5/25/2007

Elizabethtown

Director: Cameron Crowe

The films of Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky) seem to divide both critics and audiences alike. There are those who, like myself, adore his earnest, articulate and uninhibited characters who, as they frequently admit, have a guileless way of saying all the things that others usually will not say. They’re emotional rather than sarcastic, honest rather than coy and usually fill writers with envy by the sheer beauty of the memorable dialogue (best offered in his narrative techniques and first-person accounts) that seem at once both literary and reminiscent of classic Hollywood films by directors such as William Wyler and Billy Wilder (about and with whom Crowe composed a book-length collection of interviews). When it comes to the responses of his most recent work Elizabethtown, which like the ultra personal Almost Famous was inspired from events of his own life (though not to the extent of Famous), reactions ran the gamut from praise to scathing attacks on not just this latest film and its eccentric characters plus the wildly imaginative tale and hip soundtrack (Crowe’s taste as evidenced in Vanilla Sky is both impeccable and unnervingly intimidating) but also the entire career of the man himself. For some, disliking this film caused critics to reevaluate and irrationally attack all of his other films in sensationalized ways that seemed both unprofessional and unfair, especially after its disastrous premiere at the Toronto Film Festival which caused Crowe to re-cut the film again for Paramount. Couple these criticisms with the Toronto reception and audiences were given numerous reasons to stay away from what they were repeatedly told by critics parroting one another was an overly indulgent Crowe rehash of Garden State. This being said, it's a shame that so many didn't take the risk in checking it out for themselves as it's one of Crowe's undisputed masterworks.

Written especially for Orlando Bloom (which delayed the shoot as he was unavailable for awhile causing many other actors to be considered and schedule conflicted Jane Fonda to back out), the film stars Bloom as Drew Baylor, who at the start of Elizabethtown is seated in a helicopter looking longingly at the emergency exit lever in a way that recalls the beginnings of Harold and Maude and The Graduate. In a dazzling set-up and impressively well-written opening sequence we learn that young Baylor-- a brilliant shoe designer-- has recently cost his employer, Mercury Worldwide Shoes (headed up by Alec Baldwin) nearly one billion dollars on a recent design he’d created that was put into production before a frantic recall, making the situation a full-blown disaster. The descriptive narration and pitch perfect company politics mindset instantly recalls Crowe’s earlier masterpiece Jerry Maguire and wordsmiths may find themselves hitting the “back” button on their DVD remotes to relish in choice phrases again and again in awe. Hoping to cash in his chips, Baylor goes home and rigs an elaborate suicidal booby-trapped exercise bike (again filmed in a darkly comic Harold and Maude style) before getting a fateful phone call from his tearful sister (Judy Greer) letting him know that his father has died from an unexpected heart attack while visiting relatives in Kentucky. This shocking turn of events causes him to return back to his roots in Elizabethtown, near Louisville Kentucky where he reconnects with his eccentric relatives and meets cute with friendly, supportive, knowingly flirtatious flight attendant Kirsten Dunst who first comes across as annoyingly perky only for us to realize that she is one of the wisest and most intuitive characters in the piece. The film, at times is admittedly guilty of Crowe’s weakness for the precious and memorable over the believable as most apparent in the film’s wake sequence that is entertaining yet nonetheless unrealistic as we watch grieving widow Susan Sarandon tap dance and tell jokes to hide her pain but the film is definitely worth the investment—highly underrated and judged far too harshly—Elizabethtown is actually among the favorites of some of my fellow Crowe fans.


More Elizabethtown from iTunes

Download the Film
Elizabethtown

Music From Elizabethtown


Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown Music Podcast

Cameron Crowe - Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown Music Podcast - Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown Music Podcast

“It’ll All Work Out” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - It'll All Work Out

“Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by The Hombres
The Hombres - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)

“Where To Begin” by My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - Where to Begin

“io (This Time Around)” by Helen Stellar
Helen Stellar - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - io (This Time Around)

“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - Come Pick Me Up

“Same In Any Language” by I Nine
I Nine - Elizabethtown (Music from the Motion Picture) - Same In Any Language

“I Can’t Get Next to You” by The Temptations
The Temptations - Elizabethtown, Vol. 2 (Music from the Motion Picture) - I Can't Get Next to You

“You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Concretes
The Concretes - Elizabethtown, Vol. 2 (Music from the Motion Picture) - You Can't Hurry Love

“Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Elizabethtown, Vol. 2 (Music from the Motion Picture) - Learning to Fly

“Moon River” by Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin - Elizabethtown, Vol. 2 (Music from the Motion Picture) - Moon River

“Pride (In The Name of Love)” by U2
U2 - The Unforgettable Fire - Pride (In the Name of Love)




The Queen

Director: Stephen Frears

The internal battle to keep private dignity in the face of overwhelming press and public outcry after the tragic death of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed caused by a paparazzi induced high-speed car accident helped win Helen Mirren the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’s meticulously constructed docudrama. Although viewers may assume that getting an inside look of the royal world would be both dull and dry, we are instantly riveted. Fears reveals the intricacies and intimacy of the monarchy in a regal, eye-opening, thoughtful and yet respectful production in a way that manages to illuminate all sides as admittedly most press coverage of that devastating time was slanted against the Queen following both the shocking deaths and recent election of popular modern thinking Tony Blair as the England’s Prime Minister. While like most other viewers, I was extremely impressed by Mirren, I was equally drawn in by the compelling performance of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair who is given an excellent and more personally engrossing storyline as the film progresses. Although The Queen earned high critical praise and numerous nominations, I felt that it was a slight stretch for the piece to be given a nomination for Best Picture of the year and believed that the jaw-dropping production of Dreamgirls should have received its slot. Still, all in all, an excellent look into a world foreign to most American audiences.

