Singer (and fellow East Village resident) Norah Jones has been on the talk show circuit lately because her third album, Not Too Late hits stores this week. Mostly Jones' music isn't our cup of tea (to put not such a fine point on it, it's total vagina music and we grew out of that stuff after attending the Lilith Fair in '97), plus her level of crazy run away success and her crankiness about bloggers mocking her secret glam band, sorta bugs. However, her return to the media glare reminded Cinecultist of one intriguing bit of No Jo trivia: she's starring in Wong Kar-Wai's English language debut, My Blueberry Nights. Co-starring Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Jude Law, and Nathalie Portman, at least we can tell that Wong based casting on good looks punctuated by intense eye gaze skills. Actually in a recent EW article about Jones, it sounds like Wong had more of a plan than that.
"He cast Jones at their first meeting, but insisted the novice thespian not take lessons to prepare for the part of Elizabeth, "a woman who," Jones says, "is a little bit lost in life and takes a cross-country trip to find her way." Wong was beyond pleased with the results. "Crying in front of the camera is one of the hardest things for a first-time actor to do. She nailed it on the second take. After, she turned to me, her eyes still red, and asked, 'Do you want more?'" recalls Wong. ''At that moment, I knew this lady could act."
Intriguing, right? Of course we'll have to wait until June* to offer up our full assessment of Jones' emoting abilities in front of the camera, and obviously we'll be holding her to that high benchmark set by former Wong actresses like Maggie Cheung, Faye Wong, Brigitte Lin, Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang. Sorry for the tough company Norah, but you really kinda brought it on yourself.
*This is the date currently on IMDb but bear in mind that it's being released by Weinstein Co. who are notoriously bad about firmly setting their release schedule.
Over the weekend, Cinecultist finally got around to seeing the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese movie, The Departed. It'd been on the list for quite awhile now, especially because we enjoyed the source material Infernal Affairs, but just hadn't made the time for a screening. Now with the end of the year nominations out, CC was certain it would end up a front runner, particularly for best director, and then we'd be unable to really weigh in confidently on its merits. Will this be Marty's year? That's the question on everyone's mind, or at least everyone who has such obsessive Oscar conversations as the Cinecultist or Dave Karger.
While eating dinner at a totally old school "red sauce" Italian joint afterwards (in other words the perfect food to digest Scorsese with), CC came to the following conclusions. The Departed is not a great Scorsese picture, like Goodfellas or Raging Bull, but it's good. More importantly, it's better than some of the very sub-par product he's been giving us in the last few years (yes, Gangs of New York, we're looking at you). Since Oscar likes to reward whole careers rather than a single film (except for in the best supporting actress category, that is), 2006 could be a respectable and reasonable year to reward Scorsese for services rendered. He's made an entertaining thriller which touches upon his signature themes of class and ethnicity, as well as elicited some excellent performances from a rich band of actors. It may not be a truly lasting movie that will be considered cinema art, but CC is fine with that. Good but not great is okay for someone like Marty.
Further side notes: Is there anything Alec Baldwin can do lately that isn't completely wonderful? Okay, maybe Mini's First Time, but that movie was just plain BAD. Most everything is better when he's on screen. Also, the costume designer who could put Vera Farmiga in both those amazing little panties for her make-out with Leo scene and the worst three piece suit ever in two other sequences is both brilliant and a fool.
"Do you think the holy spirit is here in this Burger King parking lot?" So says the disembodied voice of documentarian Alexandra Pelosi to some of the Cruisers for Christ, a Christian car club, during her new film, Friends of God now airing on HBO.
It's a fact. Cinecultist is just getting too darn old to be staying up until 1:30 in the morning to see (not so) super secret shows at Mercury Lounge. Of course, buying a $10 ticket to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah play a tiny show to promote their new album was a total no brainer, but we're still pretty tired this morning. Our music blogger friends the 'gum and the 'vegan have some nice pictures up today. Heck, while we're at it with the music posting, Cinecultist would comment in response to the inevitable conversation about how this ranked on the scale of CYHSY shows, it was better than New Year's '05 into '06 but not as good as at Warsaw in '05. Sometimes, we have the lingering feeling that Alec doesn't actually sing all of the lyrics because he's sort of bored by his own songs. Regardless though, CC could be seen boogieing up 1st Ave last night around 3 am singing the chorus of "Satan Said Dance" not so quietly to ourselves.
