Alan Ball, who won the Oscar for Original Screenplay for American Beauty (his first screenplay, incidentally) and created “Six Feet Under,” wrote Towelhead’s adapted screenplay and also made his directing debut with the film. Viewers will find that many of the running themes in this movie echo American Beauty—in particular, the Lolita-style teenage sexuality, the seeming inability of men to resist these allures, the angry mother, the suburban setting…etc. The main character, Jasira (played by 20 year old Summer Bashil), is a 13 year old Lebanese-American beauty who is just discovering sex and more importantly, discovering that she likes it. Bounced out by her angry white mother (Maria Bello), she finds herself at the start of the film living with her Lebanese father (beautifully portrayed by Peter Macdissi) who is a confusing and not particularly likeable mixture. A NASA scientist living in a sterile Houston suburban home, he wants to be super American while still preserving a strict traditional upbringing for his daughter. To make this all clear to us as viewers, we witness him slapping his daughter on the first morning she awakes in his home. Why? Her shorts are too short, her night-shirt too revealing. Next door, we find a stereo-typical middle-class all American family, complete with a beer-drinking man of the house (Aaron Eckhart) who can’t take his eyes of Jasira and a bratty young boy who calls her “Towelhead” and worse, but also introduces her to his father’s collection of porn magazines. This brings us to Jasira’s daydreams of being blond, buxom and highly desired. She needn’t worry about being desired—though the kids at school are rude and racist, she is befriended by a polite, but super horny, black young man. Naturally, her father forbids her to see the boy since he’s black—racism turning on itself. Set during the Gulf War, Jasira allows Eckhart to fondle her, thus losing her virginity. Later she allows him to essentially rape her out of sympathy for him because as a reservist, he tells her he’s being called up. Meanwhile, she enjoys sex with her black boyfriend but insists on him wearing a condom—a plot point which comes back in spades later in the film. Maria Bello re-enters the film around Christmas with a shrill and selfish portrait of motherhood gone bad. Luckily for Jasira (and us), Toni Collette makes an entrance as a progressive and smart neighbor who understands Jasira’s various situations—it helps that Collette’s husband in the film speaks Arabic. Collette offers the girl a haven in the midst of everything and a good book on sex. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you decide to watch it, be prepared for some quite explicit details, down to bloody tampons. One user reviewer on IMDB calls the film “cringe worthy.” I agree.
If you’re up for it, you could pair this with American Beauty, for an interesting Alan Ball themed evening.
OCTOBER COUNTRY (2009/DVD) How do you break a pattern that started before you were born? In the documentary October Country, three generations of a depressed and dysfunctional Mohawk Valley, New York family each ask the question during interviews that take place over one year. They watch their children make the same mistakes they did (abusive relationships, dead-end jobs, having children before they’re ready) between two Halloween nights: a beloved foster child moves out and later robs the family that cared for him for years, custody of a great-granddaughter is given up to an abusive father, an abortion takes place (several audience members breathed an audible sigh of relief when this was revealed, which may give you an idea or how dire the family’s situation is), abusive boyfriends are left, then promptly replaced with the like. Though the viewer is tempted to judge the family at various points (why is grandpa still visibly furious with his sister over a silly comment she made more than 30 years ago as a young girl? Why is birth control never discussed? Jeez, has anyone heard of an antidepressant?), it’s impossible not to empathize because they understand their motivations (or lack thereof) and have some desire to change. They also care about each other, even though they’re rarely shown touching or even talking to each other at length. After the noticeable lack of physical contact (other than the occasional play fight—some with more violent than others), a clip of a decade-old Christmastime home movie of the patriarch affectionately embracing his granddaughter while they dance is startling. It’s the only moment of unabashed love in the entire film, and it will make you weep. Read more »
GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010/ IN THEATERS) This movie hopes to be this summer’s answer to The Hangover. It may work…as you surely already know, Get Him to the Greek brings back Aldous Snow (Russell Brand essentially playing himself), the scene stealing seven years sober rock star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The Greek opens with a fabulous send-up of pop-star hubris in the form of a terrifically bad music video entitled “African Child.” The opening alone is worth the price of admission and will remind you of the fabulous fake trailers that opened Tropic Thunder, in that case sending up movie stars instead of pop singers. Either way, the opening sets up the film, since the abject failure of African Child sends Aldous off the wagon in a big way. Meanwhile, back in LA, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs as the head of a record label is desperate for new ideas—make that, ways to make money. His nerdy but earnest employee Jonah Hill comes up with the best idea: bring Aldous Snow back to The Greek for a 10th Anniversary concert celebrating old-style rock and roll. Hill is sent to get Aldous to the Greek, a 72 hour London to LA challenge which takes up the rest of the movie and introduces us to Aldous Snow and all his addictions—and they are many. OK…I’ll agree with the critics who said this movie goes on too long, like a bad SNL skit. I’ll also agree that projectile vomiting is only interesting once in a while. I expected laugh out loud style humor, but really got only a few chuckles. Still, the movie was fun and the performances are good, really good, and the send-ups keep on coming. It does help to like—make that LOVE—Russell Brand. I think I’m there. You can just hear his accent in the following short exchange:
