Saturday, December 29, 2007

Out Romancing Gisele in New York City


A brief word before a temporary vacation

I am extraordinarily pleased with the progress of the blog, your clicks and comments mean the world to me but alas this will be my second to last post of 2007 (there will be one more but it will basically be a pictorial place holder that I brainstormed a while ago). Fear not loyal blog readers I will be back January third. I'm just taking a little vacation, the reason for which will be apparent when you see the next post. Alas, I did not get a chance to see There Will Be Blood today as it was sold out ALL DAY, luckily I got to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly instead and it was a more than worthy substitute. I won't be giving it an official review as I'm low on time and it's a deeply intense kind of film that invites a worlds worth of emotional response. I will say that it is a beautiful movie and will be appearing on my best of list (and fairly high up there at that).
In theory (saying "I will for sure" is inviting trouble) I'll have something longer about the aforementioned film after my break and lord willing There Will Be Blood as well. Also some time in mid-January there will be a massive year end best of list and some sort of mini-awards type thing that I have in the works. Also returning will be all your favorite segments: Monday Night Monologue, Friday links, birthday tributes, reviews and whatever else swims through my brain. Oh and we'll still be talking about Enchanted, I've seen what the people are googling and this movie will NOT be going away.
Does this mean you should stop visiting the site? HECK NO! Use this time to look back at favorite articles, note my grammar and spelling mistakes and most important of all come up with stuff you'd like me to talk about for the blog. I can't know what you want unless YOU tell me. It would be great if you left your suggestions in the comments. I'm hoping 2008 will be an amazing year for The Sickness Cinema and I thank all of you for the wonderful words of encouragement.

I'm talkin' about character

Look at this face, jut look at it.
You've seen him before. Maybe dozens of times. You can probably even hear his voice, lightly Italian accented, when he laughs it seems a little too hard, maybe you've seen him beg with desperation, or crack a yawn like he's been working a case all day. Or maybe you've been lucky enough to see him drive himself into a frenzy yelling to the point of near hoarseness at some flunky who has screwed up. This is the kind of face that fills out the edge of a film, you look at him and think "yeah I know what the deal is, this guy is probably trouble."

They most certainly do NOT make them like Jon Polito anymore that is a fact.

In honor of Jon Polito's birthday, I think a look back at some of his work from a long and storied career is in order. Oh sure there are number of other film related birthdays we COULD be celebrating; pretty boys like Jude Law and Diego Luna, long-time stalwarts like John Voight and Mary Tyler Moore and no doubt the actress-sexuals have Patricia Clarkson covered. But damn it here on The Sickness' Cinema we love guys like Polito. He's the kind of guy who can turn up in a movie and provide that sense of relief where you think "ah at least the next scene with THIS guy will be good." The invaluable resource for character actor fans like me, Hey! It's That Guy puts it succinctly.
Jon Polito just wasn't made for these times.
There used to be an era, back in the days of The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Peter Lorre in M, when Hollywood valued the weasel, the slippery rat, and the rotund double-crosser. Unfortunately for Jon Polito, those times are not these times, and we're all the poorer for it.
If you need proof look what happened to him in 1994. Polito, an actor who, with his spherical stature and shifty, sweaty demeanor, often comes across as a snowman made of Crisco had finally procured a feature role on a smart new TV series: that of Detective Steve Crossetti on the critically lauded Homicide: Life on the Street [...] Pre-Homicide, Polito had established himself as an art-house Joe Pesci, a thinking man's Danny DeVito. Now, it seemed, he'd have a weekly national platform from which we could all indulge in his particular talents.
But Homicide's ratings flatlined, and in an effort to improve them, the producers tossed out many of the compelling character actors and trucked in more photogenic, less interesting replacements. Out went Polito, in came the hunky Reed Diamond, and, to our mind, the show was never quite the same.
Getting rid of Polito did illustrate a larger shift in this much beloved police procedural. He did get an excellent goodbye episode where (spoiler alert) his character was found dead, entitled, appropriately enough, "Crossetti." Polito has lucked out since though, being a valued recurring player in the Coen brothers acting ensemble. Polito has appeared in five of the brothers films and in parts of various sizes and is dynamite in all of them. While he may never be a matinee idol the man gets the job done and has been a ubiquitous presence in many a period film and genre picture. Most recently he could be seen as part of Denzel Washington's competition in American Gangster a perfect sort of movie for finding a casting director's ace like Polito.

But Polito has done more, much more. He was Willy Loman's boss in the excellent Dustin Hoffman TV version of Death of a Salesman. He was Mr. Bigelow, the air-field owner in the retroactively beloved The Rocketeer. He infamously thought Dr. Reed was a man and lived the dream by whacking Sarah Chalke on her bottom in an episode of Scrubs. He's menaced superheroes in The Crow and Blankman and beloved children's character in Stuart Little and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. He showed up in Flags of Our Fathers and will actually play one of the titular brothers in the forthcoming (and friend of the blog edited) Marconi Brothers. For god sakes the man was in C.H.U.D. Jon Polito is greatness.

But it all comes down to the man's Coen Brothers work. His most famous role to date being Johnny Caspar the villain of the masterwork Miller's Crossing. Caspar cuts a mighty figure, ranting and raving ad making all manner of moves against our "heroes" Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney. Talking out f one side of his mouth about "morals" and "ethics", while at the other end nearly exploding about being given "the high hat." Polito gets to chew scenery like nobody else.

Look I've talked enough, if you haven't seen it with your own eyes let me SHOW you the greatness that is Polito in this glorious tribute vid that I found honoring Polito before receiving his Cinequest award. It sums him up nicely.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Diving Link and the Butterlink (cause Nate already took There will be LInk)

New Friday, new links, lets get to work:

While I disagree with some of their points this is still a plenty funny article about some retroactive re-shoots that could've made the year better courtesy of Guardian Unlimited. Click here.

Internet produced parodies, generally I can take them or leave them but my good friends (no lie, I've got pictures) over at College Humor recently put up a very high class take on a certain Eastwood flick that can always do with a little ribbing. PS Any child of the 90's would be remiss to ignore their Street Fighter series. Click here for some Million Dollar Babies.

Film related cheesecake you say? Why I've got some right here courtesy of the good folks @ Joblo.com (and I don't mean the kind of cheesecake they gamble over in that scene from Guys and Dolls).

Someone took the time to break down the four major male character arcs that keep seem to be cropping in movies of late here. Not included in this article, why Dane Cook keeps cropping up in movies of late.

Ooo I liked this one, see the growth of Tim Burton and his experience with musical numbers leading up to Sweeney Todd here.

Hey howdeydodat long tracking shot in Atonement? American Cinematographer has your back right here.

Hey remember when Steve Martin was funny? So does this lady, click here to look back and fondly remember.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Endings Blog-a-Thon: Bringing Up Baby

If the title didn't tip you off this is part of Joe's Movie Corner Endings Blog-a-Thon. Click on the link to see my fellow bloggers entries.

