Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bill Hader And Kristen Wiig Excel As THE SKELETON TWINS


Now playing at an indie art house near me:

THE SKELETON TWINS

(Dir. Craig Johnson, 2014)


Former Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader has been in dozens of movies since 2006, but other than voicing the lead character in the CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS movies, most have been bit parts with credits like “Man at Store” or “Recumbent Biker” or brief cameos. 


Now Hader gets to carry a film in the flesh, along with co-star (and former SNL collegue) Kristen Wiig, in Craig Johnson’s second feature film THE SKELETON TWINS opening today at an indie art house near me.

Hader and Wiig star as Milo and Maggie, a couple of long estranged twins who get back in touch after both coincidentally attempt suicide on the same day. So yeah, it’s a darkly comic drama.

Wiig’s Maggie invites her brother to stay with her and her husband (Luke Wilson in “bro mode”) at their Nyack, New York home, until he can get back on his feet after being hospitalized for slashing his wrists (her attempt involving almost taking an overdose of pills she keeps secret).

Despite Wilson’s super nice guy demeanor, Wiig has been sleeping with others (most recently her douche scuba instructor played by Boyd Holbrook), and is taking birth control pills while her husband thinks they’re trying to have a baby. Again, this is info she keeps to herself so that she can seem to be the stable sister, while she treats her brother like a “special needs kid,” as Hader’s Milo puts it.

Meanwhile Hader purposely runs into his former high school English teacher (Modern Fmaily’s Ty Burrell in a neatly nuanced performance), now working at a bookstore. Burrell, a conflicted, closeted man, had seduced Hader when he was his student and lost his job over the inappropriate relationship.

One of the most amusing sequences in the film concerns Johanna Gleason, a veteran of a few Woody Allen films and just about every sitcom in the last 30 years, as Hader and Wiig’s mother, a neglectful mother turned New Age guru, being invited for dinner by Hader to Wiig’s chagrin. The twins’ father had committed suicide when they were 14, and their mother appears to have checked out of parenting as a result. This makes for a realistically edgy and awkward, as well as wickedly funny, dinner scene that anybody with tension in their family can relate to.

Another standout scene has Hader and Wiig clowning around on nitrous oxide at the dental office she works at. Their SNL training most prepared them for this bit, which proves that a comedy drama about suicide can effectively fit in fart jokes.

It’s a joy to see this very believable brother and sister pairing come together to lip synch and dance to Starship’s “Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now,” even if you can’t stand the song, and when they fight towards the end of the film – really taking it all out at each other – their acting is so sharp that I felt like I was violating their privacy watching them.

Hader has shown time and time again that he’s a first class impressionist, and a reliably goofy presence in many projects, but his performance as Milo is a career best that shows the layers of depth the actor has to share. It recalls his former SNL co-star Will Forte’s fine dramatic work in NEBRASKA last year, and makes me want to see more of these funny folks try on more serious roles.

Wiig has carried movies before - most notably her breakthrough 2010 comedy smash BRIDESMAIDS – but this may be my favorite of her screen roles. Wiig’s Maggie is a sad mess of a human being, as screwed up as her brother (possibly more even) that has a real feeling sense of humor, but the worried look in her eyes gives her inner torment away. Her character’s turns late in the film are heartbreaking, and a little hard to watch, but Wiig movingly pulls it off beautifully.

THE SKELETON TWINS is a well made, well written (it well deserved the Screenwriting Award that director Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman won at Sundance), and extremely well acted film that may very well make my top 10 list of the year’s best. It’s also the most emotionally charged movie starring a couple of SNL cast members since…well, ever.

More later...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why I Didn’t Dig THE DROP As Much As Everyone Else


Now playing at an indie art house near me:

THE DROP (Dir. Michaël R. Roskam, 2014)




This gritty Brooklyn-set crime drama has gotten a lot of acclaim – it’s at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes – but it really didn’t make the impact on me that it did on the majority of critics. 

I mean, I highly enjoyed the gruff presence of James Gandolfini’s last screen appearance, and the quiet power of lead Tom Hardy is a study in subtlety, but the looming darkness, particularly in the case of the creepy antagonist played by Matthias Schoenaerts, felt empty and I found the narrative lacking.

