JACK GOES BOATING: The Film Babble Blog Review

JACK GOES BOATING (Dir. Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2010)

Like the films of many first time directors, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s debut is a filmed play. The play being Bob Glaudini’s off Broadway 2007 production of the same name.

Hoffman reprises his role as Jack with John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega also reprising their stage roles.

Amy Ryan (The Wire, The Office, GONE BABY GONE) replaces Beth Cole in the part of Hoffman’s love interest.

The story is as spare as can be – Hoffman is a reclusive reggae loving limousine driving New Yorker whose married friends (Ortiz and Rubin-Vega) want to set him up on a date with Ryan – a just as reclusive employee at a local funeral home.

Hoffman and Ryan plan to go on a boating trip when it gets warmer.

In the meantime, they agree to an “official date before the boating date” in which Jack will cook dinner for the 2 couples.

It’s an odd rambling evening with confessional speeches mixed with drugs and a lot of awkwardness.

This film really takes its time and it can be a bit trying, but its emotional messiness never feels phony. Hoffman puts in some of his finest acting and gets nuanced and nervy performances out of his co-stars.

In the end JACK GOES BOATING is the small unimposing work of a professional actor yet amateur director.

Hoffman makes a number of interesting visual choices that show he was paying attention when he worked with some of the greatest film makers of the last 20 years – Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, Sydney Lumet, et al.

Although it defines the phrase “promising debut”, I bet with more ambitious material Hoffman will make a more substantial mark than with this likable, though lackluster lark.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2008

Like last year, I held off making this post earlier because there were several contenders I hadn’t seen yet. It seems my area is the last to get certain movies in current circulation. Also, I still haven’t seen a number of movies I see making other ‘Top Ten’ lists including WALTZ FOR BASHIR, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and FROZEN RIVER among many others that are filling my NetFlix queue right now. Of course, nobody could see every movie in the running so now is as good a time as any to list my favorites. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } It got snubbed by the Academy and many critics dissed on Kaufman’s epic tragicomic (as Wikipedia calls it) but I loved every sad sordid symbolic second. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the literally crumbing playwright Cayden Cotard builds sets inside of sets inside a ginormous warehouse recreating New York with New Yorkers and the actors that play them – including him. Joining him is maybe the best female ensemble cast ever assembled for such a movie – Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams, and the great Diane Wiest. Maybe it was just too cerebral and complex to catch on but I believe time will lay waste to much of the competition while this beyond meta-masterpiece will still stand strong. My original review is right here.

2. WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)

Such a dark dystopian premise for such a cute heartwarming movie that plays beautifully like sci-fi Chaplin. Wall-E (I’m sure you well know but I’ll tell you again anyway) is a garbage compacting robot left behind on Earth hundreds of years from now who falls in love with a search probe (who by design looks like a large iPod) sent by the Buy N Large Corporation. It doesn’t sound like the sort of stuff that would make one swoon but Pixar yet again proves they can do anything from making rats lovable (and here that extends to cockroaches) to making us believe robots can love. An animated instant classic as my original review proclaimed.

3. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } (Dir. Danny Boyle)

There’s been an odd mini comment war on my original review of this delightful yet edgy Mumbai success story, which goes to show that this was one of the most talked about and vital movies of the year. It’s an amazing spectacle from start to finish with protagonist taking us through his hard knock life by way of a glittery game show – the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As the comments on my post suggest, some folks couldnt get past the violence or what they thought was an inaccurate cultural depiction but dammit, I thought it was a stone cold blast! I’ll bet (again literally) it’ll win Best Picture at the Oscars.

4. FROST/NIXON (Dir. Ron Howard) Nice to see Opie Cunningham take a break from the dumb DaVinci Codage and revisit his old 70’s stomping ground to take on everybody’s favorite nemesis – Nixon. These were definitely not Happy Days though for the impeached President (played magnificently by Frank Langella) making a $huge$ deal for a series of TV interviews with the slickly ambitious David Frost (Michael Sheen) while in self-imposed exile in California. As riveting as a round in the ring with “The Ram” (see next entry) this showdown scores on every front with ace casting (in addition to the leads – Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall,and Oliver Platt mull about entertainingly), a great screenplay by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN), and Howard’s best direction in ages. My original review? Oh yeah, it’s here.

5. THE WRESTLER (Dir. Darren Aronofsky) Yeah, it’s true – Mickey Rourke is back and I’ll be surprised as Hell if he doesn’t take

home the gold come February because nobody else literally went to the mat like this! Call it a comeback for Randy “The Ram” Robinson who may be washed up and working at a supermarket estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) while pinning for a stripper (Marisa Tomei) but he’s overdue for redemption even if it means he’s going down for the count. This character is going down in cinema history for sure – read my original review for more gushing about this gritty gutsy grabber of a movie.

6. THE FALL (Dir. Tarsem Singh)

This fantastical visually splendorific film is all the more impressive because it contains no CGI. It’s a colorful joyful ride through fairy tale conventions which, crazily enough, orginates from a tale told in the 1930’s by a injured stuntman (Lee Pace) as a bargaining tool to get a young girl (Catinca Untaru) to break in to their hospital’s sanctuary to steal morphine for him. It’s vivid and emotional in all the right places with folks appearing WIZARD OF OZ style both in real life and the fantasy scenerios. Again you can read my praising review here.

7. THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Chris Nolan)

The more you think about it, the more flawed this film is. Batman’s (Christian Bale) exaggerated gravelly voice, ersatz plot elements like ‘hey, what happened to the folks at the skyscraper party after Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall) was rescued by the caped crusader?’, and the unnecessary Hong Kong subplot (ThePlaylist jabbed some of these complaints funnily enough here). All may rub movie logical minds wrong but what did work here is arguably as good as movies can get. Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the demented Joker was precision defined while the Gotham grandeur frighteningly filled every frame. Read me clumsily reach for more operatic poetry here.

8. IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau)

Another superhero movie sure, but with Robert Downey Jr. in the metallic title role, Gwyneth Paltrow as the love interest, and Jeff Bridges as his adversary, it’s one Hell of a superhero movie! Downey Jr. is both intense and funny as Tony Stark and the streamlined shiny production surrounding him is perfectly provided by Favreau. Yep, a class action movie as I reported last summer here.

9. THE VISITOR (Dir. Thomas McCarthy) I was elated that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a best actor award for this fine understated Indie movie that many ignored late last Spring (Mind you – I dont think hell win). As a displaced professor who finds 2 illegal immigrants (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Jekesai Gurira) living in his New York apartment and forms an unfortunately brief friendship, Jenkins finds a graceful ingratiating tone and a note that will resonate long after a single viewing. Yep, more here.


More than just a fine return to form, the Woodman gives us a lush and lavish look at the loony intertwined coupling that the ladies of the title encounter on their trip abroad. Javier Bardem woos Scarlet Johansen, Rebecca Hall, and what Allen has before called a “Kamikaze woman” – wife Penélope Cruz (she may yet woo the Academy). Were all woo-ed in the end – well, at least I was. Read all about it here.


Again, the ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green) A great Apatow-appoved comedy that like the next few titles got the Spillover shaft by my silly blog.


TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller)

MAN ON WIRE (Dir. James Marsh) Great intense doc in which even the re-creations make for great cinema.