Warning: This posting is dedicated entirely to revealing the ending of Bringing Up Baby if you have never seen the film I would urge you to go see it and then come back and enjoy this entry.

To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go.-Mary Oliver

Give a dog a bone/Leave a dog alone/Let a dog roam and he'll find his way home.-DMX, Ruff Ryders Anthem
Bringing Up Baby is the quintessential screwball comedy. As a door-slamming farce it's genre defining in its conventions. The flighty heiress, the tightly wound fuss-budget male, the mix-ups, the pratfalls, the double entendres and mistaken identities, the comedy is firing on all gears at all times. By the time film gets to the end though its been a pretty exhausting ride. If for some inexplicable reason you're reading this entry without having seen the film here's what's happened, hapless paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) has been frantically searching for the intercostal clavicle, the last bone that will complete the brontosaurus skeleton that he and his fiancee, the aptly named Ms. Swallows have been working on. In the course of trying to get funding for the museum he stumbles into extrovert deluxe Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn). David is utterly annoyed by Vance who of course completely taken by the wound-up David. She wants to help him out of his shell and in the course of several days has him cross-dressing, digging dog bones over his estate and fighting off a vicious leopard (phew).
You can check out the film's final ten minutes here but the scene I will be talking about begins at 5:28.


Even if one isn't an art lover they're likely to realize that David is sitting in such a way as to evoke Rodin's The Thinker. Having gone through his adventures with Susan he realizes he is no longer the man he once was and a dull, professional life with Alice Swallows is now incomprehensible to him. "Well, there's nothing else I can say, except that I'm glad that before our marriage, you showed yourself up in your true colors. You're just a butterfly." It's an intentionally ridiculous line. "Just a butterfly", it's cheer worthy, but a tight-ass like Swallows would never see the humor in the situation. Here screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde give us the confirmation that yes, David has changed enough that even the most unaware characters in the film realize it.

David has a brief moment to consider all this when as usual his quiet is shattered by the approaching Susan. Hearing her coming he races up to the top of the skeleton. David has tried to get away from Susan before but this time he's not running from her but from his feelings towards her. I should also point out that while Ms. Swallows dress is rather tight and unappealing, Susan's outfit is flowing and distinctly feminine. At first she presents him with the macguffin, the intercostal clavicle bone he was missing. She runs up the ladder to further pursue David and now Hawks composes the two as equals. The ladder that Susan is perched on his rickety. Hawks composes a beautiful visual metaphor to the uncertainty of the would-be lovers. Their own concerns and jitters over possible rejection and their excitement in finding a partner grows and builds. This is all still discounting the huge sexual overtones of her having his bone.

The talk is loaded with entendre and very sexy but also economically and capable of wiping out great patches of exposition. As David begs Susan to get down she informs him of having the million dollars the museum needs thus wrapping up yet another lose plot thread. The two go back and forth (both figuratively and literally) with their exchanges all the while swinging with intense force. Sure they couldn't show having sex in the film but this scene goes to great lengths to convey just as much. If you were to take out the dialogue and just leave in the panting the scene essentially doubles as love-making, the quickening of pulses, the building tension and at last collapse and release.
Just listen to Hepburn's breathing at around 8:49, the woman is post-orgasmic.
Susan: It's too late, isn't it? I made a mess of everything, haven't I?
David: Oh no.
Susan: Oh, I was so happy when I found the bone this morning. Oh David, if I could only make you understand. You see, all that happened, happened, because I was trying to keep you near me, and I just did anything that came into my head. I'm so sorry.
David: Well, I ought to thank you.
Susan: Thank me?
David: Yes.
Susan: Well, why?
David: You see. Well, I've just discovered that was the best day I ever had in my whole life!
Susan: David, you don't mean that.
David: I never had a better time!
Susan: OH! But, but, but I was there.
David: Well, that's what made it so good.
Susan: Oh, did you really have a good time?
David: Yes, I did!
Susan: Oh, that's, but that's wonderful. Do you realize what that means? That means that you must like me a little bit.
David: Susan, it's more than that.
Susan: It is?
David: Yes, I love you, I think.
Susan: Oh, that's wonderful, because I love you too! Stop rocking, David.
David: Oh, I'm not rocking. I-I-I...
I love how that even at his most passionate David in all his enthusiasm can still only manage "I love you I think." The script never forgets for a moment that we're dealing with both romantic AND comedic elements so while things may be getting rather lovey-dovey there's a delightful physical bit of business as the ladders sways back and forth the distance extending perpetually. By the time the ladder falls the ending is no longer in question. Susan climbs aboard the skeleton and David reaches for her. Hawks cuts to a wide shot and we are witness to the rather remarkable shot of the enormous skeleton collapsing. Consider that the "child", the creation, of Swallows and David is the skeleton; dull, lifeless and inert. Susan and David's child has been the titular leopard, Baby; a living, vibrant animal full of passion and enthusiasm. Here over the literal wreck of remains, the end of David's old relationship a new coupling is made final. In short a perfect ending.

License and Registration Please

Sure the Federal Government is pretty crappy when it comes to say...oh I don't know, disaster relief, international incidents, respecting the rights of all its citizens regardless or race or gender or socioeconomic status, maintaining habeas corpus and keeping a shred of civility and good will towards other countries. BUT there is one thing I respect the government for and that is the National Film Registry, at least in theory.

Every year twenty-five films are selected and placed in a vault for preservation by the US government. Not bad right? The independent committee that selects these films tends to do a pretty solid job of mixing critically acclaimed films from a variety of genres or films of great social importance. Thankfully the guy up top has nothing to do with the selection because frankly there were only so many prints of Delta Farce made. You can take a look at the official press release (which has that weird formatting problem where every type of punctuation becomes a "?"-score another one for the USofA) by clicking here. You can see the 450 other films found in the registry here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Last minute blogathon guy

Hey so while I've pimped the forthcoming class of 2007 supporting actress blogathon I just literally got notice that I'd been invited to participate in yet another blogathon: this one on film endings. This blogathon is being headed by Zhang Ziyi loving webmaster Joe of Joe's Movie Corner. I'm really psyched and think I have a killer entry lined-up (alas youtube took down one of the clips I was planning on using-bummer). The 'thon will be running a massive three days long (from the 27-30) which gives me some time to work. Expect an entry up some time either on Thursday or Friday at the latest. Those of you clamoring for a There Will be Blood review will have to wait as some unforeseen difficulties (and bad show times) have kept me away from this most anticipated last big release of the year. Hopefully I'll get a look at it tomorrow and have the review up at the same time.