Order the Tony Blair Trilogy



Christmas In The Clouds

Director: Kate Montgomery


Popular among viewers, winning the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at Austin’s Film Festival along with being voted one of the most popular movies at the Vancouver International Film Festival and Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, writer/director Kate Montgomery’s free-spirited character piece was also an official selection at Sundance in addition to earning numerous other accolades. Although the acting is never quite up to par and the writing does seem a bit forced (although again, this could have to do with the delivery), Montgomery’s film is friendly, likable, fun and very refreshing as we watch a cast of mostly all Native American characters deal with a variety of misunderstandings and odd situations at the Sky Mountain Resort. Tim Vahle is great as Ray Clouds on Fire, the resort manager who leads his entire staff into frenzy as they prepare for the arrival of an anonymous reviewer from the Worthington Travel Guide. When the beautiful mysterious woman (Mari Anna Tosca) who has been corresponding with Ray’s father via letters shows up to track down her pen pal out of the blue, she and Ray develop a mutual attraction although he assumes she’s the reviewer, when in reality it’s M. Emmet Walsh whose experience is one Murphy’s Law inspired event after another. Although it’s ultimately forgettable and a bit overly praised, Christmas in the Clouds is still quite an entertaining rainy day (or make that offbeat Christmas) movie.

The Great Match

Director: Gerardo Olivares


Olivares, a veteran Discovery Channel and National Geographic cultural, anthropological and wildlife documentary filmmaker came up with an ingenious story idea for his stunningly photographed comedy about three diverse global groups all striving to catch the 2002 World Cup match between Germany and Brazil on television. While to Western audiences, this doesn’t sound like a difficult feat as most of us are spoiled by our wealth of technological access and have or know others with subscriptions to cable, Direct TV or satellite networks equipped with ESPN for soccer matches, it proves to be quite an amazing journey for our heroes from three distinct locales of Niger, Mongolia and Brazil. The opening fifteen minutes that introduces us to our main characters is actually one of the most surprising and funny foreign film beginnings because it completely plays on western expectations of our inexperience with other cultures—when we meet the wandering Mongolians, the Tuareg caravan of camels in the Sahara and Amazonian Indios, we are immediately entertained by the humorous and warm-hearted dialogue written by Chema Rodriguez. While the eighty-eight minutes of the film does end up feeling a bit longer as it starts to drag from the quick pace initiated from the get-go, this highly amusing film should appeal to those who enjoyed The Gods Must Be Crazy. An official selection at the Berlin, Seattle, Sydney and Karlovy Vary International Film Festivals, The Great Match is brought to American audiences courtesy of filmmovement.com.

Flirting With Disaster

Director: David O. Russell

Nobody does discomfort better than Ben Stiller—whether he’s teaching Robert De Niro the secret of “Puff The Magic Dragon” in Meet The Parents or getting even with deadbeat dad Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, Ben Stiller is the master at conveying the inner squirm in all of us when faced with situations in which we do not wish to be. In Flirting With Disaster, David O. Russell’s hilarious contemporary mesh of classic screwball comedic dialogue, eccentric characters and anything goes attitude with freewheelin’ 1970’s American road films, Stiller portrays scientist Mel Coplin, an adult so neurotic that he’s unable to choose a name for his four month old son, much to the annoyance of his patient wife Patricia Arquette (playing mousy rather than sexy for a change). Believing that tracking down his original parents who had given him up for adoption many years earlier will give Mel a better sense of self, Mel enlists the help of seductive, former dancer turned adoption counselor Tea Leoni and informs his adoptive parents (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore) that he’s on a mission to California. The journey leads Mel, his wife and the counselor on a series of dead ends, including misunderstandings, odd encounters with increasingly bizarre (yet hilariously memorable) personalities and misinformation that gets more twisted as the film continues in a way that seems like a throwback to not only Bringing Up Baby but the entire career of Preston Sturges (with a much more contemporary, adult 90’s screenplay that speaks bluntly about some pretty blush-worthy topics). The film is even funnier on repeat viewings with an impressive number of layers upon layers of jokes that often sink in minutes (or even days) after the first viewing and Flirting With Disaster is a great movie to watch with friends to share in not only the laughter, of course, but also Stiller’s classic discomfort.

