Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I AM LOVE: The Film Babble Blog Review

I AM LOVE (Dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2009)

There sure is a lot of opulent dinner party preparation in this Italian drama. We see servants prepare food, line up plates, arrange seating, etc. under the supervision of Tilda Swinton as a Russian woman who married into the wealthy Recchi family, yet appears to be far from satisfied.

Swinton’s husband, Pippo Delbono, is distant and only business minded in the face of his father’s (Gabriele Ferzetti) declaration that he is passing his textile manufacturing enterprise to not only his son, but also his grandson (Flavio Parenti). This announcement is made, of course, at one of many formal dinner parties that dominate the first half of the film. 

A chef friend (Edoardo Gabbriellini) to Parenti enters the picture and sweeps Swinton off her feet with a sumptuous dish of prawns. This scene tries to be sublime, but it borders on the ridiculous – a shaft of light falls upon Swinton as she begins to eat, the music swells, and there are extreme close-ups of her face as the taste sensation overwhelms her. On a trip to Sanremo to visit her art student daughter (Alba Rohrwacher), who her mother knows is a lesbian, but is keeping her secret, Swinton runs into Gabbriellini and they begin an affair. 

Their budding romance has tragic consequences when it’s revealed at, yep, another fancy dinner gathering. After flirting with the mainstream and winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (for MICHAEL CLAYTON in 2008) it’s nice to see that Swinton can come back to her art house home turf, but despite her character craft this is a overbearing self consciously artsy film with little soul. 

There is a sex scene that about sums it all up – Swinton and Gabbriellini make love in the woods, her pale skin (also surprising to see she will still do nude scenes – most of the time Oscars bring an end to that) intertwining with his as the camera cuts constantly away to the nature surrounding them.

Shots of insects and flowers are interspliced between shots of their carnal desires. It’s all a pretentious show-off that has no ambitions beyond empty imagery. I AM LOVE is sure to delight many lovers of Foreign and indie films for the same reasons it didn’t appeal to this reviewer. 

Its aesthetics alone will be enough to satisfy some movie goers, but the lack of pure emotional impact will definitely disturb others. Director Guadagnino made a film that desperately wants us to feel for these people, take in their lush environs, and luxuriate in their passions. 

Yet after 2 hours of all the luscious shots of well prepared delicacies that these people live off of, it was difficult to relate or empathize - the only real thing I felt was hunger.

More later...

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Smattering Of New Blu Ray & DVD Reviews

THE RUNAWAYS (Dir. Floria Sigismondi, 2010)

"Jail-fuckin'-bait! Jack-fuckin'-pot!!" - Kim Fowley as played by Michael Shannon. Not exactly. When this film came out last spring it cherry bombed at the box office. This absolutely by-the-numbers music biopic only comes alive when Michael Shannon is onscreen. 

As infamous record producer Kim Fowley, Shannon steals the film away from Kristen Stewart who does a convincing Joan Jett and an all angsty Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Despite the title Stewart and Fanning are the only members of the legendary '70s all girl punk band that the film chooses to focus on - you can count the lines Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford has on one hand and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Robin the bassist barely registers. Ditto Stella Maeve as drummer Sandy West. 

West died in 2006, but you wouldn't know that from the film's ending wrap up of only Jett, Currie, and Fowley's fates. Still it's fast paced and filled with a lot of great music. In the mix of the Runaways greatest hits you get David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols, and weirdly Don McLean blaring throughout the movie. It will most likely be remembered for being the movie that Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning made out in, but if that's what your looking for, those scenes are blurry in a manner mistaken for artsy, and there's little emotional conviction to make anyone care. 

Overall THE RUNAWAYS resembles the VH1 produced rock biopics that dramatized Behind The Music episodes and rerun constantly on VH1 Classic. That undoubtedly will be where this ends up.