How do you know that you love her/How do you show her you love her

How about 100 million bucks? Does that do anything for you? Yes our beloved mascot film (you know the one) hit the nine digit mark today. Congrats to Disney, Kevin Lima, Bill Kelly, McWhatsisname, Elphaba, Susan Sarandon, Pip, Timothy Spall, James Marsden and of course Amy Adams. Oh and with these numbers and the golden globe nod Adams is now officially at the next level (which means she gets to work with PSH and Streep next year-bitchin'!). Fingers crossed for an Oscar nom (I'm thinking best actress musical/comedy is in he bag, yes?). Want more Adams right now and ushers are looking at you funny for coming to the big E so many times? Check out the excellent Charlie Wilson's War also out in theatres right now.

Late post addendum: In examining the Enchanted wikipedia entry (shut up) it would appear that Idina Menzel DID originally have a song in the film. The song was to be called "Enchanted" and was set to be a duet with James Marsden. As it stand right now the song is NOT on the film's soundtrack (though Disney does have a tendency to go back and relase deluxe editions of soundtracks with deleted material such as "High Adventure" on the Aladdin deluxe soundtrack) so the best we (and by we I mean me and the other 10 year old girls who love this movie) can do for now is wait until the April of '08 (my birthday hiiiiiint) DVD release of the film where hopefully "Enchanted" the song will in some capacity be attached to Enchanted the movie. Screw that Blade Runner suitcase, where's my Menzel/Marsden duet?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Punk is not dead

This evening I found myself deeply moved by a very special animated film that may be under the radar for many of my readers, Persepolis. The film is an animated adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi, working with animator Vincent Paronnaud has simply put, made one of the best films of the year. The pair ensures that, as opposed to rote graphic novel adaptations like Sin City or 300, each frame of the film finds a unique hook to make the story its own entity: inspired yet distinct from the graphic novel. In Persepolis nuns move like snakes, the same rotating army falls continuously into a canyon and jasmine leaves fall from bras. One intensely evocative image after another. But its not just the sequences, Satrapi's figures, while very simple and seemingly cartoonish, allow for an incredibly dense range of expressions.

It's remarkable to think that no matter where you are in the world children are basically the same. The basic pretense to do good, the way their violent games quickly escalate, the way their interests shifts from week to week. Persepolis shows this off with incredibly wit and wisdom. This being an autobiographical story Marjane condenses a great deal of her life into an hour and half, but the story never feels abbreviated. Everything seems well divided into sections featuring her youth as a Bruce Lee fan and would-be universal prophet under the Shah, her punk loving teen years amongst under the Republic and her time as a would-be anarchist trying to find herself in French speaking Vienna. When she returns home her parents hardly recognize her and things are not the same. She may be a child that lived through revolutions and war but childhood is a constant no matter what the context.

Persepolis has a lot to say about international politics but it never once feels like a lecture. Here the West can shift from irresponsible puppet-master for alternatively backing various Iranian regimes, to a symbol of inspiration and rebellion (there is an inspired sequence set to Survivor's Eye of the Tiger that is at once hilarious and exhilarating). I recall one of my film professors, the great critic Andrew Sarris commenting that a film can't really teach you but it can set off a spark that will make you want to learn more. Persepolis will hopefully inspire a lot of interest in Iran, a country that for all its faults (and there are many not the least of which being that its President doesn't acknowledge the existence of Israel) has a fascinating history and is not inhabited withe enemies, but people.

A whole bunch of widgets, doodads, froofrah and Gremlins

Yeah, so if you look at the bottom right you'll see a whole bunch of widgets and what not added to the bottom of the page. Help your favorite blogger out (who tragically lost his old counter that was about to tell him he had more than 2000 hits on the blog in abut a month's time) by clicking on them. Oh and as promised here is a gremlin. Ok yes, technically it's still a mogwai, but come on, how awesome are these guys?
See, still Christmas-y. Expect forthcoming looks at Persepolis, Diving Bell and the Butterfly and (oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy) There Will Be Blood soon. Also expect to see some blogathon related news soon too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Night Monologue: I'm a big damn Christmas softy

No real introduction here (and yes I know it's from a TV movie but come on, I would've done one from It's a Wonderful Life but we did one by Jimmy Stewart last week, ok we'll do it next year I promise). I may not celebrate Christmas but I like what it represents to a lot of folks. So without further ado...

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." That's what Christmas is all about.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.

And let that be our legacy

With Charlie Wilson's War Aaron Sorkin roars back to top form screenwriter with a clever , blistering screenplay about how the well intentioned work of a liberal Texas senator eventually led to our current geopolitical landscape. Despite the serious ramifications Sorkin keeps things light but sharp. While there are a number of talents worth applauding both in front of and behind the camera let there be no doubt that this always feels like Sorkin work and that's a good thing.

The story revolves around the titular Wilson who from his first scene separates himself from from the typical Sorkin do-gooder by being surrounded by playboy playmates, coke (though he doesn't partake) and hot-tubing would-be TV producers. What catches Charlie's eye amongst the bacchanal is a special investigative report about the struggling Afghanis fighting communist in the 1980's. Charlie though, actually has the clout to do something about this as he has a crucial chair in the defense appropriations subcommittee. So he quickly doubles the budget for aide to Afghanistan from a paltry 5 to 10 million, but after encouragement from a wealthy Texas heiress (Julia Roberts) and somewhat illegal jostling from disgruntled CIA agent Gust Avrakatos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Wilson becomes increasingly invested in fighting the communists and helping the war-torn Afghanis. This oddball three person team forever changes the world completely under the notice of the media, its too fantastic to be true, but it's complete non-fiction. Nichols does a fine job of giving a wide cinematic scope to the proceedings, keeping characters and locales hopping ensuring that you're never watching a bunch of talking heads. Even when it's just two chracters in a room Nichols ensure there are solid bits of business that not only underline bits of character but are endearingly cinematic (a certain someone's rear gets trailed by the camera as she moves down the hallway with critical news for our congressman, who could make me so excited, read on).

The film educates but it never feels like a history class, it's fun and jostling, echoing its protagonist. Hanks is having fun here as he's not playing just dramatic noble Hanks but in a way calling back the more wily and playful Bachelor Party and Bosom Buddies era Hanks. Wilson is rarely without a cocktail in his hand, possesses a voracious sexual appetite and has an army of incredibly hot but competent assistants (dubbed appropriately enough Charlie's Angels) led by (oh how this makes me giddy) Amy Adams (swooooon). When questioned about this one of the assistant's explains his philosophy "You can teach them to type but you can't teach them to grow tits", we're well out of President Bartlett's office here. But Charlie's tenacity transfers over to the political world making him an appealing mover and shaker who in the end becomes truly committed and puts a damper on his more lascivious vices.

