4/25/2007

Roger Dodger

Director: Dylan Kidd

Mid-way through the ingeniously clever film debut by writer/director Dylan Kidd, sixteen year old Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) informs two gorgeous women in a bar (played by Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley) that the reason his uncle Roger (Campbell Scott) was given the nickname of Roger Dodger was that as a kid he was able to talk his way out of any situation and turn it into his advantage. Therefore, it’s only fitting that Roger became a successful advertising copywriter and the audience is left in no doubt of his talents and powers of persuasion during the breathlessly shocking and crisply well-written near monologue by Scott that opens the film as he pontificates on the war between the sexes and his belief that eventually men will be deemed obsolete. This off-the-wall, yet completely gripping, pretentious theory and Roger’s entire character are like a bad traffic accident. For even when he’s a disaster (especially after being dropped by his older lover and boss Isabella Rossellini) and ultimately decides to take out his revenge by reducing strange women in bars to stereotypes, sizing them up in ways he’s learned in advertising—we find his split-second decisions are not only appalling but, like the aforementioned accident, it’s darn near impossible to look away. After being spurned by love, Roger’s ego (the only currency he recognizes) is questioned as he puts his career at risk and is surprised by the arrival of his relatively estranged nephew Nick. Under the guise of a college admissions tour and interview, Nick bursts in from his native Ohio only to confess later over dinner that the real education he’s seeking is Roger’s advice on how to score with women. Kidd’s fresh yet brutal dialogue is delivered to perfection by Scott (also an executive producer of the film) who also earned an award from the National Board of Review as the Best Actor of that particular year. While some critics complained about the shaky hand-held digital photography, I felt that it really added to the persona of the hyper masculine and misogynistic Roger, putting us in the same point-of-view as our usually unlikable, although oddly compelling tour guide. Kidd’s film which was a splash here in the states earning him an award for the Best Narrative Feature Film by Tribecca’s Film Festival also earned him a fan base overseas from Venice Film Festival naming Roger Dodger the Best First Film for his debut effort.

Hollywoodland

Director: Allen Coulter

HBO director Allen Coulter (Sopranos, Sex and the City) made his film debut with this highly stylized noir based on the mysterious true events surrounding the death of George Reeves, the actor who was famous to millions of American families for his role as TV’s Superman. However, after the man of steel proves that he is not faster than a speeding bullet after all when found dead of a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound, other facts come to light indicating that the “suicide” may in fact have been murder. Fame and fortune hungry sleazy private detective Adrien Brody goes on the case uncovering some of Reeves’s dirty little secrets including his long-time affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the married wife of MGM studio boss (Bob Hoskins) and his relationship with the younger, manipulative, sexy and possibly dangerous fiancé at the time of his death, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). The film, which benefits greatly from not only the aforementioned performers but most notably from the impressively mature and astute performance of Ben Affleck as Reeves who proves once and for all to those who’d written him off in the past that he is a truly gifted performer, earning several nominations for the role including an award as Best Actor from the Venice Film Festival (giving him some promising early Oscar buzz that unfortunately never paid off). While it was never Coulter’s and screenwriter Paul Bernbaum’s intention to make Hollywoodland turn into a Reeves biopic, the finished product, while based on some intriguing facts, does end up as a relatively uneven and unsuccessful noir that works best when dealing exclusively with the flashbacks of Reeves and the questionable characters and events that surrounded his demise. However, too much time is spent on the usually excellent Adrien Brody, who was unfortunately given a clichéd role that bogs the film down with a far less fascinating storyline as he comes off as a sort of Humphrey Bogart meets Sam Spade archetype that calls more attention to itself as a cinematic noir entry when it should’ve been a far more natural and involving mystery in its own right. Overall, the actors save the film and keep viwers riveted, especially thanks to the female turns by the dominating and underappreciated Tunney and a fearless Lane as the vulnerable older woman. When the movie ended, however, I found myself doing some independent research on the Reeves mystery as the film, while well-constructed, ends up raising more questions than offering any kind of answer or resolution, opting instead to be just simply a showcase of mostly smoky noir-esque mood cinematography and shady characters.