Breaking and Entering

Director: Anthony Minghella

As he explains on the DVD of his latest release Breaking and Entering, English Patient director Anthony Minghella first began working on the script in play format with the intriguing idea of looking at a crime that uncovers deeper morality issues that reveal that the criminal is the most innocent character and the victim more infinitely guilty. In the same behind-the-scenes feature producer Sydney Pollack shares his belief that the title Breaking and Entering actually examines a wide array of topics from culture, society, and business and especially love and relationships both familial and romantic. It all sounds terribly important and the cast of the film are first-rate but unfortunately the overall product is a bit dull, somewhat forced and with an ending that feels far too clean and rushed for a man responsible for such masterful work as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. Jude Law (who worked with the director in both aforementioned films) plays Will, an idealistic architect opening a new business with partner Sandy (Martin Freeman of BBC’s The Office) who, in addition to his work-related struggles, tries to reconcile his difficult home life with long-time live-in Swedish girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and her talented but challenging, autistic gymnast daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers). Set in the melting pot and crime-infested neighborhood of London’s King’s Cross, we also find ourselves involved in a second plot involving English Patient Oscar winner Juliette Binoche as Amira, a widowed Muslim mother who has fled to England from Bosnia along with Miro, her Serbian teenage son. Forced to work as a seamstress, Binoche fights to give her rebellious son a bright future, however he keeps falling into a life of crime influenced by local friends and relatives. After Miro (Rafi Gavr) breaks into Will’s architectural firm twice, Will begins a neighborhood stakeout along with Sandy and a local Russian hooker (The Departed’s Vera Farmiga who provides the dour film with much needed bursts of humor). One night he follows Miro to his home and Will becomes drawn to Amira with whom he begins a torrid affair, that although begins with the initial believable stirrings of heat, becomes quite clinical and un-involving once the two actually begin a sexual relationship. Soon the film that begins as an astute character drama becomes more concerned with ideas such as who is using whom but it isn’t as filled with the depth it purports, despite terrific performances and so many wonderful ideas by Minghella that aren’t developed enough to work in the limited running time so that ultimately the film feels a bit phony and cheaply concluded. It's a great attempt and I'm sure, had the play ever been completed, it may have been far more successful on the stage.

The Man in the Moon

Director: Robert Mulligan

There is something magical and immediately inviting about stories set in the American south. Take for example the film Robert Mulligan is most famous for directing— the big screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Roughly thirty years later he revisits some of the same themes of family and coming-of-age with Jenny Wingfield’s wonderful screenplay The Man in the Moon. The film, which recalls William Inge’s Picnic and the famous Tennessee Williams plays of the 50’s is refreshingly old-fashioned in its tale of two teenage sisters living in rural Louisiana during the long hot summer of 1957. Featuring a stellar turn by an impossibly young Reese Witherspoon in her first performance (after winning the role during an extra’s casting call) as the charismatic fourteen year old precocious Dani Trant who lives in the shadow of her brainy and beautiful older sister Maureen, the film deals with the first stirrings of romantic love as the girls both fall for the newcomer to their community, Court (Jason London) who helps his widowed mother run the long-abandoned neighboring farm. As Dani takes down her Elvis Presley posters and puts away her childish things to try and attract the boy with good-natured swims at the local pond, she must also come to terms with her increasingly complicated life at home with pregnant mom (Tess Harper) who's preparing for the birth of her fourth child and her stern father (Sam Waterston). While the shocking ending is devastating and sudden, the film is perfectly paced, feeling like an authentic slice of Southern life and one that practically radiates the humidity and feel of a lazy summer afternoon as we watch it in our air-conditioned modern day comfort. Reese’s fans will definitely want to take a look along with those like me who love southern stories of growing older. Deceptively simplistic, this subtle film is the most perfect work Mulligan has completed since bringing old Atticus to life with Mockingbird.

Fever Pitch

Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly

In one of her best romantic comedies since The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed, the always lovable Drew Barrymore generates audience sympathy from the get-go as twenty-nine year old Lindsey Meeks, a successful businesswoman whose love of mathematics and implementation in her career makes her company the ideal location for a field trip for math teacher Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon). After Ben and Lindsey meet cute amidst his high school honors math class, the two share one of the funniest and sweetest--yet most bizarre-- cinematic first dates (involving food poisoning) as they begin an awkward courtship that blossoms into love. However, their relationship grinds to a halt when Lindsey uncovers Ben’s deep dark secret—his obsessive devotion to the Boston Red Socks, after having inherited his uncle’s season tickets and planning his entire life and therefore happiness around the famously heartbreaking team. Set during the year that the Red Sox finally broke the curse of the Bambino in a series of astounding upsets that led the team to a World Series victory providing ample room for relationship metaphors, this clever and bright film benefited not only from the genuine chemistry of the two adorable leads but also the crisply written script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Based on Nick Hornby’s semiautobiographical novel of the same name that was turned into a British film about obsessed soccer fan Colin Firth, nothing is lost in this even better American translation, which is one of the most satisfying romantic comedies in recent memory and one that will have both genders in the audience cheering. Underrated and fun—guaranteed to make you want to go to a ballgame!



iTunes Songs from Fever Pitch


“Dirty Water” by The Standells
The Standells - Fever Pitch - Dirty Water

“Tessie” by Dropkick Murphys
Dropkick Murphys - Fever Pitch - Tessie

“Who Killed Tangerine?” by Tears for Fears
Tears for Fears - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending - Who Killed Tangerine?