Of course without proper intel Wilson would be at a loss which is where the bristling Gust Avrakatos comes in. Hoffman plays the character with gusto, abandoning the moroseness and desperation of the last two characters he played this year and creating a wry, uber-competent company man. Hoffman wears his paunch, bad tie and worse mustache like battle armor as he barges into one situation after another like a bulldozer who wants to just get the problem solved immediately. He steals every scene he's in, biting into Sorkin's dialogue like it's a snickers bar. If Seymour is the highlight of the film it's lowlight is Roberts. She's completely servicable in the part of a blustery Texas heiress with a passion for Jesus and the betterment of Middle Eastern countries. Then again Roberts as anyone but Roberts these days is a bit hard to believe. There's a reason she basically played herself in Notting Hill, Ocean's Twelve and alluded to it in America's Sweethearts. I just don't buy her. Oh and also she gives Adams and the angels a hard time so boom right away she's on my shit list. Still Roberts presence has been played up more for the sake of bringing butts to seats then is proportionate to her actual role in the movie. Oh the perils of being a movie about current events these days.
Of course Charlie Wilson's War separates itself from the pack by being fun. A lot of fun. Could a bugged bottle of scotch, a belly-dancer and three guys in a room have completely changed the world? Sorkin certain makes you believe it. Oh sure it reminds you that for all his good intentions Wilson was essentially arming what would become our enemy but the film's final mantra "we'll see" Sorkin reminds us that history is never over and there is still a chance for us to make it right. It's certainly more uplift then audiences got from Lions for Lambs or In the Valley of Elah. After all wasn't it Sorkin who said:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why? Because it's the only thing that ever has.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What is it about treasure that makes Americans such dumbasses

So let's see here, three (3) great movies opened this weekend and factor in all the older but no less great films like No Country, Juno and of course Enchanted and what may you ask was number one at the box office over the combined might of Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks and John C. Riley...

National FUCKING Treasure 2

Nice, real nice. Hey forthcoming brilliant portrayal of Joker as essayed by Heath Ledger, what do we think about that?
Yeah, thought so.

Much thanks to beacoupkevin.com for the pic.

Random Film Thought: Spencer & Tracy and my Old Person whining

Today I was lucky enough to stumble onto a TCM airing of George Cukor's Pat and Mike, I decided to stick around and watch as I'm a fan of Adam's Rib which features the same stars, writers and director. Those stars in question are of course Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, a classy celebrity coupling that, to my estimation, outdoes any combination of Bennifers, Brangelinas and Filliam H. Muffmans (sigh, I miss you Stephen Colbert). Though both actors did sterling work individually, together they possess a chemistry the likes of which is almost impossible to find on-screen.

What helps is that Hepburn though very attractive is not a conventional beauty and that Tracy is about seven years her senior. This prevents them from looking too perfect and unattainable in their coupling. You could believe that Tracy won over Hepburn with his charm, decency and gruff exterior, while Hepburn, well...there was simply no actress in Hollywood, in the world really, like Hepburn. Bryn Mawr educated, athletic, with a blistering wit and razor sharp timing, Hepburn had no equal. Well served in both comedy and drama, to my mind the couple was never better than when they were in romantic comedies where affection pours between the seams of every scene. Even when their characters bicker they're just so damn sweet. Tracy might throw Hepburn a look or Hepburn might crinkle her nose at a particular remark and it's glorious, even in my cropped TV version they're practically glowing at each other.

The reason I bring this up is because I was chatting with some folks at a Christmas party the other night and the issue of romance in relationships came up. At some point I maintained that while you have to put some effort in romance never completely fades away and there's nothing wrong when occasionally manufacturing some when it's needed. Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist and romantic but I think watching any Hepburn and Tracy pairing more than proves my point even if it is only a movie.

Do you have any onscreen pairings that you thought transcended the story and really made you believe they were in love? Jon Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything? Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!? Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (thanks for the reminder Scott)? Put 'em in the comments. Oh please, please do, I'll be your best friend.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I took it in the face and walked as hard as I could

The Judd Apatow produced Jake Kasdan film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is something of a departure from the more emotionally honest comic beats that have been Apatow's comic bread and butter for the last several years. Walk Hard is a broad spoof more along the lines of Airplane or Blazing Saddles though it isn't quite consistent enough to stand beside those two films. It IS however head and shoulders above more recent genre spoofing found in the likes of (shudder) Date Movie and Epic Movie. The reason for this being that the creative team has found a ripe subject (musical biopics) and found the kinks in the armor. The film also has a powerful weapon in lead John C. Riley who brings real conviction to Johnny Cash inspired analogue Dewey Cox.

Cox follows the same patterns that the filmic Cash and Ray Charles in Ray established. All three men have humble farm based beginnings that have inciting incidents that culminate in the death of a sibling and/or the loss of a sense. In Cox's case he accidentally slices his piano prodigy brother in half with a machete and loses his sense of smell. His father (Raymond J. Barry) firmly intones that "the wrong kid died" a trope that becomes his catch-phrase throughout the movie. From there he goes on as a teen sensation whose perfectly innocuous song "Take My Hand" causes sexual awakening and disgust to its listeners. From their he sets off with his unsupportive girlfriend-cum-wife played by Kristen Wiig. Cox finds success in the recording studio (run by several orthodox Jews that run all media) with the song "Walk Hard" and from there finds fame, fortune and a frisky partner in the form of Darlene Madison (a very game and incredibly sexy Jenna Fischer). From there it's the typical path of drugs, rehab, family, disco special, lifetime achievement award tribute etc. The film takes the arc and laughs at its conventions while underlining them with aplomb. There is also a gag toward the end of the movie that is down-right Airplane-esque and an absolute classic.

As Cox, Riley hits his marks time and again lunk-headed aplomb and pleasant voice with a genuine Southern twang. He gives this movie something the other movies passing themselves of as parodies lack, actual character. Though the performance may be broad it is deeply felt and Riley knows he needs to bring it to every scene. Fischer and Wiig make for game romantic partners and Fischer especially relishes in being a vixen. There's a moment during one of the film's best song a double entendre filled gem appropriately titled "Let's Duet" (get it?) where she turns her back towards Riley and...how best to put this, offers him her rear. Awesome. Cox also has a reliable backing band comprised of Tim Meadows, Matt Besser and Chris Parnell. I was hoping these guys would get a chance to become to Cox what the channel six news-team was to Ron Burgundy. Unfortunately the needs of the story get in the way and only Meadows get an amusing recurring gag as a hypocritical voice of conscience simultaneously engaging in drug use while trying to warn Cox of the dangers of drugs use. Hopefully the DVD will reveal that these guys had more to do. Jonah Hill, Craig "Daryl from the Office" Robinson and David Krumholtz also have shining comic moments.

