Wednesday, September 26, 2007

DVD picks for kids

Recommended new DVDs for kids:

Great Moogly Moogly! The intrepid adventurer and her best friends salute the power of imagination and the joys of friendship.

The last animated film personally supervised by Walt Disney himself has some of Disney's most memorable songs, including "The Bear Necessities" sung by Phil Harris and "I Wanna Be Like You" by the inimitable Louis Prima.

One of the freshest surprises of the summer of 2007 was this animated mockumentary about surfing penguins starring the voice talents of Shia LeBoeuf ("Transformers"), Jeff Bridges, and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite").

As in Dorothy's famous story, this is the tale of someone who thought found that there's no place like home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Simpsons movie parodies

This site has some great shot-by-shot comparisons of Simpsons episodes to the movies that inspired them, including "Citizen Kane," "Steamboat Mickey," and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Emile Hirsch goes Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch gives a magnificent performance in one of the year's best films, Into the Wild. I met with him in Georgetown to ask him about making the film.

What does Sean Penn as an actor bring to directing?
He has that whole wealth of experience since he's done it on the actor's side. So you trust him so much. Everything he asked me to do, certain things I was hesitant to do, he did first. He ate squirrel. He went first on the Colorado River. He let me know I could do it. Sean was an incredible director. He let me learn for myself, He helps you bring out the best in yourself and there's no greater gift.

All of the movies Penn has written and directed are in some way about lost children. Why do you think that is?
He is a man of high intellect but also a very keen instinct. A lot of his choices are on an instinctual level in a very pure way. One of the things I admire about him so much is the kind of strong-willed instinct that he has and the confidence to trust that instinct and move forward. Where so many people are in the back rubbing sweaty palms, he is doing it. He wanted to do this movie because he always had a really strong wanderlust, as do I. It was infectuous, the idea that you want to go out and live your life all the way and have more meanng, live it while you have it.

You play a real-life character who died of starvation in Alaska. Did he have poor judgment? Was he self-destructive? Where would he have gone next?
He made a couple of really crucial errors, not bringing things with him like a map. But he purposefully did not bring them because he wanted to shave he margin of error. He shaved it a little too much. He had amazing wanderlust and also had a lot of personal problems.

Did he learn from the people he met or were they just way-stations on his journey to sever all ties?
He was very determined. The people on the road started to open his eyes, but it took the total solitude for him to find himself and what the meaning of his life could possibly be.

It's quite a contrast to go from this film to your next film, "Speed Racer." How do you prepare for such different genres?
The directors of "Speed Racer," the Wachowski brothers, the guys who did The Matrix, have a particular sensibility about performances they expect. It was like being in a sauna for eight months and jumping into an ice bath without a break -- with the lid locked!

Were there elements of the real-life story that were especially meaningful to you in portraying Chris McAndless?
The abandoned bus he lived in, which he called "the magic bus." It was like a waystation, always symbolzing the journey, Where he learns about himself. It symbolizes the question, "Where is he going?" And I read the books he was reading, Walden by Thoreau, Emerson, Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak, Jack London's Call of the Wild. What Chris did was very similar to what Thoreau did.

Sunday, September 23, 2007 Guide to Documentary Films

My colleague from the MMI Film Critic Institute, Jennifer Merin, has established a new Guide to Documentary Films, an immediately indispensible resource for fans of this vitally engaging category of movies. Her initial selection is superb and I was especially glad to see one of my recent favorites, "The King of Kong" on her list. And I'm glad to hear that she'll continue with her work for the New York Press and the online magazine Women on Film as well.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Quoted by Peg Rosen

ParentCenter's Peg Rosen has some thoughtful advice for parents about television and families and I am honored to be quoted.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quote of the Week: Meet the Beatles

Critics borrowed from the Beatles to express their disappointment in Julie Taymor's Across the Universe.

Contrary to what you may have heard, love isn't all you need.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe

I saw a film today, oh boy. (Headline: Hey Dudes, You Made it Bad)
Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

Nothing is real. (Headline: She can't work it out.)
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

And my favorite:

I wanted to turn the sound down on them and say rude things.
J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

(On Rotten Tomatoes, there's a perfect follow-up comment from Captain Siberia: "Then Julie Taymor is that posh bird who gets everything wrong?")

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gmail Gvideo

Gmail invited its users to help them create a video about the journey of a gmail message. This collection of the best of what they received is adorable -- I am particularly partial to the sequence of animals, the jive dancers, and the old school flipbook.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Best Satans on film from EW

Nice going, Dalton Ross! If you are going to put together a list, it's always best to back it up with clips. Best Satans on film: Dalton's (Pacino-free!) list

Duck-ing with writer-director Nic Bettauer

Nic Bettauer wrote and directed an independent film called "Duck," starring Philip Baker Hall and the duck from the Aflac commercials. We spoke by phone:

Philip Baker Hall is one of my favorite character actors and it was a real pleasure to see him in a lead role. How did that come about?

