In honor of Halloween, Cinecultist intended to post a list of favorite scary movies. But when we sat down to think of the list, we realized the number of actual scary movies we've seen and enjoyed is pretty slim. CC is sort of a wuss when it comes to the horror genre. Our mother says it's because we're sensitive.
CC has seen Psycho a few times, but that was in the context of an Alfred Hitchcock class. Same goes for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It probably stems from that time in the 6th grade when at a sleepover party everyone else wanted to watch Poltergeist 3. CC spent the movie behind an overstuffed armchair with fingers in ears. So that's why we're instead recommending a viewing or reviewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!. Linus knows it's all about getting into the spirit of the holiday. Happy Halloween cinecultists. Maybe we'll see you at the parade in Washington Square Park.
Being a Cinecultist isn't just about consuming as many movies as your eye sight can stand, it is about the whole movie going experience. With this in mind, CC brings you in the next few weeks, reviews of our favorite (and hated) movie houses in New York City.
address: East Houston. Closest subway: 2nd Ave F/V.
A restored theater that's been a staple on the Lower East Side culture reopened about a year or so ago and now screens independent and art house movies to the LES hip. Has 5 theaters on three floors, all with stadium seating. Chi-chi concession stand. Price of a Large Diet Coke? Well above the $4 mark. Special Events: Hosts premiere screenings of indie pictures like American Splendor and the Margaret Cho concert movie, the Notorious C.H.O. They also show Midnight Movies programmed by the Village Voice. Up coming features to be hitting their screens include the Girl with the Pearl Earring. Full listing and tickets at Moviefone or 777-FILM.
Plus side: CC often ends up standing out front of this theater waiting for a friend and Houston Street is a great place for the people watching. They also have a nice lobby area on the second floor to hang out in, if you're a little early for your movie. Minuses: Can be difficult to get tickets here on the weekend nights for popular movies.
Places to grab a nosh nearby:
A toasted sandwiche at Grilled Cheese (168 Ludlow Street) hits the spot on a rainy afternoon. Or a glass of red wine and the pate plate at the Pink Pony (176 Ludlow Street) post-film will make you feel particularly cultured.
Cinema Treasures' review of the Sunshine.Check out the rest of their extensive coverage of movie theaters all over the country.
Last week Cinecultist brought to you the sad tale of our B-grade and lower celebrity sighting tendencies. We put it to our faithful readers (all five of you hearty souls) to send in your own embarrassing tales. Let's just say, the cinecultists did not disappoint. Thus, we bring you this week's installment of Celeb-a-cultist judged on a scale of humiliation from "funny story you might tell while drunk" all the way up to "wouldn't confess to your religious leader of choice."
Maggi P. told CC she saw Drew and a member of the band-du-jour the Strokes. This is the kind of sighting that does not count. Send that to Choire at Gawker please, that's much too celebtastic for this forum. Catching glimpse of Tatum O'Neal, Craig Bierko and Jackie Mason are highlights of Gary P.'s life in the West Village. Gary perhaps should get out more, but not entirely cringe inducing. Casey B. tells us he saw Joe Levy from the Rolling Stones near Katz's on Houston. This gets points for being in our 'hood but then, the score goes down when it's a music person. Granted, he did recognize him from a "Behind the Music" episode, but film and television, this is where we know bad celebs from at cinecultist.
Runner up goes to Betsy B. for telling CC how she recognized this actor from the ballet opus Center Stage, Randy Pearlstein at Park in Chelsea. Only after second reading of said e-mail, did we realize she recognized an extra from Center Stage. And tried to pick him up. Unsuccessfully. Kudos, Betsy, kudos.
But the winner goes to our friend Lisa G., a newcomer to New York who while on the Upper East Side last week heard a man say into a cellphone "Hey Bill, it's Tom Arnold." And it was that Tom Arnold. She would've walked straight past him, yet he identified himself to his friend -- by first and last name. Totally D-list, totally humiliating. The trip to Aruba is yours Lisa, congrats! Direct all further Celeb-a-cultist sightings to karenATcinecultistDOTcom and we'll post them as need dictates. Happy celeb (sorta) watching!
A new development in the way deals get done for directors that's sure to further inflate ego posturing all over Hollywood, the Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson will get "20/20" ($20 million up front and 20 percent of the grosses) for his remake of King Kong for Universal. Cinecultist's favorite quote in the Times article about it has to be this one from an unnamed studio exec:
One studio chief said she was in a state of shock when she heard about Mr. Jackson's deal. "No director has ever made more than $12 million" on a single film, she said. "It's going to have unbelievable ramifications. It's insane."
We can so hear this exec yelling at the reporter "In-Sane!!!!" But really, CC's not sure exactly what's so shocking or insane about this development. As people (we're talking non-cinecultist here) become more apt to recognize the names of movie makers as they are to be familiar with the stars, those same moviegoers will want to see the new Peter Jackson movie. Hence, Peter Jackson wants to be paid accordingly. What's really shocking is the list of other directors (slash writers slash producers -- as though this makes them more "hardworking" or something) that the article lists will also be poised to ask for pay raises. The Warchoski brothers? Ok, maybe. But M. Night Shyamalan? Hack. Chris Columbus?? Uber-hack. Jerry Bruckheimer!?! King of Hacks.