Something Like Happiness

Director: Bodhan Slama

There comes a time in our 20’s when we all must come to the painful realization that instead of waiting for our lives to simply begin, we must realize that it’s already begun and it’s up to us to make the decisions that will shape the life we want. We all want happiness, of course, or something like that and in director Bodhan Slama’s perceptive import (courtesy of Film Movement) from the Czech Republic where it was not only a box office success in its homeland but chosen as the official submission to the Academy Awards, we meet three twenty-something adults all struggling to come to grips with their lives. Childhood friends Monika (Tatiana Vilhelmova), Tonik (Pavel Liska) and Dasha (Ana Geislerova) all live in the same run-down housing project near a tiny industrial area of the Czech Republic and soon we realize that each are at a very substantial crossroads in their individual paths. As we first encounter the trio, Monika is saying goodbye to her long-term boyfriend who has left his country behind to seek better opportunities in America where she hopes to be invited to join him. Until then, Monika spends her days stocking shelves at a grocery store while the beautiful, promiscuous and mentally unstable Dasha neglects her two young children and carries on an affair with a married salesman. Tonik, whom Monika’s father calls too “softhearted” for his own good moves out of his parents' home and into the old, crumbling farmhouse occupied by his aunt where he decides to restore the dwelling that’s been in his family for generations, despite the wishes of his father’s company to simply cut their losses, destroy the building and sell the land to the factory. When Dasha is institutionalized after suffering a breakdown from the dissolution of her sexual relationship, Tonik and Monika step in to care for her toddlers, moving out with them to the farmhouse in the hopes of giving the boys some semblance of a normal, happy life, as Tonik tries to hide his long-held feelings of love for his childhood friend Monika. Winner of seven Czech Lion Aawrds in 2006, Slama’s Something Like Happiness is even more impressive when one realizes that it’s only the second feature made by the writer/director and one that definitely paints a heartbreaking, funny, true and bittersweet portrait of young adults making major life decisions. Tatiana Vilhelmova who earned a Best Actress award at the San Sebastian Film Festival for her work is especially good as is Pavel Liska and their charismatic portrayals make you forgive the slightly vague and unfinished conclusion to the piece that does not offer enough closure overall. The film, which played as an official selection of numerous festivals including London and Toronto, also earned a Best Film Award at festivals in both San Sebastian and Athens. Something Like Happiness is available exclusively through Film Movement.

Film Movement, LLC

The History Boys

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Dakin (Dominic Cooper) is one of those attractive young men whose main flaw is that he realizes just how attractive he is to nearly everyone he meets. Using his looks for currency, he charms the socks off of faculty members, teachers and students in his 1980’s British prep school in this filmed adaptation of Alan Bennett’s Tony Award Winning play. Director Nicholas Hytner uses the same cast who played their roles to perfection during the play’s run at the National Theatre in London where Hytner is the artistic director and in between its smash success on the British stage and its American debut, he created this well-acted but admittedly slight film version. The film centers around a group of boys and their teachers all struggling with the battles of the educational system, burgeoning hormones, school politics and sexual complications while trying to prepare the lads for the admissions tests and interviews for enrollment in Oxford or Cambridge. The entire cast is uniformly excellent, most notably Richard Griffiths (himself a Tony winner) who breaks hearts with his complicated performance as a veteran teacher plagued by his desire for young men and his ambition to get his students passionately involved in the liberal arts studies while new teacher Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) seems only interested in educating the boys to memorize statistics verbatim and take revolutionary stances on their history lessons to gain a different point-of-view that would be attractive to admissions officers solely for academic reasons. Rounding out the boy’s education are the other faculty members including the headmaster and the tough but genuine heart of the school, Mrs. Lintitt (a wonderful Frances de la Tour), all of whom enrich the film that takes a good thirty to forty-five minutes to gain viewer attention and sympathy due to a majority of unlikable characters but then manages to keep us interested up until the surprising and bittersweet conclusion that’s a bit of a shocker indeed. Filled with great 80’s music and energetic performances, the film is worth seeing for those who are unable to take in the play in New York or London but there is definitely something missing in its hurried translation.


Music from The History Boys



“Blue Monday” by New Order
New Order - International - The Best of New Order - Blue Monday

“This Charming Man” by The Smiths (as featured on the BBC)
The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow - This Charming Man (Peel Session - BBC)

“Mustapha Dance” by The Clash
The Clash - Super Black Market Clash - Mustapha Dance

“Never Stop (Discotheque)” by Echo And The Bunnymen
Echo And The Bunnymen - Porcupine - Never Stop (Discotheque)

“A Forest” by The Cure
The Cure - The Cure: Greatest Hits - A Forest

4/23/2007

The Illusionist

Director: Neil Burger

2006 was the year of Hollywood’s obsession with magic with the release of two high profile love triangle period dramas about daring magicians in exotic locales. While Christopher Nolan’s brilliantly crafted puzzler The Prestige appealed to audiences on more of a dazzling and intellectual level, Neil Bruger’s exquisitely photographed and painterly styled romantic epic was the more intoxicating and classical cinematic masterpiece. Cinematographer Dick Pope received a richly deserved Oscar nomination for his amazingly expressionistic visuals heightened by a wonderful musical composition by the legendary Phillip Glass. In The Illusionist we meet a magician named Eisenheim (Edward Norton) who reunites with his childhood love, the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel), in turn of century Vienna, only to learn that she is engaged to the vicious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Edward Norton, who did many of his own magic tricks, reminded viewers instantly of his innate and commanding onscreen presence and Paul Giamatti matches his intensity as the chief inspector at once in awe of the magician’s wizardry but hired by the Prince to shut down Eisenheim’s show. Based on Steven Millhauser’s short story and written and directed by Neil Burger, The Illusionist had the added benefit of being produced by the same team that brought us Sideways and Crash. While Burger’s film is deceptively simple, its unique and surprising twist ending causes us to reevaluate the events again as witnessed after the film’s halfway point. Although it was based on fiction, according to the IMDB, The Illusionist did find some real inspiration based on both the controversial life of Australian Crown Prince Rudolf (the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph) as well as the legendary magician and purported clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen who was murdered by Nazis in 1933 and served as a motivation for the character of Eisenheim. Overall, Burger’s luscious film is gorgeous, old fashioned and will especially appeal to lovers of old films.