Hardy plays a nice-guy bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a working-class bar run by Gandolfini but owned by the Chechen mob. Their seedy establishment is one of many that could be randomly chosen any given night to be a “drop bar.” When the bar is robbed by a couple of loser strivers (shades of more than one episodes of The Sopranos), the menacing Chechens breathe down the necks of Gandolfini and Hardy to get their money back.

Meanwhile, while walking home Hardy finds a whimpering wounded pit bull inside a neighbor’s garbage can at the edge of their property. In sort of a “meet crude,” Noomi Rapace as the neighbor agrees to help Hardy raise the puppy, and their relationship begins.

Threatening the situation is the bearded, hooded, and all sinister Schoenaerts, who claims it’s his dog and insinuates that he and Rapace used to be together.

Now, after seeing THE HUNT and CALVARY, I get nervous when it comes to the fate of a dog in these thrillers. Especially when the Schoenaerts’ lowlife heavy threatens its life and tells Hardy he can have it for $10,000. 

The climax is, of course, on a drop night. Schoenaerts forces Rapace to go with him at gunpoint to Cousin Marv’s, with the plan of not only getting his $10K from Hardy, but the rest of the money in the safe.

Spoilers! This is where the so called surprise twist comes in, involving Hardy relaying some crucial back story that lays down the law to Schoenaerts, and a little then some. Hardy owns this scene for sure, but why wasn’t this done earlier? Why did he let the ghastly guy creep on the sidelines for so long beforehand? The scene that the two first speak has Schoenaerts invite himself in to Hardy’s house and he takes his umbrella on the way out. Why not deal with him then?

It’s also depressing that Rapace has such an underwritten, only slightly disguised damsel in distress role. Almost makes one forget how much ass she kicked in those GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO movies. And Schoenaerts, who was in director Roskam's first film, BULLHEAD, is so dead-eyed and one note that he never registers as anything but a standard issue soulless bad guy.

THE DROP is based on a 2009 short story by Dennis Lahane called “Animal Rescue” that he fleshed out into this screenplay and a new novel adaptation. The shift in Lahane’s locales from his usual Boston stomping grounds to Brooklyn doesn’t make much difference, this scenario could go down in any crime-ridden working class urban jungle. It’s a mediocre descendant of MEAN STREETS no matter where it takes place.


Yet Gandolfini’s last grand appearance on the big screen deserves to be seen; his pissed off, formerly powerful character gets both laughs with his expert wiseacre delivery and pity with his put upon bitching about his station in life.

So in conclusion, Hardy and Gandolfini are great in it, but without them - fuggeddaboutit - THE DROP is no great shakes.

More later...

Monday, September 22, 2014

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES: The Film Babble Blog Review


Now playing at a multiplex near you:

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

(Dir. Scott Frank, 2014)















I liked Liam Neeson’s latest, Scott Frank’s A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES - currently the #2 movie at the box office - a lot more than I thought I would. It was clear in its first few minutes that it was going to have a much more thoughtful and artsy thing going for it, than in Neeson's last handful of action platters.

Its opening scene, set in 1991, has a bearded, scruffy Neeson working as an undercover cop named Matthew Scudder taking a shot of whiskey in a Brooklyn bar while on duty. Three thugs, oblivious to Neeson as he’s sitting in a booth, come in to rob the place and shoot the bartender. After fumbling for his gun, Neeson chases after the men and wastes them in the street with Dirty Harry-style efficiency. Unfortunately, a little girl is killed in the crossfire, effectively setting the film’s tone.

We then flash forward to 1999 with the Y2K scare heavily in the air, and Neeson now a recovering alcoholic working as a private investigator. He’s approached by a fellow AA member, an addict (Boyd Holbrook) who asks him to meet with his wealthy drug kingpin brother (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens in a distinctly different role). Stevens’ wife was kidnapped and killed despite his paying a $400,000 ransom, and he wants to hire Neeson to track down the men who did this for retribution.

Neeson initially refuses but changes his mind upon hearing a tape of Steven’s wife being tortured, and he starts following leads around the neighborhood she was abducted in. While doing research at a New York Public Library, Neeson befriends a street kid (Brian “Astro” Bradley, one of the highlights of last summer’s EARTH TO ECHO, and a highlight here) who becomes somewhat of an investigating partner.

