September 2010 posts
DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978/DVD) The words above belong to Roger Ebert and I am in total agreement with him. I remember seeing this film in the theater when it was first released—the music and the photography were mesmerizing. They still are. Days of Heaven was written and directed by the legendary Terrence Malick, his second film after Badlands in 1973 (also wonderful). He then disappeared for 20 years before making The Thin Red Line, in the process becoming even more legendary. Nestor Almendros earned an Oscar for the cinematography in this movie and Ennio Morricone was nominated as well for the music. Morricone rightfully received an Honorary Oscar in 2007. The movie evokes a period in time just before World War I—opening credits run against a backdrop of real photos, then fade to the action which looks identical. Brooke Adams and Richard Gere are cast as lovers (Bill and Abby) pretending to be brother and sister. Their faces are beautiful and fit the period. They could be related, with their dark eyes and dark hair. The story is really told by the little sister, hauntingly played by Linda Manz who was 16 at the time of filming. Where did she go? IMDB sheds very little light on that question. Her voice is quirky and personal. She is our narrator and our view into the story. The other main character is “the farmer,” played by Sam Shepard in one of his very first roles. He is perfect—quiet, observant, yet passionate in his own way. His Texas panhandle farm is the setting for the movie’s real “days of heaven” when beautiful wheat fields wave in the sunlight and wild turkeys wander about. The story that follows is almost biblical—the farmer falls for Abby and Bill encourages her to marry him, thinking he is dying and will be gone in a year. Of course, life never gives us what we plan. By the end, both men are dead, Abby is hopping a train and our little narrator is running away down a railroad track, turning cartwheels. Haunting indeed.
Of note: Ebert notes in his review that Haskell Wexler also contributed to the stunning cinematography—maybe as much as half of it.
SAM SHEPARD IN TAOS, NM. Sam Shepard, ruggedly handsome at age 67, walked out on stage at the Taos Community Auditorium this past Sunday evening in his jeans, striped shirt and casual western boots to read for us from an assortment of short works he has published over time. He dove right in with a funny (very funny) accounting of his memories of the 80s from the point of view of his young son (“My dad knows nothing.”) He read for well over an hour and we in the audience loved every minute of it. It’s interesting to note that some people only know Shepard as a writer, while others only know him as an actor. He seems a bit embarrassed about being an actor but has quite a body of work to be proud of. He wondered aloud why he, a seriously liberal type, is constantly being cast as a hard-ass military person and the last work he read described suiting up in just this way and waiting for the call to leave his trailer and head to the set. Blackhawk Down, perhaps? His description of the attitude of his character (weary but determined) would certainly fit. My favorite of his stories about acting was entitled “Winging It.” Here he described the six takes he offered to a German director for a scene being shot in Mexico. It’s hilarious and he voices both parts perfectly. I am now planning to run out and buy a boatload of his books. Join me and enjoy!
BTW: He referred to Hollywood as “nuts.” He has some fabulous stories of travels and childhood which are not to be missed, and what a discovery to realize he wrote the screenplay for Paris, Texas. Wow.
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (1945/DVD)
While Leo McCarey’s 1945 sequel to his 1944 Best Picture winning Going My Way didn’t rack up the Oscar wins like its predecessor—though it did receive several nominations—The Bells of St. Mary’s is every bit its match as a masterfully told, sweet comic masterpiece.
Bells follows Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley to a new assignment—taking over at a rundown and fiscally struggling parochial school for an ailing priest who apparently couldn’t hack it living “up to [his] neck in nuns.” The problem with the nuns? Starting with Sister Superior Benedict, played by an Ingrid Bergman that could not possibly appear more beatific, they have their own particular ideas as to how children should be raised, and well, a man in 1945 has other ideas on the subject.