Going Shopping

Director: Henry Jaglom

First famous for his editing contributions to Easy Rider, actor/editor turned writer/director Henry Jaglom has dedicated several of his cinematic creations in the last dozen years to exploring the many issues surrounding women in contemporary society. In his latest film, co-written by and starring his wife Victoria Foyt, Jaglom uncovers the obsession and catharsis (as well as the problems) of women’s devotion to shopping. Part docudrama, part-fiction, Foyt stars as Holly Gilmore, a dress-designer who finds out that Holly G’s, the store she’s run for ten years will be closing within a few days after her money-manager boyfriend mishandles her finances. Set during the economically busy weekend of Mother’s Day, Gilmore uses those three days to desperately try to come up with back rent, pay for more merchandise and deal with not only the dissolution of her relationship (as well as a chance encounter with attractive stranger Rob Morrow) but the lives and loves of the other women in her life including her well-intentioned but misguided mother and teenage daughter (Mae Whitman). Whether she’s trying to secure a loan shark, lure a new business partner or resolve the many personal crises that arise, Gilmore tries to keep everything together as director/editor Jaglom intercuts fascinating interviews with various customers that in some ways enrich the plot and fascinate viewers but at certain moments, detract from the drama and take away from the overall effect. However, the film is worth a look—fresh, creative and addicting as shopping itself.

Notes On A Scandal

Director: Richard Eyre

Director Richard Eyre and Closer playwright Patrick Marber did a tremendous job of transforming Zoe Heller’s sharp, intense and wicked tale of a friendship that grows into obsession between two British schoolteachers in the screen version of her novel Notes On A Scandal. Judi Dench is calculatingly icy (with a dead-on air of cynicism in her off-screen postmodern narration) as veteran teacher Barbara Covett, who finds her dull, gray, burned out existence livened up with the arrival of new teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett given a name that alludes to her impulsive romantic decisions). After years of marriage to Bill Nighy and being a devoted mother to her two children including a son with Down’s Syndrome who recently has joined an excellent school, Hart joins the work force again and finds not only the typical educational struggles she must face but complicates matters on her own accord after beginning a regrettably bold and shocking affair with a fifteen year old pupil. The equally aptly named Covett (who covets Blanchett indeed), is the sole witness to the goings-on and uses her knowledge of the indiscretion to help control her burgeoning relationship with Hart as she begins to let her increasingly obsessive and irrational feelings for her colleague dangerously affect her judgment. The two actresses who earned numerous critical raves and accolades (including several prizes for Blanchett), also received Oscar nominations for both Best Actress (Dench) and Supporting Actress (Blanchett) respectively along with Oscar nods for screenwriter Marber’s adaptation and the powerful and at times overwhelming compositions from legendary musician Phillip Glass. While Dench’s crazed lesbian stalker character does eventually devolve into a bit of a tired and unfair cliché that recalls the Shirley MacLaine role in William Wyler’s filmed version of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, the disturbing and thrillingly well crafted, intimate drama will keep viewers riveted.

Come Early Morning

Director: Joey Lauren Adams

Indie actress Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) proves she has much more to offer the film world than just her distinctive Jean Arthur meets Glenne Headly voice and bubbly persona with Come Early Morning, her intensely personal debut as a writer/director that earned Adams the Dorothy Arzner Director’s Award. In the film, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival where it was among just sixteen dramatic titles chosen to be screened at the event out of 1,700 submissions (according to IMDB), actress Ashley Judd turns in one of her finest and most daring performances as thirty-something Lucy Fowler who, in addition to looking after her dysfunctional and argumentative family, works in the construction industry in small town Arkansas, and endures a recurring bad habit of ending her evenings at a local bar, followed by way too many mornings waking up with strangers after forgettable one-night-stands. Adams, also a native of Arkansas and therefore proving the benefit of the old adage of writing what you know, does not take any shortcuts or sugarcoat Lucy’s plight and her daily struggles after Lucy meets Cal Percell (Jeffrey Donovan), a man not contented to just be tossed out like garbage who wants Lucy to acknowledge to her own self that she indeed has personal value. A wonderful cast including Dianne Ladd, Stacy Keach, Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Wilson, and Laura Prepon helps add to the authenticity of the piece and although it’s definitely a downer until Lucy begins to realize that a much-needed lifestyle change is down the road, it’s a very worthwhile film and makes you eager to see the next work from the promising Adams. Come Early Morning won the Best Narrative Feature at the Memphis Independent Film Festival.