In more movie-ish news, David Pogue reviews Netflix's new movie streaming service in the New York Times today. Brilliant development from the 'flix to offer real time streaming of some of their movies with your paid subscription, just get the Mac plug in set up a tout de suite!
Okay, so Cinecultist didn't get around to blogging yesterday about the Oscar nominations because well, could they have been more predictable? Seriously, CC walked out of both The Queen and The Last King of Scotland and declared Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker the winners right then and there. Don't believe us? Ask our grandmother and editor at Radar respectively, CC called each with the breathless news.
But Little Miss Sunshine for a Best Picture of the Year nom? Are you kidding? This movie is so beyond overrated, and CC's been saying it to anyone who will listen since we saw it at last year's Sundance series at BAM. Lame attempts at quirk, precocious little child actress, dysfunctional families are SO fascinating, blah blah blah. Even the idea of the Little Indie That Could is just so overplayed, we're bored even blogging about it.
Three movies that we would point out to the more discerning viewer who wants to pick and choose among the flicks lauded this year by the Academy (but will probably loose in their respective categories):
- Please see Iraq In Fragments, the nominee for best documentary which will loose to An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore and his return to public life by scaring us with global warming is nice and all, but this documentary about life on the ground in Iraq will open your eyes to a whole new world. It's stunning.
- Please see Half Nelson, which contains Ryan Gosling's spectacular best actor nominated performance that will loose to Whitaker. As the drug addicted school teacher bonding with his Brooklyn student, Gosling is a revelation, and we're not just saying that because we know a few people who worked on the production two summers ago.
- Please see The Lives of Others, the nominee for best foreign language film which will loose to Pan's Labyrinth. A German movie about life in East Berlin during the reign of the secret police during the '80s, it's a quite riveting thriller about being an artist under a totalitarian regime. It doesn't hit American theaters until Feb. 9, so put it in the calendar or write yourself a post-it or something.
This New York Observer article probably only amused Cinecultist as much as it did because we went to a drinks thing just last night hosted by Krucoff. Fortunately, it was not at the Magician. Also, thank god CC only lives in the suburbs of the blog ghetto (aka just north of "Hell's Square") and thus never get asked to comment in such faux-ironic, self-aggrandizing trend pieces.
As CC mentioned yesterday on our Gothamist weekly picks, New York film goers have quite a double feature option for those who like their movies bizarre AND brilliant. See a Quay Brothers collection at Film Forum (machines! doll heads! weird sexual repression!) then David Lynch's classic Eraserhead (industrial landscapes! alien-looking babies! weird sexual repression!). They should practically be setting up a shuttle service to bring the hardcore film viewers from midtown to the West Village or vice-versa.
Both run for a week only, so make your plans now.
Sigh. It seems like most people in the movie universe are in Park City, UT this week for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, the Cinecultist is home in the East Village enjoying a few vicarious snow flakes today and the bounteous web coverage of said festivities. It's not the same, but CC was never really the puffer jacket and ear-covered headband wearing type anyhow.
Also, we were sad again reading today in the NY Times David Carr's article about slain filmmaker Adrienne Shelly. He describes her movie, Waitress which stars Keri Russell and has its premiere at the festival as, "A tragicomic mash-up with a high/low music score, it ends in a very significant hug, one that in light of subsequent events could be easily mined for allegorical meaning."
When Cinecultist saw the Sundance fave from last year, Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated we could hardly believe how bizarre the MPAA's governing practices are. Between secretive review boards, seemingly fluctuating standards and a Byzantine appeals process, it hardly seemed possible that this secretive organization could wield so much power over the movie distribution industry. Interestingly, and at this year's Sundance no less, Motion Picture Association of America chairman Dan Glickman and Classification and Ratings Administration chairwoman Joan Graves will sit down at a breakfast with producers, directors and filmmakers to discuss changes to the rating's board policy, according to Reuters.
