Cinecultist just recently finished devouring a tasty profile in this week's New Yorker about actress Helen Mirren. We were gaga for her performance in the HBO movie, Elizabeth I and now are completely over the moon for her role in Stephen Frears' The Queen, which opens the New York Film Festival this weekend and also starts in limited release. Mirren totally rocks, there's no two ways about it.
A brief story about her first professional audition, from John Lahr's New Yorker profile:
"...When Mirren auditioned for the R.S.C., in 1967, Trevor Nunn, then a director with the company, recalled, "A girl came out who appeared to be wearing a garment constructed of black string. It had more spaces between it than it covered. Conversation stopped completely. Jaws dropped. We saw from her C.V. that she'd had no professional experience. She was passionate about doing classical work. I make no bones about it—I think the red blood cells and testosterone were up a considerable level. I don't think anybody contemplated for a moment that she should be told to go away and get experience somewhere else." Nunn added, "We were looking at a major leading player after she'd been with the company a couple of years.'"
Forest Whitaker is one bad mofo. He's the ghost dog. He's the Maddog. He's the Bulldozer. Maybe it's the lazy eye, maybe it's the brilliant instincts as a thespian but he kinda scares the Cinecultist and we like it. Now, he's back on screen in The Last King of Scotland as one really freaky dictator, Uganda's Idi Amin and it's a performance that can only be called a tour de force.
James McAvoy plays Nicholas, a young Scottish doctor who escapes his uptight family for adventure in Africa. This is a guy who doesn't think twice about stopping his journey to bed a cute girl he meets on the bus, so from the start we know he has poor impulse control. A few months into his village gig, Nicholas attends a rally for the new president with a coworker (a lovely, under-utilized Gillian Anderson) and finds himself in thrall of the massive leader. A chance meeting with Amin leads to Nicholas becoming his personal doctor and quickly becomes embroiled in Amin's administration.
If you know even a little bit about history, you can probably figure out that things get much, much worse for Nicholas at this point. Amin's crazy yo and it doesn't take long to figure it out. But Whitaker does an amazing job of making him oddly sympathetic, or at least charming and intriguing. Though, that meat hook scene at the airport (don't ask) is not something we want to ever have to watch again. Actually, we didn't really watch it the first time, as Cinecultist had to scooch down in our chair and cover our eyes. Icky.
This movie though is more than just Whitaker's amazing performance. Director Kevin MacDonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock bring up complex themes about race and colonialism, shading our supposed protagonist with suspect behavior. No one in this film gets to come off entirely as a hero or a villain and it makes for a bracingly realistic movie. In a season where the movie theaters are just starting to fill up with must see movies (wait until CC starts raving full force on the NYFF Friday), don't let The Last King of Scotland pass you by.
We also wrote a review for Radar, if you find such things of note.
Even though the Cinecultist lives deep in the East Village, spends much time with various indie music bloggers and recently started offering a downtown tour guide service,* according to a quiz on CNN, we're only moderately down with the scene. Their special report on Inside the Indie Scene features tutorials on the hip and happening, plus this quiz that wanted to show up our skillz.
Here was the smack down we got with our results:
You got 6 out of 10 correct on your first attempt.
Moderately down: You can certainly hang, but can you hang with the best of them? Not quite yet. Keep doing what you're doing, though, and soon you'll be quoting obscure movie and song lyrics in everyday life like it's going out of style.
This is so humiliating! We can defend all of our four supposedly sub-par responses with dissertations! Surely this is further fodder for the uber downtown criticism that every time mainstream media latches on to our culture, it's always about three years too late. So there, CNN. [via Jane]
*Our most recent client from Boston was making snarky remarks about St. Marks in under three days. We should start offering a money back guarantee.
You don't hate it, but you don't love it—thus is the difficult life of the film critic. Recently, Cinecultist wrote about The Science of Sleep and Flyboys for Radar and the Movie Binge, respectively. We couldn't rave about either one, though they both had elements that were of interest and were entertaining, in their own way.
