Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
SLACKER UPRISING (Dir. Michael Moore, 2008)
“Stream it, download it, burn it now. It’s the first time a major feature-length film is being released for free on the internet. You can be part of this historic moment by logging on now!” – Michael Moore (from an email you’ll get when you sign up for the free download of SLACKER UPRISING).
* This appears to be what inspired Moore to use Steven's original version (written for HAROLD AND MAUDE) as the end credits music for SiCKO.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
MOVING MIDWAY (Dir. Godfrey Cheshire, 2008)
Though he is based in New York these days, Godfrey Cheshire is fairly well known in my whereabouts (the Triangle Area in North Carolina) because, well, he was born in this area and the movie reviews he has written for the Independent Weekly for a long time (well, since the '80s) and his extensive film historian reputation.
Monday, September 15, 2008
What does Bill Murray whisper in Scarlett Johansson' s ear at the end of LOST IN TRANSLATION?Okay film folks! Don’t let me down - take the quiz and send your answers to me as comments below or to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org More later...
Friday, September 12, 2008
BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008)
You can’t get any more A-list than the cast of this movie. George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton are Oscar winners, John Malkovich has been nominated more than once, and Brad Pitt is, well, Brad Pitt (yes he’s been nominated too).
Mix in a couple of the most acclaimed character actors working today - Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, THE VISITOR) and J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in the SPIDERMAN series, JUNO) and you've got as rich and tasty an cinematic ensemble soufflé that could be served today.
Coming off the ginormous success of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (yes, more Oscars) it seems the Coen Brothers needed to blow off some steam just as RAISING ARIZONA was the silly satirical followup to their dark debut BLOOD SIMPLE and THE BIG LEBOWSKI came right after FARGO, this is the ice cream to NO COUNTRY's full steak dinner. Okay, I’ll get off the food analogies. Seems somewhat pointless to try to recount the plot but I’ll still have a go at it. Malkovich is a boozing low level CIA agent whose files and memoirs are copied onto a disc by his wife (Swinton) after he is fired and she plans to divorce him.
The disc is found at the gym Hardbodies where McDormand and Pitt work who, the money-grubbing schemers that they are, plan to blackmail Malkovich with. Meanwhile Clooney (also an idiot) who is having an affair with Swinton meets McDormand on one of his many misadventures with online dating. Misadventures is the right word for all of this as we see these pathetic people go through a series of sloppily handled escapades.
The disc is, of course, a MacGuffin as its contents are unimportant and, as anyone in the film who studies it confirms, worthless. The conviction of McDormand, who wants the money to have extesive cosmetic surgery (“I’ve gone just about as far as I can go with this body”) coupled with Pitt's badly bleached blundering makes for a lot of laughs while Clooney’s wide eyed doltish womanizing brings his fair share of funny too. Malkovich's jaded jerk of a foul mouthed (his most repeated phrase throughout is “what the fuck?!!?” I think) failed spy won’t win him any awards but it’s among the finest comic acting of his career or at least since BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.
Swinton seems to be the only one that is ill at ease with the material though that's probably because her character is so ill at ease with these situations. “We don’t really know what anyone is after” J.K. Simmons as Malkovich’s former superior says in an indifferent ‘whatever’ manner at one point and I bet many critics will say the same about BURN AFTER READING. After the powerfully astute NO COUNTRY... this may seem merely a funny throw-away.
A high class but trivial piece that treads water between more ambitious efforts, I’m sure some will remark, but I believe there is a lot more going for it than that.
Sure, it would be easy to conclude that this is a silly statement on our current technology driven paranoia and that everybody is stupid, glib, and completely out for themselves but I think that would be dumbing it down considerably. With their patented low angles, wide interior shots, and the overall free for all spirit that they appear to instill in all the films participants, the offbeat world we are presented could only be Coen created - this is a view of their private sector, to use some Washington D.C. jargon.
Like many Coen Brothers movies this will take repeat viewings to fully appreciate and to formulate more of a take on where it stands in their canon. Right now I can only say that BURN AFTER READING is consistently hilarious with a host of A-listers at the top of their game and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. It’s an enjoyable and extremely silly sector that I’m glad they don't keep so private.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The real star here is the story though - biased towards the Democrats as one would figure and fudging with some minor facts aside, the topsy turvy twists of the road to the White House turned me inside-out with some of the same feelings I had when the real thing was happening getting stirred up.
Like many I’ve never really gotten over the 2000 election. It was one of the most disappointing and devastating events of my lifetime. That a lot of the mitigating factors haven’t completely been resolved is very troubling in light of the upcoming election. There’s a lot to recommend about RECOUNT but the most vital message it contains can be summed up by the words of poet George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While I don’t think we’ll ever forget this story, I still fear it may be repeated.
BABY MAMA (Dir. Michael McCullers, 2008)
Mainly because the lame looking clips on the commercials - I mean, did anyone think that bits like Fey getting mad at Amy Poehler for sticking gum under her prized coffee table were that funny? Well, nothing here is that funny. This is light comedy - a rom com that was marketed as a crude offensive Farrelly brothers type affair.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Steve Buscemi (MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, PARIS JE 'TAIME): The bug-eyed Buscemi is a perfect fit for the world of the Coens’ making. After making an undeniable impression in bit parts for the brothers in 3 films in a row, he graduated to major player as Carl Showalter in FARGO - a tour de force performance which should have gotten him an Oscar or at least a nomination. Next up as Donnie, the daft but incredibly lovable bowler/surfer in THE BIG LEBOWSKI he had many memorable moments (“I’m throwing rocks tonight!”) before his untimely demise. He didn't show up for them again until their short segment of the colorful anothology film PARIS JE 'TAIME (2007) in which he played an unlucky tourist in the city of love. Here’s hoping it wasn’t his last time in front of the Coens’ camera.