Some of proposed modifications to be announced officially at ShoWest:
- Expand the appeals board membership
- Allow filmmakers to cite precidents when appealing a rating decision
- Reveal more information about the board's demographic
- Identify the senior raters
- Formalize the rules of who can be on the board and for how long
- Formally train the raters
- Explain more to the public about the MPAA's role and standards for ratings
But the real question is did the docu, wherein Dick interviews filmmakers censored by the board and tries to reveal the board members identities with the help of private detectives, directly cause this announcement? Glickman says no, that "he began reaching out to the independents as soon as he took over from Jack Valenti, the lobbyist who came up with the ratings system, in September 2004. 'There was a feeling of detachment and alienation, and I wanted to open a dialogue with them,'" he told Reuters.
We're skeptical of this denial but still excited for the movie industry that they're own self-regulating body will be more responsive to the changing cultural tastes of America and the artistic envelope-pushing of moviemakers.
[Pictured (from left): Director Atom Egoyan interviewed by Kirby Dick in This Film Is Not Yet Rated]
Over on Gothamist today, Cinecultist offered a few predictions for tonight's Golden Globe winners. Making suggestions of winners or figuring out the odds is not exactly CC's strongest suit, even in a year like this one when we've seen about 92% or so of the nominees. Even in the Oscar race, we usually feel like we're stabbing a pencil into a map and calling that our destination when it comes to knowing who will win. Our watchword then on these (probably totally off) picks was the Hollywood Foreign Press's utterly mainstream, middle of the road, most popular kid on the block wins taste. They so often honor actors or their movies or tv shows on what seems like ratings or box office alone, not artistic merit. Not to say that something which is good can't also be popular but not at the rate that the HFPA lauds the Little Miss Sunshines or the Heroes on the ballot. For goodness sakes in '97, they gave the best actress in a Comedy/Musical to Madonna for Evita over Frances McDormand's performance in Fargo.
The Golden Globes airs tonight at 8 pm on NBC, but CC's going to try to focus on the pretty dresses.
All of the major studios — including NBC Universal, Warner Brothers Entertainment, which is owned by Time Warner, and the News Corporation’s 20th Century Fox, are in negotiations with YouTube seeking licensing agreements that would make their content legally available on the site, according to the New York Times today. "...There is a huge appetite for content, and we are well-advised to recognize that appetite and find constructive ways to feed it." —Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Pictures.
In this week's Time Out New York film section, David Fear interviewed Thai director Wisit Sansanatieng about his movie, Tears of the Black Tiger which finally makes it to New York theaters this weekend after languishing in that black hole for good Asian cinema, the Miramax vault.
"Honestly, it’s been so long that I’d almost forgotten I’d made the movie,” Sasanatieng, admits via e-mail. “My worry was always that Americans would only think of the film as a parody, when my goal was to pay tribute to the history of popular Thai cinema. I purposefully wanted to blend old and new styles. The look, the editing and the way the camera moves are all very modern, yet the acting is intentionally theatrical in a way that evokes older movies. I wanted actors who looked like contemporary versions of classic stars. We even scratched up the film so it resembles a beat-up print that’s been sitting around for a while."
Watching this movie last week, Cinecultist couldn't help but think how perfect it would've been to discuss it with one of our former cinema studies professors, Richard Dyer. This is partly because Dyer is a witty and slightly caustic little British man who always has something slightly catty but spot on to say about movies, and also because Dyer's most recent scholarship has centered around the concept of "pastiche," a term he calls "knowing imitation." This is the idea that artists in their new work are drawing purposefully from previous art and in the process of pastiching one on top of the other, create something unique.
Of course what's interesting about the above quotes from Sasanatieng is how deliberate his pastiche choices--genre, color, the actors' looks and camera movement--yet how sincere the movie seems. There's not anything ironic or winking in Tears, it could more easily be an actual '60s Thai Western than what it is, a new movie made to look old. Watching most current post modern movies, like this week's utterly stupid looking parody comedy Epic Movie, you'd think that in order for current directors to elude to or reference cinema history in their films it has to be with an overtly knowing tone. Tears suggests otherwise.
Unfortunately then, you end up with a straight-forward technocolor-on-crack Western set near Bangkok, which CC is a bit sheepish to admit we found a little boring to sit through. Intriguing concept and excellent follow through, we just don't really like Westerns. However you might and if you do, please go see this movie if only so that innovative directors like Sasanatieng will continue to get their work rescued from the American distribution black hole.