Over the weekend, Cinecultist finally caught a performance of the East Village hit, Matt & Ben over at P.S. 122. Winner of the best performance award at last year's Fringe Festival, P.S. 122 mounted a limited run of the show this fall that's had so much audience interest, it has been held over and performances added (including three on Saturday nights).
The play imagines that magical moment when the script for Good Will Hunting landed on the coffeetable in that humble Boston apartment. Literally, it falls from the ceiling. Mindy Kaling plays Ben Affleck and Brenda Withers is Matt Damon and these talented women also wrote the play. The play capitalizes on a delightful premise and our abiding fascination with celebrity. We think we know these two guys because we saw them collect their Oscars for best screenplay, but what do we really know, after all, about their collaboration? Kaling and Withers bicker so realistically, like two friends who've known each other much too long, there are moments where CC felt she should leave the room, it was too intimate a display. CC highly recommends it as a funny, thoughtful evening at the theater.
One More Cultural Consumption Suggestion: Death Cab for Cutie's new album, "Transatlantism". Buy it. Lurve it. Lordy, it's so so so great. That is all.
This afternoon, PCC tuned out the predominantly wretched reviews and saw Jane Campion's new film In the Cut with CCC. Now, there are several things that intrigued PCC as she sat in the semi-crowded Sunshine Theater and waited for the film to roll. Of course, there's the fact that PCC thinks Ms. Campion is damn talented. Enough said. And then there's question of America's Sweetheart. Like an alcoholic trying to sober up, Meg Ryan is desperately trying to walk the dramatic path. She plays Frannie Avery, an ascerbic English teacher in New York City who inadvertently holds the key to a gruesome slaying and dismemberment of a prostitute at a local bar. Things get complicated when the lead homicide detective on the case, the disarmingly attractive and scruffy Mark Ruffalo, takes an interest in her. Did PCC mention that Frannie is both obsessed with sex and terribly repressed?
Of course, repressed female sexuality is old hat for Ms. Campion (anyone remember The Piano?), and as CCC noted, Ms. Ryan has also built a career for herself out of trying, and often failing until the climactic final scene, to find a man and get married. Granted, Campion uses drama to dramatize her themes of sexual turmoil, while Ryan has, except for 1994's When A Man Loves a Woman and 1996's Courage Under Fire, resided in RomanticComedyVille. So perhaps a more apt, and explanatory, title for Campion's new film would be something along the lines of "In the Cut: In Which Meg Ryan Finally has Sex". And boy, is there a lot of sex. And nudity. And violence. And every combination of said elements imaginable. Perhaps this is PCC's own fault, but she had a very difficult time seeing Frannie as a character; instead, PCC saw Meg Ryan playing Meg Ryan. Through this rather distorted lens, the full frontal nude scenes with Ryan and Ruffalo took on a disconcerting voyeuristic quality, as if PCC were peeping in the window of Ryan's private window. Not that PCC doesn't admire on some level the fact that Ryan wants to exercise (develop?) her acting chops and try her hand at a dramatic role, but there has been entirely too much press over the aforementioned sex scenes. While sex definitely plays an integral role in the film, PCC thinks that all the buzz about a naked Meg exaggerated these scenes until it was impossible to see them as a part of the narrative.
Overall, PCC is still mulling over the merits of the film. The "moral" of the story was more than a bit anti-feminist -- women can't survive without men. And Ryan's portrayal of the troubled Frannie was a bit too distanced for PCC's taste- sex is such an intimate activity, even for a woman like Frannie who tries to be academic and detached from it all, and Ryan's performance didn't feel "close" enough to the subject matter. But the cinematography was wonderful, at least 90% of the time, though PCC and CCC agreed that the reliance on out-of-focus shots was a bit overdone. The film made PCC feel unsettled and a bit dirty (in the physical sense, since the odor of Campion's fetid NYC practically jumped off the screen and into PCC's nose). Yet there was something intrigiung about it all, even if the values articulated weren't necessarily ones to which PCC subscribes.
Let the brouhaha begin. Fandango.com, the ticket selling website, notified Cinecultist yesterday afternoon that tickets for the Matrix Revolutions is now available for purchase online. Also good news for Warchowski fanboys around the world, the new picture will open simultaneously on Nov. 5. In other words, the screening times will take into account time zones so that we can all watch this final installment together. It'll be a global love-in for wrap around sunglasses, latex and Keanu Reeves' prodigious acting talent. Can you feel the geek-excitement in the air?
Also of note: Doyoufeelloved.com celebrated three years of blogging yesterday with yet another lovely new design. If you're not a huge fanboy for Chris's unique take on all things comic book, U2 and pop consumption then hop to it kiddo! You're already behind the curve. Everyone's laughing at how out of it you are. Seriously.