These films live and die on their editing and the film lives comfortably in its hour and a half long run time. There's a lot of characters in here and it's nice to see everyone get a moment to shine. Many of these comedy ringers are brought in to essay legendary musical figures. Each time they come across Dewey the film makes sure you know whose being talked to and is double underlined. Its an amusing approach but it may wear out its welcome pretty quick if the novelty of the cameos doesn't do anything for you. The one that will unquestionably work for everyone is when Cox meets the Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo are played by Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman respectively. The scene nails the Beatles during their Maharishi days, especially the in-fighting. Lenon has a blistering insult against McCartney that had me ROLLING on the floor in gales of laughter. But the film is ultimately more concerned with ticking ff the checklist of music biopic cliches then to let the best comic scenes room to breathe.
In the end the film works more then it doesn't but it isn't the comedy classic I was hoping for. What absolutely works though is the soundtrack. Apatow has rounded up a variety of song-writers to pen a number of outstanding ditties that serve to spoof various trends in American pop and rock music. The songs not only evoke Cash but also Elvis, the Band, Roy Orbison, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, the Big Bopper, Brian Wilson, The Beatles and more. What's especially great is that these songs not only sound accurate to the given artists' styles but they're both pleasant to listen to and incredibly funny. The deluxe soundtrack of the film is filled with gems that were inexplicably cut from the film including the spot on "Boy Named Sue" parody "A Hole in My Pants", and PP&M message songs such as "Dear Mr. President" and "The Mulatto Song." I would heartily recommend the soundtrack to any music fan but recommend the film to fans of broad comedy.

It's man devouring man my dear/and who are we to deny it in here

Oh man was I ready to hate this movie. Just tear it to shreds for it's head-scratching choices (paramount among them being the casting of non-singers in a musical) but Sweeney Todd works. It works SPECTACULARLY. Burton's film is a high-wire act, daring and threatening at any given moment to fall precariously to its doom. But Burton never wavers, not for one moment, he charges boldly ahead aided by the top-shelf material on hand by Stephen Sondheim and book by Harold Wheeler.
The story of Sweeney Todd has stuck in the popular consciousness in some form or another since the late nineteenth century, but it was popularized by the 1973 musical by Sodheim starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou as Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney. The recent revival by director John Doyle gave an effecting spin on the piece by having its performer play their own instruments. The conceit was used to great effect and added some intriguing layers and subtext. It was also probably one of the best productions I've ever seen on Broadway and set the bar very high for the film version of Sweeney. But despite all odds Burton nails his adaptation. In casting actors over singers he succeeds where The Producers failed. Burton takes advantage of the fact that he can tells his story on film, showing the actors in close, swinging his camera around and cutting from location to location. He's also able to show-off an amount of gore unprecedented and incapable of being produced in stage versions of the show. Shooting so often in close-up allows for an intimacy that doesn't require superior vocal work. These are pained, angry, vicious people whose passion bubbles over into song. This also explains why Burton has omitted the ensemble based numbers. The songs are refelctions of pained individuals working with a group wouldn't quite work.

The story follows barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) who upon returning to London after years in prison for a crime he didn't commit returns to find his wife dead and child under the care of the man who sent him away, Judge Turpin (a spot-on Alan Rickman). Barker takes up residence with "worst-pie maker in London" Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and he becomes Sweeney Todd, a man obsessed with revenge. The two hatch a plan that will serve both their purposes, Todd will enact his revenge on the over-privileged class that has done him wrong and Mrs. Lovett will use their bodies as meat for her pies. John Logan's script cuts down the story to its bear essentials (greatly parring down Sweeney's daughter Johanna and helpful sailor Anthony romance-much to my relief). Depp's voice has a pop-rock-ish sensibility echoing the likes of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. He gives great brooding, as is appropriate for the character, but when he finally gets what he thinks he wants the facade crumbles and Depp shows off the central turmoil at the heart of Todd. Depp is at his best when the character is at the height of his passion which is why he's so thrilling in numbers like "The Epiphany" and "No Place Like London." The bigger names in the supporting cast are lots of fun. Alan Rickman is perefctly suited to the wicked and perverse Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall basically plays the R-rated version of his lackey from Enchanted. Sascha Baron Cohen makes a big splash as the supremely entertaining Singnor Pirelli, a rival barber for Todd as he shows off impressive vocal range as well as his junk. Of course, Cohen being entertaining was never in question.

The real surprise here though is Helena Bonham Carter. I was ready to cry nepotism as her thin, reedy voice hardly makes her a contender for playing Nellie Lovett. However, Bonham Carter intrinsically gets the character. She's a classic co-dependent and enabler for Sweeney. All she wants is his happiness and wants desperately for him to notice her romantically. She has intense home-making instincts but she's really the mother from hell. This never comes off better than in "By the Sea" where she envisions a domestic life for herself and Sweeney and Burton gets to show-off a particularly playful side. Of the unknowns in the cast Ed Sanders does a first-rate job as what has to be the youngest Toby in the history of the show. He does a fine job with "God that's good" and "Not while I'm around" and helps complete the twisted family unit that Mrs. Lovett is trying to put together.
The real star of the movie though at the end of the day is Burton's direction. The film breezes by and is entertaining from the first frame to the last. While Burton is occassionally hitting the same goth notes that made him famous it never feels as though his sensibility is over-taking the story. He provides exciting visual flourishes to each number so that while they may not have the most dynamic singing ability they're incredibly fun to watch, assuming you're the type that takes glee from gallons of Hammer horror-style blood.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Link Hard

It's Friday and you know what that means, time to show off my favorite links of the past week, no time for delay, there's simply too many movies out there (ugh, why do they always hold back so many gems until December):

I've talked about some of my favorite film critic's on the site before; Sarris, Scott, Mitchell, Ebert, Kael, Canby, Sikov and Hoberman but I don' think you've really dug into film criticism until you've read a review by Neil Cumpston, a sporadic contributor to aicn. He got an early look at Cloverfield and shared his insights with the site. Broaden your mind here.

Etan pointed me in the direction of this one. Supernova hot screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) posted her top ten criterion DVDs. I wish everyone did this (oooo THERE'S a feature idea for down the line). Take a look here.

Speaking of Ms. Cody I spent entirely too much time this week reading her incredibly entertaining blog. It doesn't hurt that she's super cute, incredibly intelligent and completely self-deprecating. It also doesn't hurt that she puts up naughty pictures of herself. Her new blog can be found here and the older one can be found here. I would recommend starting with the oldest entry in the old blog and work your way up to the present.

I love the Onion AV Club with the fire of a thousand suns, so you know I get excited when they put up their best of the year list (I've already seen eight of them WOO!). How'd you stack up? Find out here.

A lot of directors grew for the better this year and the IFC agrees with me. Check out who they said followed the first half of Paula Abdul's and MC Skat Cat's advice by taking two steps forward by clicking here.

Thanks to CHUD for constantly pimping this next one. So a couple weeks ago director Edgar Wright hosted this incredibly cool event in LA called the Wright Stuff festival. The man is as good a promoter as he is a director. The line-up was insane and those of us not in LA can still get in on the fun because the good folks at Metroblogging recorded the Q&A's with some of Edgar's amazingly cool guests. Among the luminaries were Shane Black, John Landis, Joe Dante, Timothy Dalton and Paul Williams. You can download these here but be warned the sound quality is not great so try to listen at home or make sure you have very high quality head phones. These are a real treat especially if you like hearing people speak candidly. Shane Black is ESPECIALLY hilarious.

