The House


Neil Blomkamp

The director category is starting to feel like an anniversary party we're not sure we want to go to anymore. Nothing against Kathryn Bigelow, whose taut direction of The Hurt Locker certainly merits its slot in this lineup. We're just a little bit tired of having her all-but-certain presence in the category doubly commoditized—first by virtue of the fact that she owns a vagina and, second, because she's expected to compete (and, so the fanboys tell us, lose) against her bloated ex-husband James Cameron, who ripped off Bollywood to bring you the biggest, most expensive tree-hugger manifesto of all time. Yes, it's anecdotally historic for exes to find themselves dual frontrunners in any category, much less a category wherein women have been nominated only a few more times than have been nominated for Best Actor. Call us hard to impress, but when this category sees its first dissolved civil union faceoff, maybe then we'll consider printing off the gift registry at CB2.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: academy awards, clint eastwood, james cameron, jane campion, jason reitman, kathryn bigelow, lone scherfig, michael haneke, neil blomkamp, quentin tarantino


Leo McCareyWhen a great director goes wrong, they usually don't go wrong in a small way; they go spectacularly wrong, ambitiously wrong, prodigiously wrong. In the case of Leo McCarey, his own innate talent for spontaneous, behavioral observation remained constant after 1940, but his intellect, taste and judgment flew off to cloud-cuckoo land. He left us with some of the most maudit of film maudit, movies that only the most hard-boiled auteurist could argue are successful in their totality, and the recent TCM airing of McCarey's notorious, riveting anti-Communist My Son John (1952) opened up a whole slew of questions for me, especially in how it seems to directly relate to parts of his unquestionably major films, like The Awful Truth and Make Way for Tomorrow (both 1937). The movie hadn't been seen on television since 1970, and it remains a hot potato, not only because of its impossible-to-follow right wing politics, but because of its often uncomfortable stylistic choices.

I recently watched two McCarey problem pictures from the forties, Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942) and Good Sam (1948), both of which gave me an idea of what I'd be dealing with when it came to My Son John. McCarey was known for improvising a lot of his movies on the set; he'd go over to play some piano for a while, dream up scenes and then give them to the actors. This had a salutary effect on Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, two complementary players wrapped in their own bubbly world of romantic comedy, but Honeymoon falters in its first labored, tasteless scenes between Grant and Ginger Rogers, who plays a former Miss Flatbush gold-digging a Nazi official (Walter Slezak). The stars don't seem to know what they're doing for a while, but then comes an extraordinary scene where they get drunk together at a restaurant; McCarey keeps his camera on them steadily as Rogers unexpectedly observes that "Schopenhauer is too cynical," and gets a bit teary while Grant burrows deeper and deeper into lyrical tipsiness. Suddenly, two unlikely characters and mismatched actors become real and believable, and there's no way that Rogers and Grant could have hit such exalted emotions without McCarey's willingness to experiment and his Irish sense that alcohol can sometimes unlock our most fruitful feelings (see especially the wondrous drunk scene between Paul Newman and Joan Collins in his also-problematic Rally Round the Flag, Boys! {1958}).

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: dean jagger, frank mchugh, good sam, helen hayes, leo mccarey, make way for tomorrow, my son john, once upon a honeymoon, robert walker, the awful truth


Review: Fish Tank

Fish Tank

Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold's second feature, is the heir to a long-standing British tradition of Kitchen Sink Realism, in which the pains and reality of Britain's lower class denizens are captured in what is often a pared down realist aesthetic. Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives with her mother (Kierston Wareing) and hilariously potty-mouthed sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) in a low-rent tenement. She's been expelled from school, is prone to outbursts of violence, has no friends and a lush of a mother who treats Mia's existence as the weight of the cross. The film pivots on the relationship Mia establishes with Connor (Michael Fassbender), her mother's new boyfriend, who seems to take an interest in Mia, slowly chipping away at her centurion guard and encouraging her to pursue hip-hop dancing (Mia's one pleasure and mode of escape).