Invariably cocktail conversation for the Cinecultist turns to movies and what we've seen in the theaters, particularly during this end of the year top 10 season. Everyone seems to like to talk about film and you can imagine it only takes a little bit of egging on to get CC going. Disappointment in Zhang Yimou's newest Curse of the Golden Flower seems to be a favorite topic in these conversations, especially if our fellow revelers know about CC's penchant for Asian cinema. Sadly though when you think about Curse for very long you realize poor, deluded Zhang is only giving his audiences what he thinks they want to see on screen--lavish spectacle, gorgeous actors, a few gravity defying sword fighting scenes and some decadent sexual intrigue. However, the combination of these elements which may have given him big box office successes in the past have only delivered an empty shell of a movie. Curse is all surface, a gorgeous shiny color riot of a surface, but really no substance.
Set during the Tang Dynasty in China, this royal family is beyond dysfunctional. The king and his second wife's marriage has dissolved in the most chilly of public displays. Every day he commands she drink a tea he has prepared specially for her, predicated upon the assumption that she has severe health issues. Though she'd probably be healthier if the King wasn't secretly poisoning her with said tea. Of their three sons, the eldest (and from a mysterious first marriage), is set to be the next king, if only Dad doesn't find out Step Mom and son have been having an illicit affair. First son is also dallying with a girl from the court, the daughter of the King's physician. Meanwhile, the second son has returned from battles on the borders and discovers how rotten things have gotten at home. He wants to help his mother, but will he be able to act out against his all powerful father?
With such an operatic and convoluted plot, you'd think ordinarily strong actors like Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat could make this material compelling. Instead, it all becomes so muddled that you can hardly tell which end is up. As the forces of intrigue barrel towards a final showdown during the festival of the Chrysanthemum (the gold colored flower from the title), it should seem all the more momentous but instead the action becomes disposable. Like the hordes of soldiers dispatched and then swept away during the bloody coup the Queen organizes, nothing in this story seems to have any permanence. It should all be so awe inspiring what with the incest, the killings, and the royals but you can't help but suspect that they're just the vaguest pretexts for Zhang to put his actors in yet another costume change. Each set dressing is more over the top than the next that it makes your eyes swim in color overload. But so what, CC wanted to yell at the screen. What is this movie saying about anything, beyond trying to be beautiful? We honestly had no clue as the credits began to roll. So much excess on screen can be surprisingly infuriating.
Maybe Cinecultist is the only one who finds this amusing but for some reason whenever you sees a quote by uber producer Brian Grazer, he's telling some story about how a random meeting led to his next big film idea. For instance, in this weekend's NYT Style article about how the late breakfast is the new black, Grazer enthuses about a recent merchandising venture born over extra large lattes. "I was at Sant Ambroeus at my usual table one morning and I noticed seven or eight of these super fashionable Italian kids sitting there," Mr. Grazer said. "I was so curious that I blindly went over and introduced myself. We ended up talking for an hour. He [Fiat heir, Lapo Elkann] was so cool that I decided to do a Fiat tie-in for the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. I’m flying to Italy to meet with him about it." Grazer is like an idea sponge; he'll suck up anything, anywhere, and at any time then eight months later BAM!, it's coming to a cineplex near you.
Of course, as a writer from home CC found this article particularly amusing, though we hardly have time for those sorts of leisurely meetings that many times a week. However, we would point out in addition to the NYT's spots that if you're looking to mingle with more film industry types over oatmeal, check out Grey Dog Coffee in the West Village and Clinton St. Bakery can be a good spot to overhear conversations from Lower East Side working musicians. The clientele might be less hoity toity but the biscuits are better that Balthazar's.
Over the weekend, the National Society of Film Critics continued the trend of lavishing praise on Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth by naming the Spanish-language horror/fantasy/fairy tale the best picture of the year. Cinecultist has had Pan's on the brain too because we finally got to a screening on Saturday night. This is actually our third attempt to see the movie, first we missed the two press screenings at this year's NYFF because of work commitments, then our friend Josh and I tried to see a showing on New Year's Day but it was sold out. This time we planned ahead, picking a screening time a few days before and purchasing tickets online (btw, it's now $25 sodding bucks to buy two tickets online, between service charges and whatnot, which is getting a tad ridiculous). We mention this protracted process to seeing the movie because Cinecultist suspects it may have affected our enjoyment of the movie, turning our response from heightened anticipation into one of "ehh."