The folks at 30 second bunny theatre are at it AGAIN. This time their target is Spider-Man 3. Good stuff. Click here for an excuse to enjoy bunnies.

And speaking of Spider-Man 3, I found this guy off-I want to say pajiba. I'll be talking about this in my increasingly daunting sounding year end wrap-up (that actually won't be arriving until mid-January) but I really liked the dancing in Spider-Man 3. So in that noble tradition here is one insanely fun swing dance routine.

Open Question for Everyone, I beg you please take the time to comment on this one

So the next two weeks will be jam packed with reviews (if all goes according to plan figure AT LEAST six new releases getting looked at) and up to now I've been fairly content in leaving the reviews scoreless/grade-less. My question to you my loyal readers (who are awesome btw and now have me at over 1,000 hits in less then a month) is should I start including a grade or x out of 10 type score for the films I watch? I have no qualms if that's what the people want. Please let me know if that's something you'd be interested in and how you would like the score/grade expressed in the comments below. Much thanks.

Oh and as far as looking ahead looks like I owe someone a serious apology. I guess the pie I'll be eating is of the humble variety.
Sorry I was mean, can we be BFF?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ewwwwww

William Friedkin's Bug is a definite return to form for the director who burned bright in the 70's and has kind of been fading since then. His newest film shows that the man's still got it. Released early this past summer right before the onset of the blockbusters and playing festival circuits back in 2006, Bug is not the sort of movie that unites audiences in any one sort of feeling, unless that feeling is extreme discomfort. Based on a play by Tracy Letts, Bug is a nasty, vile little movie but it may just also be brilliant. It's horrific but I wouldn't necessarily call it a horror movie. The title may be conjuring up all sorts of images in your head about devouring swarms, insect monsters but nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of some insert shots of nature footage during a very... uncomfortable sex scene you don't really see any bugs at all. The movie's discomfort stems from its atmosphere (easily one of the most disgusting hotel rooms in cinema history) one which constantly evokes bugs without ever showing them. Friedkin knows how to evoke the sort of feelings that give you the heebie-jeebies. There is some deep seated paranoia running through the flick and the metaphor used to convey this sense that the problem is under the skin. Ugh. If you don't mind watching a challenging, discomforting film (which I should point out is a perfectly fine thing for a film to be) you could do worse than Bug. If you haven't figured out by now though, this film does NOT have a happy ending.

Here are a list of things you aren't going to want to do after watching Bug:
Lie in a bed
Brush your teeth
Shower
Live in a city
Live alone
Have sex
Eat food
Drink water
Stay in a hotel
Wear clothes
Wear your own skin
Talk to other people

So just a little head's up for you.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc



Leo: [on the phone with the New York Times] 17 across. Yes, 17 across is wrong... You're spelling his name wrong... What's my name? My name doesn't matter. I am just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation. And I'm telling you that I met the man twice. And I recommended a pre-emptive Exocet missile strike against his air force, so I think I know how...
C.J.: Leo.
Leo: They hang up on me every time.
C.J: That's almost hard to believe


I headed over to imdb today and was caught by surprise seeing that it was John Spencer's birthday, or would have been. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Spencer or knowing him on a personal level, but in some way or another as a performer he was always in my life. As a character actor he was a ubiquitous presence as government agents and other assorted suits and bastards throughout the 90's in films like Cop Land, The Rock and The Negotiator. I later learned of his remarkable work in stage production such as Still Life and Execution of Justice. But John Spencer will always be known for one role and one role only. As President Bartlet's chief of Staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing, Spencer was a distinguished presence amongst an ensemble cast for which there are simply not enough superlatives.

Leo: And you think ratcheting up the body count's gonna act as a deterrent?
Bartlet: You're damn right I-
Leo: Oh, then you are just as stupid as these guys who think capital punishment is going to be a deterrent for drug kingpins. As if drug kingpins didn't live their day to day lives under the possibility of execution, and their executions are a lot less dainty than ours and tend to take place without the bother and expense of due process. So, my friend, if you want to start using American military strength as the arm of the Lord, you can do that. We're the only superpower left. You can conquer the world, like Charlemagne! But you better be prepared to kill everyone. And you better start with me, because I will raise up an army against you and I will beat you!
Bartlet: He had a ten day old baby at home.
Leo: I know.
Bartlet: We are doing nothing.
Leo: We are not doing nothing.
Bartlet: We're destroying-
Leo: Four high-rated military targets!
Bartlet: And this is good?
Leo: Of course it's not good. There is no good. It's what there is! It's how you behave if you're the most powerful nation in the world. It's proportional, it's reasonable, it's responsible, it's merciful! It's not nothing. Four high-rated military targets.
Bartlet: Which they'll rebuild again in six months.
Leo: Then we'll blow 'em up again in six months! We're getting really good at it... It's what our fathers taught us.
Bartlet: Why didn't you say so? Oh, Leo...when I think of all the work you put in to get me to run and all the work you did to get me elected...I could pummel your ass with a baseball bat.


It was Spencer's work on The West Wing that exposed him to his widest audience and as far as I'm concerned where he did his best work. A recovering alcoholic, McGarry was an all-too flawed individual, as a former Vietnam vet he had the military experience to counsel Bartlet in times of war and as a bit of hard-ass he was the one who would do the scolding when someone in the office had gotten off-track. In backup features on the DVD it's established that Martin Sheen's Bartlet and Spencer's McGarry served as the parents of the cast (exactly who was the mother and who was the father is a much bandied about joke) and it shows. Both lent the necessary authority and love to their roles and when Spencer died it absolutely made it clear that a White House under the Bartlet administration could not continue. From his relationship with his assistant Margaret (the always reliable NiCole Robinson) to his show defining speech to Josh (Bradley Whitford) Spencer brought legitimacy to every scene and every relationship on the show. He could always be relied upon as the dramatic fulcrum of the show whether it was his crumbling marriage as a result of his long hours at the office, or under indictment by congress for unconstitutional actions, Spencer's work made the viewer even more invested in the characters and their lives. Hell the man even showed of he could do screwball romantic banter (the most disproportionately challenging thing an actor can do) in scenes with Kristin Chenoweth and Joanna Gleason. Sometimes when you're watching truly great drama you get a certain tingle up your spine as story and character build and build and you get more interested and then more invested. It was John Spencer's work that most elicited that feeling on the show and the world is a smaller, sadder place without him in it.

My 3 favorite small but incredibly powerful John Spencer moments on West Wing:
3. In flashback, a struggling Bartlet campaign is on the ropes and the Presidential hopeful needs something to help convey his message to a wider audience. In a private meeting Leo basically turns the whole campaign around by writing something down on a cocktail napkin and gradually revealing the new message of the campaign. "In my head I keep seeing these words over and over." Bartlet for America.

