October 2010 posts
Stephin Merritt, and a little less so his band The Magnetic Fields, is one of those polarizing figures. You either love him or hate him (or a third category: never heard of him). He’s an unbelievably talented and prolific song writer, cranking out albums with The Magnetic Fields in addition to three other bands and at least two side projects at all times, including a 2009 staging of a not-for-kids musical based on the Neil Gaiman book Coraline (strangely not associated with the movie version of that book that came out the same year). His music and lyrics generally strike a lovely tone of sadly funny–unique, sweet without being sticky, and surreal but totally recognizable. My favorites of his songs live in the same part of my brain as the very best of Wes Anderson’s movies, if you get me. (It’s okay if you don’t; that doesn’t make much sense.) He tours with his band but is very open about pretty much hating playing live, due in equal parts to an ear condition that makes applause and loud music literally painful to him and to his generally prickly personality. I’ve seen him live a few times and have found him in turns to be dryly hilarious, self-deprecating, extremely entertaining, really boring, and rude to and dismissive of an audience that clearly loves him. I find him fasinating, and the documentary about him and the band that’s been floating around festivals since June ought to be really great. Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields hasn’t graced my city yet, but I’m keeping an eye out for it (maybe it will show up this year at STIFF?) and will report back as soon as possible. In the meantime, please enjoy these enticing clips.
MEGAMIND (2010/PREVIEW: IN THEATERS 11.5.10) Thanks to my new best friend, the free and awesome Gofobo.com, I have attended several free sneak previews recently, all films of which I knew nothing whatsoever before viewing. This has paid off for me big time, especially for a recent Saturday morning screening of Dreamworks Animation’s upcoming 3D spectacular, Megamind. Holy cow, did I love this movie. And boy was I happy to have missed the film’s ad campaign, whose trailer idiotically gives away most of the film’s many fun plot twists. I heartily recommend you plug yer eyes ‘n’ ears when those suckers come on, and schedule a night at your local cineplex for a 3D DIGITAL PRESENTATION (don’t forget the integral 3D and DIGITAL PRESENTATION parts!) of this delightfully entertaining film.
Let’s just say that the story follows two alien babies, sent by their parents into space via escape pods a la Superman, who both crash land on Earth—one pod gliding directly into the living room of a wealthy family’s Xmas morning mansion, the other crashing disastrously into a prison yard, to be raised collectively by the criminals. The pair eventually grow up to be superhero Metro Man and supervillian Megamind (guess which landed where), whose rivalry plays out amongst the skyscrapers of Metrocity, whose citizens are decidedly gaga over their superhero to the point of erecting a worshipful skyscraper statue/museum in his honor. But let’s stop there—you’ll appreciate this fun thrill ride so much more with an open mind unsullied by preconceived notions. (Unsullied!)
Megamind is an exhilarating visual experience, and an amazing leap forward in 3D (whether that leap is in technology or application, I’ll let the nerds battle that point out) that left me gape-mouthed and giddy. Remember the first time you looked into a ViewMaster as a kid, and each image looked surreal as hell but every bit as real as the world around you? This film is ALL that, but somehow without overwhelming the story or characters. No small feat! Read more »
RED (2010/ IN THEATERS) I have one word for this movie: fun! And maybe a second word: silly. To enjoy the movie, you should ideally really love Bruce Willis—in fine form as the lead Frank Moses, legendary spy and CIA operative, now Retired and Extremely Dangerous—thus the title. Willis has his classic wink of the eye approach to the whole film, as do most of the other cast members who include Mary Louise Parker, fabulous as Sarah—kidnapped (literally) by a smitten Frank as he is on the run from his would-be CIA assassins. I have always loved Mary Louise Parker and I’m so happy she has fun in her current roles, including Weeds. She brings a wonderful wacky humor to her part here—my favorites scenes involve lots of electricians’ tape—I’ll say no more. Also joining the gang on Frank’s side: Morgan Freeman as Joe, seasoned CIA veteran, now retired and living in a nursing home; John Malkovich as Marvin, paranoid former CIA operative with excellent skills in explosives; and Helen Mirren as Victoria, tough as nails even as she arranges flowers in her retirement job. Also joining in are Karl Urban as the current CIA operative tasked to kill Frank; Rebecca Pidgeon as his stone cold boss and Richard Dreyfuss as the ultimate bad guy of the piece. Brian Cox appears as Ivan Simanov, former lover of Helen Mirren and perfect as your stereo-typical cold war era Russian spy who appears at the most opportune moments (as Captain Jack Sparrow would have said), that is, just when the plot needs him most. Even Ernest Borgnine is in this movie as the ancient CIA Records Keeper in the secret basement location (perfect)—and you’re asking yourself, as I did, how old is he? I had to look it up: born in 1917, he’s 93 and looking great. Wow. As A.O.Scott says in his review: “…casting is to a certain type of movie what location is to real estate.” I agree wholeheartedly. The plot is ridiculous and the action is really beside the point, but fun to watch in its cartoonish style. Which must be intentional since this film is based on the graphic novels/comic books of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner and is a DC Comics production.
