Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in Notes on a ScandalEvery time I see a character brought to life by Cate Blanchett I come away feeling slightly changed, a bit smarter, as if I've been propelled forward just a tad. By turns endearing and naive, then thrilling or even frightening, Blanchett is always fun to watch and has the chops to carry any scene.

Even when she plays a distasteful character -- as she did in "The Shipping News" as Petal, the elegantly trashy skate who strings along a feeble and needy putz (Quoyle, played by Kevin Spacey) just for sport -- she still engenders empathy, often to the point of seeming to be exactly the kind of person you wish you knew in real life. The more risky the role the more she rises to the challenge, as in "Bandits" (who else could have pulled that off?). Sometimes, she is the very best thing about a given movie, as she was in "The Gift". Other times she is flat-out and conventionally just plain good, as she was in "Elizabeth". She is also one of the few actors whose mere presence in a movie is enough to make me want to see it.

She is seen next portraying two complex characters (it's almost redundant to say this about the roles she takes); one is a prostitute in "The Good German", the other a teacher who has an affair with a sixteen year old student in "Notes on a Scandal" (pictured with Judi Dench). NPR's Melissa Block talks with Blanchett.

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Al Gore on Saturday Night Live's Weekend UpdateNPR has a couple other good stories from the past few days: A talk with Tina Fey, the first female head-writer at Saturday Night Live (as well as writer of "Mean Girls").

Kim Masters on the obstacles black actors face in Hollywood and why Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can DVD cover

DVD review by Alan Green
December 26, 2006

Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Frank Abagnale Jr., who is known as one of the best con men in history. He is pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). While Hanratty is fictional, Abagnale is not, and some background may help. This is from Frank Abagnale's website:

His rare blend of knowledge and expertise began as a teenager. More than forty years ago he was known as one of the world's most famous confidence men as depicted in his best-selling book, "Catch Me If You Can." He cashed $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every state and 26 foreign countries over a five-year period. Between the ages of 16 and 21, he successfully posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a pediatrician. Apprehended by the French police when he was 21 years old, he served time in the French, Swedish and U. S. prison systems. After five years he was released on the condition that he would help the federal government, without remuneration, by teaching and assisting federal law enforcement agencies.

What teenager has the talent to do this? And, if he has the talent to accomplish this, why does he? While “Catch Me If You Can” is breezy entertainment, it's also a subtle exploration of the need for meaningful relationships and the lengths to which people will go to fulfill this need. Even the title, “Catch Me If You Can” -- suggesting the tease of someone who wishes to be pursued -- hints at this.

So, why did Abagnale embark on this life of crime? As good stories always do, this one leaves plenty of room for interpretation. During the court proceeding of his parents' divorce, the judge asks Abagnale to choose who will live with, his mother or his father. Faced with a decision he could not make, Abagnale runs away. He pays his way by writing checks -- even after the account runs dry.

This is the point at which the average teenager would have gone home. But, Abagnale is far from average. He keeps going, becoming better and better until he elevates the simple act of writing bad checks to a self-taught, finely-honed craft. He did this, I believe, so that someone would chase him. That's quite a leap, I know, but the mechanics of this psychology make a lot of sense. Having been unable to choose which parent to live with Abagnale runs away for the same reason most kids do -- to have the parents pursue them, for attention, to incite concern, or to rekindle love if it is threatened. Once he decided he wasn't going home writing worthless checks would have been a practical solution for two problems: it was a way to get money to survive, and a way to have someone continue to pursue him -- even if that someone was the FBI.

Tom Hanks in Catch Me If You Can. Directed by Steven Spielberg

Ridiculous? Could be. But, if anyone could have done such a thing for such a motive it would have been Abagnale. This is a guy who, as a teenager, pretended to be a Secret Service agent so convincingly he fooled FBI agents. Abagnale had just been caught by the FBI in a motel room full of fake checks and the equipment to produce them. He (Abagnale) convinced the FBI agents that he was part of a Secret Service team that had just arrested Abagnale and had taken him away. (This really happened). After consoling the FBI for their missed arrest, Abagnale left, taking check-printing equipment with him as evidence, and got away. That's gamesmanship, and Abagnale was just the kind of brilliant emotionally injured kid who could have written bad checks, and pretended to be an airline pilot, a doctor, and a college professor, just for sport, just to be pursued by Federal agents.