How best to put to sleep the legacy of Dawson's Crack and teenie-bopper fame? Why doing indie film, of course. Hell, if it can work for extreme case like 90210's Tori Spelling with a role in the excellent House of Yes, Katie Holmes should be a shoo in for coolness and longevity beyond puberty. Holmes delivers a subtle and suprisingly deft performance in Pieces of April, a story about the black sheep being visited by her family at her Lower East Side walk up one Thanksgiving. In many ways, it has a lot of structural similarities to Day Trippers, with the family trapped in the car together through much of the film, bickering and loving. Unfortunately though, the quality of the image also reminds CC too much of the early '90s.
Back in those halcyon days, it seemed more reasonable to deliver a film to audiences shot in DV and blown up to 35mm and looking like ass in a tub, if it had stellar performances in it. Now in 2003, this seems just unnecessary. But setting this aesthetic quibble aside, Pieces reads like a who's who of Indie actors (god that Patricia Clarkson -- take it on home, girlfriend) and has a soundtrack featuring music by one of the superstars of indie music, Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields. Lush and sweet one moment, menacing the next, Merritt makes smart music. A perfect compliment to this charming picture. Now we're psyched to see what Ms. Holmes can do in a slick Hollywood dramedy.
Early Saturday evening, Cinecultist stood in a crowded room in Chelsea contemplating a photograph of a nude girl bent over taken by director/photographer/lecherous old coot Larry Clark. We found out later, this was a $40,000 vagina we were gazing upon. As usual, Jose Freire, the proprietor of Team Gallery (527 West 26th Street, NYC) puts on a show that takes art, media and modern culture then messes them all up together. The show's curated by Bob Nickas, features work by 30 odd artists and has the impressively long title "My People Were Fair and Had Cum in their Hair (but Now They're Content to Spray Stars from your Boughs)." Head down there to check out the show if you're in the neighborhood, its quite an array of smut. And we mean this in the best way. Of all of the interesting peices in the show, we found that boy and his pumpkin to be quite an eye opener. Jose is one of CC's dear friends from NYU but besides this connection, we trust him to expose us to the most thoughtful artists working now, in particular those who's work is mitigated by their relationship to culture. Fascinating.
Another shout out/suggestion: Charlie Suisman is another New York cultural force that keeps CC in the know with the cool kids. His site and e-mail newsletter Manhattan User's Guide is good stuff — pretty, interesting and off the beaten path — and like a good friend, is always welcome in the inbox. He's doing a push for new sign-ups this week, so that he can continue to run the site with the costs being defrayed by some subtle advertising. Click over and check it out.
IMDB reports this morning that one of PCC's favorite acting greats (and you know he's got talent when one can disregard almost all his films in recent memory and still love the guy) Robert De Niro has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Luckily, his spokesman reports that the disease was spotted in the early stages and doctors expect a full recovery. Get well soon, Bobby!
As per a conversation with Josh Cultivated Stupidity over pink drinks in Yorkville on Saturday night, we bring you a new feature to Cinecultist, sightings from the Celeb-a-cultist. Living in NYC, CC sees her fair share of familiar faces when out and about, besides our run-in with Ms. Spiers, but they're most often just barely famous. We're talking pretty seriously B-level, or even C-level celebrities. The problem is that CC watches so much television, reads so many magazines and sees so many movies that often these people look like someone who's an acquaintance. Where do we know that person from? Isn't it some syndicated television show set in the Amazon jungle and starring washed-up supermodels?
This weekend, CC almost plowed into Gloria Reuben (Jeanie Boulet from ER) while we were carrying our wash home from the laundry mat. CC has also recently seen yet another cast member of the ballet classic Center Stage, this time Sascha Radetsky walking through the West Village, though we've also seen Zoe Saldana at the Anjelika and Ethan Steifel at City Bakery. More odd sightings recently have included former supermodel turned photographer Helena Christiansen in Tribeca, as well as sighting three or four of Jesse Eisenberg in the East Village. Drea de Matteo and Jane Adams (Joy from Happiness) live near CC, so they're around drinking coffee, walking the dog and such working actress activities.
These are some pretty lackluster sightings, not even a Drew and a Stroke, but they're part of the fabric in our New York life. Have you got some Celeb-a-cultist moments? We're talking being seriously embarrassed you even saw the person, let alone recognized them. Send them in (to karenATcinecultistDOTcom) and we'll publish the saddest ones.
MPAA President Jack Valenti, the man with the plan, had the "brilliant" idea to remove the use of screener tapes this year in the awards ceremonies. Entertainment Weekly reported last week that this development was certain to hinder the Oscar campaigns of independent films that Academy Award voters living in the hinterlands wouldn't be able to see these smaller films. But, godforbid that these screener copies should get out to the masses in the form of bootlegs, that's the real detriment to the film industry these days. That's the evil we have to nip in the bud.
Now Mahnola Dargis and friends in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have decided to suspend their awards this year unless the MPAA allows encrypted VHS tapes to be distributed. This is not good news for the usual progression of things in the awards season. The interplay between the critics and festivals around the world — this critic likes this performance but this fest prefers this picture — leads up to the final assessments. Though Cinecultist often doesn't agree with the final outcome, this is the way of things. If critics can't see all the product, how can they make a real judgement? It seems like basic basic to us.