ENTRE NOS (Dirs. Gloria La Morte & Paola Mendoza, 2009) 
This Spanish drama, produced and distributed by IndiePix Films, was one that didn't visit Triangle area theaters, but is now out on DVD and available for streaming on Netflix Instant. Paola Mendoza plays a Colombian immigrant who in the opening scenes is left by her husband (Andres Munar) to fend for herself and her 2 children in New York City.

All she seems to have going for her is that she can make great empanadas, but she can't seem to sell those on the street corners so she takes up aluminum can recycling. It's a tale of struggle and hardhip loosely based on a true story that has several incredibly moving scenes. The strength of Mendoza's performance creates much empathy for the severe situations she faces. Sebastian Villada Lopez and Laura Montana Cortez as Mendoza's children also register highly. Though some of the suffering may discomfort some folks, this is definitely worth a rental.

MOTHER (Dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2009) This gritty yet crisp looking thriller from South Korean writer/director Joon-ho only came as close as Cary to the Galaxy theater last spring. When she believes that her slow daft son (Won Bin) is innocent of a murder he's accused of, Kim Hye-ja investigates the crime on her own.

The murder is of a school girl (Moon Hee-ra) who as the rumors say was very promiscuous and has a cell phone full of pictures of possible suspects. Hye-ja fiercely fights through the elements and, of course, gets more trouble than she bargained for. “Mother” is immensely entertaining with true feeling for its characters, particularly the admirable lead. It also looks beautiful on Blu ray.

PRODIGAL SONS (Dir. Kimberly Reed, 2010) Another film that didn't play in the Triangle - a documentary about and by transsexual film maker Kimberly Reed (formerly Paul Reed) who returns home to Montana to face family and friends. Adopted brother Marc, who has brain damage from a car accident, is a big obstacle as he's never accepted his sibling's sex change.

"I just wanted us to be able to move on, but before I knew it, we ended up exactly like we used to be." Reed says on her more than abundant narration. For the first 20 minutes or so it feels like a typical fish out of water/culture clash but when Marc finds out that his grand parents are none other than Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth things get considerably more interesting.

The take away amounts to more than that as we see Kimberly deal head on with his/her past rerunning old football footage and facing old photographs. Marc meanwhile has some scary outbursts which results in jail time. Film of Welles, mostly from his last film F FOR FAKE decorates the second half of the film in morbid tribute. A worthwhile yet disconcerting doc - PRODIGAL SONS is available on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant.

A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Dirs. Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar) This French stop motion animation movie only played for a week at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh last spring which is a shame because it’s a fun absurd romp that deserves bigger audiences. Little plastic figurines, simply named for what they are – “Cowboy”, “Indian”, and “Horse” are the protagonists of this beyond silly plot involving 50 million bricks, thieving blue pointy headed fish folks, and a gigantic penguin robot.

As ridiculous animated features go it's way better than DESPICABLE ME.

PANIC has more than enough laughs and ideas in it to be worth and hour and 15 minutes of your time so see what too many people missed last spring theatrically as its now on DVD and also available streaming on Netflix Instant.

More later...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hail To The Reigning Indie Film Queen: Catherine Keener

idway through Spike Jonze’s ADAPTATION (2002), Nicholas Cage stepping in for the real screenwriter of the film, Charlie Kaufman, speaks to his fictitious brother Donald (also played by Cage) on the phone. Donald mentions to the forever frazzled Charlie that Catherine Keener is hanging out and wants to play a role in his just optioned movie project.

“Catherine Keener is in my house?” Charlie asks with all of his wide eyed angst. Playing herself at the time of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, Keener is only briefly in ADAPTATION (it’s an uncredited walk on), but it marks the beginning of her high profile in film – Keener, after over 15 years in the business, was finally a “name.”

That was nearly a decade ago and Keener’s profile is still high with 2 independent films out this summer – PLEASE GIVE and CYRUS. She was also recently seen in big budget studio fare like PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS – THE LIGHTNING THIEF and last year’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE of which she also was an associate producer.

Keener has built a sturdy career playing a series of sassy yet cynical women who taunt their romantic partners and many times leave them. A few examples of this include SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK and HAMLET 2, both very different films that dealt with a similar subject – personal artistic struggle. Keener’s characters symbolized dissatisfaction coupled with a yearning for freedom away from the obsessed ego of a lousy life partner.