Grade: Solid B
BTW: The movie is directed by a youngster—Robert Schwentke, German and born in 1968—a full 50 years later than Ernest Borgnine! His previous directing effort was The Time Traveler’s Wife, out last year.
P.S. These figures say it all to me: 70% Overall Rating, 77% Audience Rating, 60% Critics Rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Just like I said: Fun!
NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE (1976/DVD) After reading an endorsement of Next Stop, Greenwich Village by David Rakoff (whose Half Empty, incidentally, is a lovely meditation on negativity and highly recommended), I put it at the top of the queue immediately. Shot on location in New York in the ‘70s (but set in the ‘50s), starring Lenny Baker (who passed away just a few years later before achieving the stardom many felt he deserved), and featuring lofty dreams? You can stop selling—I’m in.
But there was something not quite about this movie—mainly, its portrayal of “fine acting.” After watching the first two-thirds, I was under the impression that Larry Lapinsky (Baker) was an amateurish actor only kidding himself—destined to work at the neighborhood juice shop until marriage, followed by a move back to the suburbs. But no—he is soon called to Hollywood (following a screen test for a “rebellious thug” role so cringey that I had to avert my eyes. He’s about 10 years past the expiration date for the part, which he makes up for by gelling his hair like one of those pumpkin-colored Jersey kids and putting on a satin jacket. Eep! The wound is still too fresh!) and flown first class to boot. Huh! You sure fooled me, Paul Mazursky, Director/Screenwriter and Probable Basis for the Main Character. 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.
Kimberly: I am truly baffled by Paul (is it for children? Will there be alien farting?), and frankly, I’m not a fan of Simon Pegg’s Edgar Wright-less work (see How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Run, Fatboy, Run—wait, don’t! I was kidding!). But Greg Mottola is a pretty skilled comedy director, and loves buddies, so I guess I am cautiously optimistic? Choosing Seth Rogen’s voice may have been a mistake, though—all I can think is “That’s the voice of the Green Hornet, debonair newspaper publisher by day, masked superhero by night! Swoon!” (Sometimes I watch that trailer when I’m feeling blue—instant laughs!) Small compliant: Why don’t they give Jane Lynch props in this? Isn’t she famous and beloved by all now?
TAOS COMMUNITY AUDITORIUM (October 17, 2010) Google Peter Halter and you’ll get his photo linked to a website listing him as one of the Presentation Specialists (i.e. Projectionists) for Sundance in 2011, as well as for the Doha Film Festival which is running next week. Cool. Peter is also the Programming Director for our own “Movies at the TCA,” a wonderful weekly event featuring indie films which have missed Taos (and are still new enough not to be on DVD).
This past week, Peter was showing Get Low and I was lucky enough to meet up with him in the projection booth to talk about movies, film festivals and how to program successfully for an audience as quirky as the one here in Taos. Peter has been working with the TCA and Taos for 16 years now, 5 years as the Programming Director. Among the other festivals he has worked are the Travers City Film Festival (Michael Moore’s event), Telluride, Durango and the Dominican Republic Global Film Festival. He was also part of Taos Talking Pictures, the legendary film festival that ran here between 1994 and 2003, and created some serious buzz by giving away land to award winners. Unfortunately for all of us movie lovers in town, the festival failed thanks to a combination of financial and political issues and nothing yet has risen to take its place, though there’s still some talk. Read more »
THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (2009/DVD)
So, Kimberly, in keeping with the spirit of Steven Soderbergh’s barely there, it’s-just-as-boring-as-real-life The Girlfriend Experience, I think we should Let’s Talk About it using as few words as possible—and let’s be sure to choose our bland, pointless words carefully to ensure any readers an instantaneous yet unsatisfying nap.