“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond - The Neil Diamond Collection - Sweet Caroline

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake
Nick Drake - Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake - Northern Sky

“Thinking About You” by Ivy
Ivy - In the Clear - Thinking About You

“Ocean City Gal” by Ivy
Ivy - In the Clear - Ocean City Girl

“Sooner or Later” by Popium
Popium - Fever Pitch - Sooner or Later

“Keep Feeling (Fascination)” by The Human League
The Human League - Fever Pitch - (Keep Feeling) Fascination

“Whammer Jammer (Live)” by J. Geils Band
J. Geils Band - Fever Pitch - Whammer Jammer (Live)

“Everything is Everything” by Phoenix
Phoenix - Alphabetical - Everything Is Everything

5/17/2007

House of Sand and Fog

Director: Vadim Perelman

Former Marine Corp Captain Andre Dubus III became one of our most popular and intriguing writers with his early pieces that often featured violence until in 1990 he finally titled an essay “Giving Up the Gun” to illuminate the book-reading public of his decision to alter his work. When trying to sum up his literature, one of the best and most articulate summations was offered to The Guardian in an interview with Todd Field as quoted in Stephanie Harrison’s book Adaptations in regards to the Dubus oeuvre: “Andre’s characters are very complicated, they’re flawed, they have a sense of right and wrong that’s not always very clear, and the actions they take are often violent” (562). While Field was most likely summing up his own Dubus adaptation In The Bedroom, the same is truer yet with Dubus’s novel House of Sand and Fog—a gorgeous, maddening, and thought-provokingly emotional tragedy of the gray area between right and wrong brought to the screen by first time director Vadim Perelman who also helped adapt the screenplay that was completed in just 14 days. Ben Kingsley is commanding, vulnerable, yet quite intimidating in his role as Massoud Behrani, an Iranian military man whose family is forced to leave their wealth and stature as they arrive in California where he tries desperately to keep up the appearance of high class and privilege by changing back into suits in restrooms before returning home from his jobs on a construction crew and in a convenience store. When he sees a notice in the paper advertising a beautiful home overlooking the water up for public auction after being seized by the county, he jumps at the chance to purchase the home for his wife and son with the intentions of fixing it up and selling it at four times his initial payment. A major complication arises when the wrongly evicted owner Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), a recovering addict who has recently undergone a devastating depression after both the death of her father and being left by her husband is erroneously charged a business tax on her inherited family home. The mistake is never corrected even after a court appearance and she is forced onto the street, trying desperately to fight the proud and stubborn Behrani back for her home alongside her new ally and married lover, police officer Lester Burton (Ron Eldard). All of the actors are especially excellent, most notably the Oscar winners Connelly and Kingsley, along with Oscar nominee (for this film) the luminous Iranian actress Shoreh Aghdashloo as Massoud’s wife Nadi, who turns in a star-making role and her tear-inducing audition is included on the DVD. While she was one of the later people cast after Connelly and Kingsley, ironically Sir Ben Kingsley was actually the man Dubus had imagined all along when working on the book and Andre’s wife had even sent Kingsley the book and a personal letter shortly after its publication so when casting for the film version came around, he told Dreamworks and Perelman that he was already extremely familiar and interested in the material. The exquisitely beautiful photography by Roger Deakins (one of film’s master cinematographers) help engross us in the storyline from the moment it begins, although we know it’s heading for an ultimate disaster as both parties are both partly right and partly wrong for, as in life, the answers are never easy and while they fight to come to a resolution, their actions dangerously escalate until a devastating finale that haunted me for days. Don’t miss it— House of Sand and Fog is one of the most gripping tragedies about the American Dream ever put on film.

Dreamgirls

Director: Bill Condon

Before I caught the big-screen cinematic adaptation of the hit 1981 Broadway play Dreamgirls, my only frame of reference for the music and message was witnessing Jim Carrey sing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” in an unforgettably hilarious serenade atop an office desk to Garry Shandling on the final episode of The Larry Sanders Show (side note: fans of Sanders must check out the new "Best Of" box set). Needless to say, although I had nothing with which to compare the film, I had a wonderful experience in my initial viewing of the movie and was completely blown away by the show-stopping numbers and classy attention to detail that rivals Rob Marshall’s Chicago as the best recent big-screen musical in years. Director Bill Condon (who also wrote the screenplay for Chicago) proved to be a masterful director in his execution of the piece which, loosely based on the story of The Supremes and beginnings of Motown in general, focuses on a trio of young, talented, beautiful singers who “make their way to the top” from amateur talent contests, to singing backup to a James Brown inspired Eddie Murphy (in his best performance since Bowfinger) before becoming their own super-group until ego, fame and fortune begins to divide them. Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson steals her numbers as Effie, the proud and tremendously gifted singer whose stubborn ways and diva-like behavior help alienate the group and although the acting talents of the former American Idol contestant leave a bit to be desired, her charisma is off the charts and she helps challenge costars Anika Noni Rose and especially Beyonce Knowles to turn in her best performance so far, although her less flashy character really doesn’t come into her own until later in the film. Winner of the 2006 Golden Globe for Best Picture Musical or Comedy and nominated for several Academy Awards, Dreamgirls was conspicuously left out of the Best Picture race when Oscar time rolled around and although Hudson’s win was a coup for the film, I really feel that it was worthy of a spot as one of the finest films of last year and the type that Hollywood does best when working within the studio system to guarantee both entertainment, emotional involvement and the ability to inspire awe in all levels—fans of classic MGM musicals will be in heaven and although there’s no way to duplicate the big screen impact, the DVD transfer is remarkable.