There's a few age old adages in the realm of movie watching, worthy of embrodery on a sampler some where. "Even a mediocre evening with the Coen brothers is better than most evenings with others." This is what Cinecultist kept thinking last night as we headed home from an after work viewing of the boys' newest, Intolerable Cruelty.
Many critics have mentioned the cynical and heartless nature of the Coen's work, and no one's been too pleased with this recent reworking of the screwball comedy genre. CC felt that at times, it wasn't nearly slick or caustic enough. (Perhaps the influence of Mr. Feelgood producer, Brian Grazer?) Screwball comedy is a comedy of extremes, such as in Bringing Up Baby where the ditziest millionaress meets the geekest scientest ever, they spar, etc etc.. CZJ's character Marilyn at times seemed too human, not cynical and calculating enough. She should've been harder than nails, not just as hard as. We liked the Cloon as per usual, even the blinding white teeth bit, but his character needed more periphery story. Has Miles Massey ever been involved with anyone romantically, besides that weepy lawyer sidekick of his? But even in all of this not-quite-rightness of the characters, there are some Coen classic walk-on roles. In particular we lurved Weezy Joe the hitman who needs that inhailer and the decrept senior partner Herb, who's the scariest thing CC seen on celluloid since we don't know when.
Sure, it would be easy to get mad at the Coens for not making a perfect movie when we know they're capable of it (ahem, Blood Simple). CC can think of a bunch of even okay other features by them that we love much more than this one. But don't write the film off entirely, it still has some cackle-outloud bits worth experiencing.
Cinecultist's alter ego, a young writer named Karen Wilson who actually has other interests in culture beyond le cinema, wrote a piece about Neal Pollack, his new novel and his performance on Saturday at Luxx in Williamsburg for DailyGusto.com today.
Neal responded to said article in a very timely fashion, sometime around 9:45am this morning. (What does this guy do, Google himself for internet references as soon as he gets up in the morning? If so -- hey Neal 'sup?) He says:
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 09:45:39 -0400
From: Neal Pollack
Subject: Re: GUSTO: Neal Pollack, fanboy
Nice piece, Karen, though to be fair, the New York show was the worst of the whole tour. Thanks for understanding my pain.
Thanks for the mail, we appreciate the support. It is a big person who can hear themselves described as "nearly tone-deaf" and still send in complimentary regards.
Our only quibble with his extensive preview of the season's up coming riches? Calling David Denby of the New Yorker "the best critic in the business, hands down". Give us a freakin' break. Denby couldn't find a good film if it came up and kicked him in the ass. At least Anthony Lane's reviews at the New Yorker are snarky, if misguided. We like our man Mick LaSalle at the San Francisco Chronicle if you want to talk good critics. Smart about movies and hilarious to boot. (He hated Kill Bill too.)
Brandon Judell over on IndieWire takes issue with A.O. Scott's rave over Mystic River and his deification of Penn in his coverage of the opening of the New York Film Festival. We've been cranky at Scott ever since he made CC excited about the release of Woody Allen's travesty Anything Else, so we understand where Judell is coming from in his issue at Scott's opinions:
"Just ask the New York Times's A.O. Scott. In a review that makes Janet Maslin's infamous take on "Titanic" seem even-measured, he opined that Sean Penn's performance is "not only one of the best performances of the year, but also one of the definitive pieces of screen acting in the last half-century." Not stopping there, he goes on to say Penn makes "Brando, Dean, Pacino and De Niro...all look like, well, actors." Only in paragraph nine of his review does he hint the film is not perfect: "The movie almost entirely avoids melodrama or grandiosity." A more balanced critic might share where Clint slips."
We hate to break it to Judell, but critics aren't obliged to be balanced. We're supposed to have opinions, with thoughtful arguments to back them up. That's what we pledge to do when we take the critic-ocratic oath. (God, we wish this were so. Someday maybe. When CC runs things.)
Cinecultist loves her beautiful, talented, well-connected friends — especially the ones who hook us up with tickets for things. *ahem* Hint, Hint. Tonight our dear friend Stephanie, the hardest working woman in film festivals, got us tickets to see Tsai Ming-liang's new movie, Goodbye Dragon Inn at the New York Film Festival. The title references King Hu's action classic but we're expecting a picture more like his earlier features the Hole and What Time Is It There? In other words depressing, slowly paced, alienated and oh so Taiwanese. We're psyched.
UPDATE: Ming-liang is an adorable, buzz cut-sporting, art cinema-promoting genius. We heart him. We're on first name basis. As we said to our friend William, we'd be happy to suffer to be his muse like Lee Kang-sheng, except we're not skinny enough for it. Ming-liang says his movies aren't all about nostalgia but we're not so sure about that. Goodbye is a love letter from a cinecultist to King Hu and his martial arts epic. Yes, the movie is all of the things we thought it'd be, particularly slow paced and there's probably about 10 lines total of dialogue in the whole two hours. It's not for the faint of heart or those who expect to be "entertained" at the movies. CC hopes for your sake it gets US distribution soon, it is awesome stuff.