Despite a twisty turn involving a chubby, creepy cemetery groundskeeper (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), there’s not much of a mystery about the kidnappers’ identities as we are introduced to David Harbour and Adam David Thompson as a couple of psychopaths who pose as DEA agents to target the wives and daughters of big-time drug dealers, who are unlikely to go to the police.

Another kidnapping involving the daughter of a Russian drug dealer (Sebastian Roche), is settled in a tense nighttime sequence set at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Strikingly shot by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (THE MASTER), the exchange/ensuing shoot-out has moments of humor and horror that won’t soon leave my mind.

Almost as memorable is the climax in the evil kidnappers’ house, complete with a scary basement showdown between Neeson and Thompson, though the inclusion of a voiceover reciting AA’s 12 Steps during this seems to be reaching a bit.

I also really could’ve done without Donovan’s “Atlantis,” already definitively employed by Scorsese in the mighty gangster classic GOODFELLAS, appearing on the soundtrack earlier in the film to accompany Danielle Rose Russell walking in slow motion and waving at Harbour and Thompson’s who are watching her and her father from their obvious white windowless van.

Based on the 1992 bestseller by Lawrence Block (one in a long series of novels starring investigator Matthew Scudder), A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES succeeds more than it fails and for that it should be commended as one of Neeson’s better later day works, one that actually calls upon him to better utilize his particular set of skills as an actor. Neeson's Scudder is a lived-in performance devoid of showy gestures; it's as grim and textured as the surrounding film.

But for those folks who see quick cuts of Neeson on the phone talking sternly to kidnappers in TV spots, and may be disappointed that there’s too much talk, not more action – don’t worry, TAK3N (that’s its actual name) is on the way.

More later...

The Lovely, Lyrical Yet Oddly Titled LOVE IS STRANGE


Now playing at a indie art house near me:

LOVE IS STRANGE (Dir. Ira Sachs, 2014)



I first became aware of the great actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina back in the early ‘80s. Lithgow from his Oscar-nominated role as a trans-sexual ex-football player in George Roy Hill’s THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP; Molina from his brief but memorable turn as Indiana Jones’ untrustworthy guide in the classic opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (“Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip!”)

In the three decades since, both thespians have portrayed a wide range of characters, some upstanding; some sinister (both have made excellent villains), but neither has come across more human, or with as much warmth as in Iran Sach’s fifth feature as writer/director, LOVE IS STRANGE, opening this weekend at an art house near me.


The film opens with the wedding of Lithgow and Molina, as a gay couple who’ve been together for 39 years, in a low key ceremony in a community garden in Lower Manhattan. News of the marriage leads to Molina losing his job as choir director for a Catholic School, leaving the couple unable to afford their beloved New York apartment.

While searching for a new place to stay, Lithgow, a retired painter, goes to live with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife Marissa Tomei, and their withdrawn teenage son (Charlie Tahan) while Molina moves in with two neighbors (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), a couple of gay cops who love to party.

With Lithgow having to sleep in a bunkbed in Tahan’s room, and Molina crashing on the couch of Jackson and Perez’s party pad, their living situations are a bit strained. Tomei, a successful novelist, finds it hard to write with Lithgow doddering about, but when she gets him out of the house to work on a new painting on the roof of their building, she questions the appropriateness of his using her son’s school friend (Eric Tabach) as a model.

Sach's oddly titled film is spare story-wise, but rich with feeling and relatable details dealing with having to adjust to change. “When you live with people, you know them better than you care to,” Lithogow tells Molina in one of their touching late night phone conversations.

None of Sachs’ characters make any false moves – there’s no forced quirkiness or any force fed one-liners. We almost feel like we are eavesdropping on a small connected group of real people. It’s a lovely, tender experience given an emotionally gripping gravitas by its well chosen cast. Especially, and obviously, in the understated yet piercing performances of Lithgow and Molina, who just may be the most convincing screen couple of the year.

More later...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More Michael Caine Impressions Over Dinner


Now playing at an indie art house near you...

THE TRIP TO ITALY

(Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2014)


This sequel to the 2010 art house comedy sleeper, THE TRIP, which re-unites Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves is definitely a case of more of the same.

It’s more fine dining – this time in exquisite Italian restaurants with spectacular ocean-views. It’s more neurotic bickering about stardom, or lack of stardom.


It’s more driving down winding roads through the scenic countryside – this time to the accompaniment of an Alanis Morissette CD.