GRAN TORINO (Dir. Clint Eastwood) It got strangely shut out come award season (which is strange because the Academy loves Clint) but its a strong addition to the Eastwood canon.

SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

One of the worlds greatest directors filming one of the world’s greatest bands – maybe Im just biased because I was blown away by the movie at an IMAX theater last Spring but I still think itll hold up as one of the best concert films ever in years to come.

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008) Trivial throw-away Coen Brothers fare still makes for great movie-time in my book – or on my blog that is.

MILK (Dir. Gus Vant Sant) Biopicalicious!

More later…


Prestiege Period Piece Pontifications: DOUBT, VALKYRIE, and THE READER

Awards season is officially upon us so I’ve been trying to catch up with all the heavy hitters. Its difficult because a few films haven’t even come to my area yet (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, THE WRESTLER). Thats why a best of 2008 list will have to wait for those whove emailed me asking where it is. In the meantime though, here’s 3 much talked about movies that I have caught up with:

DOUBT (Dir. John Patrick Shanley, 2008)

“Where’s your compassion?” an exasperated Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) bellows at Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). “Nowhere you can get at it” she sternly and coldly responds. The unflinching Principal at St. Nicholas in the Bronx is dead certain that the Priest, new to the Parrish, is guilty of an inappropriate relationship with an alter boy (Joseph Foster) who is the school’s only African American. Hoffman’s Father Flynn is accessible, easy-going, and feels the church should be “friendlier” which is all in direct opposition to Streep’s ball busting Beauvier who states: “Every easy choice today will have its consequence tomorrow.” Hoffman exhaustingly maintains that he is innocent and refuses to go into detail claiming it was a private matter he discussed with the boy in the rectory, but Streep, based on the snooping reports of Sister James (Amy Adams), will not back down.

Set in 1964, DOUBT is a fairly small scale film. It has a small cast and spare locations with most scenes featuring one-on-one confrontations. What’s big here is the performances. A showdown between great actors is center stage which is fitting because it is based on Shanley’s Tony Award winning off-Broadway play. Though it’s mostly Streep and Hoffman’s show, Viola Davis as the boy in question’s mother has a heartbreaking scene with Streep that undoubtedly should get her nominated for an Oscar. That she appears for only a few minutes should not disqualify – Beatrice Straight took home the award for an equally short amount of valuable screen-time in NETWORK (1976). The amicable Adams has third billing but she does not emotionally stir up the proceedings like Davis does.

There are no shocking revelations or twists in DOUBT and no formulaic liberties are taken. It is simply the no-frills straight telling of a disturbing dilemma with a spotlight on oppressive Mother Superiority. Hoffman, having made no sketchy career choices of late (following the superb BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD with the wondrous SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK and then this), confirms he’s one of the top actors working today while Streep adds another notable notch to her distinguished filmography. Shanley’s screenplay serves them well although the brisk summing-up ending left me more than a little dry. Small quibble though, DOUBT delivers a sharp showcase of ace acting chops and while I doubt (sorry) it’ll take home much gold in the current competition it’ll still win over many fans of powerful performances.

VALKYRIE (Dir. Bryan Singer, 2008)

Recalling THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER in its opening translation transition, VALKRIE begins in German but the titles and Tom Cruise’s voice-over reciting of a letter he’s writing slowly but fluidly morph into English. In this mini-epic (that is compared to the scale of Singer’s X-MEN or SUPERMAN RETURNS) based on true events from 1945, Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg who joins a group of Generals and Counselors in a plot to assassinate Hitler (played by British stage actor David Bramber) and restore Germany’s world standing. Among the plotters are such talented thespians as Kenneth Branaugh, Kevin McNally, Christian Berkel, David Schofield, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, and oddly enough quirky comedian Eddie Izzard. As a possible roadblock to their resistance is the always reliable Tom Wilkinson as Officer Fredrich Fromm.

The film takes its name from Operation Valkyrie, a plan that uses the Reserve Army to keep amongst the Germany country should Hitler’s communication be disrupted, or should Hitler be killed. Cruise as Stauffenberg, wears an eye patch and is missing his right hand from an Allied attack in Tunisia that opens the film, is fiercely focused and he exhibits none of his trademark glibness – at no point does he flash his blinding grin. I know those who despise the man for his couch jumping, Scientology spouting, and cringe-inducing cocky demeanor but only a stoic dedication to the role is on display here. He holds his own with the mostly male ensemble and shares a few nice moments with Carice von Hauten (who stared in another World War II drama – BLACK BOOK) as his wife.

It says a lot when a film can trigger tense suspense in a scene that involves getting the Fürer’s signature on a rewritten order and in several other key set-pieces just a step away from minutiae mundanity. It’s also noteworthy that the actors, instructed to talk in neutral accents by Singer, all work well together. The most precise performance I’ve witnessed yet from Nighy, while workhorse vets like Brannaugh and Wilkinson both make uneasiness an acting art form. Reportedly this is faithful to the historic record and that should come as a surprise to those who have a generalized overview of the era. While by no means a masterpiece, VALKYRIE is extremely engaging entertainment that highlights its humanity without using broad strokes. I only hope anti-Cruise folks will lose their bias and give it a chance. It would be a shame for such a solid story and production to be gratuitously overlooked.

THE READER (Dir. Stephen Daldry, 2008)

A few days ago Kate Winslet won Golden Globes for both this film and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. The second time up to the podium she was shocked in a Sally Fieldian way as she blubbered through a unprepared acceptance speech. As a presenter afterwards, Ricky Gervais called out to her: “I told you – do a Holocaust movie, the awards come, didn’t I?” Referring to her self satirical appearance on his show Extras. Of course that’s just a joke and it’s too cynical for this movie’s material but it still stings because I didn’t feel for this film and its characters like I wanted too. Winslet, bereft of the bouncy charm she brought to her roles in films like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and THE HOLIDAY, plays Hanna Schmitz – a former guard at Auschwitz who has an affair (David Kross) with a boy half her age. The story is told from the point of view of the boy as he grows up into a weary troubled Ralph Fiennes.

The film proper begins in 1995, flashbacks to 1958 when the relationship began, then to 1966 with Kross finding Winslet on trial and onward to the late 80’s. Winslet, who had Kross read many classic books (“The Odyssey”, “Huckleberry Finn”, etc) in bed, bath but not beyond to her, is illiterate and conceals this even though it jeopardizes her freedom. This is an intriguing premise but unfortunately there is too little chemistry between Winslet and Kross and later Fiennes for the strong emotional pull the film severely needs. The narrative craft and chops are there but the urgency and sense of purpose seems, at best, muted. The context of the horrors of World War II do not need to be re-stated but here the trappings and effect on millions are absent leaving only the concerns of these 2 fairly dull people. And that, like the man once said in a far more worthy effort, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

More later…

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK: The Film Babble Blog Review

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008 <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —)

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut is unlike any other first time director’s film, but then it’s unlike any other film in existence, period. The noted screenwriter of such modern day masterpieces as BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND now is presenting us with an epic construction in which art imitates life and life imitates art in such a spellbinding manner that they become entangled so that one isn’t sure if it’s art or life’s parts flailing on the screen in front of them. Attempting to describe the plot may be futile, but I’ll still have a go – Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Cayden Cotard, a playwright in a loveless marriage to an aspiring abstract painter Adele (Catherine Keener). Keener leaves with their daughter to conquer the German art community forcing Hoffman to deal head on with his loneliness and various sicknesses yet he is still inspired with the aid of a large grant to mount what he calls “a massive theater piece.”