Though we don't often write about it, Cinecultist tries to keep up on the vicissitude of the blogging community. CC also loves meeting fellow bloggers, there's something so fascinating about seeing someone come out from behind the writing persona and the keyboard. On Saturday night, in a tiny club in Williamsburg, CC looked over and saw the dimunative Elizabeth Spiers standing there in the crowd. The former editor of Gawker is now writing a blog for New York magazine, the Kicker which we've been enjoying. A very nice woman sporting a pixie haircut and knee high boots, CC enjoyed chatted with her for a few minutes about how she needs to keep needling the media establishment even though now she's technically a part of it. She also introduced CC to Neal Pollack, the Austin-based writer who was in town promoting his new book and who we'd just been watching perform at Luxx. [More on our impressions of Pollack later this week.] We think he was drunk. A good night all in all in "the capital of all things hip in America." [Ed. note to Gawker -- when we call Williamsburg hip, it's only in the context of quoting a comment made by Pollack to the uber-blase crowd. Come on now, CC lives in the EV, we're soooo over Williamsburg.]
In other blog news, our fellow NYU alumna the Modern Age is going on hiatus. We'll miss your pithy music coverage and obsessive White Stripes news Laura. In the meantime, get your fill of Britney Spears and celebrity nipple sightings over at Whatevs.org. Let's all make Uncle Grambo the newest "white hot blog du jour," he's certainly got the ego for it.
Who needs plot? We mean really, what's the point, when all we want to see is the ass kicking. Particularly, the girl on girl ass kicking. This appears to be the rational behind Quentin Tarantino's newest film (and his fourth film, as he so arrogantly bills it even on the movie's opening credits) Kill Bill—Vol. 1. Cinecultist current theory behind her gut hostility towards QT is this flagrant arrogance from the man who put the oh lord in autuer. He's the ultimate pasticheur, offering knowing reference to a whole host of pop predecessors, from the Shaw brothers to the soundtracks of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns.
But it is not the fact that you could probably say there's nary an "original" moment in the picture that cuts it off at the knees; as Tarantino's originality lies in his ordering of reference. Rather, it's his position of exclusivity that gets in CC's craw. In QT's world we can never be as cool as him, as quick as him, or as in the know as him to "get" all he throws it as us. Sure, the thing looks slick and there's moments that are truly lovely in their brutality but if CC want to be talked down to, we wouldn't ask for it from a pop flick, a self-avowed paean to grind house movies. Shouldn't all of this populism, this re-appropriation of B-production, be completely accessible?
That said, Lucy Liu as O-ren Ishii, the flashback anime sequence detailing her history and that fight in the snow is awesome. Awe-some. Should've been a whole movie all about her. Zowie. But we could've used with less geyser blood from severed limbs. Yick. Pretty much everybody in the critic world loved it. Also, it made a bunch of money ($22.2 million on 3,102 screens) this weekend. Guess QT's here to stay. So we guess CC will just have to continue to alienate our fellow film geeks but saying the arrogant yahoo bugs us.
Here's the newly released trailer for a film PCC has NOT already seen, Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain. If, for some unknown reason, PCC had caught a sneak preview of the Nicole Kidman/Jude Law historical drama/romance/epic, she would probably highly recommend it. Hypothetically.
Some good things out this weekend. Also, some seriously hyped things. Cinecultist isn't going to tell you not to go see Kill Bill, Vol. 1, because you probably will anyway. Hell, who are we kidding? We're going too. Just remember to consume your Quentin with caution. Also up: the Coen brothers do a classic screwball comedy (not to be confused with romantic comedy -- a very different beast) with Intolerable Cruelty, the NYFF opening film Mystic River gets a wider release (be sure to read PCC's thoughts below) and the Sundance darling about a midget, The Station Agent also hits theaters.
If after all that you still have time/energy for one more, CC would recommend the Andy Warhol Festival at BAM : The Voice Choices pick from the Village Voice this week, as Jen reminded me on Wednesday night, all this month is Warhol month at BAM. Tonight is the double feature of Poor Little Rich Girl (Edie! Edie! Edie!) and Vinyl and Saturday features I Shot Andy Warhol with a Q&A by the director Mary Harron. All kinds of good stuff later in the series too, like Couch, Blow Job, Chelsea Girls and Kiss.
Too much to see. Damn, we love movie going in New York.
Sometimes loving a book can get you in trouble, especially in a movie theater. Everyone knows that guy behind them who mutters throughout the entire film about how such and such a line wasn't in the book and how the main character should wear a burgandy jacket, not a red one, dammit. For the most part, PCC wages these adaptation wars in the privacy of her own brain. But the tension still exists, building to a tidal wave of equal parts excitement and apprehension as the opening credits of the film adaptation of a beloved book roll on to the screen. Luckily, Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's bestselling novel, Mystic River rode the wave of excitement from the first glimpse of the Boston suburbs until the final somber notes of the Clint-composed theme faded out after the closing credits scrolled off-screen.
Mystic River follows the lives of three boyhood friends, Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins), starting on a fateful day when they were eleven and Dave was kidnapped off the street by two mysterious men masquerading as cops. We flash forward 25 years and find that the boys have become men with families of their own. Their lives are intertwined once again when Jimmy's daughter Katie is found brutally murdered in a local park and Sean, now a state policeman, is assigned to the case, which begins to focus on Dave as a suspect. But Mystic River is so much more than a police procedural or a straight-up murder mystery. While Katie's murder serves as the catalyst that brings the men together again after so many years, Lehane's novel and Eastwood's film are more studies in grief, revenge and family than anything else.
