Wednesday, January 31, 2007

R.I.P.: Molly Ivins (1944-2007)

Quick: What do Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, River Phoenix, James Dean and Molly Ivins have in common? The answer: Each died while poised on the brink of movie superstardom. Seriously.

In recent years, Ivins -- the unapologetically progressive and exuberantly feisty author and columnist -- had become the go-to gal for documentarians seeking pithy and prickly commentary on Texas politics and politicians. Indeed, she provided some of the brightest, sharpest and wittiest insights in movies as diverse as Bush's Brain, Last Man Standing and The Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress. Her death at the ridiculously young age of 62 is a tragedy. While she was here, though, she made her indelible and inestimable mark. To pay her the greatest tribute I can think of: She left this world a better place than it would have been without her in it.

Post No. 300: Real men like chick flicks and rom-coms

Does this mean it's OK for me to admit how much I enjoyed In Her Shoes? And that I smiled a lot while watching Two Weeks Notice and Something's Gotta Give? Don't get me wrong: I also think Hellboy kicked ass. And Batman Begins rocked the house. But when I think of how close Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon came to not getting back together in Love Actually, well... Excuse me, I think I need a Kleenex.

Insert joke about lightsaber here

Or is Sienna Miller "just a really good actress" opposite Hayden Christensen in Factory Girl? Or was The Force with them? Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

DVD viewing tip: 'The Motel'

Michael Kang's The Motel -- one of my favorite films released in 2006, and a Best First Feature nominee at the Feb. 24 Independent Spirit Awards -- has been released on DVD. Consider yourself tipped: It's well worth your time and money.

R.I.P.: Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007)

Sidney Sheldon's enormous success as an author of best-selling page-turners -- Bloodline and The Other Side of Midnight, both turned into potboiler movies, and several other titles that inspired scads of miniseries -- has largely overshadowed many of his earlier accomplishments. During the 1960s and '70s, he created the popular TV shows Hart to Hart and I Dream of Jeannie, and wrote several episodes of The Patty Duke Show. And during his heyday as a Hollywood scriptwriter, he earned an Academy Award -- Best Original Screenplay -- for writing 1947's The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

Even so, it wasn't until he decided to try his hand at novels -- at the age of 50! -- that he achieved the status of a pop culture icon. Let this be a lesson to us all: You're never too old to become, for better or worse, a phenomenon.

(BTW: Think we'll see a photo of Sheldon during the "In Memorial" segment of the Feb. 25 Oscarcast?)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This weekend's No. 1 box-office draw: 'Epic Movie'

It's from the makers of Date Movie -- which was reason enough for me to miss it. But never mind: It drew masses to the megaplexes, so I'm sure the producers didn't care that I stayed far way.

Festivales de la película

Top jury prizes at Slamdance and Sundance have gone to dramatic features with Spanish accents.

Love stories

This New York Daily News article on contemporary romantic comedies reminds me of a joke that journalists often tell: Q. What is a trend? A. Two facts and a reporter on deadline. Something tells me that somebody dreamed up a premise for a Sunday think piece without bothering to fully consider that, hey, maybe a handful of under-achieving movies do not necessarily signal anything significant.

Indeed, it's actually quite funny to read Joe Neumaier's claim that audiences are turned off by recent rom-coms -- and that "the classic genre seems to have fallen out of step with modern life" -- even as he grudgingly acknowledges that some recent "losers" actually were box-office hits. Yes, even the much-maligned Maid in Manhattan. (Of course, it probably isn't a good idea to go back to 2002 while discussing "contemporary" movie trends, but never mind.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Roger Ebert on Oscars

Sorry to be so late posting this one: The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic waxes thoughtful and philosophical about Oscar contenders. Money quote: "This year's Academy Award nominations, announced Tuesday, contain a few titles that most moviegoers haven't seen and some they haven't heard of. That's perhaps an indication that the Academy voters, who once went mostly for big names, are doing their homework and seeing the pictures."

The miniseries that would not die

Fox News is planning to run a scene that ABC deleted from the controversial -- and, some would say, widely discredited -- Path to 9/11 miniseries. OK, let's have a quick show of hands: How many of you are surprised by this? Someone? Anyone? Bueller?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More on Gore

Evidently, the star of the Oscar-nominated An Inconvenient Truth is now cool enough to be given props -- and encouragement -- by Rolling Stone.