Tormented but not creatively constipated, Hoffman assembles a cast and crew in a large warehouse in Manhattan’s theater district to set about building a vast replica of the city outside. Every actor is given notes on their individual scenarios because as Hoffman relates: “None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.” Dealing with the women in his life alongside his literally towering ambitions is just as tangled as he clumsily courts Samantha Morton as an eager assistant, Michelle Williams as a devoted thespian, a self-help book plugging therapist (Hope Davis), and Diane Wiest as an actress who oddly takes over Hoffman’s role of a director not long after he tells her she is weirdly close to what he visualized for the character. “Glad to be weirdly close” she responds.

Tom Noonan, who can be seen in the background following Hoffman throughout the first half of the film, is hired though he has no acting or theater experience. His experience is in knowing everything there is to know about Hoffman including the address of his ex-wife and he even takes up with Morton. Morton has her own theatrical double in the form of Emily Watson who is neatly attired (and nearly indistinguishable) as a Morton clone. Hoffman takes up with Watson, albeit briefly, but these relationship mechanics hardly define or dominate; they are restless and surprisingly realistic elements that wind in and out of this colossal collage. Though there are many funny moments, the tone is not intensely comical but there is the case of Mortons house that is on fire and burns for years – echoing the successful surreal tangents of Kaufmans earlier work.

As layered and multi-leveled as the mock city that Hoffman creates, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is a mind bogglingly beautiful film. It isn’t concerned with notions of time (years pass with no convenient “six months later” or “a year later” titles), there are no pat emotional resolutions, and there is no big climatic reveal of the massive production to provide a soothing finish. What it does provide is ideas – themes on top of themes with implications and allusions to ponder over for years. At many pivotal points Hoffman, struck by revelation, states “I know how to do the play now” and he and the film take us one step further into the blurring of oblivion. Kaufman has already blown moviegoers synapses with his fantastical tangents but this time he goes places many accomplished film makers would never even think of venturing. Its extremely exhilarating that hes discovered on a grand scale that theres no need for films to have designated integrated dream sequences; the films themselves are dreams. For his first effort as director to be as incredibly challenging as it is powerfully pleasurable will certainly kick off an extraordinary career of craft. As yet another troubling frustrating female in our desperate protagonist’s life, Jennifer Jason Leigh says: “It’s all about your artistic satisfaction”. She says it with an air of smug condescension but she’s right, though in the end SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is all about everybody’s artistic satisfaction as well.

More later…

2007 Spills Over And Over And Over…

Yeah, I know it’s February 2008 but it always takes a few months to catch up on the previous year’s film releases so bear with me. Some are only now making it to my area theatrically and every few days NetFlix envelopes arrive with films from the tail-end of 2007 so I’m gradually catching up. Here’s what I’ve been seeing starting with a few movies recently viewed at the theatre-hole:

THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are two siblings (Jon and Wendy Savage – hence the not so subtle title) who have to deal with their father’s (Phillip Bosco) worsening dementia in this almost too real to life film that hurts so good. I felt like a voyeur watching this at times because the situations come from such personal places. Early on Linney and Hoffman are established as liars – to themselves and everyone around them. Both have literary aspirations – Hoffman is a Professor with a Doctorate and author of obscure books on obscure topics; Linney is an aspiring playwright so you can see where they might competitively clash. They both have to travel from New York to Pop’s place in Arizona to figure out what to do about their father’s housing. Bosco is foul mouthed and forgetful (he mistakes his new nursing home for a hotel) so our brother and sister duo have more on their plate than their already exasperated lives will allow.

In a movie full of great natural-feeling moments, Gbenga Akinnagbe as a caretaker steals some vital screen time and as Hoffman and Linney’s respective lovers Cara Seymour and Peter Friedman fill out the great but spare cast. Tamara Jenkin’s first film – the underrated late 90’s SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS, as much as I hate using the phrase, showed promise but surprisingly not as much as this film delivers. “Maybe dad didn’t abandon us. Maybe he just forgot who we were” Linney says at one point and you can feel every syllable – not a single one of them phony or feeling like they exist only in a “movie” world. Hoffman and Linney are both top notch actors and they never falter here (this could be very well adapted to a great 2 person play); both deserve nominations (this should have been what Hoffman got a Oscar nomination for – not CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR). Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay, has a smooth assured directorial style and that’s impressive with such rocky neurotic material. If I had seen it sooner THE SAVAGES may have made my top ten of 2007 but now I don’t want to knock anything off. Still it’s in my ongoing spillover and one I urge you to seek out. This is one of those slices of life that really cuts.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Dir. Julien Schnabel, 2007)

A few weeks back at the DGA Awards actress Sean Young (BLADE RUNNER, NO WAY OUT) heckled director Julien Schnabel when he took the stage because she thought he was taking too long to get to his remarks regarding his best director nomination for this film. “Come on – get to it!” she yelled, “have another cocktail!” he replied before walking off. Nobody could rightly yell at the screen for this movie to “get to it” because it immediately gets there with its premise, with its visuals, and with its remarkable sense of purpose. The premise: Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalricis) is paralysed after a stroke and can only communicate by blinking one eyelid. In this locked-in syndrome he is surrounded by women – his wife (Emmanuelle Seigner), his therapist (Marie-Josee Croze) who devised the one-eye communication method, his mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine), and a few pretty nurses (incuding Schnabel’s wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia) so he at least is never at a loss for beauty. We are never at a loss for beauty either – even though the first 10 minutes or so are a bit disorienting (images are seen through Bauby’s blinks) once one gets accustomed to the style the film is as engaging and colorful as one could desire.

It is funny that to fully appreciate and understand the title one has to see the film (or read the book), in other words it would be a spoiler to tell you what the title means so I won’t go there. There are many flashbacks, which are seemlessly stitched into the film’s fabric, so we see Bauby in better days. We get insight into his character, or lack of character when you consider the mistress, and get a great extended cameo by the legendary Max von Sydow as his stern cranky father. I got lost in this movie in its last third in the best possible manner – swept up in the notions of splendor one can only fully visualize from a state of confinement. Reportedly Johnny Depp was originally going to portray Bauby. I’m so glad that didn’t happen (he had PIRATES commitments apparently) for Depp’s ginormous star presence would have surely distracted from the real show. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is another candidate for 2007 spillover and a gorgeous experience that one doesn’t need “another cocktail” to get to.

And now some new release DVDS:

(Dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007)

Despite some good word of mouth in its theatrical release last fall this got majorly overlooked – even in the nonsensical “is the Western still alive?” debate that some critics indulged in. At the year’s end it made a number of top ten lists and recently garnered Academy Award nominations for Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (Casey Affleck) so wider interest in it will be sure to spread. It absolutely deserves a bigger audience for it’s a great movie; it’s powerful as well as subtly moving and comes off as a true story, which it is, and a tall-tale at the same time. A gaunt Brad Pitt is the infamous outlaw Jesse James – a notorious bank robber, bloody murderer, and “legendary figure of the Wild West” (as Wikipedia puts it). As a timid awkward newbie to the James Gang, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) longs after some of that legend glory and posits himself in the line for history by…uh…just reread the title – I guess I don’t have to worry about spoilers here!