While I’ve always appreciated Soderbergh’s arty side—balancing out his Hollywood fare with ambitiously quirky, low-budget (and often trail-blazingly digital) diversions as far back as 1996′s Schizopolis through 2005′s Bubble—occasionally his pampered, overindulged muse drops a diamond-shaped turd, such as the daringly boring 2002 Full Frontal and this film, which manages to make boring a scenario (I refuse to say “story”) set in the days leading up to the 2008 presidential election about a (sort of) ambitious high class call girl (played lifelessly by real life Porn StarTM/somnambulist Sasha Grey) who offers her clients a perfect girlfriend experience: super hot, easily undressed, listens to their boring whining shit attentively, etc. While the premise is seemingly rife with dramatic possibilities, unfortunately none were realised by Soderbergh’s mashed potato cast in this disappointingly dry, limp effort. Read more »
As a service to anyone who may have missed them, allow us to guide you to the full-length and teaser trailers for the Coen brothers’ Oscar-buzzy True Grit remake, due in theaters on Christmas Day. I think our levels of Coen devotion vary here at Serious Movie Lover, but I am an unabashed enthusiast of most of their vast catalog. If you subscribe to the “every other movie” theory of Coen-watching, they’re due for a serious-minded, large-scale, painstakingly detailed, HIGH QUALITY offering, and this looks like it will fit the bill. Reliable Oscar winners/nominees in leading roles, Roger Deakins in the cinematographer’s chair (Do they get their own chairs? If not, they really should. Everyone needs a place to sit!), and prestige source material, all present. I haven’t seen the 1969 original since watching it on TV with my dad about 20 years ago, but it was John Wayne’s sole Oscar win and therefore universally beloved from what I can tell. The trailers have me more excited for this one than anything else coming up in this last few months of the year that I’ve heard of so far. We’ll be watching to see if it can live up to my already ridiculously high expectations. See you in December, Coens!
PIRATE RADIO (2009/DVD) (British Title: The Boat That Rocked)
Forget those swimming goggles from Jack Goes Boating! In Pirate Radio, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays The Count, an American DJ broadcasting on Radio Rock—a station that really existed during the 1960s in Britain. Thanks to a ban on rock and roll by the BBC, dedicated DJs were forced to broadcast all that fabulous music—much of it coming from their own artists no less– from boats floating just beyond British territorial waters. Set in 1966, this movie, written and directed by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) introduces us to all the crazy characters on a single Radio Rock boat and offers something of the same feel as his film Love Actually—lots of characters played by familiar British actors, plenty of plot but without much depth, a few good laughs, a little pathos and a wonderful soundtrack. We see the film largely through the eyes of Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) who has been sent aboard the boat in question to spend time with his godfather (Bill Nighy, playing the slick floating station manager). While on board, Carl experiences the highs and lows of life at sea—one particular high occurring when a boatful of ladies comes aboard. Kenneth Branagh is cast as the stuffy bad guy from the BBC, intent on shutting the ship down. Rhys Ifans is wonderful as the British counterpart (and challenger) to The Count. Emma Thompson makes an appearance as Young Carl’s mom and even January Jones shows up as the much sought-after Elenore (really). I particularly liked the scenes of the DJs doing their thing, with cut-aways to shots of young and old fans back on shore listening to the broadcasts. The period costumes, posters, etc. throughout are spot-on and combined with the music, make you feel that you were there. As I recall, this film received plenty of less than positive reviews when it appeared, but trust me (and Be), it’s a fine rental and will make for a fun night. The soundtrack alone ensures that!
JACK GOES BOATING (2010/IN THEATERS) The ending credits for this sweet little indie pic tell you what you already knew from the previews (“Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman”) and what you suspected half-way through (“Based on the Play by Bob Glaudini”). Aha! Like all good plays, this story is focused on four main characters and much of the action takes place in a one-bedroom NYC apartment, particularly in its kitchen. There are two men: Jack (Hoffman) and Clyde (John Ortiz), best friends and limo drivers for Jack’s uncle, and two women: Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Clyde’s hot wife and Connie (Amy Ryan), her very shy coworker. Clyde truly loves Jack who is muddling along in life with only his one friend and his walkman full of reggae for company. Lucy suggests they set Jack up with Connie over Chinese take-out and wine in the little apartment—an early scene of wonderfully awkward conversation. Nonetheless, the two misfits are drawn to one another and over the course of the movie get closer and closer in a lovely, quiet way—with the ultimate goal of going boating in the park six months later (thus the title). Meanwhile, their friends, Clyde and Lucy, move further and further apart, in anything but a quiet way, literally destroyed by her past infidelities and his inability to forget them. The play on which all of this is based was produced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz in 2007 and both starred in it along with Rubin-Vega during its brief off-Broadway run. The movie version is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut and he is getting solid reviews as an actor’s director. Of course, he is wonderful in his part and now we understand why he was wearing that knitted hat during the awards season last year as Jack sports dread-locks not intentionally but probably out of sheer neglect. Hoffman has added some terrific outdoor shots and scenes (many featuring classic NYC slush and snow, all too realistic!) as well as my real favorites in the movie, filmed at the swimming pool where Clyde is teaching Jack to swim. Wonderful, hilarious underwater shots! So while Clyde is helping Jack to move his life forward– teaching him to swim, finding him a cooking coach—unfortunately Clyde cannot get over the past and so by the end is alone as Jack and Connie walk off together. Bittersweet.
BTW: The big cooking scene is worthy of Julie and Julia—will make you hungry. And trust me, you will see where the scene is going and be groaning in anticipation.
Trivia Note: The beautiful Italian woman in Jack’s limo who is on a “dress for success” shopping excursion is Lola Glaudini, daughter of the playright.