Keener has played this type of part perhaps too often. In the 4 films (WALKING AND TALKING, LOVELY AND AMAZING, FRIENDS WITH MONEY and PLEASE GIVE) she’s made with Nicole Holofcener, she’s perfected the role of a New York intellectual suffering with liberal guilt and seething hostility. It’s a character that’s obviously close to her heart, but it lives or dies on the strength of Keener’s acerbic line readings and lately, in PLEASE GIVE it died.

Initially her role as Steve Carrell’s love interest in the uber commercial hit THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN appeared to be severe miscasting. Her style seemed better suited to the edgier indie worlds of Holofcenter, Steven Soderbergh, or, of course, Charlie Kaufman, than the raunchy boys club milieu of Judd Apatow, yet it was refreshing to see her having fun in a less stressed comic identity.

Keener’s Oscar nominated role as Harper Lee in CAPOTE (2005) was also a bit of a change from her patented snarky persona. Another out of character part came in a little seen TV movie produced by Showtime based on a true story - “An American Crime”. Although she played yet another divorcée, Keener’s acclaimed performance as Gertrude Baniszewski, a Indiana woman who tortured and murdered a teenage girl, was definitely a different stroke for the active actress.

So Keener keeps her indie cred although she often pops up in mainstream movies usually playing a hip single mother like she did in PERCY JACKSON and WILD THINGS. She’s got a healthy crop of films coming up including David O. Russell’s political romantic comedy NAILED in which she plays the fictitious Rep. Pam Hendrickson. It looks to be another welcome change of pace. Keener may not be an A-list star, but she’s a familiar face and name to movie lovers no matter the genre or budget of her films.

For nearly a decade she’s replaced Parker Posey as the queen of independent film, one who can survive the crossover and come back again to her home turf. As her reign continues here’s hoping she’ll aspire to do more with her crown.

More later...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CYRUS: The Film Babble Blog Review

CYRUS (Dirs. Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass, 2010)

“I’m like Shrek! What are you doing here in the forest with Shrek?” John C. Reilly jokingly asks Marisa Tomei after successfully determining that she’s flirting with him at a party. Although, or maybe because, she walked up on him taking a leak in the bushes it’s definitely a “meet cute.” * 

Reilly almost jeopardizes the moment by running back in the house when he hears Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” come on the stereo, drunkenly yelling “dance party!” Using his beer bottle as a microphone he sings along and tries to get others to join him. When nobody does, Tomei saves the scene by entering the room singing and dancing along. Before you know it their previously embarrassed and snickering fellow party goers are right there with the couple singing and dancing along with them to the classic ‘80s synth pop song.

See? A meet cute. Reilly is a divorced lovable lug of a guy who is still close to his ex wife (Catherine Keener) although she is about to get re-married. Reilly hasn’t dated in ages and it’s easy to see why he is instantly smitten with Tomei. The woman of his dreams though has a secret. Thinking she’s married he follows her one night and finds out what it is – she has a grown son (Jonah Hill) who still lives at home. 

Their first encounter Hill is polite and though he makes odd awkward jokes (“it’s great to finally have a new dad”) he seems to be cool with Reilly dating his mother. However clues start to form that that’s not the case like when Reilly wakes up the next morning and can’t find his shoes. Over time more clashing occurs when Hill has panic attacks that Reilly suspects are faked. When Hill moves out then wants to move back in, Reilly confronts him and it’s obvious that the weirdness between them has now become war. 

Director brothers Jay and Mark Duplass take another step away from the “mumblecore” movement they helped found (their last one was their entertaining indie thriller “Baghead”) here by using name actors and a more conventional structure. Unfortunately they haven’t left behind sloppy camera work – the zoom ins and outs are overdone and the staging of many shots is shakier than shaky cam should be. CYRUS has comic moments, but can’t really be considered a comedy.

