A Few New Reviews & Doing The Wright Thing

“I went to the video store and asked if they had the movie with Nicolas Cage and Hayley Mills. It was shot in black and white on color film. It was the one where they lost the war because they made all of the submarines out of styrofoam. Then I realized that wasn’t a movie, it was a dream I had. Then I thought how cool it would be to rent your dreams. The guy says, “that’s not a movie, that was a dream you had.” I said, “how did you know that?” He said, “you tried to rent it last week. “I said, “well, let me know when you get it in.””
– Steven Wright

Thanks for everybody’s comments and suggestions on my last post – 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos. I’m compiling the best reader’s picks and will post them soon so please stay tuned. This time out a few movies now playing at a theater near you and new DVDs as well as a local live review of one of the greatest comedians (and sometime film actor) ever so please read on –


SWEET LAND (Dir. Ali Selim, 2005) This film has been around for a bit but only made its way to my local home town theater The Varsity this last week accompanied by the director who said this was his last stop on his publicity tour. Based on William Weaver’s touching short story A Gravestone Made Of Wheat dealing with immigration issues and small town prejudices that delays the marriage of a German mail-order bride (Elizabeth Reaser) to a Norwegian immigrant farmer (Tim Guinee) in the days after World War I SWEET LAND aims for a loving lyricism that for the most part it achieves. One of the only mis-steps are John Heard’s Priest character who seems a bit off in tone to fully fit into the mechanics of this period piece – his “but I saw them dancing” dialogue feels a bit forced but Reaser is extremely beautiful (though her makeup is a bit much) and so is the Minnesota scenery. Remarking on the oft made comparisons to DAYS OF HEAVEN at the Q & A after the screening last friday night, director/writer Selim said “you can’t shoot a field without people thinking you’re referencing Terrence Mallick”. Good point though for a first time film maker to be placed in such lofty company should make him as proud as he should be for this solid absorbing debut.

Also in theaters :

PARIS, JE T’AIME (Directed by 18 different directors including the Coen Bros, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Tom Twyker, Alfonso Cuaron, and Isabel Coixet) In 1988 NEW YORK STORIES featured 3 short films made by master directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola that collectively formed a valentine to the grand city. Multiply that by 6 and add a bit of LOVE ACTUALLY change the locale to Paris and you’ve got PARIS, JE T’AIME (translates to Paris, I love you). Much like its predessesors it’s a mixed bag but with nearly 20 movie makers how could it not be? At its effective best it’s as good as movies can get particularly the Coen Brothers-Steve Buscemi as a tourist in a subway segment which is the best thing the Coens have done since THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Other successful bits are “Place des fêtes” by Oliver Schmitz which has a dying man falling in love with his paramedic and Alexander Payne’s gorgeous “14e arrondissement” also about a tourist enjoying a profound day sight seeing. Even the misfires are interesting – Sylvain Chomet’s “Tour Eiffel” about mimes in love is too cutesy but it’s breezy enough and “Quartier de la Madeleine” by Vincenzo Natali with Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko is only useful if you’ve ever wondered how vampires make out. The Maggie Gyllenhall and Natalie Portman portions are annoying but then maybe it’s just them that’s annoying – I can’t decide.With it’s amazing photography and ratio of good material over bad PARIS, JE T’AIME deserves to be seen in theaters though it will also be fun later to skip and choose the best bits from the DVD platter. It’s the tastiest anthology film I’ve ever been served.

Just released on DVD –

THE GOOD GERMAN
(Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2006) Shot in black and white with its white washed exterior shots and rear projection when driving scenes THE GOOD GERMAN achieves beautifully the exact aesthetic of a film shot in 1945 so much that you may forget it’s a current release and think you are watching Turner Movie Classics. Its got the look down but unfortunately it doesn’t feel authentic. Soderbergh regular George Clooney plays a journalist who arrives in Berlin just after World War II has ended but the shadows and treachery still linger. He finds out that his scheming motor pool driver (Tobey Maguire) has been seeing Clooney’s former lover (Cate Blanchett)- a prostitute with a complicated dark background. Well if you’ve read my reviews you know I’m not one for detailed plot descriptions so that’s all you’ll get. Overlong and undercooked with a cast that is as stiff as Mount Rushmoore (with the exception of the overacting Maguire who is completely out of his depth here), this film adds nothing to the great noir genre and left me feeling afterwards like I saw a bad CASABLANCA cover band. I’m sure after they were finished with this sober straight faced old school exercise I bet Clooney and Soderbergh were dying to get trashed and party it up OCEAN’S style.