This has been one of our big dilemmas lately, if you can even call our movie going problems such a hyperbolic term. When you see as many movies as the Cinecultist been watching in a given week, it takes a lot for any one flick to rise above the rabble. We're not complaining about having to sit through most of them, because mostly we love just sitting in a darkened theater, but should we really recommend this "just okay" movie to a person who doesn't want to see every single film that comes through town? Also, what to do about a movie like The Science of Sleep that is of note because it was made by Michel Gondry, and compelling to CC within a director's oeuvre, but a movie that's kind of odd just judged on its own? Some people will want to see it despite our misgivings, but we have to be guarded in our recommendation. After all, if you go nutso for every single movie that comes out, how will anyone know what your taste really is?
Gawker likes to rib the New York Times' food critic Frank Bruni about the often baroque metaphors peppering his reviews, but Cinecultist reads his column and blog faithfully each week. Like the best examples of criticism, Bruni in his food writing knows how to both turn a witty phrase and illuminate his experience sitting in a particular restaurant on a particular night.
That's why Cinecultist was intrigued to see Bruni reporting this weekend on John Cameron Mitchell's new movie, the already infamous art house porn, Shortbus. This seems to be a subject that's off Bruni's usual beat.
Yet the piece still contains typical examples of Bruni's literary-meets-cabaret-rim-shot humor. "Mr. Mitchell said sex was a way to look at characters’ longings 'They’re trying desperately to connect,' he explained, making the inspiration for Shortbus sound like E. M. Forster by way of Marilyn Chambers. Perhaps he should have titled it 'A Passage to Orgasm.'" Wocka, wocka. Not surprisingly, the article makes the production of the film sound almost more interesting than the finished product. Hopefully, JCM will think about including a making of documentary or other supporting material on the DVD.
Related: Our friends over at Hamburger Today also interviewed him recently for their "Grilled" feature.
While it's amazing that anyone would actually subject themselves willingly to such stupidity on camera, Cinecultist doesn't really "get" the appeal of Johnny Knoxville and Jackass Number Two, which hits theaters this weekend.
CC didn't see the first one or watch the TV show, so maybe a faithful reader can let us know. There's no plot or story right? Just guys stapling stuff to their nether regions? Why is that funny? Seriously, we want to understand.
The Al Franken documentary, Al Franken: God Spoke made Cinecultist laugh, but as for its political effectiveness we're still a bit skeptical. Though we will say any movie which has a scene where Ann Coulter gets embarrassed on camera is worth $10.75. [via The Movie Binge]
In other exciting news (well, exciting is always relative), Cinecultist attended our first press screening of the New York Film Festival this morning. It was only 10 am, but we were in the thick of it, folks. Keep an eye out on Gothamist for our extensive coverage of the fest once it kicks off in 10 days, but we will say as of this morning, our deep love for Sofia Coppola continues without a hitch. Hooray!
Last night while tidying up around Chez Cinecultist and scrubbing the tub, we stumbled upon the sad but brilliant final programming of the WB. That's right, last night was the official change over from WB to CW, aka the station that is melding together the mediocre yet oddly engaging programming of the WB and UPN. In honor of, they were re-airing the pilot episodes of some of their most lasting TV shows and so CC sat down to enjoy both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot and the Dawson's Creek pilot. Such excellent television and we're not afraid to admit it.
It was actually a bit weird to see the very fresh faced Katie Holmes doing her mouthy tomboy shtick at a young James Van Der Beek, because but a few feet away we had our Vanity Fair issue featuring Kate, Tom and little Suri waiting to be read. While we still have the sinking feeling that they got this kid from Central Casting, she is darn adorable and all of Katie's protesting to the profile's writer Jane Sarkin about how normal and real their family life is, made CC feel a bit like a jaded beyotch. (Though of course, we do realize that's what the Team Tom media machine wants us to feel. Crafty that one.)
In other highly anticipated television news, tonight is the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother. The HIMYM's blogosphere fan club will be meeting tonight to savor the episode together. We're totally counting down the hours at this point. CC's hoping for catch phrases that are nearly as hilarious as Marshall's legendary put down "lawyered." To whet the whistle, via the Wikipedia HIMYM quote page, from the Mary the Paralegal episode:
Barney: [To Ted] Do you have some puritanical hang up on prostitution? Dude, it’s the world’s oldest profession.