Did Frank want to be caught? Did the FBI become his surrogate family, replacing the one which had disintegrated? Why not? This is the kind of story you can't make up. Any screenwriter who did would be thrown out the office. This kind of thing only happens in real life, not in fiction. It's the kind of thing you can't believe unless it's true.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can

”Catch Me If You Can” is directed by Steven Spielberg and is probably his best movie. It doesn't have the flash of a marauding shark or digital dinosaurs, but has a more heartfelt exploration of the human condition. This is one of those rare DVDs that I watched in one sitting.

Spielberg's camera is, as usual, flawless. John Williams' bad-boy progressive improvisational 50s jazz score is pretty toe-tapping and sneaky, and makes a fine accompaniment for the material. The set design is a wonder, recreating the 50s and 60s so organically it doesn't feel like a put-on. This is a two-disc set, and the extras are worth a look.

Frank Abagnale's story makes a good case study. Was he successful because of talent? Or, was it naivety? Or, was it a disregard for the risk? It's open to interpretation. “Catch Me If You Can” is a lot of fun to watch, and Abagnale's story is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

This is also an inspirational story of turning bad experiences into good things. Today Frank Abagnale Jr. is a security consultant who makes a fine living advising banks and agencies about how to prevent fraud. In one of the DVD featurettes he says, “I've developed technology today that's found on just about every driver's license, card title, birth certificate, passport,currency, around the world.”

Not bad for a runaway teenager.

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank W. Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Mr. Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes; released by DreamWorks Pictures. Running time: 140 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.), Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale Sr.), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong) and James Brolin (Jack Barnes).

Friday, December 22, 2006

DVDs To Get

Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season, DVD
Judd Apatow, writer and director of "The 40 Year Old Virgin", offers his DVD picks, including Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season 1975-76 (nice choice), and the new edition of "Terms of Endearment" with James (don't forget the L) Brooks' (film-school substitute) commentary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bring Me A One-Legged Woman, A Lumberjack, And A Monkey By 3:15

Inland Empire, Laura Dern, David LynchOkay, now that you're in the mood for something weird, let's talk about David Lynch's new movie "Inland Empire".

NPR has a piece on the upcoming digital experimental movie by the Auteur of Weirdness. If you think "Blue Velvet" was a bit out there, by all accounts "Inland Empire" is dreamscape by comparison.

Even by itself the still of Laura Dern is pretty dang creepy. Lynch fan Matt Forsyth says of the new movie, " far as, like, what actually happened in it I...I really don't know. You know?" Something tells me he speaks for everyone who will see this movie.

Coming in at 3 hours this picture promises to be a challenge both for comprehension and endurance. To see what 'A one-legged woman, a lumberjack, and a monkey by 3:15' means, listen to the NPR story (7 min.) at Weekend Edition Sunday.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Part Of 'Sudden Death' Didn't You Understand?

Christopher Walken in Balls of FuryFormer ping pong champion works undercover with the FBI to expose a tournament in which the winner lives and the losers die.

The competition is hosted by the evil-guy Fang (played deliciously by Christopher Walken), who, when one of the players is executed after losing a match, says, "What part of 'sudden death' didn't you understand?"

Some well-done CGI makes everyone a table tennis pro capable of making impossible shots without trying. Tight writing and lots of references to Kung-Fu/action pics make BOF a lot of fun. This one will put butts in seats. Mongo funny trailer (not so funny trailer also available)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

So...Do You Have Any Experience?

This is one of the most humble IMDB profiles I've ever seen:
IMBD profile Anne Sellors

Via Risky Biz Blog

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Eastwood At 76

Clint Eastwood directing Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo JimaI wonder what I'll be doing when I'm 76 years old. Simultaneously directing two war movies? Possibly not.