From Come Early Morning


“Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” by Willie Nelson & Emmylou Harris
Willie Nelson & Emmylou Harris - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Somebody Pick Up My Pieces

“Silver Wings” by Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Silver Wings

“I’m Going Nowhere” by Troy Cook Jr.
Troy Cook Jr. - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - I'm Going Nowhere

“Oh Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson
Don Gibson - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Oh Lonesome Me

“The Way I Am” by Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - The Way I Am

“I Got Mexico” by Eddy Raven
Eddy Raven - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - I Got Mexico

“Leavin’ Ain’t The Only Way To Go” by Eric James Jochmans
Eric James Jochmans - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Leavin' Ain't the Only Way to Go

“If Anyone Asks You (Callin’)” by Shannon Boshears
Shannon Boshears - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - If Anyone Asks You (Callin')

“What’s Done Is Done” by Jeannie Max Lane
Jeannie Max Lane - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - What's Done Is Done

“Get Back To Loving Me” by Jim Chestnut
Jim Chestnut - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Get Back to Loving Me

“Movin’ Out, Movin’ Up & Movin’ On” by Troy Cook Jr.
Troy Cook Jr. - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Movin' Out, Movin' Up & Movin' On

“Old Chuck Of Coal” by Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Joe Shaver - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Old Chuck of Coal

“Killing the Blues” by Malcolm Holcombe
Malcolm Holcombe - Come Early Morning (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Killing the Blues

Land Of Plenty

Director: Wim Wenders

Mid-way through the most recent film from director Wim Wenders, one of the main characters—a former Vietnam veteran still suffering from both trauma and the effects of a brutal earlier version of Agent Orange, notices a large object covered with a sheet and mutters, “If I was paranoid, that would look suspicious.” It’s an ironic line, not only because Paul (John Diehl) is the most paranoid character in the film—driving around vigilante style in a surveillance van two years after 9/11 with conservative talk radio blaring, a proud American flag waving and the Star Spangled Banner set as his cell phone ringtone—but also because Paul represents the extreme case of the way that the events of 9/11 damaged our psyche, making us look over our shoulders for years to come as the alert levels changed colors on the national evening news. German native Wenders has a true passion for the spirit of America as embodied by his 1980’s masterpiece Paris, Texas that won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. While he’s never made a film equal to Texas in my mind, Land of Plenty is one of his very best in recent years and uses some of his recurring themes of paranoia, isolation, alienation, existentialism and moral American angst in contemporary society to great effect. Fittingly, the film was not his first choice to make as Don’t Come Knocking was postponed, Wenders wrote the treatment for Plenty in only three days, completed the script in three weeks (expressly with the actress Michelle Williams in mind) and filmed the entire work digitally in sixteen days with all involving earning only one hundred dollars per day for their various contributions, according to IMDB. Based on a story idea by Wenders and Scott Derrickson, with the script completed by Wenders and Michael Meredith, Michelle Williams is excellent as Lana, the daughter of a missionary who returns to L.A. after spending years overseas with her religious father and now-deceased mother. After leaving the Palestinian West Bank, the Ohio native (reared in South Africa and the Middle East) stays at a homeless mission and becomes involved with the surrounding community while trying to track down her estranged Uncle Paul who doesn’t want to be found. When a random crime against a Muslim man in the street brings the characters together, the two team up with different motives as Lana tries to track down the victim’s family and the uncle tags along in order to decipher what he fears may be a criminal plot only to realize that his perception of the outside world may be cloudy and narrow. This fine character driven film seems to echo the brief line uttered by its ill-fated character Hassan of “my home is not a place, it is people,” and Wenders, as always, goes right for the psyche and common humanity in us all. Land of Plenty was nominated for several independent film awards (most notably for Williams) and earned Wim Wenders the UNESCO Award at the Venice Film Festival where it was also nominated for the Golden Lion.

Intimate Strangers

Director: Patrice Leconte

Throughout his career, French director Patrice Leconte has had a recurring fascination with the unlikely yet seemingly destined friendships that develop between two eccentric characters—whether it is in the magical romance The Girl on the Bridge or the existential male bonding film about mid-life evaluation The Man on the Train. In Intimate Strangers Leconte channels Alfred Hitchcock for this intelligently mysterious and conversational tale of William Faber, a straight-laced tax accountant whose world and purpose in life gets thrown into a tail-spin after a beguiling stranger mistakes him for the psychiatrist down the hall and begins unloading her personal life and marital disarray with the merest encouragement. Sensing a spark between them, even after the misunderstanding is resolved, Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) continues to visit Faber (Fabrice Luchini)—needing a human connection source outside her dull work as a luxury luggage saleswoman and a domineering and erratic husband. Not only will Hitchcock fans cherish this fascinating character study that pays homage to Rear Window and Vertigo among others but it’s also a fascinating example of how appealingly seductive restraint can be on film. Whether it be between the gaze of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day when she catches him reading a romance novel or here throughout the entirety of Intimate Strangers—the film is sexy not only because of the deliberately mannered chemistry between the leads but because of some of the wonderful camerawork which shows events from the point-of-view of the main character Faber as he tries not to let his eyes linger too long on the beautiful stranger and the camera rocks not only as indicative of his nervousness in the idea of a new flirtation but it’s carefully selective in its movement and nearly feels like the quickening of a heartbeat itself. While some may find this, like other Leconte works, slow and talky, those interested in something sophisticated and quietly intoxicating will want to give it a try. If you find yourself impressed, do look up the aforementioned films by the director as well as he's one of the most exciting French directors working today.