For example, when a young male student gets beaten by a playground bully, the student follows a perilous path assigned to him by the nuns—turning his cheek, repeatedly, and being knocked silly for it. When O’Malley seems to brush off the incident, and appears kind of tickled by the bully’s display of masculinity, sister Benedict is (ever so gently) shocked, leading to a few words between them about what makes a man a man, and what a big part defending yourself plays into it. While Benedict still disapproves, she begins to doubt her peacenik ways—resulting in the purchase of a boxing how-to book and teaching the young boy and herself, in full nun gear, how to properly kick some ass. One more woman brought kicking & screaming into the world of rational common sense by a Man, 1944 style. DONE! (Insert wiping hands clean gesture here.) Read more »
I had somehow made it thus far without seeing any Bing Crosby movies—until now I’d only known him as the guy who sang “Little Drummer Boy” with his friendly TV neighbor, 1977-via-1982 David Bowie—and as an introduction to his stuff I somehow managed recently to watch three films featuring the crooner/actor in the same night. This was an unintentional marathon—my original intent was just to view director Leo McCarey’s 1944 smash hit Going My Way and its equally popular sequel, 1945’s The Bells of St. Mary’s, both featuring Crosby in the lead role of easygoing, modern (for 1944) Father O’Malley. The DVD I procured of Going My Way just happened to be a double feature edition*, paired with the also very popular Holiday Inn, starring Crosby with his real-life pal/golf buddy Fred Astaire, so after viewing these wonderful McCarey pictures, I figured, hey, I like this “Der Bingle” fella well enough—might as well check out Holiday Inn. Man, was that a bad decision. Holiday Inn. Is. The. Worst. More on that later…
McCarey’s charming and sweet-natured 1944 Best Picture winner Going My Way features Crosby in a career (re)defining role that much of the 1944 moviegoing public wasn’t quite ready to see. It sounds silly now, but at the time, Crosby—the playboy crooner and “Road” picture goofball—playing a priest was seen as a blasphemous act. That knee-jerk reaction subsided quickly enough as audiences fell in love with Crosby’s genuine, fits-like-a-glove turn as the gentle, easygoing, and good hearted Father O’Malley, a young priest transferred from his hometown of St. Louis (shout out to the STL Browns, yo!) to a run-down parish in NYC to assist and eventually take over for the aging, very Irish, and cantankerous-on-the-outside Father Fitzgibbon, played by Dublin-born stage actor Barry Fitzgerald in a cherished performance that was (as a honest fluke) nominated for Oscars in both Best Actor AND Best Supporting Actor categories, the latter of which he clinched. (Fun fact: Fitzgerald later accidentally beheaded his Oscar statue while practicing his golf swing in his living room. Thanks, DVD Production Notes!) Read more »
Come join us for a discussion of the trailers we’ve been privileged to experience over the last month or so. Are they tantalizing nuggets of the hits of tomorrow? Or harbingers of Knight and Days to come? We do not know! But we will assume that we do, because it is our way. Have YOU seen a trailer lately? Do tell. In the Comments, please—we can’t hear you from our cubicles.
Sarah: Hey, so have you been sleeping a little too well lately? Allow me to remedy that with this terrifying trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman as a ballerina who may be the stalking victim of underminer-y Mila Kunis and/or is going totally nuts. Creepy, over-involved mom? Check. Creepy, condescending, handsy dance instructor (played by master creep-meister Vincent Cassel)? Check. WINGS SPROUTING OUT OF SHOULDER BLADES?! MIRROR IMAGES TURNING AROUND AND LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU?! Uh, check. I watched this trailer one time, and it showed up in my dreams that night. No shit. Nightmare Town.
Kimberly: Prepare yourself for the thrills and chills of Case 39! Is it a requirement that any actor with a string of recent successes (ie, Bradley Cooper) make a terrible-looking horror movie, often featuring an evil child? Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Greg Kinnear, Liev Schreiber, Sam Rockwell…the tragic list goes on. Who stands to profit from the salary-reduction that a shot of CGI insects spewing from an actor’s mouth will guarantee? Working on a conspiracy theory here. And I will qualify the following by saying that I am a nonparent: Renee, just let them take the kid. There are plenty more. I see tons of them just milling around unattended. Some even have normal little girl voices.