George Clooney (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING): Many thought the square-jawed leading man if there ever was one would be like Nicholas Cage or Tim Robbins - i.e. a starring part one-off for the Minnesotan movie-makers but Clooney keeps coming back for more. Completing what he calls “a trilogy of idiots” with BURN AFTER READING it is rumored that he may be on board for the brothers long talked about Hercules project. Man, I hope that comes together!
HUDSUCKER PROXY (just a radio voice-over cameo), THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): One of the most reliable of the major players, Goodman brings a stern but dangerously stupid edge to every character he’s embodied. From escaped felon Gale Snoats in RAISING ARIZONA to BARTON FINK’s charming but murderous Charlie Meadows (who could tell you some stories) to the incredibly quotable Walter Sobchak (“Mark it zero!”, “we’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude”, “this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!”, etc.) with his turn as Big Dan Teague in O BROTHER... being possibly his last film with the Coens. He told Rolling Stone: “After a while, (my) characters got too similar. Their names were even similar, so we had to part company. I kind of miss those days. There’s a lot I would do differently, but you can’t do that. It’s against the laws of nature. Time travels on.” Maybe so but I for one hope the Coens go for the Goodman goods again some day.
Holly Hunter (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): She was just a uncredited voice on a phone answering machine in BLOOD SIMPLE but Hunter’s ferociously feisty performances in the comedy classic RAISING ARIZONA and the Oedipal musical O BROTHER... definitely make her a major player in the Coen canon. Officer Edwina ‘Ed’ McDunnough in RAISING ARIZONA was a breakthrough role for her and it paved the way for an Osacr nomination the following year for BROADCAST NEWS. She took home the Academy Award for THE PIANO in 1994 but that didn't mean she would turn her nose up at the prospect of reteaming with the Brothers. As the fierce Penny in O BROTHER... she seemed right at home. Like Goodman and, well, every one of these folks, I hope to see her in Coen country again someday down the road.
Frances McDormand (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, MILLER'S CROSSING, FARGO, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, BURN AFTER READING): Obvious why she makes the grade. McDormand starred in the Coen brothers film debut BLOOD SIMPLE, she had brief but memorable bits in RAISING ARIZONA and MILLER’S CROSSING before once again ruling the screen as pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (which won her the Best Actress Oscar), she has a key part in THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, and she returns in BURN AFTER READING as gym employee Linda Litzke which I can't wait to see. Oh yeah, she’s married to Joel Coen so there’s that too. Fun fact: Pre-stardom McDormand once shared an apartment with both Joel and Ethan Coen as well as Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel, and Holly Hunter.
Jon Polito (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE): A great under-rated character actor, Polito has stolen every scene he's been in under the Coens’ direction from the GODFATHER-esque opening monolgue in MILLER'S CROSSING right through to the sleazy businessman Creighton Tolliver in THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE.
Tony Shalhoub (MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE): Better known these days as Monk, Shalhoub was a great presence usually playing a slick fast talking insider in a brief but sweet sideline role. As Hollywood producer Ben Geisler in BARTON FINK he constantly admonishes Fink (John Turturro) about his struggles with writing: “Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap?” As defending lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (great name) in THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, Shalhoub is no less harsh: “I litigate. I don't capitulate”.
John Turturro (MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): Turturro is IMHO the finest actor present as a major player and each of his roles are works of beauty. His powerfully intense performance as BARTON FINK is of course a stand-out being that it is a starring role but oddly THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s Jesus Quintana (which pretty much just counts as a cameo) may be his most lasting creation for the Coens. In a recent interview Turturro spoke of wanting to do a LEBOWSKI spin-off sorta sequel that focused on Jesus getting out of jail and landing a job as a bus driver for a girls’ high school volleyball team. “It will be a combination of ROCKY and THE BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we'd have to have a Dude cameo”. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening but it is a funny thought.
And The Rest: Bruce Campbell - THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS: 2 small parts and 2 as “soap actor on TV” - all 4 are uncredited.
Blake Clark - INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS
Charles Durning - THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU
Richard Jenkins (Pictured left) - THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING
John Mahoney - BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY
John McConnell - MILLER'S CROSSING, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, THE LADYKILLERS
Stephen Root - O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, THE LADYKILLERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - Another personal favorite of mine. Root, best known as Newsradio’s Jimmy James and OFFICE SPACE’s Milton (pictured right) has only had a few very small parts in the Coens’ work. I really hope they throw something more substantial his direction because he seems like he was born to be in their world.
J.K. Simmons - THE LADYKILLERS, BURN AFTER READING - Another hope to be regular in my book (on my blog more like).
Hallie Singleton - THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, THE LADYKILLERS
Peter Stormare - FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI - A Pancakes House loving nihilist through and through.
Billy Bob Thornton - THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY - Hope he gets used again too.
M. Emmet Walsh (pictured on the left) BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA - A key player in the first 2 Coen bros. flicks Walsh could’ve easily slipped into the cast of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
Okay! Did I miss anybody?