Godless cinema

An overzealous censor removes The Deity from The Queen. I wouldn't dare make this up.

How to Sell an Awful Film in 12 Easy Steps

Confirming everyone's darkest suspicions, "a PR expert reveals the tricks of marketing movies so bad they can't even make the remainder bin." Publicist Susan Self spills the beans (and unclosets the skeletons) for, in an amusing and enlightening story that is certain to greatly peeve certain Internet "critics."

Money quote: "Luckily, a lot of important-sounding movie websites (something like, say, '' or '') belong to lonely guys living in rural hamlets who are desperate for something to write about and easily bribed into giving a film four stars in exchange for some free screeners and a vaguely worded invitation to the 'world premiere.' Of the ten fake movie critic sites that I use, six are in West Virginia, two are in Virginia, one is in Kentucky and one is in North Carolina. Go figure. Most of these guys (and they're always GUYS) can't get Fed Ex deliveries, since they're all on some rural route or use PO Boxes.

"Once they post the glowing tribute on their websites — the links usually arrive in my inbox within ten minutes — I can proudly quote their raves on our movie posters, websites, and marketing materials."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Liquid Experience

All I want to know is: Will this come in a Low Carb version? And will it taste as great as my current fave energy drink?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Al Gore, superstar

So maybe he should announce he's running for President again, while he and his film have smokin' Oscar buzz?

Early Oscar reaction

I must admit: I was hoping against hope for something totally unexpected -- say, a Best Actress nod for Gretchen Mol of The Notorious Bettie Page, or a sentimental nomination for Robert Altman. But never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted such shockers as the Best Picture snub of Dreamgirls -- somebody better put uber-fan David Poland on a suicide watch -- and the Best Actor honor for Ryan Gosling of the widely praised but little seen Half Nelson. This may turn out to be an interesting Oscar race after all.

And for the record: No, I'm not disappointed that Sacha Baron Cohen didn't get a Best Actor nomination for Borat. Truth to tell, I never could understand why some folks were so convinced that an extended sketch-comedy turn was some kind of brilliant acting.

Also for the record: I still think it's entirely possible that The Queen could pull off a Best Picture win for Best Picture.

Monday, January 22, 2007

They got Razzied

Basic Instinct 2 and Little Man grab seven nomiations each as the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation announces this year's contenders for the anti-Oscars known as Razzies. I don't know about you, but I'm putting my money down on "Sharon Stone's Lopsided Breasts" to win the Worst Screen Couple prize. And I wouldn't be surprised if Nicolas Cage gets Razzied as Worst Actor for The Wicker Man. Which raises a question: If the latter does occur, would this make Cage the only actor in history to have an Oscar and a Razzie to his credit?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

'Little Children' on demand (but, perhaps, not in demand enough)

A friend who visited Atlanta this past weekend tells me that Little Children was one of the options at her hotel for in-room pay-per-viewing. So I can't help thinking: No matter how many Oscar nominations the movie may receive on Tuesday, has New Line already written off its prospects as a theatrical release?

In event event: Jack Mathews is predicting nominations for Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (Jackie Earle Haley) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Todd Field, Tom Perrotta). All of which, I'm sure, will look very impressive on the DVD packaging.

DiCaprio denies he is 'cute meat'

Leonardo DiCaprio tells Newsweek during the magazine's annual roundtable discussion with Academy Award hopefuls that, in the wake of Titanic, he seriously thought about taking a sabbatical from acting. No, really. And not because he read my original review of the film.

He complains that, after the 1977 film's spectacular box-office success and multiple Oscar wins, he was back to being considered "another piece of cute meat" -- an image he had wanted to escape after his days on the cover of teen magazines: "It was pretty disheartening to be objectified like that. I wanted to stop acting for a little bit."

And yet, DiCaprio admits, "I can't say that it didn't give me opportunities. It made me, for the first time, in control of my career."