The Tao Of Steve

Director: Jenniphr Goodman


In this infectious blend of pop culture and philosophy, based on director and co-writer Jenniphr Goodman’s friend Duncan North, Donal Logue portrays Dex, an overweight thirty-two year old, highly intelligent underachiever who works with kids part time and spend the rest of his days playing Frisbee golf with his slacker friends, chasing women and perfecting his very own secrets of seduction aptly named The Tao of Steve. Inspired by the “prototypical cool males” like Steve McQueen and Groucho Marx’s belief that if one acts like a woman can’t get into their club, women will do almost anything to become a member—Dex’s three part theory of first eliminating his desire, secondly excelling at something in a female’s presence and then retreating so that they can be the hunters has proven quite successful in securing a revolving door of various women in his New Mexico home where he’s become quite an unlikely, infamous and legendary lothario. However, his confidence and reputation is put to the test when he meets Syd (Greer Goodman, co-writer of the film and the sister of the director), a former college classmate who returns to town on business to create the set-design for the local opera. When the hip and equally sharp Syd seems impervious to his attentions, Dex must reevaluate his entire theory in this cult comedy that was given a good boost not only from finding a fan in late night talk show host David Letterman but also becoming a huge sensation at the Sundance Film Festival where not only was it nominated for the Grand Jury Prize but also won a Special Jury Prize for what they heralded Logue’s “Outstanding Performance” and it is in fact his deserving and fully realized turn here that keeps his otherwise selfish character in the viewer’s hearts.


Rocky Balboa

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Fans of the original 1976 Academy Award Winning Best Picture Rocky will cherish Sylvester Stallone’s sentimental, understated and worthy bookend to the epic series, which admittedly fluctuated in quality during the middle sequels, that felt like they had just been cranked out for the box office and fans. Rocky, like Stallone himself, has become an American icon by now—nearly symbolic of Philadelphia itself, which is once again an overwhelmingly silent but nonetheless equal character in the Rocky mythology especially in the first and final film. Thus Rocky Balboa (wisely minus a roman numeral to distinguish it from the rest) is the best follow-up in the series and keeps in the spirit audiences first fell in love with over thirty years ago. As the film opens, we find that not too much has changed in Rocky’s life—he still lives in the same run-down area of Philadelphia and remains deeply in love with Adrian who has passed away but whose grave he visits frequently. He spends most days running a restaurant named after his late wife where night after night he regales the clientele with stories of his famous fights with Apollo Creed and other opponents. Feeling alienated by the overpowering shadow of his famous father, Rocky’s son Robert (played this time around by Gilmore Girls and Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia-- himself a dead-ringer for the older actor) is struggling to make it in the business world and live a normal life. However, when a television sports announcer proposes the question of who would win in a fight between Rocky Balboa in his prime and the new heavyweight champion of the world that few respect or are willing to fight, an animated simulation fight is created and the Balboas are thrust back into the spotlight. Feeling like he still has some fight left in him, Rocky decides to train once again, this time battling the ageist boxing commission, the audience’s stereotype of older fighters and his own inner demon as Pauly (Burt Young), Robert and a now-grown Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes) who memorably told Rocky off in the first film all rally around the former legend. Rocky Balboa is not only a fitting conclusion to the series but is brimming with creative choices that become more apparent on a second viewing such as art direction decisions made by Stallone to contrast the worlds of the new fighting lifestyle of fast cars and bling bling and Rocky’s humble surroundings along with some truly innovative decisions in cinematography during the fight (switching from black and white to color, etc.). The DVD is well worth the rental for fans, like me, unashamed to admit they still hold a soft spot for the 70’s American classic and the extra features are of definite interest as well.

4/17/2007

Bobby

Director: Emilio Estevez

Throughout his life, actor turned writer/director Emilio Estevez had been haunted by some of the most famous photos taken during the aftermath of the shocking assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 6th, 1968. Over the last several years, he passionately began working on a labor of love that would take an intimate look at several intersecting stories involving twenty-two main characters staying at the Ambassador Hotel on that fateful day. Inspired by both real accounts of the incidents and his own feelings about the spirit of Kennedy and what he perceived may have been occurring during that era, Estevez took two often displayed snapshots (the busboy near Kennedy post-shooting and a young man hurling a chair at the wall) and developed these brief actions into flesh-and-blood individuals that nearly bound off the screen. Although it’s initially hard to keep track of so many subplots in this cinematic tapestry that feels like a cross between Grand Hotel and the work of Robert Altman, Estevez is a wonderful tour guide but nonetheless it’s easy to get lost in the jaw-dropping star power of a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Helen Hunt, Joshua Jackson, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone and Elijah Wood. With so much happening in the one large setting of the Ambassador hotel, some of the plotlines are more successful than others and we’re utterly riveted by the ingenious casting of the glamorous Sharon Stone as a compassionate manicurist/hairdresser, and secondly by frequent tabloid victim Lindsay Lohan as a peaceful young woman (based on someone Estevez met during the film’s writing) who chooses to marry a friend from school (Elijah Wood) in order to prevent him from being sent to Vietnam. Estevez, who even sold some of his own artwork to help fund Bobby and shot the first two weeks of the film inside the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel earned an award from the Phoenix Film Critics Society for Breakout Performance of the Year Behind the Camera for this, his most deeply moving film yet. While it was overshadowed by bigger studio films like Babel, Dreamgirls and The Departed in terms of Oscar season, Bobby’s impressive cast won the Hollywood Film Award for Ensemble of the Year, was nominated as Best Picture Drama and Best Song (see below) from The Golden Globes and won Venice Film Festival’s Biografilm Award, where it was also nominated for the Golden Lion. Now that it’s been released on DVD, hopefully Bobby will get the audience it deserves as it’s truly one of the most inspiring and underappreciated films of 2006 and one that will hopefully engage voters to get more involved with politics today.