Marshall: Do you really think that’s true?
Barney: Oh yeah, I bet even Cro-Magnons used to give cave hookers an extra fish for putting out.
Marshall: Ah ha, so the oldest profession would be fishermen. Kaboom! You’ve been lawyered!
Please adopt this show as your own, if you haven't already. It's some seriously good television.
During the summer of 2001, Cinecultist flew to Italy to join our family for a vacation and on the plane, we saw this really bizarre and horrible movie. Completely soap opera-y with a bunch of young, attractive actors all trying to screw each other, yet whining about the pains of fidelity the entire time. We couldn't understand why so many Italians loved this movie. Of course this was the Italian blockbuster, L' Ultimo bacio which Paul Haggis has now adapted into the script for The Last Kiss starring Zach Braff. Apparently, bad source material does not guarantee a good movie any more than a good source does.
When Garden State came out, Cinecultist is not embarrassed to admit we were drawn in by Braff's mopey, indie boy shtick. A good soundtrack and puppy dog eyes are surprisingly effective, even on the jaded CC. But in The Last Kiss, il Braffino has worn out his voice over laden welcome. Hit a certain point in your life and all of this a do about fear of commitment becomes incredibly tired. Especially when Braff's only dramatic acting technique seems to be to get a completely petrified look in Michael's eyes when faced with any complex decisions.
For the American version, Haggis has jettisoned much of the emphasis on Michael's childhood buddies and their romantic hang ups for Braff's performance, hence the harping on our annoyance with him. It's too bad since Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson, who as Michael's girlfriend Jacinda Barrett's parents also have a relationship on the rocks, are each such deft performers. Casey Affleck also isn't half bad, but his lack of screen time, as Michael's married buddy with a kid and also contemplating divorce, seriously cuts into his ability to shine.
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Last Kiss is the naiveté attributed to the two main women characters, Barrett's pregnant girlfriend Jenna and Rachel Bilson's lithe, flirty college student Kim. Just the implication that Michael may have lied and been out for the evening not with a guy friend but with a real live girl sends Jenna completely round the bend. Granted, Michael seems incapable of having a girl as cute as Kim as just a friends but still, how is Jenna to know this? And why doesn't Michael know any girls who aren't his buddies' wives or girlfriends? This seems like a pretty limited circle of influence to have at 30. Then when Michael does admit to straying, you'd think he committed atrocities against humanity in the way Jenna shuts him out of her life. Sure, being betrayed, especially if you're pregnant and unwed, isn't going to feel great but are women in Wisconsin really that unsophisticated to think the possibility isn't there?
Then Kim, who seems to be a girl who knows no boundaries when it comes to flirting with a dude at a wedding who obviously has a girlfriend, gets the idea that one late night hook up is for forever? She's in college for god's sake, how can it take this little to break her heart? It's not as though she and Michael seem to have much of anything in common, as their interaction is limited to brief car rides and noisy house parties.
It really is ironic that the final desperate straw for Michael to ditch Kim is when she shows up at his office with a mix CD. Seeing the Braff turn down a compilation made by a girl, and one who carries the additional meta significance of having made her fame by starring on TV show infamous for choice mixes, is quite biting. Sadly, CC seriously doubts director Tony Goldwyn would consciously concoct anything quite that Entertainment Weekly-caliber silly. His characters after all make jokes about hybrid cars and think their puny little lives carry the significance of Tolstoy.
Doesn't Braff have the weirdest chin in the above production still with Barrett? This is not the chin of a forceful man.
Finally: Goddammit, Cinecultist is determined to make it through this essay on Zizek by Frederic Jameson in the London Review of Books. Is our Masters in Cinema Studies good for nothing, after all?
This may seem like an odd request, but Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson should give up his career in showbiz. With his sensitivity, strength and palpable kindness on screen, we could really use him in other arenas—a hostage negotiator maybe or a therapist at Guantánamo Bay. On screen, there doesn’t seem to be any male ego he can’t soften, win over or tame. Yes, that’s right. After watching his performance in Gridiron Gang, Cinecultist can indeed smell what the Rock is cooking and it’s called inspiration. Unlike revenge, it is not a dish best served cold.