True enough: You can't say things have worked out badly for him since he went down with the ship.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Reports of Ingmar Bergman's death have been greatly exaggerated

I think it says a lot about Richard Corliss' ability to sustain reader interest that no one made it to the second-to-last paragraph of his tedious rant about the Sundance Film Festival. Well, either that, or everyone besides me is too polite to point out that -- no, Richard, Ingmar Bergman has not yet joined the Choir Invisible.

BTW: Just in case the posting has been, ahem, revised by the time you get to it, here's the money quote:

"What's saddest is that the ersatz indie drove out the previously dominant alternative to Hollywood: the foreign film. Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut are dead, but there are still exciting, challenging movies being made in Europe, Latin America and especially Asia. Some of these films get theatrical release, but to see many top films from Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand and India you need to rent them. A good video store or a specialty DVD catalog is the new art house. Trying to get your intellectual fill with Sundance films is like choosing homemade popcorn over the concession-stand variety: higher quality, little nourishment."

Still 'Stomp'-ing

Last weekend's No. 1 is this weekend's No. 1, according to Nikki Finke. But the big news may be the No. 7 ranking for Pan's Labyrnith.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Good luck, Lindsay

I fully realize that it's quite fashionable to make fun of Lindsay Lohan. I also realize that when someone of my, ahem, advanced years speaks kindly of her, it may seem a bit, well, pervy. Like, I care. Anyone who has ever dealt with a loved one with a substance abuse problem will understand where I'm coming from. As for anyone else who has a snarky comment to make, I have an ass for you to kiss.

Lindsay Lohan is a talented individual who has struggled with her own demons, and likely knows the true color of darkness. At the risk of sounding paternalistic: I wish her well as she tries to regain control of her destiny.

Blame everything (including 9/11) on the liberals

Why did al-Qaeda launch the terrorist attacks recently recalled in United 93 and World Trade Center? Because Osama bin Laden was deeply offended by the same sort of immortal movies and TV shows that chafe Michael "Mad Dog" Medved. And how do I know this? Because Dinesh D'Souza, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, says so in his new book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.

OK, I admit, I'm exaggerating -- a little. But consider this snippet from critic Warren Bass' less-than-glowing review of the incendiary tome:

"Here's the main argument, such as it is. Why has al-Qaeda targeted America? 'Not because of U.S. troops in Mecca,' D'Souza writes. 'Not even because of Israel. . . . The suicide bombers of radical Islam are not blowing themselves up because they are distressed over the Gulf War of 1991 or because they are in solidarity with the Palestinians.' Rather, 'what bin Laden objected to was America staying in the Middle East, importing with it the immoral ingredients of American values and culture.' That makes the left 'responsible for 9/11' because it 'has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies' and has waged 'an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures.' In sum, 'the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.'"

Yeah, that's the ticket: They don't really hate Americans. They simply don't like American Pie. Makes perfect sense to me.

Addendum at 5:44 p.m.: More on D'Souza at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

l want you to put your hands together, ladies and gentlemen, and give a warm New Orleans welcome to Bradgelina

They're moving to my hometown, and are already looking to get more involved in local charity work, according to US Magazine: "The couple hopes to raise awareness for the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast region." Angelina is interacting with non-celebrity moms, with Brad is continuing his efforts to encourage construction of environment-friendly homes.

So I would just like to go on record as saying that, henceforth, anyone who makes a snotty remark about Pitt or Jolie can kiss my ass. OK?

And for pretty much the same reason: Spike Lee and Sean Penn are off-limits, too.

Real women have Globes

Shapely ladies "proudly flaunted their voluptuous figures" at the Golden Globes. Yummy.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A moment of Zen during the Golden Globes

Very odd: I'm speaking on the phone to the long-suffering Mrs. Leydon back in Houston (while I'm a hotel room in Dallas) when the Best Director award is announced. (We're both watching the Golden Globes on our respective TVs.) She exclaims: "Oh, Martin Scorsese! That's great! It's about time!" But here's the strange part: She says that about four seconds before I hear the announcement on my TV. I have to ask myself: Do TV signals hit Houston before they hit Dallas? Or what?

Memo to Roger Ebert: Get well soon!

The Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic will be covering the Oscars from the comfort of home this year.