From Bobby

“Never Gonna Break My Faith”
by Aretha Franklin & Mary J. Blige
(Written by Bryan Adams)


Aretha Franklin & Mary J. Blige - Bobby (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Never Gonna Break My Faith

Comeback Season

Director: Bruce McCulloch

Kids in the Hall cast member Bruce McCulloch wrote and directed this offbeat, funny indie film, which debuted at Tribecca before ending up at other international fests including being selected as an official selection at the 2006 Scottsdale International Film Festival. Taking a break from the GoodFellas styled roles that made him famous, Ray Liotta shows his versatile comedic range (also on display in the lovely Corrina, Corrina and hilarious Heartbreakers) as businessman and suburban father Walter Pearce in Comeback Season. After an impulsive, regrettable affair with his young, beautiful assistant, a guilt and panic ridden Pearce confesses his indiscretion to his wife of twenty-four years (Glenne Headly) on their anniversary, just after his older daughter becomes engaged, thereby being forced out of his house in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the arrogant star quarterback of the local high school football team, Pearce’s next door neighbor Skylar Eckerman (Shaun Sipos), blows out his knee just before a big game and soon, the two unlikely neighbors find themselves both with their dreams dashed. The men form an odd couple alliance as Pearce stays with Eckerman while his parents are on vacation and together they eat burritos, listen to way too many Dave Matthews Band songs, shop at Sears (the only credit card Pearce has left after his vengeful wife and daughters seek financial justice) and ultimately both challenge and inspire one another to get things back on track in their lives. The film is sweet, comical, yet surprisingly relatable however drastic the events seem as Pearce tries everything in his power to make his wife forgive him and move back home, yet the conclusion, while of course predictable, does not come all that easily and McCulloch’s jokes are subtle and brave and his adept and innate understanding of each of the main characters helps make this relatively short film (roughly 90 minutes) much more credible as we begin to sympathize and understand each point of view. Ultimately, Comeback Season is a nice little gem, fresh off the film festival circuit and available for rental.

The Holiday

Director: Nancy Meyers

Hot off the box office smash of her previous film Something’s Gotta Give, writer/director Nancy Meyers had her own very large shoes to fill with this holiday romantic comedy follow-up, which like Love Actually, sets out to be an ultimate romantic comedy with picturesque locales and a top notch cast. Writing specifically with the actors in mind, Meyers tailor-made four unique roles for Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black and Jude Law respectively as career professionals in need of new romance. London based publishing workaholic Iris (Winslet) and her hardworking American counterpart Amanda (Diaz) both find themselves spurned in love by unfaithful men and decide to swap their L.A. and Surrey, England homes for two weeks in order to get a new lease on life and away from the men who broke their hearts. This likable escapist fantasy of jetting off to a beautiful new setting where one can learn more about themselves, find new friends and realize their own strength is bound to appeal to female viewers, although predictably Meyers throws in some romantic entanglements for good measure. Jack Black is energetic and hilarious as the Ennio Morricone worshipping film composer who strikes up an instant friendship and flirtation with Iris and Meyers (who was a fan of School of Rock) knows how to channel his talents well and their scenes together are adorable and help make the American story more entertaining than the British one, although Diaz tries her best. Diaz is excellent and bubbly in her early scenes which are fairly solitary but her plot is bogged down slightly with the arrival of the usually wonderful Jude Law who doesn’t seem terribly convincing as Iris’s brother who lands on Diaz’s doorstep one evening and they share a drunken night of passion that results in a romantic novel-type courtship, not nearly as creative as the American one. Added to Iris’s storyline is the delightful inclusion of Eli Wallach as a former Academy Award winning screenwriter who, now elderly and alone, becomes Iris’s very first American friend and their touching relationship helps give the film its heart and will enchant film buffs everywhere as he introduces her to the pleasures of classic screwball comedy actresses like Irene Dunne and films like The Lady Eve. While it isn’t in the same league as Love Actually and it does run about twenty minutes too long (a flaw similar to the delightful but overly long Something’s Gotta Give), The Holiday is amusing winter romantic comedy fare that fans of witty writing as well as the actors are sure to enjoy.


Songs Featured in The Holiday


“Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
The Killers - Hot Fuss - Mr. Brightside

“Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet
Jet - Get Born - Are You Gonna Be My Girl

“Let Go” by Frou Frou
Frou Frou - Details - Let Go

“Best Of My Love” by The Emotions
The Emotions - The Best of the Emotions - Best of My Love - Best of My Love

“It’s a Shame” by The Spinners
The Spinners - The Best of the Spinners - It's a Shame

“Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” by Al Green
The Reverend Al Green - The Love Songs Collection - Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel - Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits - Mrs. Robinson

“Just For Now” by Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself - Just for Now

“You Send Me” by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin - Aretha's Gold - You Send Me

The Closet

Director: Francis Veber

The man responsible for some of the funniest contemporary French films of the past thirty years (a few of which have been remade in the U.S.) releases one of his most creative and sweet-natured comedies about Francois, a dull accountant (Daniel Auteuil) who, after being forced out of the large group photo at his work for “space reasons” overhears that he is about to be fired.