Lehane's prose is haunting, seamlessly weaving in and out of different characters' perspectives. With such an "interior", psychologically-driven book, PCC was afraid of how it would be translated on to the screen. But Eastwood nails the tone of the novel, the slowly building sense of dread that creeps along each page, and now through each shot of the film. It isn't a flashy book and Eastwood is wonderfully understated in his depictions of the events of the story. Even the discovery of Katie's body, which in other crime films might be edited together with the cadence of a music video, is sweeping and somber, like a layer of tar oozing over the frame and darkening the mood without a sound.
But Eastwood's most remarkable accomplishments in the film are the performances he elicits from his leading men, as well as from Laura Linney as Jimmy's second wife and Marcia Gay Harden as Dave's wife. Sean Penn is breathtaking to watch. You feel his pain, but not because he's forcing it on you, but because he's so open and raw and honest about it that you can't help but take a deep breath and remind yourself that it's only fiction. His monologue on the porch steps with Tim Robbins should convince anyone still out there who doubts his astonishing gift for complete character subsumption that Penn is one of the finest actors working today. Laura Linney is wonderfully cold and controlling as the pragmatic Annabeth, always in control behind the shadows. The final scene, devoid of dialogue but chockful of emotion, between Annabeth, Jimmy and Celeste (Harden) should be included on the list of most powerful closing scenes in recent memory.
Coming soon to a film blog near you: an IM chat between PCC and CCC (aka Mr. Cultivated Stupidity) on the merits of recent NYFF screenings of Lars Von Trier's Dogville and David Mackenzie's Young Adam. But to tide you over until then, here's a picture of Young Adam star Ewan McGregor himself, taken by PCC courtesy of CC's digital camera-and the fact that Mr. McGregor was gracious enough to stand still long enough signing a woman's program for PCC to take several photos. Enjoy!
Just because we haven't mentioned it in awhile, doesn't mean that Cinecultist isn't still madly in love with Netflix. CC Heart those DVDs in little red envelopes delivered right to our door, especially since we've been crazy busy lately working for The Man. This last weekend CC watched Deliver Us From Eva which we expected to merely add to our extensive list of rom coms (a "seen it, check it off") but instead we found it delightful, a smart rip on Shakespeare's the Taming of the Shrew with two top notch performances from Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J.
Imagine if you will, a Kate who needs to be tamed because she's obsessive compulsive, a germ-phobe and a busy body. And she works as a restaurant inspector. It may seem trite, but Gabrielle carries off Eva's ticks and bitchiness with comic flare. She really can give a performance, rather than just standing in as Hottie McHotHot #2 (after Eva Mendes' #1) as she did in this summer's Bad Boys II. She certainly is beautiful, and in particular the shots of the four sisters strutting to their theme song are case in point, but this girl has a screen presence that belies her looks. We also want to add LL, aka James Todd Smith, into our pantheon of favorite rappers-turned-actors with Ice-T (on Law and Order: SVU) and Ice Cube (in Three Kings not Anaconda). Sure we've seen this character arc before, the player who wooes the girl for cash but then really falls for her, but weirdly James makes it believable. He matches Gabrielle well in terms of confidence on screen and they're both so likeable, CC could forgive them any sort of predictable plot turn. Except for perhaps that buying her the horse bit at the end, and then riding off on it into the sunset. Literally. That was a little much even for CC.
Other African-American cast romantic comedies we recommend (Okay, fine. CC also owns them on DVD. 'Cause they're damn good. Honest.): Love and Basketball with Sanaa Latham and Omar Epps as basketball playing sweethearts, Love Jones with Nia "I'm a photographer" Long and Larenz "Look, I'm a poet" Tate as arty lovers in Chicago, and Brown Sugar again with Sanaa, this time paired with Taye Diggs, who love each other and hip hop.
Josh (aka CCC) did not attend a test screening of Cold Mountain where he a)promised not to publish anything about said film and b)attested he'd read the novel on which the film is based. He did not write up a mini-review over at Cultivated Stupidity. This is not our favorite excerpt [because it rips on Renee Z.]:
Nicole Kidman gave one of her most relaxed performances, Jude Law actually exuded sex in all the right places, and Renee Zellweger was spunky in a not at all unappealing or clichéd manner (Jesus, that was painful to write). Cold Mountain was enjoyable. It was a little long at times, but it was quality Hollywood epic-ish filmmaking.
Josh is not obsessed with Nicole Kidman. Okay. Fine. That last one's a lie. We'll give you that one.
Yep kids, it's true. The state of California has elected the popular jock as president of the student council — Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor elect. As Cinecultist's Dad (a member of the voting electorate in the Golden State) pointed out, it's not a good sign for his intellect level that the guy's been living in this country for as many years as he has and still has that accent. When CC's Daddy-o graduated from law school, the other actor politician was the governor and so his signature is on his diploma. As a kid, CC always found that fascinating. The only consolation to all of this? Knowing that Ah-nold has to live in Sacramento now. Man, there ain't nothing to do in that town. Do they even have a Planet Hollywood there? CC doesn't think so.