But most importantly it’s more Michael Caine impressions, with a healthy side of Al Pacino as Brydon affects the famous actor’s gruff persona for an audition for an American mafia movie.

Just like in the first one, Coogan and Brydon are on a restaurant tour which they will write about for The Observer. Also like its predecessor, the film is edited together from 6 episodes of a BBC program, which accounts for its overlong length.

Though we see a lot of food – there are many cuts to inside the kitchens of each of the six restaurants they visit from Tuscany and Rome to the Amalfi coast while the duo converse at their tables – the meals aren’t really discussed except to say how heavenly they taste. Again, the meat of the matter is who can do the better impersonation.

At one point, Coogan and Brydon even act out an entire sketch involving the stars of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Caine (of course) arguing on set. This bit is hilarious but the mimicry does get tiresome, especially when they trod on material they well covered the first time around – i.e. the same Sean Connery lines.

The bare bones of the plot involve Brydon getting a part in the aforementioned film, a fictitious Michael Mann project, and having an affair with a British tour guide (Rosie Fellner). Coogan’s only dilemma appears to be that his most recent series, an American TV drama named Pathology (also fictitious) has been canceled.

Otherwise we just basically hang with these guys through their travels as they follow in the footsteps of the great Romantic poets Byron and Shelley, consume copious amounts of food and wine, and make references to many movies including ROMAN HOLIDAY, LA DOLCE VITA, NOTTING HILL (always an excuse for Brydon to do his spot on Hugh Grant impression), and CONTEMPT.

It’s an unruly formless experience that wears out its welcome halfway through. Only hardcore fans of the original or of these guys will find it funny or at least entertaining from start to finish. There's also the case that the more they do some of these impressions - particularly Brydon's Pacino - the less effective they are. 

It does help that it looks great. Cinematographer James Clarke, who shot the first one, captures immaculate imagery of Italy in scene after scene. So I'll file THE TRIP TO ITALY with MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT under Slight films of 2014 that have gorgeous scenery.

While in THE TRIP, Coogan remarked that “behind every little pithy vaguely amusing joke is a cry for help,” here the cries seem to be more for attention. With their aching through their posh lifestyles and showbiz entitlements, the only help these guys will really need will be at the box office if they try to pull off a third one of these.

More later...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Memorium: My Dearly Departed Cat Squiggy



Although this is a blog about movies I wanted to pay tribute to one of the most important figures in the background of Film Babble: my cat Squiggy who passed away on Friday, September 12th at age 16. The picture above of her as a kitten was taken by my mother at my apartment in Greensboro in 1998.

Squiggy would often sleep in my lap as I worked on the content of this blog, which is one of many, many things about her that I will dearly miss. I’d scratch her head and stroke her back while pondering my next sentence, and I hated when I had to get up to go to the bathroom or grab another Diet Coke because she would be dislocated, but it usually wasn’t long until she jumped back after I sat back down.

I adopted Squiggy from the Greensboro Cat Clinic in May of 1998. Thankfully, my friend Snoa Garrigan, who knew I wanted to get a cat, told me that they had just gotten a few kittens so I went to their location on Battleground Avenue and immediately took to this little spunky kitten with tabby markings and neatly arranged white patches.

I named her Squiggy after the character played by actor/comedian David L. Lander on the ‘70s-‘80s sitcom Laverne and Shirley, despite that people would tell me that it was a boy’s name. I liked saying it and thought it fit her. It did create some confusion when I’d take her to the vet – earlier this year when she had to stay for the weekend at Quail Animal Hospital here in Raleigh, I saw that somebody put a sign up on her cage that said “Squiggy is a girl.”

Squiggy lived with me in several different apartments through the years and at one point, still in Greensboro, she was briefly an outdoor cat. This ended when I saw her almost get hit by a car running across the street because I called her name – yes, she was a cat who knew her name and would sometimes respond when called. I say sometimes, because as it’s been said, “Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you later.”

When I moved from Greensboro to Durham in the summer of 2001, I lived with a friend, now a former friend, who I didn’t know had become a skuzzy heroin addict in the years I wasn’t in touch with him. It was less than 2 months that we lived there, but I am still sorry to Squiggy for her having to be around that mess of a human being. The guy was my best friend when I was a teenager, but it was clear to me after we left his Hellish orbit to live in Chapel Hill that Squiggy was a much better best friend, who had more genuinely helped me through hard times. And being that it was approaching September 2001, hard times would soon dominate everyone’s landscape.