Reilly and Hill may be Judd Apatow repertory players, but here they’re servicing a story that tries more for tears than laughs. Although it rarely gets either it’s a quirky diversion that may be worth a film goers’ time depending on whether they are a fan of the actors.

* Roger Ebert, who popularized the term, describes a "meet cute" as when "somebody runs into somebody else, and then something falls, and the two people began to talk, and their eyes meet and they realize that they are attracted to one another."

More later...

Friday, July 16, 2010

INCEPTION: The Film Babble Blog Review

INCEPTION (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)

The buzz has been building for Christopher Nolan's followup to the THE DARK KNIGHT for some time now, and it's certainly going to get bigger as audiences see for themselves what this incredible mind bender of a movie is all about. What it's all about I'm still working out, but I can say that it's a vivid visual feast that's one of the best films of the year so far. 

It's a difficult film to describe without giving away some of the pure pleasures of the plot so beware of Spoilers! Leo DiCaprio is a dream extractor - an expert in mind manipulation who deals in the underworld thievery of, well, parts of men's minds when they are asleep and dreaming. 

DiCaprio works with a team including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a "point-man" and a dream "architect" played by Lukas Haas. We meet them in the middle of a job inside of the dream state of Saito (Ken Watanabe) - a powerful Japanese business magnate.

Turns out Watanabe is auditioning DiCaprio and his crew for a bigger job involving "inception" -that is the planting of an idea into somebody's head through the dream world. 

For the job they need a new architect so through DiCaprio's professor father (the always welcome Sir Michael Caine) they are joined by a snark-free Ellen Page. DiCaprio also recruits the slick Tom Hardy to act as "forger" for the team. Dileep Rao rounds out the team as their chemist.

The target for their mind crime caper is Cillian Murphy as Watanabe's corporate rival who has the fate of his family's fortune in his hands upon his father's (Pete Postlethwaite) death. Much like in his last film, Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND, DiCaprio is haunted by memories of his dead wife (here Marion Cotillard). Unlike SHUTTER ISLAND however here it's impossible to guess where it's all going.

Despite that it's crammed with a lot of action movie clichés - shoot-outs, automobile crashes, explosions, and there's even a sci-chase with machine guns - it never feels contrived. Its endlessly inventive dream inside of a dream inside of a dream scenarios are spell binding, and genuinely scary at times, and the towering worlds of the CGI crafted dream set pieces are overwhelmingly beautiful. Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister really outdid themselves on every frame. Likewise for Hans Zimmer who provides one of his most solid scores, one that swells and swoons at just the right moments.

I'll leave other critics to make comparisons to everything from METROPOLIS to the THE MATRIX because it's obvious that the decade it took to finish the screenplay Nolan has woven many influences and ideas into the framework. What wins out is the film threatens to burst out of the screen into real life - just like the most lucid dreams.

DiCaprio skillfully maneuvers through the action with a layered performance that's nearly as complex as the movie that's surrounding him.. Gordon-Levitt has a lot of screen time in his secondary role and he owns it - especially in the stressful yet seriously fun second half. 

In one of the best bits of acting I've seen from the actress, Page makes us feel the wonder of being able to create an entire world with intricate acrchitecture and the thrill of manipulating it to your own desires. At one point when she is learning how to structure a cityscape with thought, I really thought she was going to say: "Wow! This is awesome!" Because, well, it really is.

More later...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Revisiting AMERICAN SPLENDOR - R.I.P. Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

"Am I a guy who writes about himself in a comic book? Or am I just a character in that book? If I die, will that character keep going? Or will he just fade away?" - Harvey Pekar as played by Paul Giamatti.

Shortly after hearing the news that cult comic book writer Harvey Pekar passed away yesterday there was a flurry of R.I.P. tweets praising the man, his work, and the 2003 biopic AMERICAN SPLENDOR

Since it's one of my favorite movies of the last decade and I've never written about it on this blog (Film Babble Blog started in 2004) I decided to take the DVD off the shelf and give it a tribute re-whirl. 