Basically, the film suffers from the same problem as its central character: heart's in the right place, but its excesses are sometimes a bit too much. Arnold has good visual sensibility, yet she loves to send up red flags of "pay attention, this is important!" which actually ends up taking away from the moment by pulling you out of it. Case in point: While on an excursion, Mia accidentally cuts her foot. Her mother and Tyler cringe at the blood and scurry away to the car, while Connor attends to the wound and offers a piggy back ride. Once Mia jumps on Connor's back the shot becomes slow-motion, so you can hear every breath of air Mia takes and really internalize the moment; finally someone is showing Mia some attention, some kindness, and clearly there's a burgeoning attraction between Mia and Connor, so it's all very momentous. Here's the thing: We can appreciate the beauty of one human being doing a small act of kindness for another, and understand how profound of a moment this probably is in Mia's life, without time having to slow down.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: andrea arnold, fish tank, katie jarvis, kierston wareing, michael fassbender, rebecca griffiths


Review: The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli

There's a reason why superheroes were originally dismissed as naive power fantasies for impotent men. Several, actually, but one in particular comes to mind: Superheroes represent and reflect ideals that society at large usually considers to be outmoded or outdated. When they save people, they (should) do it out of pure selflessness—a utilitarian sense of necessity that goes well beyond individual needs. Eli (Denzel Washington, armed with an omnipresent wince and a squint) in The Book of Eli is a lousy superhero because screenwriter Gary Whitta and directors Allen and Albert Hughes make him more of a necessary evil than a truly good guy. He's born from a uniquely unsettling kind of cynicism, one that cloaks its misanthropy in the guise of holier-than-thou religious faith.

Eli is a compromised hero, one who assumes that, because the world is fallen, he's better than everybody else (because God told him so). He has no obligation to immediately share his wealth of divine wisdom, and though his mission is in fact to spread the word of God, he does it in such a way that one can't help but look askance at him. His faith is his strength, but it's a selfish kind of faith, one that places the prophet and the medium that it's communicated through before the essential lessons he's guarding. Trust me: I'm a Jew. I know things.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: albert hughes, allen hughes, denzel washington, gary whitta, michael gambon, mila kunis, sergio leone, the bible, the book of eli


Joaquin Phoenix

We lamely present you with a carbon copy of the SAG's own nominees for Best Actor, which admittedly makes for an unusually strong lineup of performances—all from, except for The Hurt Locker, exceptionally weak films. If you think there's wiggle room here, take note: Because Colin Firth and Morgan Freeman are still solidly in this race, even though Tom Ford's embarrassing impersonation of Wong Kar-wai throughout A Single Man and Clint Eastwood's dully exploitative pushing of a Mandela-as-Obama message in his elegantly composed Afterschool Special Invictus didn't do either actor any favors, it's probably unlikely that Viggo Mortensen will sneak in for The Road, which has unfairly gotten less love this award season than those two films.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: academy awards, colin firth, dave karger, george clooney, hal holbrook, jeff bridges, jeremy renner, joaquin phoenix, joseph gordon-levitt, morgan freeman, viggo mortensen


Odie at NoirOn Sunday and Monday, Noir City went gaga for blondes. Even in black and white, the women whom gentlemen supposedly prefer were easily identifiable and casually cold. One blonde was literally put on ice, while the other chose its liquid form to wash that man right outta her hair. One did her business at Fox and MGM, and the other on Poverty Row, but regardless of their pedigree, these were sirens serenading the weaker sex (men, that is) while leading them to their doom.

To prove today's thesis statement, here is a blonde having fun with your friendly neighborhood Odienator. If she looks familiar, it's because she is Miss Noir City Poster Dame 2010. If I look familiar, it's because you saw me in Boyz N The Hood, Radio and Boat Trip. Pictures of the Odienator are few and far between out here in the blogosphere, so savor it.