Divorced from the wife he still loves and a son who’s been growing distant from him, Auteuil’s job crunching numbers for the local condom factory has been the one thing that’s kept him going for years. A new neighbor intervenes in Francois’s plight by doctoring photographs and sending them anonymously to his work, implicating Francois as gay, knowing full well from his own experience in the corporate world, that the company wouldn’t want to fire him for what others may perceive as reasons of homophobia.

Soon, as the film’s tagline reads, “in order to save his job, he must come out of the closet he never went into” as the entire company reacts in various manners from his female colleagues trying to play detective and some of the male ones turning a bit hostile, including Gerard Depardieu in a hilarious turn as a homophobic coworker whom Thierry Lhermitte encourages to make nice with Francois by manipulating the prejudiced and weak-minded Depardieu for his own sport.

A thoughtful, highly intelligent film that makes some great points about corporate politics and tolerance, the actors (including costars Jean Rochefort and Michele Laroque) provide excellent support and The Closet is one of Veber’s best in recent years. Note: for a fun Veber double feature, pair The Closet with The Dinner Game.


Relative Strangers

Director: Greg Gilenna

Fans of Meet the Parents will want to track down this little comedic indie from the creators of the Fockers (and bearing several similarities to those films) in which liberal, vegan, successful self-help author Dr. Richard Clayton (Office Space’s Ron Livingston) learns that his blue blooded conservative parents (Christine Baranski and Edward Herrmann) aren’t his biological parents after all. When he bluntly receives the news the he was adopted from his envious brother (Bob Odenkirk), Livingston hopes for the best, imagining Ed Begley Jr. as a liberal father come true when in reality the parents who show up at his doorstep after a private investigation are none other than The Manures (Kathy Bates and Danny DeVito, again fittingly tagged with an odd name like Focker). The film, based partly on a Second City skit by Gilenna (who co-wrote the film with Peter Stass) was also inspired by the story of a good friend and while it’s a bit predictable and forgettable, the likable cast, including Neve Campbell as Livngston’s fiancé with a crass, white trash mother of her own (Beverly D’Angelo obviously having a ball) seem to have had such a genuinely good time making the film that it’s infectious. Although those of us who have seen the Focker flicks one too many times know exactly where the film is going, DeVito and Bates are quite a pair and there’s a particular scene set around a lively game of charades that had me laughing as hard as I did the first time I saw Meet the Parents.

Color Me Kubrick

Director: Brian Cook

John Malkovich relishes in his joyfully campy portrayal of con artist Alan Conway, a British alcoholic homosexual who spent several years in the 80’s and 90’s pretending to be the reclusive master director Stanley Kubrick in what the film describes as a “true…ish story.” Directed by Brian Cook, a former assistant director to the legendary auteur on Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining and written by Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s personal assistant, the film is brimming with cinematic and musical references to Kubrick’s most famous scenes and films, opening with a chilling homage to Clockwork Orange, that unlike the original film, doesn’t end with brutal violence but instead with the realization that more unsuspecting Londoners have been “had” by the impersonator Conway. The film, which is more of a character piece than a straight autobiography, allows Malkovich plenty of room to shine and go way-over-the-top with glee. As depicted onscreen it appears that Conway mostly used Kubrick’s identity to name-drop and bed hop in order to charm young, attractive men and dazzle wealthy Brits into picking up the tabs of bar and restaurant bills, hotel suites, etc. while promising each that he would collaborate with them on the next “Stanley Kubrick production.” While he is caught from time to time, having to duck out the back of clubs and restaurants, Conway mostly gets away with the ruse although there’s a memorable scene wherein a young film buff at a bar catches him in the act by citing a Stanley Kramer film and watching Conway not recognize the slip-up until he is confronted and advised to do more research on his “alter ego.” Color Me Kubrick, which earned director Cook a nomination for a 2006 Golden Hitchcock Award at the Dinard British Film Festival doesn’t really shed any light on the legendary director or too much about Conway’s background for that matter but it will definitely appeal to Kubrick’s legions of fans around the globe, not to mention those who enjoy Malkovich being… well, John Malkovich.

Machuca

Director: Andres Wood


Winner of numerous Best Picture and Audience Awards throughout Latin America, Chilean director Andres Wood’s moving film about two boys who become unlikely friends during the heated political events and civil war that erupted in 1973 marks yet another fine film about coming of age in a foreign country. The official selection for Chile’s entry as Best Foreign Film to our Academy Awards, Wood proves to be a wonderful and adept director capable of eliciting mature portrayals from his young cast. When eleven-year-old Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) is given a scholarship to go to a private parochial school from ambitious Priest Father MacEnroe, he endures cruel jests from his wealthier classmates who have inherited their prejudices from elitist parents who look down on his humble shantytown background. However, sensing a new ally, the wealthy Gonzalo (Marias Quer) quickly befriends Pedro but as the country begins to politically implode-- escalating into the uprising that would leave Allende dead-- class wars ensure and thereby affect the nature of their friendship. There has been a recent influx of extraordinary and sometimes neorealist inspired films from Latin America about boys growing older and like the most beloved foreign film that dealt with this subject—Truffaut’s French film 400 Blows—it's evident the depth of compassion and tenderness that director Wood had for this story and the young people in the film.