Taking its name from Pekar's autobiographical comic book series which dates back to 1976, AMERICAN SPLENDOR was a unique biopic in that while the subject is depicted by ace actor Paul Giamatti, Pekar himself appears in documentary style breaks in the storyline.

Husband and wife film making duo Robert Pulcini and Sheri Springer Bergman constructed with care a comic book aesthetic in which both Pekar and his dramatic doppelganger shuffle through animations, recreations of cartoon panels, and old videotape clips mostly from Pekar's infamous appearances on Late Night With David Letterman.

In the comic Pekar would often break the 4th wall and talk directly to us. The film runs with this concept as Pekar's narration enhances the film by adding meta commentary on the movie we're watching like when he says of Giamatti: "Here's me, or the guying playing me anyway, though he don't look nothing like me. But whatever." 

Pekar was a longtime file clerk and record collector who by chance befriended revolutionary cartoonist Robert Crumb at a yard sale in 1962. Crumb, meticulously portrayed by James Urbaniak, inspires Pekar to write his own comics. 

A rarity in a world filled with super heroes, Pekar's "American Splendor" comics centered on Pekar's mundane yet amusingly relatable life and gained a cult following over the years. Crumb and other notable artists illustrated Pekar's writing which made for a pleasing mix up of styles - something the movie adaptation excels at. Though Pekar says Giamatti doesn't look like him - he's as valid an embodiment as any of the comic book depictions.

In one of the most striking scenes Pekar (Giamatti) is taunted by his cartoon alter ego in line behind an old chatty Jewish lady at the grocery store. "You gonna suffer in silence for the rest of your life, or are you gonna make a mark?" Pekar becomes a folk hero in the '80s largely because of his appearances on Letterman. 

Over the course of a few years Pekar made 7 appearances on the popular program each time clashing more with the cranky sarcastic host. Pekar finally got kicked off the show because he bad mouthed GE (NBC's parent company) and said Letterman looked like a shill for them. Pekar was allowed back years later in the mid '90s but damage definitely had been done. Although the film shows real bits of Pekar's appearances, the most controversial one is dramatized with an actor (Todd Cummings) stepping in for Letterman. You can see the original clip here

The film is packed with jazz, soul, and rock which keeps it bopping from frame to frame. Its musical sensibility contributes to the feeling that its simply a riff on the world according to Harvey Pekar. That can be a risky approach but it's not a loose riff; there's not a wasted scene and the well written weight in the non meta portions makes it all fly. The scenes with Davis as Harvey's 3rd wife Joyce Brabner offset the trickier Pekar monologue material nicely. 

It's also a treat to see 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander do a pitch perfect impression of Pekar's friend Toby Radloff. Radloff also appears as himself along with the real Brabner - see what I mean about all the meta-ness? I've seen the movie several times so this latest re-watching wasn't necessarily revelatory, but it was very comforting like spending time with a good old friend again. Pekar was a hero to anyone who ever tried to make art on the side of a dreary existence in a soul deadening job.

The movie touchingly captures the begrudging spirit of a man who definitely did make a mark. In the booklet that comes with the DVD ("My Movie Year") Pekar says of the movie after seeing an early screening: "Wow, that was really innovative...the way they mixed acted portions and documentary footage and animation and cartoons. And double casting some roles. Great! They took a lot of chances and they all worked." 

Completely agree with you there Harvey. R.I.P. Harvey Pekar. 

Post note: I also highly recommend Pekar's comics. They are available in sweet anthologies that you can find at Amazon or wherever. "American Splendor: The Life And Times Of Harvey Pekar" and "Our Cancer Year" are essential reads in the world of autobiographical comic books.

More later...

Monday, July 12, 2010

WINTER'S BONE: The Film Babble Blog Review

WINTER'S BONE (Dir. Debra Granik, 2010)

A chill can be felt in the opening scenes of this spare backwoods drama. We meet 17 year old Jennifer Lawrence, who looks a little like a rough edged Renée Zellweger, living with her mentally ill mother and 2 younger siblings (Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone) in a humble home in the Ozarks.