Why else should we be so halfhearted about what is ostensibly a gorgeous, well-made movie? Everything the critics say is true, Del Toro has created a deeply personal and creepy fantasy, peppered with moments of in-your-face violence. CC went back to read some of the rave reviews to see if we agree with what the critics said in praise. Jonathan Rosenbaum in The Chicago Reader writes, "Del Toro's exquisite, integrated digital effects, like [Alfonso] Cuaron's imagined future landscapes [in Children of Men], combine the familiar with the uncanny in ways that leave us uncertain which is which." Yes, that's true -- part of what's interesting about Pan's is that the young girl Ofelia's imaginings are in a real sense disproved by the bleak ending. Glenn Kenney in Premiere says about that end that "its devastating conclusion is far more layered than typical Hollywood "fantasy will set you free" bromides, and the film's stout-hearted contempt for cruelty of all kinds is uncanny, and inspiring." This is also an accurate description, as the real villian, Ofelia's evil step father the Fascist captain is much scarier than anything Ofelia sees in her magical universe.
The only conclusion CC can come to then to explain our less than stellar regard for this movie would be the fact that we saw it so late in the hype cycle. Surely if we'd gotten in on either of those previous two occasions, particularly at the Film Festival, we'd also be raving about the movie. Sometimes the biggest enjoyment in movies for the professional moviegoer comes from that experience of discovery. Too many Magellans planting their flags upon this surface leaves CC feeling uninspired. Granted, that's a totally petulant and stupid response to work of strong artistic merit, but there you are.
And hey, while we're bitching, we'd point out that it's just not fun to see such a packed movie at the Loews 19th Street theater. Between huge lines outside and then a very tall dude sitting in front of CC making it nearly impossible to read each subtitle without getting a serious neck cramp is enough to make even the biggest movie fan cranky.
Consider this your official "little white string around the finger" reminder for all of Cinecultist's fellow Woody Allen fans in New York: the "Essentially Woody" series at Film Forum is going on only until next Thursday, January 11th and this weekend is Manhattan. Our Jewish movie guilt reflex kicked in this afternoon while we enjoyed yet another David Rakoff post on the festival, and have already bought our ticket online. Don't be kicking yourself for letting this great selection pass you by because you're too busy or still suffering from holiday fatigue.
BTW, Cinecultist interviewed an Allen expert, professor Bob Kapsis for Gothamist just before we left for vacation. People who can talk for hours and hours about their love for Woody Allen filmography are CC's kind of people.
Walking up to the 2nd Avenue Cinema Village East theater last week and seeing the line of people going half way down the block, Cinecultist wondered if something was going on. Could this many people be desperate to see Children of Men on a Friday afternoon? One frantic ticket seller behind the counter was trying to move people into the theater, but for some reason there wasn't a single person waiting to use the credit card kiosk inside. Even though it had been awhile since we'd been to a screening we had to pay for, it's still obviously good to be up on our local theaters' layouts.
Inside the theater it was full, though we still snagged a seat that wasn't in the very first row. Sometimes the movie gods are just aligned that way, and as Alfonso Cuarón's movie began to unspool, CC couldn't help but feel blessed. Sure, that sounds like a totally silly reaction to a dystopian sci-fi fantasy about a near future world dissolved into mass riots and lawlessness because women can no longer conceive, but it's true. Children is such an exhilarating viewing experience that we couldn't help but simultaneously thrilled by its deftness and then acutely aware that we were being thrilled. It's a very well done movie that makes the Cinema Studies student in us think, "Damn, look at that point of view camera" before plunging head-long back into the story. And it's not just that dogged pov, seeing this crazy world through the eyes of main character Theo (Clive Owen) as the camera runs along side him through refuge camp battlefields and terrorist attacks, that makes the movie so visceral. The acting is also superb, from Michael Caine's tough-in-check irreverence to Danny Huston's tossed off bonhomie.
The movie also reminded CC why we love Mr. Owen so much, despite appearing in such dreadfully over-hyped and then disappointing films as Derailed or Closer. His rugged, manly man magnetism is on par with some of the great screen legends and yet even when he looks worn down to the nub, as he does towards the end of this movie, he's still completely lovely. Like Cuarón's big American break out, Y Tu Mamá También, it's tough to put your finger precisely on why Children is such a wonderful movie other than it just feels so good.