Next Stop Wonderland

Director: Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson's quirky romance was not only nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance but the heartfelt indie with a million dollar budget caused an all-out bidding war until Miramax proved victorious, purchasing Next Stop Wonderland for six million dollars. Hope Davis is great as Erin, a dedicated Registered Nurse who-- after being dumped for the umpteenth time by her flighty hippie boyfriend Phillip Seymour Hoffman-- finds herself in dating hell when her overbearing mother Holland Taylor (director Anderson’s aunt) places a personal ad in a local Boston paper that causes sixty-four responses, resulting in disastrous meet-ups to which all singles can relate. Meanwhile, viewers are introduced to a parallel storyline and hero in Alan Gelfant as an ex-plumber with dreams of becoming an assistant aquarist who keeps missing Davis by fractions of seconds and although the viewers know who is going to end up together, getting there is half the fun. Funny and wild— Wonderland is a wonderful precursor to Anderson’s superior follow-up romantic comedy fantasy that also deals with fate, Happy Accidents. Although the film earned the Audience Award and Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival, the film’s ending was reworked at the last moment in order to discredit one character and help retain viewer sympathy for Davis’s Erin (inspired by an actual acquaintance of Anderson) who up until the film’s change had formerly left a slightly cool impression on viewers. Bowdoin College graduate Brad Anderson (who later taught filmmaking classes at Boston’s Film and Video Foundation), clearly respects his audience’s capacity to take in the subtle tongue-in-cheek jokes that play better on a second viewing, especially as personified by Hoffman’s character Sean who in breaking up with his girlfriend Erin, leaves her a videotape filled with his reasons but ultimately opts to leave with the VCR. While not as successful as a complete work as the frothy and inviting Happy Accidents, Next Stop Wonderland makes a good choice for a nice romantic rainy evening in. Above all, the sophisticated and unique movie is intelligent and should appeal to fans of Sliding Doors.

12 and Holding

Director: Michael Cuesta

Depicting the angst faced by youth in our increasingly complicated America can be a tricky thing to transfer to film as we’ve all witnessed movies where the teens either speak like forty-year olds (quoting author Jack Kerouac's books and Clash lyrics), are solely concerned about being popular, or are depicted in ways that are so eccentric that they’re simply the stuff of bad Hollywood fiction. In one of the very best independent films of 2006, writer Anthony S. Cipriano and director Michael Cuesta manage to evoke such an amazingly disturbing sense of authenticity of twelve year olds growing up much too quickly in contemporary suburbia. Beginning the film during a typical 4th of July celebration, we meet our main young characters as they grasp with everyday problems such as bullies, overworked and apathetic parents and the beginning of puberty, but things take a much darker turn and we witness the effects on the entire community (most notably the children who are usually overlooked in most domestic dramas) after twelve year old Rudy Carges (Conor Donovan) dies in a tragic tree house accident when it is set on fire by local bullies. This horrible event leaves Rudy’s shy and more insecure twin brother, Jacob (also played by Donovan) who had always felt a bit like the more unpopular brother due to a birthmark that covers an entire side of his face, trying to understand his feelings of anger as he swears revenge when exposed to the unraveling and trauma encountered by his own family. The only survivor and witness to the tree house horror, aside from the bullies that Jacob taunts in juvenile hall, is Jacob’s good friend Leonard (Jesse Camacho). Leonard escapes from the fire without too much damage save for a few minor injuries and a curious side effect that has removed his sense of smell and ability to enjoy food, which sends the grossly overweight Leonard to reevaluate the way his entire heavyset family lives for food as he decides to diet and exercise, much to the chagrin of his parents who fear that he has joined a cult. The third child and friend suffering the aftermath of Rudy’s demise is the sole female and the heart of the film, Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum), who spends her days mostly ignored by her overworked psychiatrist and doctoral candidate mother Annabella Sciorra and abandoned by her absentee father. Malee escapes into her own fixations as she develops an alarming crush on her mother's handsome patient and begins to sneak into his apartment when he’s away and happen upon him for minor flirtations. Cuesta’s mesmerizing film boasts completely natural and overwhelmingly emotional portrayals by its believable young actors and succeeds mightily thanks to its sensitive handling of several risky subject matters as the film reaches its dangerous conclusion, and special recognition is due as well for the brilliant screenplay by Cipriano. A critical hit during its film festival debut, the film was nearly ignored by audiences in its limited theatrical run which is a shame since it’s one of those haunting films about adolescence that both alarms viewers and rings true and one that only comes along every so often in American cinema. Check it out.


Featured in 12 and Holding


“Burnin’ For You” by Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Öyster Cult - Blue Öyster Cult: Super Hits - Burnin' for You

“Help Yourself” by Death In Vegas
Death In Vegas - Scorpio Rising - Help Yourself

“Love Everybody”
by The Presidents of the United States of America

The Presidents of the United States of America - Love Everybody - Love Everybody

“Why Not Smile” by R.E.M.
R.E.M. - In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 - Why Not Smile