The film could as well be titled “The Last Days Of The James Gang” for over its 2 hour and 40 minute running time the other members (including Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Schneider) get a lot of screen time and their all fates intertwine with those of the two title characters. There is a large chunk of the film that Affleck is absent from as we learn family backgrounds and the score on deadly set-ups past and future. Pitt, understated with a persona drenched clean of razzle dazzle, is the best I’ve ever seen him – not a second of actorly digression. Casey Affleck once again makes the case that he’s the Affleck brother that should be in front of the camera as his Ford progressively seethes from within – outwardly idolizing yet quietly despising the aloof but intense James.

As I said before this was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography and it definitely deserves to win. Roger Deakins’ (also nominated for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) work here is explemporary – every single shot is beautiful whether they are of open terrains, spare wooden house sets, or the snow covered woods where a body could be dumped and not found for many seasons. Affleck also deserves his nomination but I doubt he’ll get the gold (I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions just yet) – overall the entire cast is well chosen with Sam Shepherd as James’ brother Frank James, Mary-Louise Parker (who barely has any lines but a great screaming and sobbing scene) as James’s wife, and the previously mentioned Rockwell in a manically precise part as Robert Ford’s brother Charlie – see how ‘in the family’ this all is? In my review of 3:10 TO YUMA last September about the fate of the modern western I said that “it’s a genre that will never die”. Great sprawling masterworks like Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD make me re-affirm that statement.


Out of the entire global classic gaming hobby, there’s one significant rivalry that’s equivalent to the big rivalries in history: Yankees/Red Sox, Maris/Mantle, Heckle and Jeckle…all the big rivalries in history you know? This is up there on that level. – Walter Day (founder of Twin Galaxies, an international organization that tracks high-score statistics for the worldwide electronic video gaming hobby – thanks again Wikipedia!).

One thing is certain if you watch this film you will come to know 2 names very well: Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe (pictured above). Billy Mitchell (pictured on the left below) who has been called the “greatest arcade-video-game player of all time” and is documented in the Guinness Book of World Records for his high score on the old school 80’s classic Donkey Kong. Wiebe is his competitor – a failed baseballer, grunge musician, laid-off from Boeing surbananite who took to his personal in the garage Donkey Kong machine as a time killer when out of work and just happened to beat Mitchell’s score. After many of Mitchell’s minions doubt the validity of Wiebe’s score self appointed records keeper turned gamer referee Walter Day invites him to prove his skills “live” – that is, at a public venue (one of the last standing arcades – Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire). This is where the tensions rise – Mitchell sends a videotape that shows a game that tops Wiebe’s score. Mitchell is a no-show for a “live” showdown but is constantly monitoring his competition from his phone while Wiebe lives up the the challenge and continues to play on the spot. More such devious developments occur as we wonder if a real confrontation is in the cards.

For somebody who isn’t a gamer and had no idea of this outdated videogame subculture I was really riveted by this production. It’s the best kind of documentary – one that invites you in to a world that you’ve never known, introduces you to folks you end up really caring about, and leaves you with the passion and pathos of every day life from an angle that feels fresh as well as very funny. Maybe this film too simplistically casts Billy Mitchell as the conniving villain and Steve Wiebe as the innocent underdog hero but then again sometimes you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em. The DVD is essential because the bonus material is not of the disposable variety – there are many vital extras including Q & A sessions from film screenings, a lot of crucial cut footage, and most importantly – updates on where the players competition stands now. As one of the bonus features is called (in a STAR WARS scroll) “The Saga Continues” – the story is going on to this day with Mitchell and Wiebe still battling it out down to the Donkey Kong “Kill screen”. One of the few documentaries ever where a sequel follow-up wouldn’t just be justified; it would be greatly appreciated.

Post Note #1: I wrote this review before I found out that a follow-up will occur but it’s not a sequel – a scripted dramatized movie adaptation is in the works I read on the internets. Hmmm.
Post Note #2: This hilarious recent Onion AV Club interview with Billy Mitchell is a sequel/rebuttal in itself.

THE BRAVE ONE (Dir. Neil Jordan, 2007)

The first ten minutes almost resemble a Meg Ryan rom-com set-up – a perky Jodie Foster with bedhead bangs is a New Yorker NPR-type radio personality madly in love with her fiance (Naveen Andrews) who looks like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. But since this is a Jodie Foster movie we know the track record set by PANIC ROOM and FLIGHTPLAN – the happiness will be short lived and we’ll soon see our heroine stressed and ferociously working her eyes’ worry lines in a mode one character calls “in lock down” (not quite like Bauby in THE DIVING BELL above mind you). She and her beau Andrews are assaulted in Central Park and he is beaten to death by three thugs – the type who only exist in the movies; they videotape the attack yelling lines like “are you ready for your close-up?!” Foster is in a coma for 3 weeks and wakes up to find her lover has been buried and her view of what she calls incredulously “the safest city on earth” is forever altered. She buys a gun illegally and becomes a Bernard Goetz (who of course is referenced) style vigilante killing a convenience store robber, a couple of thugs on the subway, and an evil murdering businessman. A sympathetic heart of gold cop played by Terrence Howard investigates the killings and obliviously becomes friends with Foster. Their conversations are the heart of the film with Foster and Howard playing at the top of their acting game – it’s just unfortunate that the film doesn’t have more soul.

It’s hard for me not to think of TAXI DRIVER – the Scorsese/De Niro 70’s classic that happened to have a 13 year old Foster as a prostitute (a role that got her a Best Supporting Actress Nomination – she didn’t win but won later for Best Actress for THE ACCUSED). In THE BRAVE ONE Foster stalks the same mean streets that Travis Bickle did and she obviously would relate to the sentiment when he lamented: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Neil Jordan’s (MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME, THE BUTCHER BOY) direction is fluidly fine and it is a gutsy move for Foster to take on this female variation on DEATHWISH. Her fierce frightened performance provides plenty of grip but the play-out here is predictable and so is the ending. The combination of Fosters and Jordan’s panache does help this rise above standard thriller status – it just doesn’t rise far enough up to ring that cinematic circus bell.

By the way:

This picture of Jodie Foster doing her take on Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS from the recent Vanity Fair photo spread “Top Stars Recreate Hitchcock Moments” is better than anything in THE BRAVE ONE.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2007

I’ve hesitated making a list of the best of what has been an exceptionally good year because there are still many potential candidates that I haven’t seen yet – THE SAVAGES, GONE BABY GONE, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES…, PERSOPOLIS, and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY among them. I should be able to see those all fairly soon but then, come on, there will always be 2007 films that I haven’t seen out there. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Brothers frighteningly faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel is undoubtedly an immediate classic. I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions but there’s no way this goes home with nothing from the pathetic press conference that the Academy Awards ceremony is threatening to be. With incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins and great performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and especially as evil incarnate – Javier Bardem. Read my original review here.

2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

An uncharacteristic film for PTA and another based on a literary work (Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”) this is a mesmerizing masterpiece with a showstopping performance by Daniel Day Lewis as an evil Oil baron. That this and the Coen Bros. are meeting in the same desert area where both films were shot (the West Texas town of Marfa) for a Best Picture Oscar showdown makes it sadder that for this competition there may be no show. My original review here.

3. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes)

It was wonderful that Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe and got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Jude Quinn – one of 6 personifications of Bob Dylan (the others being Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin), because she was the one that really nailed it. Roger Ebert wrote that Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was “possibly the year’s most divisive film” but I think this divided movie goers to a greater extreme. I heard some of the most angered comments I’ve ever heard about a movie in my theater’s lobby and there were many screenings that had multiple walk-outs. To me though these folk were crazy with the same moronic heckling mentality of those who booed when Bob went electric back in ’65-’66. This is a movie as far ahead of its time as its subject: the Fellini, Godard, Altman, Pekinpah, and Pennebaker visual riffing throughout will take decades to fully absorb as well the context of the classic music presented – cue “Positively 4th Street”. Read more in my original review here.

4. ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher)

An unjustly overlooked new-fangled stylized, though with old-school ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN tactics, serial killer period piece procedural – which I know makes it sound either too scary or too boring (or both), but damnit this is a knock-out of a movie. Fincher utilizes every bit of info available about the original late 60’s to 70’s case about the Zodiac killer through his baffling coded killings to the sporadic nature of his possible identity, through the incompetent technology of the time and the mislaid evidence because of separate investigations. So fascinating, it will take a few more viewings to fully appreciate how fascinating it is – and I haven’t even seen the Director’s Cut! With passionate performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr., Chloë Sevigny and Mark Ruffalo. Read my original review here.

5. 3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold)

In this remake of the 1957 film based on the Elmore Leonard short story set in the 1880’s, Christian Bale is a down on his luck handicapped farmer who takes on the job of transporting evil yet poetic outlaw Russell Crowe across dangerous terrain to the scheduled train of the title. An amazing sense of pacing plus the ace performances of the principals help this transcend the “revitalizing the Western” brand it’s been stupidly stamped with. A stately yet grandly entertaining movie with an extremely satisfying ending. Read my original review here.

6. AWAY FROM HER (Dir. Sarah Polly)

Julie Christie is going to be hard to beat for Best Actress this year because her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s is as heartbreaking as it gets. Gordon Pinsent is understated and affecting as her estranged husband – lost to her mentally and helpless as she is institutionalized. He’s sadly confined to the sidelines as she falls in love with a fellow patient played by Michael Murphy. My review (based on the DVD) is here.

7. RATATOUILLE (Dir. Brad Byrd)

Flawless animation enhanced by an ace script with embellishment by star Patton Oswalt (he voices the rat) makes this story about a Parisian rodent that happens to be a master chef as tasty a dish as one could salivate for in the proud Pixar present. My original review – of course it’s right here.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers who plot to rob the jewelry store owned by their parents. Tragedy ensues – some hilarity too but it’s of the cringe-variety. Read my review here.

9. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman)

Some may think that it’s funny that in this year of worthy candidates that my choice of this big screen version of one of the 20 year old TV cartoon family’s adventures, but as Homer says “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!” This is definitely here because of personal bias but isn’t that what these lists are all about? Original review – here.

10. MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy)

A surprisingly non glossy legal thriller with a downbeat but nuanced George Clooney. Didn’t really pack ’em in but got respectable business and critical notices. Despite enjoying and obviously thinking it’s one of the year’s best, I was surprised it got a Best Picture Nomination – I really thought INTO THE WILD would get it. Since this is the superior picture I’m happy to be wrong. Also nice to see Tom Wilkinson getting a nomination for his intense turn as Clooney’s deranged but righteous key witness. My review? Oh yeah, it’s here.


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title (except for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE which links to its IMDb entry) for my original review.

NO END IN SIGHT (Dir. Charles Ferguson)
(Dir. Edgar Wright)
(Dir. Joe Wright)
(Dir. Billy Ray)
(Dir. Julie Taymor)
(Dir. Michael Moore)
(Dir. Lasse Hallström)
(Dir. Julie Delphy)
(Dir. Ridley Scott)
(Dir. Greg Mattola)

So that’s it for now – I may revise this at some point but I’m thinking it would be better to let it stand.
This post is dedicated to Heath Ledger (April 4th, 1979 – January 22nd, 2008). He, of course, was one of the Bobs (pictured above) in my #3 Film of the year and I enjoyed his performances in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and MONSTER’S BALL (those are the only ones of his I’ve seen so far). As I write this many pundits on cable are pontificating on the cause of his death exaggerating every tiny detail of what should be his private life. I prefer to just look at the work he left behind. His role as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel THE DARK KNIGHT is surely going to be the most anticipated role of 2008.


More later…

No Lament For Lumet – The Guy’s Still Got The Goods

It’s been a very good week – reviewed below is the third film I’ve seen in a row at the theatre that really lived up to its hype and may end up on my year end top ten. Also nice to report that it is the work of a director than many had long written off – Sidney Lumet. So let’s dig in:


After the solid yet fairly unremarkable FIND ME GUILTY (2006) many (including me) expected the 82 year old Lumet, with a career behind him that included such undisputed classics as FAIL-SAFE, NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and SERPICO, to go gracefully into that good night. There’s nothing graceful about the characters and their actions in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD though. With a economical pacing and frenetic fractured structure that youngsters like Tarentino and Soderbergh would kill for, this heist gone wrong parable is not only one of Lumet’s best movies in possibly decades but is one of the year’s best films. An emotionally detached Andy Hanson (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his twitching down-on-his-luck brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) decide to knock over a mom and pop jewelry store located in a New Jersey strip mall. Thing is – it’s their actual Mom and Pop’s (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) store – Hanson’s Jewelry – and oh, Hawke is having an affair with Hoffman’s wife (Marissa Tomei). I don’t consider any of that plot info to be spoilers since all of that is revealed in the trailer but don’t worry I won’t spill any more – the build-up and juicy interlocking of vignettes here are so swift and satisfying that nobody needs further briefing.

Titles such as “The Robbery” and “Three Days Before The Robbery” assign sections of the film to the different players (Hawke, Hoffman, And Finney – seems like Oscar winner Tomei picked the short straw) and shifts our sympathies or animosities between them as the plot-lines pile up. There is a fair amount of humor but like in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN it hides in the darkness making audiences cringe at the same time they stifle a giggle. Hawke’s Hank – a desperate dead-beat dad has such a cloud over his head and a wide-eyed puppy dog look (Finney says “he’s still such a baby” at one point) that we are invited to laugh at him but there’s nothing humorous about his older brother Andy. Hoffman’s Andy – a jaded withdrawn real estate exec. with slicked back hair and fine tailored suits is disguising a desperation as deep and scarring as his brother’s. Though Albert Finney, just a little younger than Lumet, appears pretty worse for wear (his mouth is always hanging open and he moves slowly and shakily) he can still bring the intensity as the most affecting character here – he alone may be the heart of this film (sorry again, Marissa). With Lumet’s name attached as director to another project (GETTING OUT set for 2009) it looks like that good night will simply have to wait.