Download the Soundtrack

Apple iTunes

The Cat's Meow

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

During their legendary mentor/protégé relationship, director Orson Welles inspired Peter Bogdanovich in ways that are impossible to calculate—as it seems that with each new interview or work completed by Bogdanovich, he’s once again paying homage to or drawing inspiration from the master. Take for example the famous murder mystery covered up in 1924 that Welles told an impressionable Bogdanovich about years ago. While initially intrigued to direct, it wasn’t until he decided to use Steven Pero’s adaptation of his play that he found the perfect source material about the curious events surrounding the mysterious death of Thomas H. Ince while attending a party aboard William Randolph Heart’s yacht, alongside guests including Charlie Chaplin, Heart’s young lover Marion Davies and columnist Louella Parsons. Kirsten Dunst received a Best Actress award from Mar del Plata Film Festival for her portrayal of the beautiful, sweet and free-spirited Davies whose May/December relationship with Hearst (Edward Herrmann) is jeopardized by the constant attentions, tangible sexual attraction and flirtation with Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). The actors are all excellent and nobody handles a star-studded ensemble with the same level of class and subtle in-joke tongue in cheek Hollywood humor quite like Bogdanovich and while it is always going to be a mystery as to what exactly happened during that fateful party, this film, based party on truth of “the whisper told most often” as the slogan states, is dazzling and elegant fun. As noted by IMDB, pay special attention to the intelligent choices in art and costume design complete with muted colors designed to make the work feel like a piece that’s cinematically evident of that particular period of the time, as originally Bogdanovich wanted the piece to be shot in black and white.

The Night We Never Met

Director: Warren Leight

As difficult as it is to write a successful romantic comedy, it’s even harder to pull off the feat when the couple destined to be together doesn't actually meet for more than brief five second accidental intervals until a final confrontation at the end of the film. However, in the hands of award-winning playwright Warren Leight, it’s not only believable but irresistible with The Night We Never Met. In this deliciously odd but fun character comedy, inspired most likely by the early screwball comedies of Lubitsch and Hawks and especially the film The Shop Around the Corner, a trio of New Yorkers end up sharing an apartment on alternating nights of the week for various reasons and two of the roommates (who’ve never met) begin to fall in love with like-minded notes and kind gestures in their shared home. Brain McVeigh (Kevin Anderson), a successful businessman with a Frat Boy Peter Pan complex gets engaged to fellow WASP Justine Bateman but isn’t fully ready to leave his beloved bachelor pad behind and hires someone to rent it out to two tenants. The first one to sign up for the odd arrangement is Sam Lester (Matthew Broderick), a sensitive man still recovering from a bad breakup with his French, self-obsessed performance artist girlfriend Pastel (a hilarious Jeanne Tripplehorn). When married dental hygienist Ellen (Annabella Sciorra) decides she wants a quiet haven in the city for painting and reading, she joins the agreement without telling her suburban-minded husband, who has made a recent real estate decision on his own as well, purchasing a home in a planned community off the Long Island Expressway without running it by his wife. While we realize that the soulful Ellen isn’t meant to be with her husband, it takes her awhile and a few cute notes and beautifully touching moments as she begins to correspond with her new roommate whom she mistakes for Brian instead of Sam when the apartment’s schedule isn’t updated to come to the same conclusion. And while of course, misunderstandings and missed opportunities ensue and we all know just whom is going to get together, The Night We Never Met is one of those refreshing indie romantic comedies that, although one in a literal sea of angst-plagued twenty to thirty-something tales of romantic woe made by fellow indie minded directors, stands out for its vital turns by not only the leading actors but the great minor turns by Doris Roberts, Dominic Chianese and more. Note: Look for smaller inclusions of Garry Shandling, Bitty Schram, Michael Imperioli, Christine Baranski and Naomi Campbell. The film, available on DVD and often showed on IFC, also received a nomination for the Critics Award at the Deauville Film Festival for Leight.

Songs from the film

“My Baby Just Cares for Me” by Nina Simone

Nina Simone - Nina Simone: Anthology - My Baby Just Cares for Me

“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher” by Jackie Wilson
Jackie Wilson - Jackie Wilson: 20 Greatest Hits - (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher

“When I Need You” by Leo Sayer
Leo Sayer - Very Best of Leo Sayer - When I Need You

Looking For Comedy...

Full Film Title: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Director: Albert Brooks

Making a film about the post 9/11 political world climate and culture clash between America and the Muslim population is a risky task for anyone but making a comedy about the subject is even more daring yet infinitely wiser when taken on by astute writer/director Albert Brooks who never once veers into judgments but instead, as in most of his other films, uses himself as the most frequent basis for jokes. Although the controversy surrounding the project and especially its lengthy and bold title caused Sony Pictures Classics (who had originally requested a name change) to back out of their agreement to distribute the film on American soil, Warner Independent Pictures stepped in and as uncovered on IMDB, its CEO Mark Gill expressed his belief in a written statement regarding the title’s validity by asking, “How often do you get a laugh simply from the title of a movie?” Brooks, physically ill from the turmoil and uproar over his well-intentioned film released his own response (also quoted from IMDB) sharing, “Even if you didn’t see the movie, you’d see two words you’d never seen put together before—comedy and Muslim. Comedy is friendly—it’s the least offensive word in our language.” In the film, Brooks (as he has in a few of his other works) plays a fictitious version of himself who is asked by a special US Government Commission to visit India and Pakistan for a month in order to write a five hundred page report on what makes the population of those countries laugh, assuming that once one understands another’s sense of humor, one may get a better understanding of the personalities and similarities on a merely humanistic level between the perceived gap and major misunderstandings of the Muslims by the Western world. While Brooks does make a daring venture with his topic, he plays it relatively safe in his fish-out-of-water plight that finds Brooks along with his two state department sidekicks-- Stuart (John Carroll Lynch) a jolly man with comedic delusions of grandeur of his own and Mark (Jon Tenney) the fast-talking ladies man who is always carrying on a simultaneous conversation with an off-screen source via an earpiece and tiny cell phone microphone connection-- learning that humor does in fact sometimes get lost in translation. Brooks’s trademark neuroses and insecurities along with his accidental but frequent faux pas provide much humor as Warner Independent CEO Gill explains saying that “it’s clear that Albert makes himself of America, not anybody else,” (IMDB). However, while the ending does feel a bit rushed, the scene stealing heart of the film (not to mention one of the sole women in the entire cast) is the lovely and funny Sheetal Sheth as Maya, the talented and supportive assistant hired by Brooks for her excellent typing skills and journalistic aspirations. Overall, while not as immediately lovable as Mother or The Muse, Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World is sure to appeal to fans of the multi-talented actor/writer/director.