Sundays With Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe was a lot of things: icon, pin up girl, wet dream of many men far older than me, and a constant thorn in Billy Wilder's side. One thing she wasn't was a great actress, though Heaven knows she tried. But she didn't need to be Kate Hepburn any more than Hepburn needed to be shaking her ass and playing a ukulele; Marilyn had presence, and onscreen she could be fragile one minute, hard as nails the next. Henry Hathaway works both sides of this street with Niagara, a 1953 Technicolor noir from Fox. The screenplay is co-written by BrackettandWilder minus Wilder, and there's enough cynicism to assure us that Billy Wilder didn't act alone at his acid-filled typewriter.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: 8th noir city festival, barry sullivan, belita, henry hathaway, john huston, marilyn monroe, niagara, suspense, the asphalt jungle, the gangster


Tilda Swinton

We've said it before and we're going to say it again: Oscar prognostication has become a craven act of self-fulfilling prophecy, and the fear of getting nominations wrong has usurped actually evaluating the performances in question. How else to explain the fact that Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger didn't make even a passing mention of critics' darling and recent Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton's brilliant and, more to the point, baity performance in Julia? You'd think a proven, previously-awarded commodity bearing the full weight of a ginormous one-woman show, weaving in and out of hangovers and maternal instincts for well over two hours, would delight both the Oscar voters who slipped Gena Rowlands into the 1980 lineup for Gloria (to which director Erick Zonca's gutsy melodrama is obviously indebted) as well as the voters who have actually seen a film by Derek Jarman.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: abbie cornish, academy awards, carey mulligan, charlotte gainsbourg, dave karger, gabourey sidibe, helen mirren, meryl streep, sandra bullock, tilda swinton, yolande moreau


A View from the Bridge

In a time when Broadway, like Hollywood, is all about bigger and flashier, spectacle over substance, avatars over actors, it's a minor miracle that a throwback drama centered around a family of Italian immigrants in 1950s Red Hook, Brooklyn can even get staged. Sure, star power is essential, and it's hard to imagine director Gregory Mosher's riveting production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge landing at the Cort Theatre without names like Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson attached. Yet it might just be the perfect show for these recessionary times: Mosher and his flawless crew seem to be doing twice the work with half the effort, and like the striving blue-collar characters they play, his hardworking cast takes nothing for granted, busting their collective ass to bring Miller's work to life.

Not the easiest of tasks when one considers the heavy-handed melodrama at the heart of this sinister Greek tragedy. The plot revolves around longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Schreiber), whose near-incestuous love for his teenage niece, Catherine (Johansson), becomes a catalyst for destruction when Catherine falls for just-off-the-boat Rodolpho (Morgan Spector), who happens to be a cousin of Eddie's wife Beatrice (Jessica Hecht, as a woman so strong she's heartbreakingly fragile). That Eddie has generously and illegally welcomed both Rodolpho and his brother Marco (Corey Stoll) into his home turns the heat up that much more. And this is precisely where Mosher's weight of experience grounds the piece with gravitas (the program notes that the director has "won every major American theatre award, including two Tonys," in addition to having worked with Miller himself). For rather than amplifying the proceedings, Mosher brings his production down to the slowest of boils, creating a tightly wound suspense story that breaks from existential dread in the first half to violent anarchy in the second with the force of a slingshot.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: a view from the bridge, arthur miller, corey stoll, cort theatre, jessica hecht, liev schreiber, morgan spector, scarlett johansson


Broken Embraces Coming up in this column: Broken Embraces, Nine, It's Complicated, Panic in the Streets, Battle Cry, Wild in the Country, but first...

Fan mail: "Andrew" liked my comments on Precious etc, which gives me an opportunity to expand on something I wrote that I had second thoughts about. I wrote, "Since The Blind Side has both white and black characters, we get a view of race relations in America today. With Precious's virtually all-black cast and limited story, we only get another view of the black underclass, and without the nuances that The Blind Side has." I felt that reads like I am suggesting Precious should have been about relations between the races, which I did not intend and may have been unfair to the film. It was focused on the black underclass, but even on those terms I felt it could have done better, for all the reasons I wrote about in the column.

"Joel_Gordon" would like me to give Men of a Certain Age another shot, but I have seen three of them and it's just not working for me. I may pick up another episode sometime, but by now I pretty much know what works for me and what doesn't.