More later…

Toronto By Stone

<!– D(["mb","G.I. during WWII who had a one night stand with \nJude's mom in England back in the day. So Jude finds him, he's a janitor AT \nPRINCETON ( so, OK), where Jude befriends Max, a Princeton student, whose sister \nLucy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes Jude's love. Jude becomes an artist, Max gets \ndrafted, Lucy becomes involved in anti-war protest and radical politics. They \nall end up in NYC sharing an apartment with hard rockin;' Janis Joplin type, and \na Jimi Hendrix type guitar type just in from the heartland. Of course it's hard \nto make a movie/musical that contains 33 Beatles songs, vietnam, civil rights, \nprotest, assassination of MLK, psychedelia, and rock and roll in one big \npackage. And sometimes these bits might seem a bit.. forced, a song or two might \nseem randomly inserted… BUT the music is honored and performed with energy and \nimagination, the cast is uniformly excellent, and many of the production numbers \nof the music are amazing….. for example, Joe Cocker as a bum, as a Wolfman \nJack style pimp performing Come Together… or Bono as a Ken Kesey/Tmothy Leary \ntype singing… or Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, or the remarkable number at the \ninducton center where all the young inductees in their briefs are poked and \nprodded and tested and measured by square jawed Army drill instructors .. \nuntil the inductees become g.i.'s tramping throught the jungles of Vietnam \ncarrying the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders, singing "She's So Heavy"– \n the audince at Toronto gave huge ovations, thunderous applause after each \nof these scenes. Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude, has bits of the Beatle look, the \naccent, real presence and and a terrifce voice. His performance of Revolution is \na showstopper. And Evan Rachel Wood holds her own, singing effectively and \nplaying the suburban ingenue who becomes radicalized and swept up in the world \nof a Weatherman-style Svengali. Overall, a wild ride, amazing eye candy , good \nmusic, and an effective if sometimes thI asked Bruce Stone – a local writer and former teacher of mine who with his wife Mary Jo owns and runs the Chelsea and Varsity Theaters here in Chapel Hill, NC to tell Film Babble about this year’s Toronto Film Fest (Sept. 6th-13th) which they regularly attend. So Stone has the floor :

The 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival offered up over 350 feature films from around the world with the usual hits and misses and buzz busters, with something for almost every taste. The TIFF has become one of the two or three premiere film fests of the world, certainly the largest in North America, and probably the most comprehensive in that it offers up not only the biggest and juiciest of the Hollywood prestige titles, but also the best of the indie fare, exotica from around the world, documentaries, first time breakout directors, Canadian homegrown films (gurk!), edgy crazy midnight madness slasher fanboy fare and everything in between.

<!– D(["mb","\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>and everyone gets to trade movie gossip, compare \nnotes, eat tofu paninis, or just watch the bushy tailed black squirrels of \nCanada play tag on the grassy lawns and stately trees of the manicured urban \nwild spaces.\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>\u003c/font\> \u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>Toronto is a large, cosmopolitan, welcoming city, \nswarming with… Canadians, of all things, and many others. I t also a favorite \nsite for Hollywood productions seeking out locales with a good urban feel, \nfriendly tax incentives and professional film production types who can get the \njob done. This year it was impossible not to notice the buzz of activity humming \nalong Yonge Street ( Toronto's Broadway??) as miles of power cables twisted up \nand down Yonge and snaked arount the side streets. Then the cherry pickers \nrolled in, transforming a modest storefront tatoo and nail parlor \ninto Harlem's Apollo Theater, hoisting up a huge APOLLO sign against three \nfloors of the building's facade, and then later wrapping the front of the \nbuilding in a marquee that later proclaimed the appearance of the "HARLEM \nGOSPEL CHOIR" . And suddenly a fleet of taxis , 30-40 taxis, parked in a lot \nacross from the Delta Chelsea Hotel, and two city bus "extras", one of them \ntwisted and mangled into a burned shell of a bus skeleton, clearly a before and \nafter slotted for a future role in some cataclysmic crash and burn vignette. And \ntrucks unloading lights, and huge property trunks on wheels, and more cables \nand……. one marveled at the days of preparation, the detail, the staggering \namounts of money all this STUFF must cost. And so one asks…. what the hay is \ngoing on here….. and one is told they are preparing to shoot ( get ready) THE \nHULK…. THE HULK? SON OF HULK? HULK REDUX? MR. HULK GOES TO \nWASHINTON?\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>\u003c/font\> \u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>But enough… let's go to the \nmovies….",1] );

The TIFF serves many purposes: it is the fall launching pad for all the hopeful awards season Oscar bait titles, it is a market place for many small and independent films that come to town without distribution, but mostly it is a feast for film lovers from Toronto and around the world who converge on Toronto for a week and a half of gorging on films from morning to midnight for 10 straight days. Toronto is a great movie town and all screenings, even for the most marginal of films, are remarkably well attended. Ticketholders wait in one line, those without tickets queue up in a rush line hoping to snag tickets for the few remaining seats, and everyone gets to trade movie gossip, compare notes, eat tofu paninis, or just watch the bushy tailed black squirrels of Canada play tag on the grassy lawns and stately trees of the manicured urban wild spaces.

Toronto is a large, cosmopolitan, welcoming city, swarming with… Canadians, of all things, and many others. It also is a favorite site for Hollywood productions seeking out locales with a good urban feel, friendly tax incentives and professional film production types who can get the job done. This year it was impossible not to notice the buzz of activity humming along Yonge Street (Toronto’s Broadway??) as miles of power cables twisted up and down Yonge and snaked arount the side streets. Then the cherry pickers rolled in, transforming a modest storefront tatoo and nail parlor into Harlem’s Apollo Theater, hoisting up a huge APOLLO sign against three floors of the building’s facade, and then later wrapping the front of the building in a marquee that later proclaimed the appearance of the “HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR” . And suddenly a fleet of taxis , 30-40 taxis, parked in a lot across from the Delta Chelsea Hotel, and two city bus “extras”, one of them twisted and mangled into a burned shell of a bus skeleton, clearly a before and after slotted for a future role in some cataclysmic crash and burn vignette. And trucks unloading lights, and huge property trunks on wheels, and more cables and…one marveled at the days of preparation, the detail, the staggering amounts of money all this STUFF must cost. And so one asks…. what the hay is going on here….. and one is told they are preparing to shoot (get ready) THE HULK…. THE HULK? SON OF HULK? HULK REDUX? MR. HULK GOES TO WASHINGTON?

But enough… let’s go to the movies….

THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)

Clearly a prestige title from Fox Searchlight for the holidays. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney star as brother and sister suddenly burdened with a father slipping into dementia in Sun City, Arizona. Hoffman is a (typically) rumpled single English professor in the academic backwaters of Buffalo, NY, while sister is a writer from NYC. Together they travel to Arizona’s empty sterile sundrenched retirement hell and return their father to cold snowy dreary Buffalo, where they find him a nursing home and bicker about what is good enough and what isn’t. Hoffman’s character is cynical, hardbitten and grimly realistic, believing that any home is good enough for the dad, as he is so far into dementia he doesn’t know the difference, while the sister frets about the nursing homes, fusses about finding the father the best possible care, accusing her brother of indifference.