Frisky indie channel

According to the Associated Press, the Independent Film Channel is becoming more aggressively antiestablishmentarian. But the AP errs when it claims that IFP "is making The Bridge, a film about suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge." That film has already been made -- and was highly acclaimed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The original 'Dreamgirl' is back

Diana Ross has just released a new CD with 12 classic love songs, one selection from Broadway's The Color Purple and one original track. And before you ask: No, none of the tunes is from the Dreamgirls score.

Sundancers gone wild

Officials in Park City, Utah, have announced plans for a crackdown on prostitution just in time for this year's Sundance Film Festival in the ski-resort town. But, gee, if you're going to start arresting people who prostitute themselves at Sundance... Well, let's just say that I hope they have rented lots of temporary jail cells for the occasion.

Stomping the competition

This weekend's top attraction at theaters and drive-ins everywhere: Another film aimed primarily at what's euphemistically known the "urban audience," fortuitously timed for the MLK holiday. The money quote from the Associated Press report: "'Sony picked a great weekend to release the film,'" said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. 'The urban audience wields a lot of clout at the box office. If you put a film in the marketplace that has that built-in appeal to that audience, look at the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves.'"

Hail Helen!

It's been a great weekend so far for Helen Mirren. And the accolades should continue on Monday. Jack Mathews certainly thinks so.

Job security for Ken Burns

From the Associated Press: "PBS essentially has given a lifetime contract to documentarian Ken Burns, whose upcoming 14-hour series on World War II was described by network chief Paula Kerger Saturday as his greatest work. Burns, essentially the nation's highest-profile documentarian since his series The Civil War created a sensation, has agreed to air his work exclusively on PBS until 2022, the network said. Burns is 53 now."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Scary stuff, kids

First there was Sleuth (which, inexplicably, now has Smokey and the Bandit in heavy rotation). Now there is Chiller. But what I really want to know is: When will NBC-Universal pull the trigger on a Law & Order cable network? That's right: I want all Law & Order, all the time.

Stranger than fiction

Back in 1970, author Terry Southern imagined a plot to produce a multi-million-dollar porno film as a tourist attraction in his satirical novel Blue Movie. The premise: A famed-but-fading auteur gets the chance to direct a big-budget hard-core feature with big-name actors exposing (and utilizing) their naughty bits. The catch: The movie would have to be filmed and exclusively exhibited in Lichtenstein, which would bankroll the $3-million project as a lure for licentious visitors.

Improbable? Impossible? Well, maybe. But, on the other hand, perhaps not as far-fetched as it might have seemed 37 years ago. Consider this: What if, say, Mark Cuban suddenly decided to produce the ultimate upscale skin flick for direct-to-DVD distribution? And his casting directors could offer tens of millions to various hunks and hotties with more US Magazine covers than box-office hits to their credit?

Wouldn't that be a lot easier to believe than the notion that owners of an Internet piracy site would consider buying their own country to avoid prosecution?

BFCA: 'The Departed" is Best Film of 2006

But Dreamgirls and Little Miss Sunshine actually earned more Critics' Choice Awards last night.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Al Gore: Threat or Menace?

Some parents near Seattle are upset that their children are being exposed to An Inconvenient Truth. Money quote: "'Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher,' said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who doesn't want the film shown at all. 'The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is,' Hardison told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 'The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD.'" Well, no, it isn't. Guess that qualifies as a lack of fair balance, right?

Bloggus interruptus (again)

Sorry about the recent lack of postings. I am on the road, on assignment, and have been unable to take the time sufficient to write anything worthy of my readers. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dance fever

OK, I have to admit: This isn't what usually pops into my mind when I hear the words "Iranian movies." You never know what'll you'll find when you click on a Google Ad link. (Hint, hint.)

R.I.P. Carlo Ponti (1912-2007)

As a prolific producer of international productions, Carlo Ponti's 150-odd credits range from the raw edginess of Italian Neorealism and French New Wave (Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7) to the Pop Art kineticism of the Swinging Sixties (Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, Elio Petri's The 10th Victim) to the sprawling excess of epic cinema and disaster dramas (David Lean's Doctor Zhivago, George P. Cosmatos' The Cassandra Crossing). Not incidentally, he also was known and widely envied as the husband of Sophia Loren.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

DGA nominees announced

Clint Eastwood is conspicuous by his absence from the list. Otherwise, no real surprises to speak of.