The big conversion happened about a third of the way into this redemption through sports picture. Corrections officer Sean Porter at Camp Kilpatrick in Los Angeles is trying his damnedest to turn this rag tag bunch of delinquent gang bangers and drug dealers into a football team. But a visitor's day shakes up some of the potentially best players, as reminders of their messed up home lives start to intercede on their rehabilitation. One kid is visibly upset by a fight with his mom and Porter begins to build him back up with a offer that they should go over some new plays in the playbook. Just that smallest token of support is all most of these kids need. Maybe that sounds naive, but in that moment CC thought, The UN Peacekeeprs could really use a good man like the Rock on their side.
CC often finds it difficult to really analyze sports movies for their merits of realism. To us, it's a lot of running, throwing and catching. But Gridiron communicates a nice sense of urgency in all of this sweating, especially as the drama leads to that final important game. The plot, the characters and their collective struggles really do have you on your feet rooting for their victory, a feeling more essential to this lay viewer than any realistic calls or plays. In a few moments, the turn around of many of these excellent teen actors seems too effortless. But a third act moment of real seeming brutality on the field quickly dissuades that jaded assumption. The film is tagged as based on true events, and that moment made CC believe the reality of its East L.A. milieu.
Yesterday, Cinecultist and our friend the Art Flick Chick Kristi did a little movie viewing of the healthy vegetable variety. Film Forum has been running a series of Kenji Mizoguchi movies and we caught an early evening screening of Ugetsu. A medieval Japanese ghost story and war profiteering cautionary tale, Ugetsu is about two close peasant families who each try to make a social order change during a civil war. There's so much of this movie that is amazingly atmospheric, despite the obvious constraints of making a period, supernatural story in a 1953 movie studio. Also, the actors of this era like Machiko Kyo, who was in Rashomon also, or Masayuki Mori, another big actor during that time, are incredibly expressive. Even the barest glance communicates so much unease. Here was a movie going experience that CC expected to be "good for us" and happily, it was.
Ugetsu is available on a Criterion Collection disc, though obviously Cinecultist always recommends seeing films like this projected when possible, rather than on a small, home screen. By the way, Ugetsu was one of Time magazine's All Time 100 Best Movies. Richard Corliss thinks it has "one of the great tracking shots in cinema history." That's not faint praise.
The Film Forum series runs all of next week as well, with a different Mizoguchi playing almost every day. Cinecultist is going to try to squeeze a few more in to our busy viewing schedule and we recommend you do the same.
Radar made CC do it: we attended a screening of The Covenant last week and only barely survived to tell the tale. The opening credits nearly put us into epileptic shock from the jarring cuts and hardcore soundtrack. The plot is convoluted and incomprehensible. And the actors in it aren't even very cute, and have all the charisma of an A&F catalogue without the homosocial subtext fun.
We beg of you, from the bottom of our Cinecultist heart: Do. Not. See. This. Movie. If only for the reason that the scriptwriters included the term "witchy" as an insult from one teen warlock to another mid death match. That's just completely unacceptable as far as we're concerned.
After a subdued but charged screening one of the major buzz movies from Toronto, Death of A President has been purchased by Newmarket for distribution, according to Reuters. The "fictional documentary" takes footage from three visits by President Bush in Chicago and through the magic of CGI constructs a "realistic" assassination of him by a sniper followed by a flowery eulogy by Vice President Cheney. Director Gabriel Range told Reuters after the screening, "I hope people will see it as a balanced film and compelling drama. It is an oblique look at the ways the United States has changed since 9/11. We use the lens of the future to explain the past."
It's set for an airing on Britain's Channel Four next month and a U.S. theatrical release sometimes this fall. No word yet whether the plot implication that Cheney would become our Commander in Chief will lead the flick to be classified as a horror film.