In 2003, Squiggy and I moved into very interesting digs. I became the caretaker of the Horace Williams House in the historic district of Chapel Hill. 


Horace Williams was a UNC Philosophy professor who had lived in the house from 1897 to 1940 (the house was built in 1854 by another professor, Benjamin Hedrick). The house is a cool octagonal structure with a large yard that hosts many events including weddings and art exhibitions, and Squiggy and I lived in a basement apartment there for seven years.

Squiggy got out of the apartment a few times and explored the rest of the long rumored to be haunted house – the Octagon room, the dining room, kitchen, and parlor – and scarily got in the dank crawlspace under the house a couple of times. I think this is what Sally Holton, a former site manager for the Preservation Society, was talking about when she posted “I've always felt jealous of Squiggy for knowing the secrets of the Horace Williams House” on a farewell Facebook thread the other day.

I had a few girlfriends who weren’t cat people and didn’t kindly take to Squiggy so, of course, they didn’t last long. Then in 2008 I met the lovely Jill Walters, a wonderful cat person, who brought Squiggy gifts like cat toys, and a scratching post tree, but the problem was that Squiggy didn’t take kindly to Jill.

But Squiggy just had to deal as Jill and I were married the next year, and she had to go from being the #1 only cat in the household to joining a cast of five cats – a line-up that would increase greatly when we started fostering for the Raleigh cat rescue Alley Cats and Angels. Squiggy disliked the other cats and kept to herself, particularly disapproving of the antics of the series of playful wacky kittens that would come and go in what my wife Jill dubbed “The Johnson/Walters Home for Wayward Kitties.”

Last night, Jill said “at 10 years old she went from basically being an only cat most of her life to having kittens everywhere, and she didn’t poop or pee places she wasn’t supposed to, or start fights or any bad stuff; she just adjusted.”

She had a reputation for being grumpy – this was long before the internet sensation Grumpy Cat – and many would note, especially Jill, that she only liked me. To prove that she was sweet and actually purred I posted this YouTube video:



In 2010 she had a tumor, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy. While I was away for Christmas at Jill's parents' house in Florida she stopped eating and lost half her body weight. Nursing her back to health was stressful and difficult into the New Year – I had to get up in the middle of the night and feed her through a tube for a period – and one visit to the vet really had me thinking it was the end because the radio in reception was playing Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

But Squiggy rebounded and gained back weight and seemed like her old self – except as Jill often pointed out, she lost interest in grooming herself. She learned the word “food” during this time as I would say it while she was eating. Her ears would perk up and her eyes would get wide when she heard it said. Once, while she was resting in my lap, I sang along to an Arby’s commercial with its line “it’s good mood food” and she jerked her head towards me hoping I had some for her.

So Squiggy had beat cancer, but her kidneys were failing which meant she’d get sick every so often which was always a concern if we were going out of town - “that’s one co-dependent cat you got there” Jill would say – but for the last several years of her life she seemed to be happy. Despite all the cats that is. It helped that she had the exclusive area that is my office that she could eat her food in private and sleep away from bouncy kitten activity. She would scratch at the door to be let in, and she was good at communicating when she wanted out.

It’s very sad to not have her around anymore. There are other cats that I love and will love in the future, but I know I’ll never be as close to another cat like that again.

To the non-cat/non-pet people out there, thanks for indulging me in my memories of my dearly departed cat. I promise that I will be back babbling ‘bout film next time, but take note that without Squiggy all curled up in my lap while I write it just won’t be the same.


R.I.P. Squiggy Stardust Nova Scotia Hummingbird Johnson Walters (1998-2014)

More later…

Monday, September 08, 2014

Flashback: Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Films Of 1984


 
On a three episode series of the podcast, postmodcast,
Kevin Brewer (Twitter handle: @RealKevinBrewer) and I have been celebrating the pop culture of the year 1984. Our first installment, which dropped on August 19, 2014, dealt with the music of that era, including Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, so the second in the series (Episode 5: Movies of 1984), which dropped last week on September 2nd, focuses on the films (the upcoming third entry will cover television).