Questions unanswered… they haven’t seen or contacted their father in 10 or 11 years… why not? There seems to be some unsettled score.. but what is it? How can such a schlumpy father sire two such semi-accomplished literary children? And why do these indie movies always have artsy literati types without questioning anyone’s credentials? And notwithstanding all these questions – this is a very affecting film, warm, funny, bittersweet film, beautifully acted by the three principals with a wonderful script. And we got to see the director, Tamara Jenkins, and Laura Linney, for Q and A.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2007)

Eager to see this one, but approached with a certain trepidation, knowing the downside could be considerable, hokey, cheesy, a defilement of the Beatles and so on. Julie Taymor, the director was there to introduce the film, very open and informative and forthright about the film.. gracious and proud, and for good reason. A huge eager audience. And the movie…. a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again love story strung togther with 33 Beatles songs against the backdrop of the 60’s with all the attendant Sturm and Drang of the era, at least invoked through music and action. Jude is the boy, a Liverpudlian dockworker who comes to America to seek out his American father, a G.I. during WWII who had a one night stand with Jude’s mom in England back in the day. So Jude finds him, he’s a janitor at Princeton ( so, OK), where Jude befriends Max, a Princeton student, whose sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes Jude’s love. Jude becomes an artist, Max gets drafted, Lucy becomes involved in anti-war protest and radical politics. They all end up in NYC sharing an apartment with hard rockin’ Janis Joplin type, and a Jimi Hendrix type guitar type just in from the heartland.

Of course it’s hard to make a movie/musical that contains 33 Beatles songs, Vietnam, civil rights, protest, assassination of MLK, psychedelia, and rock and roll in one big package. And sometimes these bits might seem a bit.. forced, a song or two might seem randomly inserted… BUT the music is honored and performed with energy and imagination, the cast is uniformly excellent, and many of the production numbers of the music are amazing….. for example, Joe Cocker as a bum, as a Wolfman Jack style pimp performing “Come Together”… or Bono as a Ken Kesey/Timothy Leary type singing… or Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, or the remarkable number at the inducton center where all the young inductees in their briefs are poked and prodded and tested and measured by square jawed Army drill instructors .. until the inductees become GIs tramping throught the jungles of Vietnam carrying the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders, singing “She’s So Heavy”- the audience at Toronto gave huge ovations, thunderous applause after each of these scenes. Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude, has bits of the Beatle look – the accent, real presence and and a terrific voice. His performance of “Revolution” is a showstopper. Evan Rachel Wood holds her own, singing effectively and playing the suburban ingenue who becomes radicalized and swept up in the world of a Weatherman-style Svengali. Overall, a wild ride – amazing eye candy, good music, and an effective if sometimes thin love story. Check it out.

ATONEMENT (Dir. Joe Wright, 2007)

More bigtime Oscar bait, this is director Joe Wright’s ( Pride and Prejudice) adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel about a doomed love.Keira Knightly is Cecelia Tallis the daughter of a genteel British family, who falls in love with a son one of the family’s servants. As played by James McAvoy, Robbie had been sent to Oxford through the generosity of the Tallis family’s scion, with plans to go on to medical school in a year. One summer some years before WWII the couple fall in love, but a younger sister Briony sees the couple in moments of intimacy, moments of awkwardness, and sets on a campaign to destroy this relationship out of jealousy and young girl’s caprice. This younger sister Briony is precocious, literary, willful, and destructive. Her childish petulance sets of a sequence of hurtful events that changes lives and loves … and only as an adult, seeking atonement for her youthful actions, does she fully understand the consequences of her actions. A beautiful, lyrical, almost painterly film with real emotion and deeply fely performances across the board.

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (Dir. Craig Gillespie, 2007)

One of the breakout hits of the festival, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is a wry, droll human comedy about a small town Minnesota misfit , so withdrawn that his first real girl is a life sized love doll ordered over the internet. Yet Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) is a gentle courtier, escorting the wheelchair bound Bianca around town, introducing her to friends and relatives until she becomes….. accepted as, well, one of the community and Lars’ special friend. But when Bianca takes ill, Lars has to confront the realities of mortality and love and loneliness…. a sweet sad hopeful ending that takes a quirky conceit and builds to layers of meaning. Bound to be one the most-discussed films of the fall.

NAISSANCE DES PIEVRES ( or… WATER LILIES) (Dir. Celine Sciamma, 2007)

A little French film about 3 teenaged girls involved with synchronized swimming…. but a powerful artfully made film about the yearning of youth and a entree deep into the secret pains of being on girl on the cusp of adulthood, sexuality and all the rest. Floriane is the star, the blonde diva of the team, yet friendless because resented by her teammates for her beauty and her precocious sexuality. She takes as her “protege” the lanky, younger, tomboyish Marie, awestruck to be allowed into Floriane’s world.. unitl she learns part of her role is to serve as a “cover” for Floriane’s nightly assignations with a young stud form the men’s swimming team. Their relationship becomes a tortured dance of dependency, attachment and sexual attraction as an escape form the world of men. Anne is the other girl, Marie’s everyday friend, tall, heavy, doughy faced but edgy and perceptive, and filled herself with yearning for the boy of Floriane’s secret nights. The dynamics of jealousy, envy, desire, friendship and the pain of youthful longing fill every scene.. the three girls are a revelation, the dialogue is minimal, but the aching and emotion are real. A small special film, but one worth watching for if it ever sees the light of day.

NIGHTWATCHING (Dir. Peter Greenaway, 2007)

A Peter Greenaway film about Rembrandt’s creation of his masterpiece Nightwatch. Shoot on a soundstage, but with detailed costumes and props, but stagy, talky, full of clever but arch and brittle dialogue, more an intellectual exercise than a movie…. At over two hours, we ankled after 40 minutes. Love Rembrandt, hated the movie.

THE WALKER (Dir. Paul Scrader, 2007)

Another stinker form Paul Schrader, of all people. Woody Harrellson plays a gay, aristocratic Washington, D.C. “Walker”, that is, one who escort women of a certain age to society functions when their politician bigwig husbands are otherwise engaged. Harrelson affects a syrup thin Southern accent to suggest his patrician Virginia lineage, but it’s all too bogus and fey. Lauren Bacall, Krisitin Scott Thomas and Lily Tomlin (!) portray the society dames and politician wives with whom he consorts. But about a third of the way in Krisitin Scott Thomas’ secret lover is killed, Woody is suspected, and the whole movie turns into a dreary, slowpaced and talky murder mystery that makes sense, especially if you are falling asleep half the time. Something about the Vice President being blackmailed… or maybe not, who knows?

(AKA – A GIRL CUT IN TWO) (Dir. Claude Chabrol, 2007)

French master Claude Chabrol brings us this overheated love triangle. A hot young TV weather girl becomes smitten by a lecherous writer, married and much praised for his art… and he “educates” the young girl in the ways of love… sort of. And professes his love, but walks away when she gets too clingy. At the same time, a petulant wealthy young horndog pursues the girl, out of attraction, and partly because he resents the older writer who has settled in the same provincial town. He cadges abnd cajoles, and pleads and whines until the girl marries him… and then rails at the older horndog writer for having corrupted her (when he wanted to corrupt her exclusively for himself!). So anyhow, the writer shows up in town to receive an award and do a public reading. And the younger guy shoots him at the lectern.. and of course, kills… for corrupting his young bride. Ans is sent to jail. And refuses to see his bride ever after. Coulda been a juicy farce, but sadly wasn’t… enough.
Bruce Stone (9/2007)

Thanks for the Toronto report Stone! Don’t be a stranger.