2. After two seasons of lying through omission, president Bartlet reveals he has MS. Naturally this puts whether he'll seek a second term into question. In the very final moments of the second season at a press conference in the middle of what has to be the most dramatically well-timed rainstorm EVER, the president fields just such a question. No one knows for sure what his answer will be, except best friend and confidant Leo McGarry. As the world holds its breathe awaiting Bartlet's answer the camera cuts to Spencer who firmly and plainly states "Watch this" and then Martin Sheen puts his hands his pockets. Cut to credits.

1. In the end The West Wing was a show about dedicated professionals who loved each other as much as they loved their work in public service. Perhaps no moment in the entire series better epitomizes this as a scene where Leo confronts Josh after his post-traumatic breakdown and reminds him of a simple inexorable fact.
Leo: [to Josh] This guy's walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here!" and the friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out." As long as I got a job, you got a job, you understand me?

Here's one of the better tribute vids they had on youtube:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

HEY! Who's got two thumbs and is now a legitimate member of the Film Blogosphere?

This GUY!

Hooray! I am as pleased as punch to have been accepted into my first blog-a-thon. I will do my best to be equal to my classier blog peers. You can be they sure as hell don't try to squeeze in a mention of Enchanted in every post (DAMNNIT!). You can find out more by clicking here.

And for a sampling of what you'll be in for you can click here.

Ooooooh who am I going to pick?

Oh and hey guys, thanks for helping me crack one thousand.

Random Film Thought: Missing you?

Warning: This post is a product of insomnia conjoined with hours of reading Diablo Cody's blog and the Onion AV Club's top films of 2007 list. You'll inevitably encounter vain attempts at being clever alongside nonsensical, incoherent ramblings. Enjoy!

As I slowly begin to prepare my final top 20 of 2007 (which by the way is at any time or place, including well into 2008, up for revision) I've begun to ponder, does distance help or hinder what one thinks of a film? Pauline Kael would infamously only watch a film once (she would rarely revisit) and only once to put it under critical analysis (but fuck that, I'm a Sarris boy). I can see Kael's reasoning though. The critic's opinion is undiluted, pure, unfiltered feeling and rationalizing right after seeing the subject. There's been some to consider but the film but for the most part it's fresh.
When you've first seen a film, say in the first day or so of its release, maybe you've only gotten a minimum of advanced word, maybe read a review or two before you headed into the theatre so as a result that first impression is pristine. Whatever you think isn't being subject to anyone or anything but you. But see a movie a couple of weeks into its release with some critical leg-work behind it or some bad word of mouth and that's going to affect how you look at it. "Obviously", you might think to yourself. Now I know I have plenty of strong independent thinkers who read this blog and would never stoop (stoop? yeah stoop) to let their own opinion be guided by what a critic has to say, or betray their own passion just to fall in line with what's popular. But the fact of the matter is we are all effected by our environment (unless of course we're all wingless angels guided like puppets by lil' Georgie's lord) however imperceptibly and it gives me pause to think "do I like/dislike No Country for Old Men because I liked other Coen brother movies and since everyone else likes this one I ought to. Furthermore as I get farther away from it will it become clearer that I admired it on a technical level but am losing a personal interest in a cinematic but still fairly rote adaptation of the book?" AHHHHHHH! Perspective, where did you go? Probably down the well into the land of no-happily-ever-after. (And with that my once an entry mention of Enchanted quota is FILLED).
What the hell am I getting at? Do you ever find yourself altering your opinion because of critical consensus? Have your feelings about a movie ever radically changed depending on when you saw it? Let me throw out a few examples. I saw Lost In Translation several months after its release at which point critics were tripping over themselves to sing the flick's praises. I thought it was perfectly pleasant but hardly the world breaker everyone had been trumpeting. On the other end of the spectrum is the delirious religious experience of being first in line at the old Mann Valley West 7 a very special May 1999. The nerds know what I'm talking about. Oh man, there were a lot of delusional nerds in a state of faux-euphoria walking out of the theatre that day. UGH! I liked the Phantom Menace, but I promise I only liked it for that first week I swear. What? I was going to say I didn't like it? I'd only been waiting for a new Star Wars movie since I was five!?!?!? Oh how I pity high school me. So what of it mesa-bloggers (BTW that was a Jar-Jar reference not a geographical one) how has time shifted your feelings on a film either positively or negatively.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Funny thing about my back

Alright time for some mutual love and admiration. Terry Wunder has been kind enough to pimp the hell out of my site over on his own amusing blog. He also suggested I host something called an "immigration booze cruise." Not a big fan of cruises as its basically an excuse for terrible off-Broadway actors to get a steady paycheck as "ship's entertainment" and eat a metric ton of unhealthy food. Since I live in New York City I'm exposed to both of those things on a daily basis without the need for Dramamine. I was also grouped into a category of potential hosts with no less an august personage as Joe Rogan. I tip my hat hat to Terry for picking the second oddest comedian I've ever been compared to. The first being the people on my Israel trip saying I'd be the next Bill Maher. I was insulted for like a day before I was told this was a compliment. Hah, to Bill Maher maybe.

In addition to having the second coolest name of an actual real person I have ever met (Harvey Justice being the first) Terry's blog is packed to the rafters with awesome. Bitchin' video links, musings on what a woman's reading material tells you about her and the greatest overview of the plot of The Darjeeling Limited EVER! The "Save a Boy?" line makes me laugh every time. Terry himsef is a pretty great guy, we've had good times making up ridiculous Will Ferrell-esque exclamations and he's still my friend despite the fact I've made like nine variations of the "hungry an hour later" joke to his face. What a guy.

So in honor of Terry's virtual HJ (I don't doubt at least some of the influx of hits I've been getting have been coming from him-but come on CITs leave a comment) here is a mini tribute to him based on a song his kids used to sing about him. Give it about a minute to get there. It'll make sense. This is from George Miller's 2006 film Happy Feet which would have been my Enchanted of last year if not for the bizarre tonal shift half-way through. But oh well musical theatre penguins still save the world through song and dance so really I can't get too upset about it. Clip starts at the 3:00 minute mark.


One final note, the title refers to a line from Superbad wherein a character says to Jonah Hill's Seth that if he'll scratch her back, she'll scratch his. I trust you know the rest.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Night Monologue: Nothing small in the bar

There never has been nor ever will there be an actor as universally liked as James "Jimmy" Stewart. Working with some of the greatest directors of all-time (Hitchcock, Ford, Cukor, Lubitsch, Preminger, Aldrich, Siegel and of course Capra) Stewart made a name for himself as the charming but humble, normal American man. Some directors, like Hitchcock, found clever ways to subvert this image, Anthony Mann virtually made his name in Westerns by skewering the traditional Stewart persona. To be fair Stewart lived a a time of less celebrity intrigue, he never had to deal with the National inquirer or TMZ or god help us all thesuperficial.com. Stewart played good guys, decent guys and the public loved him for it because that's all they ever saw. No actor served as a better public barometer of human decency with the possible exception of Gregory Peck. Stewart is quite simply the man.

