I'm delighted to see that a neglected gem is out on DVD, A Big Hand for the Little Lady. It has a powerhouse cast including Oscar winners Jason Robards, Henry Fonda, and Joanne Woodward and a bunch of top character actors like Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ford, and Burgess Meredith. And it has one of the best surprise endings ever filmed.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Newsweek critic David Ansen began compiling his list of every movie he saw when he was 12. It is now 146 handwritten pages with almost 8000 movies. The essay is a little list-y but fun to read, a sort of time-lapse photography of the last five decades.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Two movies in two weeks feature widower dads learning to move on with (not from) loss. In "Dan in Real Life," Steve Carrell feels that he might be able to love again for the first time since his wife died when he meets life force Juliette Binoche (she laughs, she listens, she cooks, she hugs, and she's great with kids). In "Martian Child," John Cusack feels that he might be able to love again for the first time since his wife died when he takes steps to adopt a child who is either odd or disturbed but qualifies as a life force because he is a child and therefore does not have to cook or hug or anything except for be young and need love.
The movies have some other similarities. Both use bowling(!) as a marker for happy-fun-bonding time (has the bowling association banded together for product placement? Both feature rattled and sheepish dads getting stopped by the police for traffic violations. Both have someone show up at exactly the wrong time, creating consternation and misunderstandings. But that probably happens in more movies than not. Cusack is going to be bereaved again soon. His next film, "Grace is Gone," is about a man whose wife is killed in Iraq.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I have seen the future and it is in super hi-def with all kinds of great extras. There was a Blu-Ray demo at Tyson's Corner, Virginia this weekend and the quality of the picture was stunning, especially with the digitally created images in the Pixar movies. The extras include some terrific interactive features. I liked the way that kids watching "Cars" could play a game without leaving the movie, helping them with pattern recognition and encouraging active watching. I felt like Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black," looking woefully at the new super-small cds made with alien technology: "Now I'm going to have to buy the White Album again."
The rest of the tour: Oct. 26-28 -Burlington Mall, Burlington, Mass. Nov. 9-11 -King of Prussia, King of Prussia, Pa. Nov. 16-18 -Circle Centre, Indianapolis Nov. 23-25 -Lenox Square, Atlanta Nov. 30-Dec. 2 -The Galleria, Houston Dec. 7-9 -Barton Creek Square, Austin Dec. 14-16 -Chandler Fashion Center, Chandler, Ariz. Dec. 21-23
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Hollywood—particularly during Oscar season—functions on the assumption that no trauma has entered the national consciousness until it's been undergone by a flaxen-haired gamine with major box-office draw.Dana Stevens, Slate
A bank once put a sentence deep inside the pages and pages of mandated disclosures: "If you bring this page into the bank we will give you $10." Not one person took them up on it. No one reads that stuff. Almost no one reads manuals, disclaimers, contracts, leases, waivers, any of that dense, boring, small print stuff.
But would you pay attention if it was on You Tube? And less than two minutes?
And funny? Can a video be worth a million words? Visionary cyber-wizard Esther Dyson is offering $5000 to find out. Submit a video explaining cookies, covering:
What is a cookie?
How do cookies work?
How can cookies be used?
How is the data from cookies used with data collected in other ways, including from third parties?
How can cookies be misused?
What options does a user have to manage cookies and their use?
The winner gets $5000 and a trip to Washington DC to attend a workshop at the Federal Trade Commission on "Ehavioral Advertising."
Monday, October 15, 2007
Paul Fahri of the Washington Post did a little investigative reporting and answered a question I have wondered about for a long time. Who are these critics who love all these awful movies? It turns out there is considerable affiliate inflation in movie ads, and small- and mid-market TV critics are often listed in ads as representing the views of their networks.
Marc Doyle, co-founder of the Web site Metacritic.com, which tracks critics' opinions, says the studios prefer the more impressive network title, even if it isn't quite accurate, because would-be film patrons might not be very impressed by a blurb from a reviewer from "some outlet they've never heard of."
But Paurich says titles aren't really important. "This might reflect badly on me and everybody else in this business, but unless you're Roger Ebert, people don't necessarily check the name beneath the quote [in the ad]. The quote is going to matter more to [a moviegoer] than the source of the quote."
The real motivation is in Fahri's last line:
As for critics, he says they like to be blurbed: "It's nice to see your name in the New York Times or in a TV commercial. It's flattering. It's still a kick."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I get several questions a month through Allexperts, usually about half-remembered films (many questions begin: "I might have made this up, but I sort of remember..."). I get a big kick out of identifying the films when I can. Sometimes that is not possible -- one recent query could provide no details other than it was a scary movie that included a scene of someone running out of a dark house screaming.
But for some reason, the most frequent movie I get asked about is a minor romantic comedy about a chef with magical powers called "Simply Irresistible." For some reason, people love that movie. I guess it is...irresistible.
Posted by Nell Minow at 12:39 PM
Salon has an article with an extended version of a discussion in this month's "Elle" magazine by women film-makers.