"Olli Sulopuisto" cleared up where the voice communicators came from in Avatar, as did "Htet." Obviously they got established the one time I ducked for the 3-D effects. Htet liked the film more than I did, as did many, many millions of people. The audience I saw it with appears to have been an exception. Htet is right on picking up on my problems with Cameron, although I certainly like both the first Terminator and True Lies. I was not as awed by the special effects as he was, and I agree with his comment that "Movies are not screenplays." Which is another way of stating one of my longtime themes, that movies are written for performance, and as I pointed out in my comments on Avatar, that includes the special effects guys.

And now, on to Penélope Cruz Week here at Understanding Screenwriting...

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: battle cry, broken embraces, its complicated, nine, panic in the streets, understanding screenwriting, wild in the country


[Click here to read the previous installment of this feature.]

60. William Shatner, "Common People" (Has Been, 2004)
It's impossible to overstate how important Elliott Smith was to me from, say, ages 16-20. I was an awkward and unsociable post-adolescent, unable to sort out the teen angst from the real problems. I realized my faux-depression was immature and self-indulgent; that's part of the reason I liked Smith so much, because he conveyed the same tension. Here was a guy writing beautifully-organized, impeccably arranged pop songs, only to fuck them all up with lyrical self-pity despite being old enough to know better. This isn't necessarily how I feel about his work now (he had legitimate trauma to process)—but yes, there was a deliberately bratty depression thrown in there for good measure, which I dug. (Cf. "Looking Over My Shoulder": "All I want to do is write another sonic fuck you.") And then he killed himself and I went into mourning for two weeks, more or less. I went to a magnet high school that (Austin being Austin) might as well have been Indie Rock High, all bright middle-class white kids with collegiate music taste; his suicide was announced on Pitchfork at 8am, and by noon people who were normally friendly but distant were asking me if I was OK. I wasn't; I was being a stupid 17-year-old, sure, but Smith's work meant more to me than, say, most members of my immediate family.

Fast forward one year later, when the posthumous From A Basement On a Hill was getting released; I was now at NYU, but still kind of thinking like a high-schooler. I called an acquaintance and—for the first and almost certainly last time in my life—marched off to the Virgin Megastore to snap up a copy at the midnight sale. I got anticipatorily anxious in case it didn't live up to his back catalogue, since this was all the new material left as far as I knew. As it turned out, the album was a mess—by far his worst, put together according to his not-very-clear wishes ("Ostriches and Chriping," a negligible ambient wash, probably isn't even his song). That same week, William Shatner put out his album, and it was better; Pitchfork's back-to-back reviews, initially sacrilegious-seeming, were accurate. And this became strangely heartening.

There's about seven really good tracks on Has Been, which is as much as anyone can ask for on an album that should've just been a queasy novelty; as a bonus, it's the best thing Ben Folds has ever done with his mostly wasted talent. "Common People" is probably Pulp's greatest achievement, as epic as "Baby O'Riley" but way less simplistic lyrically (class warfare in the post-Thatcher age, etc.), harnessing appropriately cheap keyboards to an unstoppably anthemic chorus. Shatner had apparently never heard it before Folds brought it to him. He might have actually taken the time to study and understand what he's saying, or he might be bluffing and applying his signature weird reading patterns indiscriminately, but it doesn't matter; his reading of the song is no less histrionic than Jarvis Cocker's. Instrumentally, it's not bad at all: Folds scrubs it down to clean, sharp keyboards and drums. What really sells it is Joe Jackson belting out the chorus in a proper way Shatner's incapable of. The net result is a New Wave icon, '90s semi-alternative brat and 60-something relic uniting to affirm that this one song is, indeed, a masterpiece. The song itself is aces; the cover proves how easy it is to love it even if you're not a lower-class Brit seething with class resentment.

More >>

  • print
  • email

TAGS: aimee mann, air, best of the aughts, brakes, brendan benson, scissor sisters, someone still loves you boris yeltsin, sparks, the libertines, william shatner, ying yang twins ft. trick daddy







The HouseCategories



The HouseThe Attic

More »



Site by  Docent Solutions