Production still via Channel 4 Television/Handout/Reuters
But we love living here anyhow. It's just sad to look back. The month of September marks five years since Cinecultist moved to New York to study film, just as today is the fifth year anniversary of an incredibly tragic day for this city.
A picture Cinecultist took from the top of the Empire State building.
Ever since sitting through the lamiosity that was Step Up, Cinecultist has been thinking about all the much better high school dancing musicals we've loved. Our first favorite in this genre was probably Fame, so we popped it onto the Netflix queue. When it arrived in the mail earlier this week, we actually held off on seeing it right away so that we could savor its awesomeness on Saturday afternoon, nestled deep in the couch post morning yoga class. Ironically, Entertainment Weekly also had high school movies on the brain this week, publishing their top 50 list, with our recent rental coming in at #42.
If like Cinecultist it's been many, many years since you've enjoyed the high kicking, '80s excess of Fame, we highly recommend a re-watch. It's a bit like American Idol only with less pop gloss, as we follow a group of high school from audition to graduation at the Performing Arts High School in New York. Our two favorite characters are probably Coco, because as played by Irene Cara she has a spectacular screen presence, and Doris (Maureen Teefy), because we always love the awkward, smart Jewish girls. But of course the best scene involves music student Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri). His proud working class papa gets a hold of one of Bruno's slammin' homemade tapes which he broadcasts from his cab on the street outside the school. The kids stream out of the doors and take their dance party to the midst of Times Square traffic, which is completely silly yet totally joyful and exuberant. See the clip in the YouTube window above.
As for EW's list, we'd first like to point out that we've seen all but 9 of the flicks listed. CC thinks that's a little bit impressive, when it comes to a pretty solid genre overview. But we don't think we'd put The Breakfast Club at the top of the heap. While it was one of the first movies we ever owned on VHS, it really wasn't ever a flick CC truly loved. It's mighty entertaining but we never identified with the characters the way we did with other John Hughes creations like Some Kind of Wonderful (which isn't even on the list) and Sixteen Candles (only #49). If we want to get analytical about why, it's probably the awkward, smart girl factor. How can CC really bond with Ally Sheedy when there's so much to love in Mary Stuart Masterson's Watts and Molly Ringwald's Sam Baker.
Yesterday, Sharon Waxman contemplated in the New York Times about whether Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat movie is subtle anti-anti-Semetic commentary or something else less political. It's playing at Toronto, btw and CC can hardly wait for it to open here.
There's going to be an interview with Laura Albert, aka professional liar and creative force behind the literary persona J.T. Leroy, in the up coming Paris Review according to the New York Post today. As we've mentioned before elsewhere, CC conversed with "Leroy" over the phone for various La Day Jobs so we've super curious to read what crazy town has to say as herself in print.
Cinecultist interviewed director Ramin Bahrani whose film, Man Push Cart, comes out today for Gothamist. Please don't miss this movie, it'll be playing at the Angelika and for the graceful New York photography alone is worth a viewing.
A few weeks ago Cinecultist caught an advance screening of Sherrybaby at Makor, and we've been mulling over Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance ever since.
As the former drug addict and struggling single mother, Sherry, Gyllenhaal does amazing work fully inhabiting a complex and not very likable character. Sherry's like a little child herself, she wants everything to happen right now and she constantly feels persecuted. She longs to turn her life around, attending AA meetings, getting a job at a day care and reconnecting with her family who's been caring for her daughter while she was in jail. Except that every move she makes towards being a straight citizen, Gyllenhaal makes seem like its most painful act in the world.
Writer and director Laura Collyer does that thing which seems so elusive to the rest of mainstream Hollywood—she crafts a believable female character. You wouldn't think that'd be such an amazing feat, what with many women producers, directors and writers hard at work in the biz. But Gyllenhaal and Collyer are surprisingly brave to construct such an unlikable, yet intensely compelling young woman. Not to give too much away but Sherry never met a bad decision she didn't like and there are moments as the film wears on where you want to slink down in the seat and cover your eyes as she stumbles yet again. But this after all, is what good character driven drama is about and Sherrybaby is a real delight to see after the string of summer's cookie-cutter plots.