Lawrence is told by the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) that her drug dealing father has gone missing after putting up their house for bond. If he doesn't make a court date in one week's time they will lose the house. Lawrence is determined to find her father, dead or alive, no matter how treacherous and uninviting the terrain. 

Lawrence's father's meth head brother Teardrop (John Hawkes) warns her against sticking her nose in places it doesn't belong, but her fierce drive to protect her family keeps her going. "Talkin' just causes witnesses" she is told by Dale Dickey - just one of many scary folks she confronts on the trail. It's a washed out and grim looking film and for the first half it's such a slow burner that a strong sense of the inevitable is impossible to shake. 

Unfortunately its grueling build has little in terms of payoff. There are several effective scenes, including a greatly played exchange with a military recruiter that reveals the full extent of Lawrence's character's naivety, but the chilling mood can't withstand the glacial pace. Although it was based on a 224 page novel by Daniel Woodrell, WINTER'S BONE may have made for a better short film, but as a full length feature it feels stretched out with too many periods of dead air. 

It's a less than gripping non thriller that barely skirts by despite good performances by its cast (particularly the stoic Lawrence) and its stark cinematography by Michael McDonough. But if dead air and a hard to shake sense of doom are what you're looking for - WINTER'S BONE has it in spades. 

More later...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Happy Anniversary A-Z (Well, W)

A few weeks back Patrick Goldstein on his LA Times blog asked “Is there any Hollywood movie that isn’t having an anniversary this month?” He could reasonably have said this year as well because every time I surf the net or pick up a magazine there is a anniversary piece about a classic or cult movie that came out 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 30 years ago and so on.

There are quite a few good articles so I thought I’d compile a far from complete listing of some of the best ones.

Here goes:

AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker, 1980)

The gag-a-minute disaster film satire just turned 30 (USA release date July 2nd, 1980) and there are a gaggle of tributes including this New York Times piece:

There's also this well worth checking out piece: "Airplane!, one of the best comedies ever made, celebrates its 30th anniversary (with videos)" - Scott Wampler (

BACK TO THE FUTURE (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

This anniversary, the film's 25th, was marked by what's been called a "twitter hoax" involving a photoshoped picture of Doc Brown's Delorean dashboard. You can read about it here: "Debunked: 'Back To The Future' Twitter Hoax" - Jeff Sneider (

Pretty funny but Conan O"Brien's tweet was funnier:

“Today's the 25th anniversary of "Back to the Future" - The movie that popularized DeLoreans, Flux Capacitors, & almost nailing your own mom.”

THE BLUES BROTHERS (Dir. John Landis, 1980)

1980 comes up a lot here - it was quite a summer. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's musical car chase extravaganza was definitely a highlight as these links attest:

"Remembering 'Blues Brothers' 30 years later" - Christopher Borrelli (Chicago Tribune)

"The Blues Brothers Gets Vatican Seal Of Appoval" - Ron Hogan (Popular Fidelity -

CADDYSHACK (Dir. Harold Ramis, 1980)

Score another for 1980 with this much beloved country club golf comedy which pitted the slobs against the snobs. Read on:

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Dir. Irvin Kershner, 1980)

The second (or the 5th if you want to split hairs) film of the ginormously popular STAR WARS series is widely thought by many, including me, to be the best stand alone installment. Here's some links to those who think likewise:

"Empire Strikes 30: Ars looks back at a amzing film" - Ben Kuchera (

FLETCH (Dir. Michael Ritchie, 1985)

Chevy Chase's newspaper reporter wisecracks through one of his best comedies, if not the best. This is by far the best column I've found yet on the film's birthday:

GOODFELLAS (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1990)

It's too early for tributes just yet - the film was released on September 19th, 1990. Until then here's the news of Spike TV's anniversary tribute: "Spike TV celebrating 'Goodfellas' 20th at Guy's Choice Awards" ( Stay tuned to this space for more on GOODFELLAS 20th...