The Korean official site, which does have an English version thank goodness, is incredibly complex with all kinds of crazy Flash animation in a pop-up book format. Check it out, Cyborg looks like it's going to be a little Benny and Joon meets Amelie, though with a very Park p.o.v. Cinecultist will be anxious to see it once they get a U.S. distributor.
Over on Gothamist today, Cinecultist finally got around to posting our top 10 for 2006. Honestly, we've been thinking about this list for weeks but the more movies we see in a year, the harder is seems to get to make our definitive picks.
Worth An Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
Children of Men, 13 Tzameti, The Puffy Chair, Man Push Cart, Miss Potter, Perfume, Notes on A Scandal, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Holiday, Casino Royale, Babel, Marie Antoinette, The Science of Sleep, Sherrybaby, Talladega Nights, Brothers of the Head, The Devil Wears Prada, The Road to Guantanamo, Lady Vengeance, United 93, Brick, Inside Man, 16 Blocks, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, Tristram Shandy, Tristan & Isolde, Gabrielle, No Restraint
After the jump is the full list of all of the new releases we saw in the last 12 months. CC clocked in at over 100 this year, and remember that doesn't include repertory movies or DVDs. So for all of those critics who've put Army of Shadows at the top of their lists, Cinecultist says to them "Cop out dudes!" American audiences may have not ever seen this Jean-Pierre Melville movie but it was made in 1969 and thus doesn't count.
Last Holiday (on the plane)
Tristan and Isolde*
Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story*
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party*
Failure to Launch
Friends With Money
Lady Vengeance (NYFF)*
Mission Impossible III (on a plane)
Art School Confidential
Down in the Valley
Just My Luck
The Da Vinci Code
The Break Up
Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties
The Lake House
The Road to Guantanamo *
The Devil Wears Prada*
The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
A Scanner Darkly
Mini’s First Time
The Oh in Ohio
My Super Ex Girlfriend
Little Miss Sunshine
Brothers of the Head*
The Night Listener
Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby*
The Wicker Man
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Riding Along for Thousands of Miles
The Last Kiss
Al Franken: God Spoke
The Ground Truth
The Science of Sleep*
The Last King of Scotland*
School for Scoundrels
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints*
Employee of the Month
A Good Year
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
For Your Consideration
The History Boys
10 Items or Less
Off the Black
The Pursuit of Happyness*
Home of the Brave
Letters from Iwo Jima*
The Painted Veil
Curse of the Golden Flower
Notes on a Scandal*
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer*
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
This Filthy World
What Is It?
Man Push Cart*
Wrestling With Angels
My Father is 100 Years Old
Le Petit Lieutenant
The Puffy Chair*
The Good Shepherd
Woman on the Beach*
Iraq in Fragments*
The Photographer, His Wife and Her Lover
* Cinecultist's DVR is itching for the opportunity to prove its mettle. It's lonely from excessive reruns and it can't wait for January when HBO premieres new episodes of Rome, and Extras (both on Jan. 14). In anticipation of more quality time spent inside the weirdo noggin of Ricky Gervais, there's a profile in the current issue of the New York Observer.
* Weinstein Co. announced today they're going to distribute Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan movie, I'm Not There. The cast alone has us salivating--Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin, David Cross and Bruce Greenwood--but the six different stories, different actors playing Dylan depending on the era, has CC positively chomping at the bit. Positively 4th Street, that is.
"My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, plays an ocarina on moonlit nights. My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, if you should ever meet, wonderful fortune will come to you."
Leading up to the vacation, Cinecultist was feeling a little movied out. A scary thought, we know, but it does happen at the end of the year. Fortunately over the long New Year's weekend, Cinecultist got a bit of the movie yen back. Whew, right? Part of what helped get CC back on the horse was immersing ourselves in some cinema screen magic courtesy of Hayao Miyazaki and Chris Marker.
On DVD we watched My Neighbor Totoro, then at Film Forum on Monday night we went to see The Case of the Grinning Cat. Coincidentally both movies are about seeing something no one else can see and the cuteness of animals. Though interestingly, they're also both about sadness and loss, including depressing elements like mothers in the hospital or international wars.