Seeing the world through Jerry Orbach's eyes

From the New York Daily News: "[Jerry Orbach] donated his eyes when he died in December 2004, giving sight to two women who needed new corneas. 'I cannot remember a day that went by where he didn't say, "I want to donate my eyes,"' Orbach's widow, Elaine, recalled yesterday...

"Elaine Orbach said one of the actor's corneas went to a woman who needed a nearsighted eye, and the other went to a woman who needed a farsighted one.

"'I wonder if they have an overwhelming desire to watch Law & Order or maybe sing 42nd Street all of a sudden,' she mused."

Hey, maybe they do. Or perhaps they have an urge to look at Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which Orbach played the criminal brother of a respected ophthalmologist (Martin Landau).

Monday, January 08, 2007

The new Dr. Seuss?

OK, I know I'm coming late to the party on this one. But would you like it in a box? Or would you like it from a fox?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

At long last: 2006 in review

To repeat what I wrote two years ago as the preface for a similar countdown: Compiling a list of the year's ten best films is a task I approach with a fair share of ambivalence. Because, let's face it, what I'm really doing is announcing my favorite films of the past 12 months.

Indeed, I have to admit that this year, for a variety of reasons, I feel all the more self-conscious about the sheer arbitrariness of it all. For openers, I’m painfully aware that I simply missed some films that made only fleeting appearances here in Houston, and lacked timely access to others that have figured prominently on the lists of some more geographically fortune critics. (Of course, there will always be worthy movies that I will never see. As critic Adam Balz recently noted: “No matter how long we live, we will never see one-tenth of one percent of all the films ever made.”) At the same time, though, I’m sorely tempted to rebel against the traditional rules of the game, in order to be, if not more compete, then certainly more inclusive.

I mean, why shouldn’t I list one of 2006’s very best films – Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, a startlingly poignant family drama that also happens to be a tremendously exciting, smartly subversive and often explosively funny horror flick – simply because this South Korean production, a monster hit throughout Asia, won’t open in the United States until March 2007? Come to think of it, why shouldn’t I also include another worthy movie I caught at last November’s Denver Film FestivalMike Akel’s Chalk, an insightfully funny, entirely improvised mockumentary about stressed-out high-school teachers that will generate jolting shocks of recognition among educators everywhere -- simply because, even though it was showcased at many other festivals during the past year, it hasn’t yet gotten a theatrical release of any sort?

And even if I accept, reluctantly, that I must stick to movies that played in North American theatrical release during 2006: Why should I limit my list to ten titles?

Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer to that final question. And so, this year, I’m going to borrow a page from Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, and give you ten pairs of favorites. Yes, I know that’s something of a cop-out. But you know what? It’s my list, so I get to make at least some of the rules.

10. Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble and Michael Kang’s The Motel: Folks on the socioeconomic fringes are rarely depicted, and hardly ever respected, in mainstream Hollywood fare. Thank God, then, for indie moviemakers (or at least indie-spirited moviemakers) who are neither condescending nor romanticizing as they plumb the lower depths. Soderbergh’s audacious experiment is a mesmerizingly stripped-to-essentials drama about stunted lives and homicidal urges in a dead-end corner of Middle America. Kang’s debut directorial effort is a sharply observed coming-of-age dramedy about a precocious Chinese-American youth whose family operates a sleazy roadside motel in upstate New York.

9. Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation and Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Four-Eyed Monsters: More moviegoers should have had the chance to see these two quirky and captivating no-budget indies about slackerish twentysomethings beset by romantic and professional quandaries while in the process of inventing themselves. I don’t know whether Bujalski, Buice and Crumley would be amused, confused or appalled to learn that a fiftysomething critic was so impressed and engaged by their more-than-merely-promising work. But I was. Honest.