Cinecultist is happy to say, here's a smaller flick worth checking out and it's a sweet vindication for all of us who've loved Gyllenhaal, despite being not just a little bit overexposed after Secretary.
With September comes word from the hinterlands regarding screenings of big fall releases getting their try outs at film festivals. Cinecultist always salivates a little over these reports, making little mental tally lists of what audiences liked what. It's obsessive we know, but fun.
From Venice: folks on the Lido are loving The Queen with Helen Mirren but sort of luke warm or mixed on The Fountain, Children of Men and The Black Dahlia according to Garth Franklin's wrap up on Dark Horizons. La Mirren just got an Emmy for her portrayal of the first Queen Elizabeth, could this be her year to finally Oscar it too?
Out at Telluride, there was a strong launching of Fur, The Last King of Scotland and Little Children. In his dispatch for indieWire, Eugene Hernandez reports favorably about the Idi Amin biopic and talked with Shainberg about how his Diane Arbus movie, which interestingly was not picked up for the New York Film Festival.
Toronto starts tomorrow and they'll have "the most star wattage and premieres in its whole 30 year history," according to Reuters. Cinecultist will be curious to hear what their viewers think of All the King's Men and Babel as well as Infamous the "other Capote movie" with Daniel Craig. Seriously, worst unintentional tag line ever for this movie's marketers. We feel for those guys.
Periodically, films will not be available for review before their release and Neil Labute's new movie starring Nicholas Cage, The Wicker Man was one of them. This became a bit of a thorn in the Cinecultist side over the last few weeks because we had an assignment to review it. So, with pride (and a notebook) in hand, CC reluctantly shelled out $11 of our hard earned dollars for the first screening on Friday. We won't lie to you and tell you it was a happy experience, mostly Wicker was like the furniture material boring, lack luster and in a few moment, completely laughable.
From the first moments of this movie, Labute plays it completely by the book. First up, rote psychological causality. Cage's character Edward is a hardworking, good guy cop in California. However, when he pulls over a young Mom and her daughter to return the little blonde girl's dolly, his do gooder-ness is thwarted as the car is slammed by a semi before it bursts into flames. Edward is understandably rattled by this emasculating experience, so when a pleading letter from his former fiancee arrives asking for help finding her missing blonde daughter, Edward leaps to the rescue. From this point on, we're subjected to one tiny blonde in danger fantasy from Edward after another. Every time there's a lull in the action, a blondie pops up and then is mowed down but an imaginary semi. It's distracting to say the least.
Meanwhile, Edward arrives on the mysterious island of Summersisle and doesn't get a warm welcome. In fact, no one likes interlopers from the mainland here and even the ex is being oddly stand-offish. If you've seen the original 1973 Wicker Man, you'd expect this to be the point where the movie launches into one odd encounter after another with the islanders intimating their aberrant sexual and religious practices. But here, Labute's film becomes surprisingly timid and instead veers into all of this nature girl, Queen Bee in her hive imagery. Ellen Burstyn plays the Queen Bee, aka Sister Summersisle, who runs the whole compound but she comes across as more benevolent than creepy. Molly Parker, as a school teacher, is a little menacing in the way she stares down Edward after he bursts into her classroom, but a few mean looks hardly adds up to a serious horror movie.
We're loathe to give away the ending but if you've seen the original, the remake ends in pretty much the same fashion, only with a Black Widow coda tacked on at the end. Is that supposed to be Labute's big wet willy goose, that sometimes women are sexual aggressors? Fatal Attraction had the same thesis almost 20 years ago, but at least that had some fear of feminism traction at the time. Here, it makes for about as flaccid a summer horror flick as you can get. If only Labute had acknowledged some of The Wicker Man's camp possibilities and encouraged Cage to do more of a La Depp self-parody performance. Then we might have had at least a fun movie, instead of this dour, boring clap trap.
Cinecultist's friend and fellow Movie Binger, Josh Horowitz will be interviewing Labute in a few weeks at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble, so maybe Labute will address some of these Wicker questions at that point. (Friday, Sept. 22 @ 7 p.m. -- mark your calendars!)