That is, however, exactly what Clint Eastwood has done with "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima". Other directors have produced fine work at an advanced age. Certainly, Robert Altman was sharp even through the production of "A Prairie Home Companion", and he was at the top of his form when he made "The Player" and "Short Cuts" at an age when most people have long since retired. Hitchcock was 73 when he made what is my favorite of his films, "Frenzy".

I can't help but admire these guys and hope I'm lucky enough to be productive that late in life. David Thomson takes a look the movies made by directors after age 70, including Renoir, Zinnemann, Kurosawa, and Bresson.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rocky In For One More Round

Rocky Balboa, Sylvester StalloneSylvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa in the sequel of the same name. When I first heard of this project I (like many others) thought it was a silly idea. I just couldn't see how it could work -- I was a bit embarrassed. However, a funny thing has happened. RB is gaining some steam. Most bloggers like the trailers and the mainstream press is starting to get behind this picture as well.

Balboa is an aging fighter who feels in his heart that he still has some fight left and, more importantly, owes it to himself to get back in the ring to regain the sense of identity he once had as a champion. Stallone is, well, the same guy. As a movie star, his career has been on the mat for some years now but, it would seem, is not quite down for the count. In fact, from the look of things, Stallone stands a very fair chance of reestablishing himself as a Hollywood player.

But, really, is that what he wants? From the tone of the picture, which is written by Stallone (who also wrote the Oscar-winning "Rocky"), this story is about making a comeback not for personal gain but for personal fulfillment. The same tone can be found in Mr. Stallone's recent comments. In his interview with Sean Smith at Newsweek Stallone says:

"It nags me that I took the easy way instead of the high road. But everyone makes mistakes. I look around at people my age, and I can see it in their eyes--a kind of bittersweet reflection: 'I didn't live the life that I wanted, and now I've got all this stuff I want to say, but nobody wants to hear it.' I was feeling that, and if you don't get it out, it can become a beast that tears you apart."

You hear that and you think 'Well, talk is cheap...' But, Stallone isn't just talking, is he? At age 60 he's got a picture due for Christmas release -- a sequel coming 30 years after the original. Just look at the above still. Come on, who looks that good at that age? How many sixty-year-olds can throw a punch? How many actors can carry a movie at Stallone's age?

Watch the trailers and tell me they don't look good. That cool 'go get 'em' trumpet intro, that cool 'go get 'em' dialogue, and some very nice looking fight sequences. You gotta like it.

Out of curiosity I listened to the NPR interview with Stallone and was surprised by how smooth and articulate he is. I'll admit that's not what I was expecting. This guy has it together and you can't help but want to see the movie after hearing him talk about it. Not only that, but there's something in his voice that says he knows he has a winner -- like a guy who has a lot of money down on a sure thing.

I'm thinking "Rocky Balboa" will do very nice business. A lot of bloggers are issuing a lot of rude (and poorly written) comments about Mr. Stallone and his implausible sequel, but as Sly says, 'It ain't over till it's over'. A little cheesy perhaps, but I can't agree more. It's easy to take shots but talk is, after all, so very cheap. Frankly, I hope the naysaying pretty-boys of the blogosphere get the shit kicked out of them. They certainly deserve it.

When released December 20, "Rocky Balboa" is in contention with a couple heavy-weights -- "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Eragon" -- as well as some artsy offerings, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this upstart sequel come out on top. Nonetheless, no matter how Mr. Stallone's new movie does at the box office, he has accomplished what few actors his age would dare to attempt and, as a result, he has already made an admirable showing. Cynicism is more than convenient and resting on one's laurels is par for the course, but taking your best shot against the odds calls for a real champion. CUE TRUMPET INTRO. Hats off, Sly. Go get 'em Rocky.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If It Flies, Fine...