5/07/2007

The Bothersome Man

Director: Jens Lien


Literature lovers intrigued by the sense of displacement and existential angst found by getting lost in the dark, satirical worlds discovered in Kafka’s The Trial, Huxley’s Brave New World, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Orwell’s 1984 will want to check out this odd Scandinavian piece of cinematic dystopia from Norwegian director Jens Lien. Moments into the weird, hypnotic piece we find ourselves introduced to Andreas, a forty year old man with no extraordinary motivations or characteristics as he arrives by bus in the middle of the desert where a strange man tentatively hangs up a homemade Welcome banner before greeting him briskly, taking down the banner and bringing him to his new surroundings—an antiseptic, unnamed city. Given a job as an accountant, Andreas quickly adapts to his surroundings, which are as muted, gray and clean as the pages of the popular Ikea catalogues coveted by his coworkers. Days are filled with conversation about modular, casual furniture and Andreas befriends his new colleagues, falling quickly into a tedious relationship with a woman that consists mostly of routine sex, dinner parties and endless home redecoration and discussion of paint colors, which are possibly a jest of the polite Scandinavian culture as noted in Leslie Felperin’s review of the film for Variety. Soon Andreas begins to realize that beneath the cool exterior of the plastic smiles of citizens who fail to register any emotion other than extreme even-temperedness, there are other oddities such as the absence of children from the community, plentiful alcohol that never gets the drinker drunk, and days filled without meaning, passion or purpose-- satirically and sardonically indicative of the contemporary worldwide yuppie who lives to work and spends their free moments concerned with material matters. The Bothersome Man is a puzzling film to be sure and one without enough closure or certainty so it will frustrate viewers not inclined to look for a philosophical meaning in their cinema but it’s worth a look for a decidedly different view of Norway and Lien’s sophomore film not only earned numerous awards including a few Amanda accolades (Norway’s Oscars) but also a world premiere screening during Critic’s Week at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. It's available exclusively through Film Movement.

Mutual Appreciation

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Mutual Appreciation is independent film at its most sincere-- a grainy, black and white gem from twenty-nine year old writer/director Andrew Bujalski that will attract fans of Jim Jarmusch and John Cassavetes with its French New Wave and 1960’s American film inspired tale of a twenty-something aspiring rocker who moves to New York City to try and break into the music business. Justin Rice is subtle and understated as Alan who nervously fumbles and earnestly chats with good friends off the stage, seemingly much too shy to actually become a rock 'n roll sensation but as evidenced in his musical scenes, comes completely alive when performing in front of others. The sole band member left from his former group The Bumblebees, Alan is in search of not only stable income but fellow musicians and catches a break when he meets the drummer brother of a beautiful but romantically forward and aggressive radio DJ named Sara (Seung-Min Lee). Although obviously the film has a storyline for Alan, it’s mostly one of those great, naturalistic and experimental pieces of cinema that really offers less in the way of plot and excels when just exposing people being real, as featured in the several scenes that find Alan hanging out with his good friend Lawrence (Bujalski) and Lawrence’s girlfriend Ellie (Rachel Clift), with whom Alan has begun trying to hide a mutual attraction (or "appreciation" as the film connotes) but the film is more about sincerity, tenderness, misguided speeches, aimless dreams and creativity as opposed to turning into a Jules and Jim styled love triangle drama. Film buffs looking for something unassuming and relatable (some of the scenes feel like they could come right out of the lives of many twenty-somethings) should be sure to track it down.