I’ve been known to try to do things backwards, but in this case there was no way other than protocol. I made an offer through his agent and the system worked. I did not have him in mind while I was writing it because if you picture a patticular actor you get lazy and think of all the wonderful things he could do with the role, but once I’m done, I like to think about what the actor can bring to it, sometimes things I never thought of. With Philip, this was different than a lot of the roles he’s been playing. I like to offer someone something he hasn’t done on every level. That’s how without having a lot of money you take a risk on people. It is also how you make it worth it for them in other ways than money.

He has a gorgeous voice, wonderful for this movie because so much of it is essentially a monologue.
His voice is a stunner, it just cuts to the quick, love to have him read the audio book.

Most directors worry about working with animals, especially those not easy to train. How did you come to write a movie starring the Aflac duck?
When I was writing I tried not to censor myself but then when it got to making it I was like wow. It was important that it was all live, so I went after the best quality duck. We had great ducks and trainers. Ducks are very social. Our "hero duck" #30 was the best listener and we had stand-ins with different personalities. So we would say, "Is this a job for #27 who liked to walk ahead?" or for another who loved to be held. You might have to switch ducks because you could not have it all in one shot. But they were very charismatic. We had to know the ducks and think like a duck in a way. With three different ages of ducks in the movie, we had 1-2 babies, some teenage, and about 6 big ducks, always more than one on the set just in case. At one point we wanted the duck to look grubby but we learned the derivation of the expression "water off a duck's back." They just always look pristine.

What is the duck's purpose in the story?
Philip Baker Hall is so real and his character's relationship with the duck was like the one I have with my dog, who is my writing partner. Philip plays it so straight. When he was working with the duck he was looking at his alter ego, almost speaking to the part of himself that was keeping him alive. He is almost speaking to himself or treating the duck like a replacement for his son or his wife. As long as he is teaching or learning life is worthwhile, so taking care of the duck gave him a purpose. Now Philip and I have been intellectualizing it but it’s not really the way I think when I write.

How did French Stewart become involved in this project?
I really adore him. He is so interesting. He came in and read. It is problematic not to be typecast when you are so huge on a TV show. He was doing a lot of theater, smaller projects. He was a bit different than I had thought of the character and that is so exciting, it brought so much to the film. People capable of being funny are usually capable of the exact opposite.

The one smart thing I did unbeknownst to myself at the time -- because the movie is a set of vignettes, we would end up filming one additional character a day. Some really interesting people worked with us because we only needed a day of their time. People really came through for us, a nice influx of creative energy, a breath of fresh air each day.

The movie is set in 2009. Why set it in the future and why just a couple of years in the future?
I wanted it to be slightly in the future so that it was a bit of a cautionary tale about where we were headed but still with hope to make a change. I not want to make it so far ahead that it was irrelevant. It is a fable. It’s not what I necessarily predict. At one point he says the President is Jeb Bush. That was not a prediction. I did not want to use a realistic candidate because it would be distracting. By chosing Jeb Bush as the answer I was talking about this administration.

What's next?
Next is my version of a cop movie, a character piece, an anti-hero cop, and I am currently obsessing over Chris Cooper [to play the lead]. The character says everything I wish I could but shouldn’t in polite company. I would love to keep this character, maybe a series. I grew up on the 70’s NY cop films.

Duck is bittersweet, but also funny, isn't it?
I do think there’s a lot of humor in "Duck." It is a bit surreal, a bit acerbic, a little Sartre. You never know what people will see, absurdist kind of humor but also sad. I like to find the funny in sad, if you can do that in real life you’ll be okay.

20 best big-screen comic book heroes - Times Online

Another list.

I don't take these things too seriously. But the fangirl in me has to squawk a bit. Tim Burton's Batman has to be number one. It is way ahead of "Batman Begins," which has the same problem as the first "Fantastic Four" and "The Hulk" -- too much time on origins and not enough interest in the bad guys (plus "The Hulk's" CGI made him look almost weightless and let's face it, the Hulk is about Bulk). Yes to "Blade" and "Hellboy" and the Christopher Reeve "Superman" but there are some awful movies on this list, movies hugely disappointed by failing to do justice to the comic book characters like "The Punisher," "Daredevil," and "Ghost Rider."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dorothy, I don't think we're at the multiplex anymore

Looking for something exotic? Still haven't watched that Netflix DVD that's been sitting on top of your television set for two months and want something new right now? Your friends are lovely people, but they'd rather wait for the Hollywood remakes than watch Japanese horror films or French comedies? Try Jaman, where you can download a wide range of independent and foreign films and then discuss them with a myspace-style community. And you won't be tempted to spend $5.00 on 30 cents worth of popcorn.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The art of the comic book movie parody

Charles Fulp loves movies and he loves comics. His day job is being owner of One-Stop Cellular, a chain of independent wireless retailers. But his labor of love, through "Fulp Fiction" is a series of comic book movie parodies.