Q. “Do they restrain you on set?”
A. “They have to a bit, but they do also encourage me. They are always going, ‘Go on Russell, say something.’ And I do, and they go ‘Alright that’s enough now, that’s disgusting.’”
Grade: B- for the film; solid B+ for Russell Brand
See the movie, but check any Hangover expectations at the door. It’s a bit repetitive and I agree wholeheartedly with the following poster from Hollywood Elsewhere (comment #4 by Crazynine):
“…the direction was really off. I noticed it most in the P. Diddy scenes: it was joke… BEAT… joke… BEAT… very staccato, no natural flow. The lack of rhythm didn’t bother me so much in the Brand scenes if only because he’s such an odd duck with a bizarre cadence to begin with, but most every other scene featured it to no end. Annoying.”
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.
Kimberly: Sarah! I was forced to work on a freelance project over the weekend (fascists), so I thought I’d have Alan Cumming’s Ghost Writer, which I recorded on IFC a few weeks ago, playing in the background—it was completely distracting in the most unpleasant way you can imagine. I think Cumming is very entertaining (just refer to him by his last name only and snicker for minutes!), but his character (a music teacher with operatic ambitions who tortureporns David Boreanaz for about an hour for “trick”ing him, then steals a manuscript from his bag, magically gets it published, and becomes famous) is a miserable, whingey baby who cries, screams, and wears a disgusting tank top—he is the personification of every characteristic I find inexcusable in a companion. In the last 10 minutes of this hyper, zoom-lens-happy film, Boreanaz haunts Cumming from beyond the grave, utilizing sarcastic asides and heavy cheekbone-highlighting makeup. So if you die before your time you come back as a drag queen. Neat! When I can comfortably say that the star of TV’s “Angel” and “Bones” is wasted here, you know a true cinematic disaster has taken place. I should also note that Henry “Blank” Thomas costars. Begone, harbinger of mediocre pretension and a cut-rate budget! (FYI, this movie is also known as Suffering Man’s Charity. Beware!) Did you watch anything that required liberal use of the mute button?
Sarah: Why yes, in fact, I did! Have you ever seen Ultraviolet? Are you aware that it makes absolutely no sense? I half-watched the whole thing on Sunday, and I have nothing to show for it. Milla Jovovich is a renegade spy (or something?) in a videogame-looking dystopian future in which some people have a bad blood disease and some people are maybe vampires (or something?). And she adopts a cloned boy who is a carrier of the antidote, and they ride around on her motorcycle, and her hair keeps changing colors. The end! The most enjoyable details were the clearly low-budget attempts to make this future world come alive. Apparently, in the future we’ll all hang out in white-walled warehouses sparsely decorated with patio furniture. Also, when the inevitable outbreak of a deadly virus begins, we’ll want to be sure to pick up a pair of tiny nostril screens like those worn by the villain in this movie. Don’t bother covering your mouth! Just the nose holes will do! Also, for someone who gets into a LOT of sword battles (digital, future-y swords only, obviously), Jovovich’s midriff-baring wardrobe seems like a really poor choice. That’s prime stabbing area, there. Anyway, skip this one in the future for sure. What else for you? Read more »