A write-up of a live performance by a comedian? Isn’t this supposed to be a film blog? Well I think Mr. Wright’s connection to the world of movies is pretty undeniable especially since he’s won an Oscar damnit! (For the short film THE APPOINTMENTS OF DENNIS JENNINGS1988) So hush your bitchin’ and let me babble on :

“When I was a little kid I wish the first word I ever said was the word ‘quote’ so right before I died I could say ‘unquote.'”

STEVEN WRIGHT live at the Carolina Theater, Durham June 6th, 2007 – I’ve seen Steven Wright before – in 1985 at Memorial Hall here in Chapel Hill and it was one of the funniest performances of stand-up I’ve ever seen. With a load of new material and a reputation from years of movie appearances (see below) and TV guest shots Wright walked onstage to thunderous applause early this month. Although the audience was familliar with a lot of his act (a recent Comedy Central special and DVD release When The Leaves Blow Away documents the new stuff) just about every line killed and it was fascinating to see him experiment with some lines that were obviously works in progress. He did about an hour and 40 minutes never losing momentum and I believe he only used a handful of jokes he had done 22 years earlier (pretty sure “I got arrested for scalping low numbers at the deli” and the bit about Harry Houdini locking his keys in his car were repeated) but these one liners are like classic crowd pleasers so that’s not really a criticism. He even played 2 songs on the guitar – one was introduced as a song he wrote when he was three years old – “the kittie’s trying to kill me”. So nice in these stupid celebrity obsessed times to have a non-topical apolitical clever crafty comedian still going strong and gaining new generations of fans. Can’t wait to see him again in 2029!

Wright was considered for my Cameos post last time out but didn’t make the list so I thought I’d take this occasion to pay tribute to the great man with this handy dandy list :

5 Great Wright Roles

1. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1994) Maybe the closest to a dramatic part as Wright’s ever done, uh well no not really. Dr. Emil Reingold is pure Wright through and through. When told by Robert Downey Jr. – “Mallory Knox has said that she wants to kill you.”He responds in a matter of fact manner – “I never really believe what women tell me.”

2. HALF BAKED (Dir. Tamra Davis, 1998) Uncredited and only known as The Guy On The Couch Wright has very few lines – “is it January?” he asks at one point but everybody always remembers his part in this aptly named pot comedy. Well, at least all my stoner friends do.

3. CANADIAN BACON (Dir. Michael Moore, 1995) Quite possibly the only legitimately funny part of Moore’s only non documentary flop comedy Wright appears at his laconic lucid finest as “RCMP Officer at Headquarters”. Thinking that there’s a war with Canada angry American invaders (John Candy, Kevin J. O’Connor, Bill Nunn) are further angered by Wright’s Canadian tongue – “I don’t know what you’re talking aboot, eh?” Bill Nunn yells in Wright’s face – “Aboot! It’s ABOUT! And what’s with this ‘eh’ business?!!?

4. COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2003) In the opening short film “Strange To Meet You” Wright meets Roberto Benigni for a cup of coffee and yes cigarettes. Fimed in 1986 the scene is relatively meaningless beyond its basic description but there is a palatable amusing sense of awkwardness when these guys styles mix – Benigni sure doesn’t get Wright’s caffeine popsicle bit. Credited as Steven he has one energetic moment – “I like to drink a lot of coffee right before I go to sleep, so I can dream faster.” You can see the clip here.

5. SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER (Dir. Thomas Schlamme, 1993) Another near lame movie saved from complete lame-ocity because of a Wright appearance. As a pilot of a small plane he scares the Hell out of passenger Mike Myers with his admission that he has never flown at night and when pointing at the instrument panel he says “that’s the artificial horizon, which is better than the actual horizon.”

Notable mention goes to his DJ voice-over in RESERVOIR DOGS, his take on the infamous naughty joke in THE ARISTOCRATS, and his film debut in 1984 as Larry Stillman D.D.S. in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (which was Madonna‘s film debut too by the way).

More later…

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