CAIRO TIME (2009/IN THEATERS) Patricia Clarkson is always wonderful and delivers yet again in this film as Juliette Grant, the lead character in Cairo Time. Clarkson gives us a portrait of quite a different traveler than did Liz Gilbert/Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love—Juliette Grant is classy, quiet and observant, even if a little overwhelmed and lost at times. She’s in Cairo for a nice vacation with her husband—a U.N. worker based in Gaza—but as the film opens she is met at the airport by her husband’s former colleague Tareq (ruggedly handsome Alexander Siddig) who tells her that her husband is unavoidably delayed. Tareq offers to be of assistance while she waits as they part company at the hotel. What follows might remind you of a much slower and more languid version of Lost in Translation – Cairo is lovely, but quite foreign. We see Juliette in her upscale hotel, looking out at the city from her balcony, sleepless or over-sleeping thanks to jet lag, walking the streets of this exotic city while surrounded by aggressive Egyptian men, and ultimately turning back to Tareq to help her pass the days of waiting and get in touch with Cairo and its customs. As what feels like a week goes by, she spends more time with Tareq and a quiet love develops. I won’t reveal any more than this except to say: what a lovely film–not a lot of plot but plenty of character development, all of which feels meaningful and real. The director, Ruba Nadda, is well known in Canada but I confess I had never heard of her. She says on IMDB that the movie is a tribute to her family’s journey and vacation in Cairo when she was a child and her memories of its beauty. This film will definitely make you want to eat, pray, love and travel.
JENNIFER’S BODY (DVD/2009)
From: Kimberly Faulhaber
To: Brian McClelland
So were you as surprised as I was to actually enjoy this movie? I have been a staunch opponent of Diablo Cody–penned anything over the past few years—I found Juno’s dialogue totally insufferable (though it must be mentioned that the Rushmore-aping direction by Jason Reitman didn’t help), and let’s not even bother discussing the unfun trainwreck that is “The United States of Tara” (even the name pisses me off). I rented this thinking it would be a decent enough treadmill distraction (to qualify, a movie must be pretty to look at and highly mockable or a quick-moving classic) and ended up laughing throughout. Not “at,” but “with”! Cody really dialed back the quippy puns, and I was able to ignore the few she left in because the overall tone was so silly and surreal.
One-sentence plot summary! Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) are BFFs who have a falling out that involves the loss of a soul and some boy eating (not in a dirty way). It’s essentially a metaphor for how terribly mean girls (particularly the teenage variety) are to each other—even when they’re besties—and the sexual, competitive, and bullying undercurrents that run through a lot of high school friendships. Jennifer pushes, provokes, and talks down to Needy, and her initial downfall essentially comes because she wants to prove what a tough chick she is by getting into the back of a band’s van. I really like that the sexual-tension-in-friendships aspect is done in a titillating, but not exploitative “girls having pillow fights in their panties” kind of way. It’s a delicate balance, and I think you need to be a truly feminist screenwriter to achieve it believably (not, say, Michael Patrick King or the people who write Amanda Bynes movies). Cody also had a very knowing take on band worship (the scene in which Jennifer falls under the spell of Low Shoulder, a small-time band who are willing to do anything to “be as rich and awesome as that guy from Maroon 5,” looked a little familiar, didn’t it?). Read more »
A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2009/IN THEATERS) What to say about this little oddity of a movie (at least for US audiences)? Also titled A Simple Noodle Story, this wild and crazy film from Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers) is a pretty literal remake (story-wise) of the Coen brothers early masterpiece Blood Simple and lets you know that right in the opening titles. So, just to refresh your memory, it’s the story of a husband with an unfaithful wife who hires a sheriff/private eye to kill her and her lover. Sounds simple enough, but the movie offers many wonderful Coen-ish twists and turns and a seriously kick-butt ending. In Zhang Yimou’s remake, the action has been moved back in time to an early Chinese era, making this a costume piece, set in a small outpost and noodle shop surrounded by gorgeous red desert hills and big blue skies. Characters come and go by horseback to and from these hills into the noodle shop where most of the action is set. The colors in the film are completely saturated, giving it a sort of Chinese-spaghetti western feel. There is also a comic book feel to the performances—especially from the two side-characters, a young girl and a buck-toothed buffoon—who live and work in the noodle shop as well. In true Chinese comedic fashion, we’re treated to a bunch of slap-stick combined with extremely stylized treatments (my favorite involves noodle dough), plenty of slo-mo and much wailing! A definite bit of culture clash, but fun nonetheless, although my viewing companion and I walked out saying “WTF” for sure. Enjoy.