Fulp spoke to me by phone about the comics which he bills as "More powers than Austin, more flash than Gordon, and more dick than Tracy." In other words, these are not literary satires requiring a knowledge of classical literature to appreciate the subtlety of the puns. These are comics with titles like Harry Johnson and the Case of the Crabbes, "a two-fisted two-pack for one low price of 3.95."

Fulp said, "'Raiders' is one of my favorites. I wanted to write a screenplay that spoofed it in the same way "Austin Powers" spoofed James Bond. I wrote it and could afford to turn it into a comic book but not a movie. I was thrilled to get Dean Yeagle to do character design. He's a Playboy cartoonist -- this was a clever ploy to get invited to the Playboy Mansion. I then approached artists who had worked for DC and Marvel. Next I would like to have it turned into a movie, and I am currently working toward some sort of adult swim animated series or live feature."

Ben Foster and "3:10 to Yuma"

Ben Foster stars with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma," one of this fall's two big westerns. This is a remake of an earlier film by the same name, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, a tense thriller about a rancher who must deliver a captured outlaw to the train station, so he can be taken to trial. Both movies are based on a story by Elmore Leonard, better known as the writer behind stories of modern-day crooks and tough guys. This new version is directed by James Mangold of "Walk the Line" and "Girl, Interrupted."

Ben Foster took time to talk with me by phone between interviews when he was in Washington to promote the film. He was very engaging and very forthcoming about his tactics in approaching this role.

Jim [Mangold] really re-created and modernized the film and really delved into the character development. Fans of the original film will be startled. I decided not to watch the original film. I related to being in an accident where it seems like everything slows down. My research was going through the archival photographs of outlaws at the time. We concluded they were the rock stars of their day. They were like pirates or rock and roll stars, living outside of the law, where murder becomes your show, performance. So I watched glam rock footage, David Bowie and INXS. These outlaws were also indiginous to the environment and its elements. They were predators. That idea seemed to resonate the most, so we looked at mountain cats, how they move and approach their prey. We also thought of matadors because there is a certain elegance to the character. I play the second in command, so finding a certain kind of deviant loyalty was also important.

Foster started acting professionally when he was very young, so I asked him about his influences.
Gary Oldman is brilliant. Barry Levinson gave me my first job in Liberty Heights and really shaped me with his approach to work. I was hoping to be told what to do and his direction was by asking questions, making it your own. Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog) works in that same way and so does Jim Mangold.

His future plans:
I'm heading to Belfast to shoot a film called "50 Dead Men. I want to keep doing what I am doing. I'm fortunate to stay busy and not feel that I am repeating myself.
I've never avoided a genre or pursued one. It's always the material and who the other players are. What’s important is I've never taken a job because I know how to do it. I look for a sense of recognition. Ideally in conspiracy with the director you create a fouidation that lets the character come in, making room for that person to come through, so you’re experiencing through them rather than through you. I believe you do the research and preparation so you can experience what is going on for the first time.

He admires his co-star:
Russell Crowe was incredibly supportive. He went out of his way to make sure that I felt good on my horse. I had never ridden a horse before and that’s not something you can really fake. He is really misrepresented in the press. He is a remarkable actor. If you’re hardworking and you mean it, you’ve got him on your side.

And the most important thing to know about this film:
There's a stigma with westerns that makes people think there’s no dialogue and it's all people scowling at each other. This is more of a character-driven action film great acting, great ride, not a dated western, it really moves.

Superbad and the birds and the bees

The Washington Post's Desson Thomson has a sweet, touching, and very funny piece about taking his 15-year-old to see Superbad.

As I sat there with him, the exploits of three socially maladroit high school seniors on a mission to lose their virginity and become cool in the process no longer seemed like the sleaze-fest I had initially thought it to be, but an extended empathy encounter for him.

Thomson finds the movie communicates with his son the way his birds-and-bees talk did not. And that the movie gives them a way to connect that is very precious at an age when kids find it hard to express their feelings to their parents.
Ironic, I thought, that an R-rated comedy tells it like it is for moviegoers who are too young to actually go see it on their own. Finally, I asked my son that potentially groan-inducing, must-immediately-walk-away-from-Dad question: "What did you learn from this movie?"

"I learned that people that age are obsessed with sex -- a little bit too obsessed," he answered. And he didn't walk away.

Andy and Alan

Andy Horbal and Alan Abbott, two of my wonderful Film Critic Institute colleagues, had a conversation about the role of the committed movie critic in bringing audiences to the best in film, not just by writing reviews but by seeking out movies that go beyond the usual multiplex fodder and helping to bring them to the community.