If you need your "awww" reflex realigned, Miyazaki is your guy. My Neighbor Totoro made us want to hug everything in sight. Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside with their Dad so they can be closer to their Mom who is in the hospital for TB. There they discover they can see forest spirits like the dust creatures that live in their house and their neighbor, Totoro, a rabbit/cat/owl looking thing that has teeth, roars like a lion, flies, and appreciates the loan of an umbrella during a rainstorm. This movie is so ridiculously charming that it even softened our usual dislike for the child actress phenom Dakota Fanning, who does the voice of Satsuki in the English version. Watching Dakota and her sister Elle, who plays Mei, clowning around during the voice recording, the Miyazaki cuteness washed over our past annoyance at their precociousness. See how powerful his movies can be?
Chris Marker also understands the power of cute to sooth. He noticed a graffiti artist in Paris decorating the city with perilously perched smiling orange cats and began filming their appearances and disappearances. Marker equates the "chat" with Parisian life, and sees that spirit as similar to the French tendency to take to the street in protest. Politics, art, graffiti, mystery and cute kitty cats are all woven together by Marker's charming observational abilities. He has such a deft touch, with the editing and the voice over, keeping his movies light but not insignificant. That's another element that he and Miyazaki have in common, being able to make their viewers feel without beating them over the head with meaning.
Director Tom Tykwer obviously loves girls with electric red hair, as evidenced by his movies Run Lola Run and the recently released, super creepy Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Last week, he also talked with indieWire about a subject closer to Cinecultist's heart, movie love.
"I am making movies because I still get so much out of watching them. And I very much enjoy discussing them. Discussing movies makes me understand people, ideas, illusions, emotions, myself, life, art, the world. So, the movies I am making, first and most of all, have to satisfy myself as an audience member."
His list of 30 favorite movies included in the interview could also be used as a handy Netflix suggestion list, the Tyk has some good taste in cinema.
Wow, Cinecultist didn't realize we were intending to take such a long hiatus from regular posting when the business of last month whipped into a fever pitch. However, it was a enjoyable holiday season, one filled with festivities, visits with family and of course, lots of year end movies. We'll try to get to recounting all the great films we've seen (including a year end top 10) but for now, a mention of one.
CC spent a week around Christmas on the West Coast visiting family and friends, and even rented a car -- which was way too much fun than is entirely healthy for this New Yorker who never gets to drive. On the 25th, CC and our Mom did the traditional Jewish celebration of a movie matinee and then Chinese food for dinner. CC's Mom lives in the Marina district of San Francisco, a lovely little enclave of adorable row houses near the water and 30-somethings with just so handbags and Internet money to burn. At the Presidio on Chestnut Street, the locals were out in droves though the streets themselves were pretty quiet since most things were closed. Mom had reserved Dreamgirls weeks ago as our official Christmas Day movie selection, ever since she'd seen the cast interviewed on Oprah.
A movie musical with all of the pageantry and diva posturing is really perfect for the holiday season. Dreamgirls in particular has gotten that tone right, the artificiality of characters singing their feelings to each other fit in perfectly with the bouffant '60s wigs and lavish stage shows in the story. Of the musicals released in the last few years during this revival of the genre, Dreamgirls also seemed to best capture the energy of seeing a great show on Broadway. Walking out of the theater, we hummed the songs all the way to car in between exclamations over Jennifer Hudson's performance as Effie. The buzz is all true, she's just wonderful. The Academy seems to love giving out best supporting Oscars to untested ingenues like Hudson, so we won't be at all surprised if her diva-licious belting isn't handsomely rewarded.
Of course the unspoken oddity about all of the nominee buzz and the casting of this movie is that while Beyoncé Knowles' character, Deena Jones, becomes the lead singer of the Dreams and is loosely based on Diana Ross, she's actually not the center of the movie's story. Instead it's Effie that we really root for when her jerk boyfriend and the band's manager, Curtis (Jamie Foxx) boot her out of the girl group because she's not as photogenic as Deena. Beyoncé gets the best outfits in the movie (oh to channel Ms. Ross with the enormous mane of wavy hair and glittery eyelids) but Jennifer gets the most likable character and best songs. "Listen" is a good song, but "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" gives you chills.
For those used to seeing Beyoncé in the limelight with Destiny's Child and the like, it might seem surprising that she'd take this less-than-plum role. However, for our part it seems like a brilliant career move for Beyoncé. As a member of this ensemble in this kind of movie, she's transformed herself from pop singer or fashion maven to serious actress. All that time spent hanging out with the image conscious Jay-Z was not for nothing, that B is one smart girl.