Little Children

Director: Todd Field

As many critics pointed out, the Little Children named in the title of Todd Field’s sophomore film (which followed his critical, award-winning smash In The Bedroom) aren’t children at all but the adult residents of a contemporary suburban community. Based on the novel by Tom Perrota (and co-written by Field with the author), the main characters in Little Children act like their namesake in not wanting to take an important test, having to deal with neighborhood bullies, being told to be “good” by their parents, and having to be reminded by their children that story time is due. In her Oscar nominated performance (and frankly one the most deserving of the award in 2006), Kate Winslet is fearless as unhappily married Sarah Pierce, a highly intelligent woman who, despite holding a Master’s Degree in English literature is a basically inept and slightly apathetic mother of a strong willed daughter named Lucy with a husband recently discovered to have a bizarre addiction to adult websites. During one of her routine visits to the local park where the other mothers judge one another and discuss their strict adherence to regimented schedules and to-do lists (rendering the often forgetful Sarah an outsider), Sarah meets the man the other women refer to as “The Prom King,” the attractive stay-at-home father Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson, handpicked by Winslet for the role). Brad, who is basically the stereotypical female in his marital relationship with his gorgeous, bread-winning documentary filmmaker wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), who supports her husband while he grudgingly attempts to try yet another time to pass the bar exam, is as aimless and lost as Sarah in his life. The two begin setting up play dates for their children and quickly become entangled in a serious affair while the rest of the neighborhood is preoccupied with the recent release of convicted sex offender, Ronnie J. McGorvey (an Oscar nominated Jackie Earle Haley in his first film role in thirteen years). We meet Ronnie as he struggles with the scorn of the community under the protection of his fiercely dedicated mother who tries her hardest to shield her grown son from the terrorizing committee of concerned parents, led by ex-police officer retired with post-traumatic stress (the always underrated Noah Emmerich), who, with his own family life in shambles, is leading a one-man bullying crusade against Ronnie. The dark film, which initially did illicit some concern from a few critics who labeled it misogynistic as we are first introduced to the neighborhood women with the film’s running narration (by an un-credited Will Lyman who adds a literary air to the piece, making it seem like a foreign Lars Von Trier styled American film) actually struck me as equally critical, if not more so, of the film’s male characters who are far more dangerous than the women as the story progresses and Field’s investigation of the cruel secrets and desires hiding in suburbia are revealed. Basically, nobody is left off the hook in the film, and not only is there an indictment of suburbia at the heart of the movie (including a plot that was very similar to one used on this year’s Desperate Housewives, which as of this review has been dropped possibly due to being far too similar to Little Children) but also an undercurrent subtext about our post 9/11 America as Emmerich and Wilson discuss homeland security, flags fly high and proud despite Kubrickian irony and a few other catchphrases and issues populating the evening news are casually introduced and just as casually tossed aside. There is a lot to the film lying just beneath the surface plus the adaptation from novel to screen is remarkably thoughtful (earning Perotta and Field an Oscar nomination), and in addition Little Children received roughly twenty nominations and several awards from festivals around the globe. While I predict that In The Bedroom will be hailed as Field’s masterpiece and it is one that, due to Children’s intensity is probably slightly easier for general audiences to view (despite its darkness as well), Little Children is nonetheless compelling and highly daring filmmaking and a film that feels like a worthy companion piece to Bedroom.

Old Joy

Director: Kelly Reichardt

To paraphrase a sentiment that opens Walter Salles’s Motorcylce Diaries, Kelly Reichardt’s film Old Joy deals with two characters whose lives ran parallel for a while. The problem is that, like all friendships (or roads for that matter), parallel only goes along for so long and it’s always a poignant, painful and interesting trip to explore just what happens when two old friends who have fallen out of touch find their lives intersecting once again, only to realize just how little they now have in common. Thirty-something married father-to-be Mark (Daniel London) gets a call out of the blue from old hippie friend Kurt (Will Oldham). Oldham does a fine job playing Kurt in a way that reminded me of one of those lost souls constantly on a journey to find his “new truth”—a Generation X composite of characters from Easy Rider and My Dinner With Andre, although he would probably fit right into the ensemble talky films directed by Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes) and Richard Linklater (Waking Life). Old Joy is book-ended by audio clips from Air America, subtly illustrating the way that current man seeks to get away from the tumultuous political climate and back into nature as the two former buddies reunite for a spontaneous camping expedition in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, and discuss the different choices they have made while getting lost and found again along the way. While viewers realize-- along with the characters who seem to understand this quietly and instinctively-- that this will probably be the last time the two get together as they seem like friends whose lives have now diverged completely from their once parallel paths, Kelly Reichardt’s deceptively simple film does involve viewers completely although she introduces a few threads (including some vague photographic and editing choices at the end) that cause viewers to question if they completely grasp the entire depth of the friendship and the men’s personal circumstances, thereby making the work seem a bit incomplete. Highly praised and frankly slightly overrated by critics, Reichardt’s film was based on the short story by Jonathan Raymond (who co-wrote the film with the director) and nominated for numerous independent honors including Best Film from Gotham and the John Cassavetes Award from the Independent Spirit Awards, winning the Independent/Experimental Film and Video Award from the L.A. Film Critics Association and the Tiger Award from the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