Morgan Freeman, Paz Vaga, 10 Items or Less
Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega in "10 Items or Less". Freeman is an actor trying to keep his career afloat by doing a small film set in a market. Vaga is a cashier who befriends him. This looks like one of those charming pictures that will appeal to cinefiles and a small percentage of the general public. WP has an interview with Freeman:

Toward the beginning of the movie, Freeman's character (who remains nameless throughout) tells the man who's driving him to the store why he's considering the movie: "If it flies, fine, and if it doesn't, it won't even count." But the audience soon realizes that although Freeman's character wants to believe that line, it's more like a mantra, and the happy-go-lucky enthusiasm masks a deep fear of failure. For him, clearly, everything counts.

...Freeman says the role, quite frankly, was a relief: "I don't know if you know that I complain so much about all the gravitas that comes my way. I was looking for something light, comical, and this was just like heaven sent," he says, that familiar voice rising with joy. "Everybody who was on the movie was on it for the same purpose. It wasn't just a job, it was an undertaking-- without the gravitas."

Just what you would expect from such an easy-going pro like Freeman. Looking forward to watching this disc.

Complete interview

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Filmspotting #139

Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren review "The Nativity Story", "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", and rundown their "Top 5 Good Films From Bad Directors".

The boys perhaps overthink their reviews, but their lists are entertaining and reflect a depth of knowledge. The Top 5 starts at the 53 minute mark.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

News You Can Use

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, dress auctionGuardian reports the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" sold at auction for $800,000 at Christie's:

The sleeveless dress, with a tiny 24-inch waist, slit to the thigh and slightly gathered at the waist, is now thought to be the world's most expensive dress made for a film.

Designed by Hubert de Givenchy, the black Italian satin column-like gown was designed for the 1961 film, in which Hepburn as Holly Golightly is seen emerging from a taxi on to a deserted early-morning Fifth Avenue in New York, eating a croissant and looking into the window of Tiffany's.

Such was the success of the adaptation of Truman Capote's novella that Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar.

Scorching. I would have gotten the item but my bid of $790,000 turned out to be laughable. Ouch. How can I go on?

Monday, December 04, 2006

So Lucky To Of [sic] Read This

Lindsay Lohan in A Prairie Home Companion directed by Robert Altman
It's only four paragraphs but my my how sharp the British can be -- especially when a target presents itself. The Guardian reports Lindsay Lohan may portray Caitlin Thomas, widow of the poet Dylan Thomas, in an upcoming biopic. So what? These rumors fly around all day. However, in this case Lindsay is at a disadvantage. Seems she recently said the following of Robert Altman (with whom she worked on "A Prairie Home Companion"), "I am lucky enough to of [sic] been able to work with Robert Altman...He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do...Be adequite."

Well... (Let me catch my breath). Suffice it to say the Guardian doesn't cut Lindsay any slack. They continue by pointing out that, while few actors possess Lohan's 'anti-qualifications' for playing literary figures, many American movie stars leap at the chance to show off their 'slo-o-ower echt Englishspeak' in classy movies about British people who write, read, or just carry a lot of books around.

Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The HoursAnne Hathaway will be Jane Austen in the regrettably and anti-literarily [sic] entitled "Becoming Jane", Johnny Depp as JM Barrie, Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter, and Nicole Kidman (although she is Australian, for our purposes she will be considered Americanized by association with Hollywood), who portrayed Virginia Woolf (and her nose) in "The Hours". I mean, look at her -- that piercing gaze, the way she holds the cigarette -- all so clever. You just know this person could tell you how the Electoral College works, or what the longest river in the world is.

Let's face it -- the British sound smarter than us. Once I knew a conductor who spoke with a wisp of a British accent even though he grew up in the Midwest United States. Who can blame him? He wanted to sound better than the average schmo conductor from Winston-Salem or some town in Idaho. From now on I'm talking with an accent and I'm never going anywhere without a book (hardcover, thank you very much). If necessary I'll wear a fake nose and smoke in order to appear more...uh...what's the word? Smart. That's it. I want to look and sound...oh, uh, what was that word again? Oh, yeah -- smart.

Complete Guardian story

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