Heads Up: Evidentally, there is a terrific Bollywood-style song and dance number at the end of the credits, which we were unaware of and unfortunately missed. Bummer, but definitely not worth seeing this film again in theaters to catch that.
Sarah: Kimberly! Finally our cries are answered! Roger Ebert announced his new movie review show this week, to begin airing on PBS in January. I am super sad to see that our pals A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips won’t be involved in this new version of the show. And I’ll admit that I don’t know much about either of the new hosts, Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Elvis Mitchell of NPR, except to say that I hardly ever agree with movie reviews I hear on NPR. Regular contributors Kim Morgan (wait, was she the be-pig-tailed object of your derision at Ebertfest this year?) and Omar Moore are also a mystery to me, and the bits I saw of them in the preview Ebert posted (linked above, take a look) don’t make me want to get to know them, exactly. Morgan’s special lesson about the historic value of The Third Man is especially off-putting, because I tend to resent this sort of “re-examination” of cultural objects that have already been widely accepted as really great. Like when Oprah told us all we should read Steinbeck. Should we, Oprah? What a totally edgy and unusual opinion to share! If only that author could somehow be incorporated into the curriculum of most high school literature courses! HOWEVER (all caps, getting back on track), I am still excited to watch this show based entirely on my trust in Mr. Ebert, National Treasure™. I wasn’t sure I’d like Richard Roeper or Phillips when they started hosting their versions of the show, and damn, if I didn’t enjoy both of them after a short adjustment period. Plus, disagreeing with the reviewers isn’t always a bad thing, as long as they have some insight to share. Most of all, the short clip in the preview of Ebert typing his review of a documentary I’ve never heard of, with his computer voice reading as he types, and giving it a thumbs up made me a little teary with joy. That segment alone will make this show worth tuning in for each week. This TV format of film reviewing has been sorely missed in my house since the sad last episode of Scotlips’ “At the Movies.” Can’t wait! You? Read more »
CEMETERY JUNCTION (DVD/2010)
From: Brian McClelland
To: Kimberly Faulhaber
So, Kim. Did you know that the comic giants that created the original UK version of The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (an actual semigiant at 6’7″!), co-wrote and co-directed a movie this year in their homeland called Cemetery Junction? Well, of course you do, because we are Let’s Talking About it, but until this DVD showed up in a red Netflix envelope last week, I had no idea it existed. So! What were we missing? Not a whole hell of a lot, really. I mean, it’s definitely a movie. It looks and sounds like a very competently made film, you bet. Unfortunately, the film’s content is mostly just a bland rehash of a zillion other coming-of-college-age period flicks with a few grains of Gervais & Merchant’s awkward, dark comedy sprinkled throughout. The biggest problem for me was the casting of some seriously blaaaaaaaaaaaand actors in the story’s romantic core–Christian Cooke as flippy-haired and way too handsome cad-with-a-heart Freddie Taylor and blank canvas Felicity Jones as, well, blank canvas Julie Kendrick. NO! Wait! Julie wants to be a NatGeo photographer. Sorry–these characters are so multidimensional that I’m almost overwhelmed in my understanding of them. Like, Freddie’s best pals Snork, who has an actually pretty hilarious crudely drawn front and back tattoo of a vampire lady and her vampire boobs luring himself (also in the tattoo) through a window, and Bruce, who is angry at the world, but mostly at his dad, who he blames for the departure of his mum way back when. Did you SEE ALL OF THOSE DIMENSIONS I WAS JUST NOW TALKING ABOUT?! Read more »