It's interesting to note though that for all his collaborators one of the films Stewart is best known for is Harvey. Based on the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase. Harvey is about kind, happy-go-lucky fellow Elwood P. Dowd whose best friend happens to be a six foot three rabbit. The other problem is that Harvey is invisible. His society obsessed sister does not take kindly to Elwood's delusion and wants him committed to spare their family embarrassment. Elwood, however, is such a decent guy and so innocent that he keeps dodging being "cured." (Yes Richard Kelly took some inspiration from this for Donnie Darko). The film isn't much on a technical level, in fact its as simple and down to Earth as its protagonist. The film gets by on the strength of its lead and the script.

You can run this clip from the start until about 4:33. The screenplay is by Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney.



Elwood: Harvey and I sit in the bars, have a drink or two, play the jukebox. And soon the faces of all the other people turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers and soon we have friends and they come over and sit with us and they drink with us and they talk to us and they tell about the big terrible things they’ve done. And the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes, their regrets, their loves and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then, I introduce them to Harvey. And he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?

Doctor Sanderson: How did you end up calling him Harvey?

Elwood: Well, Harvey's his name!

Sanderson: How do you know that?

Elwood: Well, actually, there was a rather interesting coincidence on that, Doctor. One night, several years ago, I was walking early in the evening down on Fairfax Street between 18th and 19th. I had just put Ed Hickey into a taxi--Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin, and...I just felt that he needed conveying. Well, anyway, I was walking down along the street, and I heard this voice saying, "Good evening, Mister Dowd." Well, I turned around, and here was this big 6-foot-tall rabbit leaning up against a lamppost. Well, I thought nothing of that, since when you've lived in a town as long as I've lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everyone knows your name. So naturally, I went over to chat with him. And he said to me, he said, 'Ed Hickey was a bit spiffed this evening, or could I be mistaken?' Well, of course, he was *not* mistaken. I think the world and all of Ed, but he was *spiffed*. Well, we talked like that for awhile, and then I said to him, I said, "You have the advantage on me. You know my name, and I don't know yours." And right back at me, he said, "What name do you like?" Well, I didn't have to think twice about that. Harvey's always been my favorite name. So I said to him, I said, "Harvey." And --this is the interesting thing about the whole thing--he said, "What a coincidence. My name happens to be Harvey.
Stewart's conviction is a thing of beauty. Only the most hard-ass cynics and critics walk away from Harvey convinced Harvey isn't real. The film seems especially interesting in light of The Golden Compass a film (yes, yes and a book) which features a person's soul as an animal called a daemon. I would argue that Harvey is Elwood's daemon, except in this case the daemon is invisible. I realize that the film is pretty light but honestly how often do movies ever really examine public decorum and social behavior directly. Harvey is a simple pleasure but a pleasure none the less.

Savage Love

In the nine year interval between her last film The Slums of Beverly Hills and her new film The Savages, director/writer Tamara Jenkins has clearly spent the time building her craft so that she can execute tonal shifts as quickly as one might flick a razor. The film can, within the same moment, produce big belly laughs and then leave an audience in stunned emotional silence (and perhaps more impressively vice-a-versa). Given its pedigree of actors I had no doubt that the film would work well as an affecting drama, but to double as such an outstanding comedy was truly a pleasant surprise. Utilizing the tremendous gifts of her three leads Jenkins has crafted one of the best films of the year.

The Savages feels like Margot at the Wedding's older, wiser and more patient sibling film. Both films feature damaged East Coast intellectuals with toxic familial relationships. Both feature women who cull from their real lives for their art and both women are also having affairs with married men. Savages however, is less aggressive and has less vitriol for its characters and in comparison seems less out-sized. I realized I touted Margot's naturalism when I originally reviewed it, but in retrospect the character was so big and monstrous that one really had to look to find her humanity. Not so in The Savages, here everyone feels real and wears that reality on their sleeve.

In the film Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play siblings whose insular and barely functioning lives are interrupted when their elderly father's girlfriend dies shortly after he begins to suffer from dementia. The father, Lenny, played by ubiquitous "that guy" actor Phillip Bosco (you've probably seen him as a a judge on one of the Law & Orders) is a mess. Losing control of his facilities, shouting at inappropriate times and is generally unaware of his surroundings, yet Bosco also shows us that there is a sense that there is a functional man at the fringe of his psychosis during brief flashes of lucidity and that man is frustrated.

In taking care of their father, theatre professor Jon Savage (Hoffman) and temp-cum-playwright Wendy Savage (Linney) are at first overwhelmed, then inconvenienced and finally exasperated. As the film progresses we begin to learn that Lenny was hardly an ideal father as Jon ominously intones to his worried sister that "We're doing better by the old man then he ever did for us." The two initially move him from an elderly community in Sun City, Arizona to an assisted living center in Buffalo, New York where the weather matches the film's general mood nicely. Wendy is guilt ridden over putting Lenny in a home and constantly tries to audition him for more upscale facilities, but Lenny is no shape for it.

There is a small but telling bit of business early on in the film that neatly establishes the entire sibling dynamic between Jon and Wendy. When the two initially go to sign their father up at the old age home in Buffalo they are offered his sign in papers. Wendy reaches at first but John is a second faster and snatches the papers away from her and quickly signs them. There is a flash of Wendy's disappointment as John glances at her, he gestures to offer her the paper as if to say "What are you gonna do with them now?" and she shrugs declining them. It's such a tiny, brief moment but any other pair of actors would be hard pressed to replicate it. It establishes a tremendous amount abut the dynamic. The attempts at humanism on Wendy's part coupled with John's more controlling and pragmatic nature.
In having their distant father be so close to them in his rapidly deteriorating state serves as redemptive for both characters. The lies in their relationships are stripped away, they gradually find personal and professional success and slowly but surely the two begin to function better. But it's a long, slow road and it hardly feels pat or Hallmark-y. I realize that from my description that The Savages may not seem like much of a comedy, but let me assure you that the film has plenty of laughs along the way. Hoffman and Linney know how to snipe at each other the way only siblings can. Factor in the fact that outside their spheres of work the two aren't especially well functioning and you have almost instant laughs any time the two are out in public. Jenkins also frequently presents the two in perfectly centered single shots to better underline their isolation. While the bulk of the comedy is largely character based the film is not above taking a few subtle wipes at broader social concerns, not the least of which being the culture of assisted living, the mortgage crisis, misallocated FEMA funds and Medicare (after all, we live in society where stolen percocettes are a boon, not a crime).

The Savages
may be a small film but it serves as a huge emotional experience. One would be hard pressed not to find it relatable at some point, as age and decay is ultimately inevitable as the films wisely shows us. It may seem bleak but it is an enormously satisfying viewing experience and if you have even the slightest interest in the material I would whole-heartedly recommend it.