Cinecultist has been thinking a lot lately about where our excellent taste comes from. Just in case you haven't figured it out, CC and staff is on the cutting edge of just about everything, dah-ling. Years of hard work to develop this taste, we certainly never had a teacher like Jack Black in the School of Rock, sitting down to give us the history of pop expression at an impressionable age. Black, the other half of rock group Tenacious D, plays Dewey Finn a washed up bass player still holding out for that big break in rock n' roll. His roommate, Ned (screenwriter Mike White) and Ned's girlfriend (stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman) insist Dewey contribute to the rent and so Dewey starts substitute teaching at a prep elementary school pretending to be Ned.
Even when his movie's scripts are less than stellar (as in Saving "surprisingly amusing though seriously dumb" Silverman or Shallow "oh no Farley brothers" Hal), Black still has a charm and charisma that translates into some great moments. But here Black has a delightful script from White (the Good Girl) and a sure hand behind the camera in Richard Linklater. His report with the kids is also delightful as he convinces them to abandon X-tina for Robert Plant and Jimmy Hendrix. The movie has wonderful momentum, the two hours sail along with energy and the audience CC watched it with sat through every last credit, they just didn't want to go home. We can understand that, Jack Black was on the screen.
When Cinecultist can't be out on the town, rubbing elbows with all of the celebs at the movie openings and whatnot, we have our trusty spies in there for us. One such pair of eyes reported the following tidbit on the after party for a screening of Jane Campion's newest, In The Cut: Mark Ruffalo is a really nice guy. While the rest of the A-listers like Meg ("surprisingly good in the movie AND she's a brunette") Ryan, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon sat around in their own little clique, only allowing equally prestigious guests like Campion into their circle in the corner, Mark "totally cute in person" R. hung out downstairs with the crew and various extras. And he knew their names. This is the kind of story CC likes to hear about inclusive, keeping it on the dl actors. Rock on Mark, we're happy to see you back on the silver screen (also currently appearing in My Life Without Me) after your illness.
Our friend Fiona So Much Modern Time attended the after party for the opening night of NYFF and Mystic River at Tavern on the Green where she got drunk, ate fancy food and talked to director Michael Almareyda. Check out her full hob nobbing report. Gothamist also attended opening night of the fest.
Stay tuned for PCC's report on the opening night of the 2003 New York Film Festival, featuring Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. Just a hint: amazing.
Until February 2004, Ingrid Bergman will be at a gin joint near you. If you live in New York City, that is. And if you consider the Scandinavia House to be a gin joint. For the next four months, The American Scandinavian Foundation's Scandinavia House is showing all of Bergman's Swedish-language films, from her first performance in 1935's Munkbrogreven (The Count of the Old Town) to her heartbreaking turn as Liv Ullman's distant mother in Ingmar Bergman's 1978 Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata). Ms. Bergman tops PCC's current list of all-time favorite actresses and while PCC has had the opportunity to watch many of the early Swedish films, courtesy of Movie Madness in Portland, she is very excited about the chance to see them on the big screen. Scandinavia House is located at 58 Park between 37th and 38th Streets. Tickets to the screenings are $8.
As you may have heard, this weekend kicks off the 41st New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center (Oct. 3 - Oct. 19). Considered one of the main festivals, a series other festivals around the world use to plan their line-ups, NYFF seems to try to hover between big-name releases from established American directors (Clint Eastwood's Mystic River and Gus Van Sant's Elephant) and international vanguards (Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn, Lars von Trier's Dogville and Claude Chabrol's The Flower of Evil).
But NYFF isn't the only festival of film on the horizon here in New York. Meanwhile below 14th Street, this weekend also begins CineKink:NYC, a festival of sex, film and kink held at the Anthology Film Archive. Latex, whips, dominatrix, the history of s&m on screen, these aren't the sorts of things you'll see at Walter Reade.
Also worth checking out, Oct. 9 - 12 the RESfest comes to the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, a series devoted to digital filmmaking by the digital culture magazine. They'll be running a retrospective to Michael Gondry on Sunday, including a Q&A with the director. Daft Punk will also be performing, so you can get your techno with your technology.
Work is hard to find for good actresses, so say the usual detractors. But directors like John Sayles, who's meditative movies feel more like plays with their emphasis on character development and room for lengthy monologues, defy this convention. Cinecultist caught his newest, Casa de los Babys, over the weekend and then sat down with one of the editors at Filmington.com, Doug French to discuss it over IM. First, we had to look up trenchant ("vigorously effective and articulate; also caustic") because Filmington prides itself on trenchant movie banter but once we had that sorted, CC enjoyed discussing the Sayles style, his excellect cast and how he's the cauliflower of directors with Doug. We've reprinted the conversation below.
When you think of the most enviable careers in the independent film community, John Sayles has to leap to mind. He can be called in to script-doctor studio stuff like THE ALAMO yet receive utter autonomy on his writer/director jags. Here to review his latest effort, CASA DE LOS BABYS, is guest reviewer Karen Wilson, the driving force over at Cinecultist.com. Welcome aboard.