Because of all this babbling about 1984, I decided to post my top 10 films of that year. A few of them I re-watched recently after not seeing them for three decades, some I've been watching over and over in that time.

So here are my 10 favorites from 30 years ago:

1. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dirs. Ethan & Joel Coen)


This one shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who follows this blog. The Coen brothers are among my all-time favorite film makers and this, their cold thriller debut, is one of their best. It's also the film debut of Frances McDormand (she and Joel Coen were married in April of '84 and are still together), who plays the cheating wife of crusty Texas bar owner Dan Hedaya. The always reliable M. Emmett Walsh portrays a somewhat sleazy private detective that Hedaya hires to kill his wife and her lover (John Getz). It's dark, twisted, and absolutely essential stuff.

2. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Dir. Rob Reiner)








Rob Reiner's directorial debut is one of the funniest, most quotable, and sturdiest satires ever made. As if you don't know already, the film is a "mockumentary" concerning Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as the core members of a fictional heavy metal band who are followed on an ill-fated tour by Reiner as a documentary film maker amusingly named Marty DiBergi. I've seen it many, many times over the years, and am looking to many more starting with catching one of its multiple screenings at this year's Escapism Festival at the Carolina Theatre in Durham the weekend of September 19th, and on the NC Museum of Art's giant outdoor screen in the theater park on October 4th. Oh, yeah - it will also be shown as part of the long-running Cinema Inc. series on January 11th, 2015. Definitely one that never gets old.

3. REPO MAN (Dir. Alex Cox)




Read what I wrote about this also very quotable '84 offering on its 25th anniversary after attending a screening at the Colony Theater here in Raleigh as part of their Cool Classic series. An extremely cool classic indeed.

4. GHOSTBUSTERS (Dir. Ivan Reitman)
  
There's been lots of hubbub celebrating the 30th anniversary of this big-time box office champ (it battled BEVERLY HILLS COP for the #1 spot of '84) lately. A theatrical re-release, a new Blu ray special edition, and even a "National Ghostbusters Day" (August 28th, though the film was originally released in June) all go to show that this film has still got it goin' on. That's largely thanks to Bill Murray as the sarcastically cocky pseudo scientist Peter Venkman, but Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis (who both co-wrote the movie) aren't too shabby either. Now please, Aykroyd would you please back off making another one? 

5. AMADEUS (Dir. Milos Forman)



Just re-watched this grandiose Oscar sweeper (it won 8) and loved how still powerful and funny it is. It may be a bit padded with too many scenes in which composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) looks on with both amazement and disgust from the wings as his unknowing rival Mozart (Tom Hulce) brilliantly conducts a lavish orchestra (we get it - you hate how great he is), but it has plenty of impact and it proves that lofty prestige pictures don't have to be devoid of fun.


6. ALL OF ME (Dir. Carl Reiner)

Another Reiner (Rob's father) makes the list. Steve Martin should've been Oscar nominated for his role in this fast paced farcical comedy also starring Lily Tomlin in one of her most invested performances. I mean, who else that year pulled off a convincing performance of a man who has a woman trapped in half of his body? Nobody, that's who.

7. STOP MAKING SENSE (Dir. Jonathan Demme)



This incredibly uplifting concert film, which captures The Talking Heads onstage at the Hollywood Pantages Theater in late '83, may be the most joyous rock and roll movie ever. The boundless energy of front man David Byrne, backed by his band mates (Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth) and a well chosen mix of back-up singers and guest musicians (including members of Parliament-Funkadelic and The Brothers Johnson) bouncing behind him through an amazing set of some of the strongest songs of the '80s makes an exhilarating experience from start to finish. This is being celebrated with a theatrical re-release in many markets, and, I'm happy to report, will also be shown at the NC Art Museum next month.

8. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE

(Dir. Woody Allen)


It may be a throwaway Woody Allen to some, but I love how this is one of his works that's unconcerned with questioning meaning, or making any statement, it just wants to tell a silly story about a sleazy talent agent who gets caught up in a series of mishaps involving Mia Farrow (with a hilarious Brooklyn accent) as the mistress of his lounge singer client (a wonderful Nick Apollo Forte), that have him on the run from mobsters. The shenanigans are enhanced greatly by the sharp black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis, who recently passed.