The Squid and the Whale

Director: Noah Baumbach

At the beginning of Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical film about the events surrounding the divorce of his parents in 1980’s Brooklyn and the effect it had on himself and his brother, we overhear a boy sum up the entire film in the opening few moments by stating that one child is siding with one parent verses his brother with the other parent. Although the film then focuses on the family of four playing tennis and we realize that the child was simply describing the teams for doubles, this "us verses them" mentality is immediately apparent for the entire film and helps sum up the events that follow and the reactions involved in ways in which all children of divorce can relate. The Squid and the Whale, named after an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History is at once funny, sad, bitter, and also self-consciously pretentious and quirky-- indicative of the characters and Baumbach’s inspiration from the films of director Wes Anderson who not only served as a producer but would later collaborate on another film with him. Replacing the originally cast Bill Murray who backed out of the film after needing a break from his breakneck schedule following several shoots, Jeff Daniels gives one of his very best performances as author and creative writing professor Bernard Berkman. A once famous author who hasn’t published in years, Berkman spends his days lecturing not only his students (and flirting with one in particular played by Anna Paquin) but also his children on his theories about literature and art, along with judgments about most other individuals he finds intellectually inferior including tennis pro William Baldwin and a child psychologist who, although Yale educated, hasn’t received his PhD. Laura Linney, who originally signed on to do the film after being hand-delivered the script by Eric Stoltz (a Baumbach regular) back in 2000, remained loyal during the four years it took to get financing and she is equally riveting in her quietly powerful and emotional role as Bernard’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Joan, who reminds audiences of the winning work she did in Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me. Rounding out the superb cast are Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) and Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline) as the two boys who face not only the perils of adolescence, the struggle of sexual awakening and overactive hormones but must also come to terms with the emotional upheaval of the dissolution of their parents' marriage and power struggles concerning joint custody and property issues. Shot in just 23 days, Baumbach’s heartfelt, intensely personal movie based on his own recollections of growing up in the shadow of two successful literary parents including Village Voice critic Georgia Brown and novelist/film critic father Jonathan Baumbach, is definitely a disturbing and emotionally draining film but one that plays much better on a second viewing when one can fully appreciate the humor without squirming as much from the point-blank emotional confrontations. Squid was nominated for several awards including a nod for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes (although I would’ve classified it as a drama), a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, two from Sundance and numerous other critical and festival honors and accolades. The film is definitely worth a look for fans of Baumbach’s other work and those who enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies. Note to film buffs: not only is it disconcerting (and downright creepy) to see Jeff Daniels try to strike up a romantic rendezvous with the girl who played his daughter in Fly Away Home, (Anna Paquin), but according to IMDB, it made the shoot very uncomfortable for both actors!

Behind The Sun

Director: Walter Salles

Inspired by Ismail Kadare’s novel Broken April, Walter Salles’s breathtakingly photographed, intimate epic film set in 1910 Brazil tells the story of two feuding families whose eldest sons keep retaliating against one another in a land battle of an eye for an eye that will never end in the foreseeable future. Our young narrator Pacu tells his story of life in what he calls “the middle of nothing,” a.k.a. Stream-of-Souls where his hardworking family farms the land while a shirt is hung outside bearing the blood of a recently deceased older brother. When the blood turns yellow, the next oldest brother Tonio must go to assassinate his brother’s killer in order to avenge his family’s honor but when Tonio decides he doesn’t want to continue this cycle of more violence and retaliation, he escapes to the circus where he falls in love with a beautiful motherless young woman. Visually poetic—Salles’s film is edited, directed and acted to exquisite perfection with some of the most dazzlingly unforgettable sequences in Brazilian cinema ever recorded on celluloid including some riveting point-of-views that remind me of the beautiful blend of sound and cinematography evidenced in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. Watch for the simplistic beauty of Pacu swinging away on his creaky swing in his limited surroundings where he states earlier that “all we know is it’s above the ground and below the sun,” along with a frantic chase through the fields until a gunshot registers a jolt in the hearts of viewers, and most impressive, a gorgeously romantic scene that finds circus performer Clara twisting away on a rope-- flying through the air as Tonio spins her around and around. Romantic, sad, and haunting—while it’s less well known than the film that launched Salles (Central Station), I prefer this Shakespearan tale which was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes but also won a few accolades including the Little Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

5/02/2007

Disturbia

Director: DJ Caruso

Dubbed Rear Window for teens, this highly entertaining yet admittedly implausible thriller channels Hitchcock for Generation Y in its compelling tale of Kale, a seventeen year old high school student (Shia LaBeouf) still grieving the tragic death of his father who receives a three month house arrest sentence over the summer after punching out his Spanish teacher. Beginning his summer with the usual teenage methods of distraction ranging from iTunes, Xbox to trash TV until mother Carrie-Anne Moss intervenes by cutting off his access to mindless distraction, Kale’s attention soon turns to spying on his neighbors, especially after the arrival of Ashley, the beautiful new girl next door (Sarah Roemer). However, his mild stalker behavior and voyeuristic male gaze upon Ashley is replaced when he begins to notice strange behavior regarding his neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) whom he soon suspects is the serial killer of young women featured on the nightly news. Enlisting Ashley’s help, along with his friend Ronnie (a hilarious Aaron Yoo), Kale begins a highly state-of-the-art technical stakeout that not only uses the binoculars made famous by Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window but also incorporates twenty-first century technology including camera equipped cell phones, DV cameras, and other gadgets the teens cook up. While it does take awhile to get going and some of the plot elements are a bit contrived, it’s still a smart and spooky thriller and one much better than the majority of films being offered in the recent theatrical influx of teen scare-fests. Morse is excellent as the creepy, possibly dangerous neighbor, relishing in his menacing character complete with a new-age earring and slicked back hair. According to IMDB, method actor Morse was so involved in his portrayal that he didn’t converse with the young cast members during the shoot to add to the authenticity and kept going during a fight with the leading man after a few of his fingers were broken, managing to alarm LaBeouf even more. One of the better teen suspense films since Final Destination and Hitchcock fans will want to be sure to check it out.




Music from Disturbia


“One Man Wrecking Machine” by Guster
Guster - Ganging Up On the Sun - One Man Wrecking Machine

“Lonely Day” by System of a Down
System of a Down - Hypnotize - Lonely Day

“Next To You” by Buckcherry
Buckcherry - Disturbia (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Next to You

“Always Love” by Nada Surf
Nada Surf - Disturbia (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Always Love