The panel was moderated by one of Tinseltown's great brains, producer Lynda Obst ("Contact," "Sleepless in Seattle," "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days"). She nimbly guided panelists Nora Ephron (screenwriter, director, "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle"), Laura Ziskin (writer, producer, "Hero," "To Die For," "Spider-Man"), Callie Khouri (screenwriter, director, "Thelma & Louise," "Something to Talk About"), Patty Jenkins (writer, director, "Monster"), Cathy Konrad (producer, "Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"), Kimberly Piece (writer, director, producer, "Boys Don't Cry"), Andrea Berloff (writer, producer, "World Trade Center"), Margaret Nagle (writer, producer, "Warm Springs"), and that rarest of Hollywood breeds, a female studio head, Universal president of production Donna Langley, in a conversation that touched on issues that cut to the heart of the Robinov story. They spoke of the remaining handful of female movies stars as if they were the last hope of the Jedi order -- Luke ... Leia ... Julia ... Reese -- and maybe they are. If these female machers are to be believed, the business of making movies for women remains one of constant juggling between progress and regress, of compensation and compromise.The panel was moderated by one of Tinseltown's great brains, producer Lynda Obst ("Contact," "Sleepless in Seattle," "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days"). She nimbly guided panelists Nora Ephron (screenwriter, director, "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle"), Laura Ziskin (writer, producer, "Hero," "To Die For," "Spider-Man"), Callie Khouri (screenwriter, director, "Thelma & Louise," "Something to Talk About"), Patty Jenkins (writer, director, "Monster"), Cathy Konrad (producer, "Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"), Kimberly Piece (writer, director, producer, "Boys Don't Cry"), Andrea Berloff (writer, producer, "World Trade Center"), Margaret Nagle (writer, producer, "Warm Springs"), and that rarest of Hollywood breeds, a female studio head, Universal president of production Donna Langley, in a conversation that touched on issues that cut to the heart of the Robinov story. They spoke of the remaining handful of female movies stars as if they were the last hope of the Jedi order -- Luke ... Leia ... Julia ... Reese -- and maybe they are. If these female machers are to be believed, the business of making movies for women remains one of constant juggling between progress and regress, of compensation and compromise.
A lot of the discussion is the usual (and inevitable) "if a man goes home because his kid has an ear infection, he's a hero, but if a woman does it, she's unprofessional" but I loved the discussion of "Knocked Up."
Two of the best performances I have seen this year were from the same actor, Paul Schneider. In the broody western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" he played Dick Liddil, the ladies' man of the James Gang. He brought maturity and depth to the seduction of a young wife and the description of his conquests to the other men, both scenes that could easily have been mishandled and become slick or snickery. And in the lovely little indie "Lars and the Real Girl" he plays brother to the title character, who believes that a "fun doll" is his girlfriend. Many actors would not have been able to resist a sit-com vibe in reacting to this gentle delusion, but Schneider again shows a range of often conflicting emotions with great restraint, delicacy, and humanity. I see he is now directing a film based on his own screenplay and that he has assembled an extraordinarily appealing cast, including Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, and SNL's Kristen Wiig. Sounds wonderful.
Monday, October 08, 2007
I am really looking forward to "Southland Tales," the much-discussed, often-delayed second film from Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly (he also co-wrote the script for the movie star's daughter-model-turned-bounty hunter movie "Domino" about which no more need be said). I was a little concerned after footage at Comic-Con in 2006 was a little disappointing. Then there were the delays, and did I mention "Domino?" But the trailer for this one is a knock-out and the movie looks like it will fulfill the promise of the masterful "Donnie Darko." It has a sensational cast including "Darko" alums Holmes Osborne and Beth Grant, SNL stars Cheri Oteri, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, and Nora Dunn, and other luminaries from The Rock to Justin Timberlake. Can't wait!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I've seen four movies based on books in the past week and all made me think about the perils of adapting novels to the screen. I once heard Peter Hedges speak about the difference between plays, novels, and movies. His novel, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, was adapted into a fine movie by Lasse Hallström, and he described the experience as a master class in understanding the difference between print and film. He said that novels are about what people think and feel, plays are about what they say, and movies are about showing what the characters think and feel, most often without saying anything.
I did not think much of the book The Jane Austen Book Club. If any other author's name was in the title, it would not have been a best-seller. The movie version is far better, genuinely enjoyable. Feast of Love and O Jerusalem did not live up to their source material. The Dark is Rising, The book that inspired "The Seeker" was so diluted in the final script that it had the same relaitonship to the source material that a homeopathic remedy has to its active ingredient. And the result was less efficacious.
It is not just about the acting. "The Jane Austen Book Club" has first class actors who bring more subtlety and complexity and life to the characters than the author ever did, but "Feast of Love" has Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, and Greg Kinnear, who all do the best they can but never make the relationships on screen feel immediate or alive. It just has to do with showing, not telling, and "The Jane Austen Book Club" manages that act of alchemy where the others fail.