9. PARIS, TEXAS (Dir. Wim Wenders)



This spare, visually stunning work is probably the closest to a Foreign film on this list despite being filmed in the scenic desert locations of middle-America. German film maker Wim Wenders, via the Robby Müller's exquisite cinematography, poetically presents Harry Dean Stanton in possibly his most affecting performance as a man on a journey through the Texas desert to reconcile with his wife (Nastassja Kinski).

10. STARMAN (Dir. John Carpenter)

I was a fan of Jeff Bridges long before he became re-branded as "The Dude" and this poignant sci-fi romantic drama (now there's a neglected genre!) is his best '80s film in my book (or on my blog). Bridges got an Oscar nomination for his acute portrayal of an alien that has inhabited the body of the dead husband of the grieving Karen Allen, who's pretty terrific in it too. It also serves as a fun road trip film, which I touched on a few years back in a series of posts covering "Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scenes."

Other notable movies of 1984: W.D. Richter's THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, Paul Mazursky's MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON (Robin Williams' first bearded dramatic role!), Albert Magnoli's PURPLE RAIN (mainly for its concert scenes), John Byrum's THE RAZOR'S EDGE, and Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE.

More later...

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Seeing CITIZEN KANE At The Cary



Last weekend I attended a 2 pm Sunday afternoon showing of Orson Welles’ immortal 1941 classic CITIZEN KANE at the newly restored venue, The Cary Theater in Cary, N.C.

I’ve been meaning to check out the theater since it re-opened earlier this year, especially since I’ve written a bunch of blurbs about their special screenings for the Raleigh N & O (like this one).

I was very impressed. Originally built in 1946, The Cary, which was an auto parts store most recently, has been beautifully renovated into a cozy 180 seat theater with shiny wood finish paneling, modern lighting, and state of the art sound system. The 6 million the town of Cary put into the place sure shows.

Now, I’ve seen CITIZEN KANE many times over the years on screens both big and small – I’m in the camp that considers it one of the greatest movies ever and all that. Unfortunately just like the last time I saw the film, at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill several years ago, it was in the wrong aspect ratio.

This isn’t the theater’s fault – from what I gather, the version of KANE that’s available for digital presentation is cropped for the image to fit the entire screen instead of its original “Academy Ratio.”

In the last few weeks, many bitched that the bulk of The Simpsons “every episode” marathon that FXX aired from August 21st to September 1st. was in the wrong aspect ratio but that didn’t really get in the way of my enjoyment of the large chunks of it that I took in.

Same with KANE as I enjoy the film so much, but the film purist inside of me was a bit pissed off.

Anyway, most of the people at the very well attended screening were seniors so I was one of the youngest people there, but not the youngest as I saw a few college aged folks, and maybe a couple of teens.

This was notable because I keep hearing that younger generations dislike KANE, mainly because they feel that it’s been overhyped as “the greatest movie ever.” Joel Frady, a local film critic friend, told me that he thought the film was “boring!” and I heard the same opinion (the same word with the same exclamation point) expressed by a 20-year old co-worker not long ago.


This baffles me because Welles' film, via dazzling visual techniques, sharp acting (by Welles and his Mercury Theater Players), and delicious dialogue, (written by Welles with Herman J. Mankiewicz who won a Best Screenplay Oscar) so swiftly tells its intriguing tall tale that I can’t understand how someone could be bored by it. Where in the midst of this rich vivid masterpiece is there time to yawn?

Dissolve critic Nathan Rabin recently posted this on Facebook:

“Calling something ‘boring’ or ‘dull’ has to be among the weakest, laziest criticisms. This is especially true when used to argue that something is overrated. Writing, ‘A lot of people claim Citizen Kane or The Miseducation of Lauryn Hall are great, well guess what: they’re actually boring’ says nothing about the art they’re ostensibly supposed to critique and a lot about the writer’s need to pass their own subjective judgements off as bold universal truths people are afraid to embrace.”

Amen. But there are dissenters who when they elaborate can make some valid points. I just haven’t heard any lately about KANE that didn’t seem like reactionary “I don’t see what all the fuss is about” blather.

If you have a anti-KANE stance though, let me hear about it in the comments section below. Just remember this Marc Maron quote before posting:

“If you find yourself dismissing universally acclaimed landmark achievements, saying, for example, ‘The Godfather is an okay movie,’ you might be bitter.”

More later...