8. Mary Harron’s The Notorious Bettie Page and Billy Kent’s The Oh in Ohio: Two very different but equally enjoyable films about women who empower themselves by refusing to be defined by oppressive male expectations or guilt-tripping societal pressures. As ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, Gretchen Mol gives a performance of such uninhibited grace and verve that it’s easy to accept Harron’s central conceit of a naughty imp who’s both innocent and knowing. And as a sexually unfulfilled woman who’s driven to extremes by not-so-quietly desperate yearning, the ever-amazing Parker Posey suggests a soft-core Lucille Ball with her gift for physical comedy while tracing an arc from uptight denial through lusty excess to serene self-confidence.

7. Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts: Two urgent, insightful and purposefully infuriating documentaries that managed to be… Well, OK, I know this will sound borderline-sacrilegious, given the serious intent of both movies, but they managed to be as entertaining – in terms of grabbing and sustaining intense interest while intelligently generating emotional response -- as any dramatic feature of 2006. (Yes, I know, When the Levees Broke premiered on HBO. You have a problem with that? I don’t.) And please spare me the jokes about Al Gore’s being stiffly professorial in Inconvenient Truth. Those are the kinds of comments made by cynics who smugly cling to outdated clichés rather than opening their eyes to observe evolutions.

6. Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion and John Lasseter’s Cars: Altman’s swan song is a clear-eyed, hard-edged but generous-spirited celebration of professional entertainers who, unfortunately, no longer entertain nearly enough people to satisfy the unsentimental bean-counters; Lasseter’s Pixar-produced animated feature is a humorous but heartfelt tale about anthropomorphic autos in a once-thriving small town that was left behind to wither when an Interstate passed it by. Each film, in its own unique, utterly beguiling fashion, speaks eloquently and affectingly about things (like, a sense of community, or pop culture ephemera) we usually never appreciate until we recognize – belatedly – that they’re lost.

5. Wim Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine: In a country where winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, can a fading-into-twilight Western movie star or an underdog children’s beauty pageant hopeful find a way to avoid being labeled a loser? Perhaps. But each must rely on the mixed blessings of family ties, whether those familial bonds evoke regretful melancholy (Wenders’ criminally under-rated road movie) or raucous comedy (Dayton and Faris’ seriously funny dramedy).

4. Bryan Barber’s Idlewild and Manu Boyer’s I Trust You to Kill Me: With all due respect to a certain overbearing (and, with the exception of an electrifying eruption by Eddie Murphy, curiously unjoyful) Oscar contender, these are the best two musicals of 2006. Barber’s collaboration with Outkast is a visually stunning, emotionally thrilling and kinetically exhilarating extravaganza that nominally is set during the Prohibition Era in small-town Georgia, but substitutes and/or intermingles throbbing hip-hop melodies with the more period-appropriate sounds of jazz, swing, soul and blues. Boyer’s sly and skillful rockumentary about rockers Rocco DeLuca and the Burden – and, just as important, Kiefer Sutherland, who signed the group to his indie record label, then joined them for a promotional concert tour – is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what any band (even one backed by a high-profile celeb) must endure to make that first lunge at the brass ring.

3. David Christensen’s Six Figures and Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking: Yes, Virginia, you really can make a successful movie – at least, an artistically successful one – in which the lead character is not merely a lovable cad, but a self-serving sociopath, or perhaps worse. Reitman’s razor-sharp satire (adapted from Christopher Buckley’s novel) showcases Aaron Eckhart’s ferociously funny and fearless performance as an amoral PR spinner who adamantly refuses to change his wicked ways when it comes to defending death-dealers. Christensen’s unsettlingly ambiguous drama (released in Canada during 2006, but so far lacking a US distributor) is even more impressive, artfully balancing mystery and specificity while considering whether a financially stressed family man is responsible for the attempted murder of his conspicuously more successful wife. I can’t think of any other actor this year who overshadowed the achievement of JR Bourne, who plays the prime suspect as somehow simultaneously sympathetic and threatening. You’re left with the impression that, even if he didn’t do it, he knows, deep in his heart of darkness, that he could have done it.

2. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed: Two absolutely terrific ensemble casts, two world-class filmmakers at the top of their games, two immensely satisfying tales of random fates and interlocking destinies. Sorry, but I cannot understand what the nitpickers are complaining about. Just what more do those people want?

1. Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction and Stephen Frears’ The Queen: How difficult is it to remain graceful under pressure while fulfilling the demands of the roles you are assigned in real-life dramas? In Forster’s exquisitely spare yet emotionally resonant fantasy about a man who gets a last-chance opportunity for spiritual rebirth, buttoned-down IRS agent Harold Crick (a personal-best performance by Will Ferrell) rebels against typecasting after he learns he is the fated-to-die protagonist in a long-delayed work by a noted novelist. In Frears’ smart and subtle study of a tradition-bound monarch who reluctantly realizes that she must respect the unfathomable grief of her subjects, Queen Elizabeth II (the great Helen Mirren) must rely on the advice of a possibly supportive, probably opportunistic prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). It’s altogether gratifying that, in each scenario, the lead character enjoys something like a happy ending.

A dozen runners-up: Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, Spike Lee’s Inside Man, Patrick Creadon’s Wordplay, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, Tony Scott’s Deja Vu, Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus’ Al Franken: God Spoke, Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.

Guilty pleasures: Jeff Tremaine’s jackass number two, James Gunn’s Slither.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Actors honoring actors

Early this morning in L.A., the Screen Actors Guild announced nominees for the annual SAG Awards given to film and TV thespians. Leonardo DiCaprio and Helen Mirren each landed two nominations. But many others -- including Jack Nicholson of The Departed -- are conspicuous by their absence. And it appears that SAG voters weren't terribly impressed by Sacha Baron Cohen's star turn in Borat. (Well, either that or they didn't think what Baron did qualified as acting.)

FYI: Film and TV nominees were chosen by two groups of 2,100 people randomly chosen from the guild's 120,000 members. The guild's full membership is eligible to vote for winners (which will be announced Jan. 28 during ceremonies cablecast on TNT and TBS).

Golden Raspberries

("Oh, God! Not another Razzie nomination!")

The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation -- dedicated, as always, to dishonoring the worst in cinema -- has released nominating ballots for the 27th annual Golden Raspberry Awards. And while write-in entries are allowed, preliminary nominees are listed in all Razzie categories.

The "hopefuls" (or perhaps that should be "hope-nots") for Worst Screen Couple include "Nicolas Cage & His Bear Suit" in The Wicker Man (a great choice, actually), "Tim Allen & Any Juvenile Super Hero" in Zoom, and "Sharon Stone's Lop-Sided Breasts" in the ill-starred sequel that Razzie-Dazzies refer to as Basically, It Stinks, Too. Potential nominees for Worst Picture include The Da Vinci Code, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Material Girls, BloodRayne -- and, of course, Basically, It Stinks, Too. And in the brand-new category of Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment, you'll find the holiday-season offerings Deck the Halls and Santa Claus 3: The Escape Claus.

But don't look for perennial Golden Raspberry favorite Sylvester Stallone among the Worst Actors (a line-up that does include Nicolas Cage for Wicker Man, David Morrissey for Basically, It Stinks, Too and -- gasp! -- Sean Penn for All the King's Men) or Worst Directors. (Do you really have to be told that Uwe Boll appears in the latter group for BloodRayne?) Razzie officials admit in their latest newsletter that, much to their great surprise, they actually liked Stallone's Rocky Balboa -- a flick they had assumed would be Worst Picture material. " "[W]hen Rocky finally hefts those barbells again," they write, "runs up the Philly Museum of Art's steps, and starts 'working on some hurtin' bombs,' we found ourselves suckered in. And when Rocky breaks down crying over the loss of his beloved Adrian, we found ourselves misting up -- and for once, not with tears of laughter."

Of course, none of that stopped the Razzie-Dazzies from nominating two of Stallone's co-stars, Burt Young and Milo Ventimiglia, for Worst Supporting Actor. But, then again, you wouldn't expect too much sentiment from these guys, wouldn't you?