JAWS (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Too many to list here but here's some of the cream of the crop of 35th anniversary wishes to what many claim was the first summer blockbuster:

"'Jaws' 35th anniversary: Remembering the first summer blockbuster" - Andrea Reiher (

"35th Anniversary of Jaws Begins in a Junkyard" - Robert Falconer (

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, 1975)

Last year it was reported that there would be a 35th anniversary celebration at Doune castle in England (where much of the movie was shot): "Monty Python reunion planned for Doune castle" (

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Dir. Tim Burton, 1985):

"Los Angeles Film Festival: Paul Reubens to mark 25th anniversary of 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure'" - Susan King (

PSYCHO (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

"Hitchcock's Psycho at 50, The sounds of violence" - Jack Sullivan (

RAGING BULL (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1980):

"Brutal Attraction: The Making of Raging Bull"
- Richard Schickel (

THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980):

"The Shining - 30th Anniversary - May 23, 1980"

WILD AT HEART (Dir. David Lynch, 1990)

Actually other than some notices about 20th anniversary screenings I haven't found a good anniversary appraisal for this one. I just rewatched it and really loved see it again so maybe I should consider doing one. Hmmm.

I know there are a lot of significant anniversaries I've missed - REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), THE APARTMENT (1960), MASH (1970), NASHVILLE (1975), and many many more so please let me know what else we should be celebrating in the comments below. Looks like a followup is in the cards.

More later...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK: The Film Babble Blog Review

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (Dirs. Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, 2010)

"I went on Carson, and that night on the air he said, "You're going to be a star." 

Joan Rivers, speaking of a pivotal mid '60s appearance, repeats this several times throughout this funny though flawed documentary. It's a statement that has some sting to it because Johnny Carson had her blackballed from NBC late night in 1986 after she left to do a competing talk show on Fox; a show that failed miserably and prompted the suicide of River's producer husband (Edgar Rosenberg). 

That doesn't stop her from repeating the phrase ("You're going to be a star") like a mantra. After over 4 decades in the business Rivers is still grasping at stardom. 

Sure, everybody knows who she is and she always seems to be on this or that show, but her biggest fear it seems is an empty calendar with no hope of future bookings. The first few shots of the 77 year old Rivers - extreme close-ups while make-up is being applied - are a bit jarring. To see the self proclaimed "poster girl for plastic surgery" on the large scale of a movie screen takes a bit getting used to. Her face is frozen into that of a doll's or a costume party mask. 

Scattered throughout are grainy TV clips of Rivers' pre-surgery visage. She was an energetic acerbic comedienne who ripped on her homeliness while targeting Hollywood royalty. Rivers wrote and collected jokes for decades. She gives the film makers a tour of her file cabinets which contain thousands of note-cards containing jokes broken down into subjects like "cooking" or "Tony Danza". Pouring over one of the packed drawers she says: "My life is just...jokes." Directors Stern and Sundberg followed Rivers around for the better part of a year.

 Luckily it was a busier year than most for their subject - between stand-up gigs she appears on Celebrity Apprentice and gets roasted on Comedy Central. All the while she spouts her tried and true one-liners, many of which are very funny, but she also pauses for tears when speaking seriously about her career. It's notable that she thinks of hers as "an actress's career", one in which she says she has been "playing a comedienne." If so she does an admirable job especially in one of the film's most striking scenes - facing down a heckler at a less than glamorous gig at an Indian casino in Wisconsin.

This doc can be a bit choppy and rambling - it's easy to get a little lost in the non-fluidity of the footage. The typical trappings of E! celebrity bios flare up too often as well, but there's plenty that even one who is not a fan of Rivers can take away. 

It's a portrait of naked ambition, an ode to life sustaining relationships (River's daughter and a few assistants figure here greatly), and it's a tale of how cruel the entertainment industry can be; though it must be said that River's own cruelty has more than a little to do with her lack of star standing these days. JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK could've gone deeper, but then again maybe this is as much "behind the mask" as one would really want to get.

More later...