Thanks so much for having me. It’s nice to be here, thinking of trenchant banter that equals the Filmington standards.
You picked a great film for your debut, because BABYS, the story of six infertile American women trapped in an unnamed South American country waiting for the opportunity to adopt a child, begs for a feminine insight that is all too rare around here. So here’s your first question: Can a man write for a woman?
I suppose if anyone can, it might be Sayles, who seems to write Characters, with a very decided capital C. He also demand Performances from his actors, and in this case, he’s chosen a pretty able group of women — from old guarders like Lili Taylor, Marcia Gay Harden and Mary Steenburgen to a more up-and-coming actress like Maggie Gyllenhaal. Basically, these actresses could inhabit a paper bag and make it believable.
Don’t forget Daryl Hannah, who lends a quiet dignity to her role as the statuesque fitness freak/New Age masseuse. And of all the wattage among Sayles’s stars, the lesser-known Irish actress Susan Lynch — whom Sayles cast in 1994’s THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH — provides what is easily the film’s most breathtaking scene.
I agree on Susan Lynch, she’s completely arresting. But I purposely left out Hannah because she’s not the sort of actress from whom I would have automatically expected a superlative performance. But here, Sayles’s sparse dialogue and lingering on facial expressions seem to work for her, allowing her a performance that I didn’t expect.
Sayles gives each of the six actresses equal time to flesh out her character, so we can piece together how each woman ended up in the titular hotel, where hopeful mothers bide their time while the corrupt system shuffles its papers. The only cipher is Harden’s Nan, an officious and condescending harridan with what could be a disturbing past.
Of all of the characters, save Lili Taylor’s edgy and slightly bitter Manhattan book editor, I liked Nan the best. She freaked me out with her intensity and single-minded drive to have a baby, and I found her American entitlement scary but also extremely topical. She’s pathological — a sociopath, as Taylor’s character points out — but, in a way, you could call her quest for motherhood successful. And she begs you to judge her: Will she be a good mother? Should we trust her with a baby? All questions that “normal biology” doesn’t really allow us to ask. She’s tricky to understand, but very real. I guess that’s what I responded to.
It also helps that Sayles puts the neuroses of these women in the context of their temporary adoptive culture by adding insights into the lives of several natives. It clues us into the poverty and despair, as well as the seething resentment toward los yanquis, who buy their babies and vamoose. Another swift allegorical dig at American imperialism, perhaps?
True certainly, but a little didactic. In general, the movie lacked the complexity and shades of grey I remember finding fascinating about LONE STAR and SUNSHINE STATE, both movies about community conflicts that don’t have obvious good or bad guys. In BABYS, the plot seemed to languish a bit, even for a Sayles movie, and it didn’t have the drive to solve something or really reveal a twist. Perhaps that had something to do with the subject matter.
That lack of complexity may stem from BABYS’s uncharacteristically lean 95 minutes, but Sayles retains that wonderful sense of ambiguity. Can you call someone a “bad guy” just because he looks out for his own interests? The action was sluggish at times, too, but the languishing seemed perfectly appropriate, since the women themselves had been marooned in the hotel, apart from their families and support systems, for months.
I guess I would have liked more interconnection between the images of the street children and their desperate lives, or the maids and the American women. It sort of merged parts of LOS OLVIDADOS (Luis Buñuel’s 1950 surreal film about Mexican street children) with parts of 1939’s THE WOMEN (the all-female cast comedy about love and divorce). BABYS didn’t quite gel for me. As much as it provoked me to think about the subject matter, I found it sort of boring. I just don’t think we can expect Sayles to be for the real mainstream moviegoer.
As you mentioned, Sayles is an Eat Your Vegetables type of filmmaker who provokes discussion of the most unsavory nature of humanity and does not provide for easy answers. For this reason, the uncharacteristically stilted and contrived dialogue in the opening scenes was particularly unsettling. It was too expository — too overly written — to ring true. Yet BABYS made a sturdy recovery and kept my wife and me talking the whole way home. Always a good sign.
Surely. He’s the cauliflower of directors — he looks sort of bland on the plate, but you know he’s good for you, and you’re always happy you tried him. But I think Sayles is a perfect example of the stratification between art house cinema and mainstream movies. He expects more of his viewers, particularly for them not to care if they’re a bit bored for the sake of character or performance, and while we should hope that movies challenge, not everyone wants this experience. Sometimes I find the movies that make me think the most, or provoke the most discussion are not ones that I like, per se. I didn’t find BABYS likeable, but I did think it interesting.
I might have echoed that sentiment before I became a parent, but now that I’ve met so many people who have struggled with both fertility and adoption, the pain of these women — especially Hannah and Lynch — was devastating. I cared for them, yet I also pondered their suitability as parents. So if you have even tangential familiarity with the subject matter, you better bring a wad of non-eponymous facial tissues.
I also found their longing for children moving, but more from a sociological than a personal point of view.
Well, Sayles usually provides something for everyone, whether we want our humanity analyzed or heartstrings plucked.
Yup. And he gives hope to those of us who like to see good actresses getting the opportunity to do good work.
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