If you'd like to cast your very own Golden Razzie ballot, click here for membership info. Final nominees will be announced Jan. 22, and winners will be dishonored Feb. 24 (the night before that other L.A. awards show).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The state of cinema, Part III

Nikki Finke looks forward to a movie year she fears will be overstufed with sequels and remakes, and despairs: "See, it simply takes too much moolah to create awareness for new concepts— in marketing parlance, this is known as 'audience creation.' It's a given that with franchises and remakes, the awareness for under-25 males—the most coveted category of moviegoers—approaches 100 percent. But with original stories, that awareness level drops below 60 percent. And when the overall budgets of movies (as of 2005) stand at $96.2 million each and marketing costs $36.2 million per pic, it stands to reason that studios are loathe to gamble on unproven product. Riding coattails takes the risk out of a notoriously risky biz, which means moguls can have fewer Maalox moments in what is tantamount to a life on meth. Production has dwindled to just a dozen films from each major each year, most of them sequels."

Best films of 2006? Sez who?

The PGA -- the producers, not the golfers -- have announced five nominees for Best Picture of 2006. Not a shabby list, I must say. Indeed, I would predict that at least three of their titles will wind up on my overdue Top 10 list. (Hey, it's coming, it's coming.) And I would not be terribly surprised if all five also wind up in contention for the top Oscar as well.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


The website for Grindhouse is up and running. Go ahead: You know you want to watch.

The state of cinema, Part II

Commenting on a New York Times analysis of box-office trends, Jeffrey Wells opines: "The age-old old theory is that mainstream moviegoers are emotional alcoholics in normal times, but if the headlines seem more disturbing than usual their choices tend be more reactionary. Give them a film that promises some kind of agreeable emotional beer-buzz and they'll probably give it a shot. Give them a movie that smacks of herbal tea, strong coffee, mineral water or some other non-alcoholic ingredient, and chances are they'll either steer clear or adopt a wait-and-see approach."

The state of cinema

David Denby writes in The New Yorker: "In the past, commercially successful artists like Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges, George Cukor, John Ford, and Billy Wilder would have been astonished if anyone had told them that they could succeed with only slivers of the audience. They thought they were working for everybody, and often they were. Today, with a few exceptions like Ang Lee, Scorsese, Spielberg, and Eastwood (and not necessarily with all their movies), the artistically ambitious director who is considered to have universal or even widespread appeal is an endangered species. Part of the reason, perhaps, is that directors are working for an audience more diverse than the audience of fifty or sixty years ago. The most important reason, however, is that, by splitting the audience into a spectacle-and-comedy, opening-weekend crowd and a specialty-division urban élite, the studios have given up the old dream of movies as an art form for everyone."

And mind you, according to Denby, that isn't the worst of it

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Top 10 reasons why I don't have my Top 10 list ready yet

1. I am such a wuss that I still can't decide whether two or three films I would like to include would be eligible for a Top 10 of 2006 list. (Of course, it's my list, so I should be able to make the rules, right?)

2. Due to various demands on my time -- like, the six college courses I taught during Fall 2006, the master's thesis prospectus I finally prepared, and the full-time job I landed in December -- I still haven't seen all of the eligible movies I want to see.

3. I devoted an entire week to serious drinking after the death of my father. He would have wanted it that way: We're Irish.

4. I devoted what seemed (to me, anyway) an unusually large amount of time to writing obituaries for other people. Indeed, I often found myself thinking of something Francois Truffaut said: "Each year we have to cross out names from our address book, and a moment comes when we realize we know more dead people than living." On the other hand: When I repeated that quote to a dear friend, she countered: "Well, that's why you have to keep making new friends."

5. I missed several screenings to stay home and watch Keith Olbermann's "Special Comments."

6. I missed several other screenings because, while I waited for my insurance company to process my claim after my car was totaled by an uninsured driver, my transportation options were seriously limited.

7. I missed a few more screenings because they were scheduled on nights when I just didn't feel like going to the movies. (Hey, it happens.)

8. During the past week, I have had to cope with several interruptions -- including, no kidding, a power brownout on New Year's Eve -- while viewing and re-viewing films on DVD.

9. I feel fairly crummy today -- and not because of any New Year's Eve revelries. Truth to tell, I have sleep apnea, but because of the aforementioned brownout, I wasn't able to use my CPAP machine while I slept -- or, more accurately, tried to sleep -- last night.

10. I strongly suspect that there aren't many of you out there impatiently awaiting any Top 10 list I might complete.

In any event: I hope to have the list posted by Thursday. Maybe Wednesday, if the electricity doesn't go out again.