More later…


The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2005

What with the Oscar nominations being announced last week, the Golden Globes, and all them magazine lists I figured it was high time I get off my ass and update this blog and list :

Film Babble Blog’s Top Ten Movies Of 2005

01 PALINDROMES (Dir. Todd Solondz) Though ignored when first released and completely forgotten this awards season I believe this film will leave more of a mark on movie lover’s psyches in years to come than crap like CRASH. Although not a sequel to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE Solondz sets this in the same world with Weiner family values, white trash ethics, and plenty of good ole character assassination fun!

02 MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (Dir. Luc Jacquet) Yes it’s a documentary that could play any night on PBS with little fanfare and it’s a simple premise and all. but what a film-matic treat any way you look at it! And yes I just simply love penguins. It’s about time they had a movie. Okay?!!?

03 CAPOTE (Dir. Bennett Miller) One of the few deserving Oscars this year went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his dead-on portrayal in this moving movie – respectful to the times and the crime yet unforgiving and brutal to the man in the spotlight.

04 THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Dir. Noah Baumbach) Divorce 80’s style with parents played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and their troubled offspring (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) – harsh but sharp with a great soundtrack (Loudon Wainwright III, Bert Jansch, and the plagiarized Pink Floyd).

05 NO DIRECTION HOME (Dir. Martin Scorsese) It was only given a small theatrical release in LA and NY but this long awaited Dylan at his prime powerhouse may be the finest rock doc ever. Period.

06 SARABAND (Dir. Igmar Bergman) Made for Swedish TV in 2003 this updating of SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (again, not a sequel) finds Johann (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullman) re-uniting after 30 years to look back over their tortured existence. Johann : “I’ve ransacked My past now that I have the answer sheet”. Heavy, man.

07 ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (Dir. Miranda July) Quirky but not cloying…and funny too.


HEAD ON (Dir. Fatih Akin)

10 ENRON (Dir. Alex Gibney) Another damn documentary but such a damn neccessary one.

More later…

Movies And Books, Movies And Books,,,

Pony-boy (C. Thomas Howell) – “All I did was walk home from the movie.”
Darrel (Patrick Swayze) – “Movies and books, movies and books! I wish you could concentrate on something else once in a while”
Sodapop (Rob Lowe) – “Try girls and cars. Works for me.”

THE OUTSIDERS : THE COMPLETE NOVEL (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1983/2005)

A recent Time magazine article titled Books Vs. Movies (I’d link it but it’s premium content – greedy corporate bastards!) again put up the ancient argument – “which is better” in the context of such event movies coming out before this years end like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA as well as the already released HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, SHOPGIRL, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and even WALK THE LINE which was based on 2 Johnny Cash’s autobiographies – Man in Black and CASH – The Autobiography.

I’ve only seen a few of the movies I mentioned above (SHOPGIRL and WALK THE LINE) but lately I have noticed I have a tendency to read or re-read the book before I see the new movie version. Anticipating CAPOTE a couple of months ago I bought a paperback of In Cold Blood and also watched the 1967 movie – I guess as a way of doing some homework on the subject or maybe just a geeky habit of wanting to know all the source material available. Sigh. This makes me recall that back in ’92 I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X months before Spike Lee’s epic cinematic rendition hit the screens. Jeez! I guess I got it bad.

Anyway the old cliche “the movie is always better than the book” while often true there are a number of notable exceptions like say BEING THERE, THE GODFATHER and FIGHT CLUB. Many people love certain movies never knowing there was a book and vice versa. I for years never knew that HAROLD AND MAUDE was originally a novella written by Colin Higgins who wrote the screenplay for the film.

A few movies I’ve seen lately that were based on books:

COLD MOUNTAIN (Dir. Anthony Minghella, 2003) – Yes, I know just about everyone read it at the end of the last decade and then saw the movie a couple years ago but I only did both recently. The book was elegantly written and the details were almost too much to absorb but I enjoyed it immensely. The movie not so much. While well cast (Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zelleweger, Philip Seymour Hoffman were all perfect for their roles) was ickily glossy and stupidly reduced the love story elements into romance novel fodder. They TITANIC-ized it!

(Dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1983/2005) I read the S.E. Hinton book of this way back in Jr. High School in the early 80’s like most people in my demographic I guess and was interested to hear that Coppola had restored footage to the movie to make it closer to the book. It does work a little better though despite its boys-club cast (Swayze, Cruise, Lowe, Estevez, etc) its still the feminine cheesy melodrama it will always be in our hearts. Or at least my demographic’s hearts.

THE WARRIORS (Dir. Walter Hill, 1979) This is another one that I didn’t realize til now was based on a book (by Sol Yurick) until recently. Though it was originally a pulp novel the new director’s cut has wipes and transitions added to make the film look more like a comic book – characters morph into still frame cartoons contained in black border boxes at the end of sequences and then we are whisked away to another panel. The effect doesn’t bother me but on this here internet there are many fan-boy complaints about Lucas-like tinkering and some such spoiling of a masterpiece. Yeah, its like someone painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, sure. Whatever.

Now for another reliable fimbabble feature which fits right into this film/book shiznit:


Yes, again we take another movie notable for its soundtrack and give you a musical play by play. This particular film is especially notable because it features just one artist (Cat Stevens) kinda like THE GRADUATE with Simon and Garfunkel guiding the way – sure , we’ll go with that –

The film begins with Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) preparing to hang himself in the elegant din of his mother’s mansion. He puts on a record on an old-stlye phonograph. It is “Don’t Be Shy” by Cat Stevens. As this a song not on any Cat Stevens record – written for the film no less – Harold is very privileged.

“On The Road To Find Out” accompanies and introduces Harold’s funeral fetish. “I Wish, I Wish” concludes the sequence.

“Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1” (performer unknown according to IMDB) plays as another Haorld suicide attempt – drowning face down in a pool as his mother swims laps.

“Miles From Nowhere” sets another funeral scene – this one rain drenched. Just as that tune fades and the congregation exits the cemetery with Maude and her bright yellow umbrella leading the way “Tea For The Tillerman” plays. Jeez, Cat was racking ’em up with on this flick! (Well, not really – there was no officially released soundtrack)

Another spiritual Stevens song – “I Think I See The Light” lifts us away from Harold’s successful sabotage of his mother’s dating set-up to Maude’s artistic nude modeling.

As Harold and Maude (Ruth Gordon) get acquainted “Where Do The Children Play” – another passionate Cat tune sets the tone. Instrumental snatches from it play over the next few scenes.

Back at her place – after an emotional moment concerning Maude’s mysterious past our protagonists engage in a sing-a-long of “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” on Maude’s player piano which amusingly plays after she gets up to dance. Like “Don’t Be Shy” this song was written for the movie and is definitely its unofficial theme song. A piano version sans vocal decorates the next scene as Harold’s mother presents him with a new Jaguar.

Johann Strauss’s “On The Beautiful Blue Danube”(again, performer unknown) accompanies a sweet night time close dance by Harold and Maude again at her place.

“If You Want To Sing Out…” again serenades our movie couple in a montage – Harold’s Jaquar now souped-up Hearse-style tools down roads through the countryside, Harold and Maude dancing and frolicking in the sun, and it nicely concludes with a tender moment in a junk-yard at dusk.

The energetic jamming finish of “I Think I See The Light” which faded out earlier now emerges again to illustrate Harold’s now consumated relationship with Maude. In morning light coming through the window of Maude’s abode Harold, in a love-daze blows bubbles while she sleeps.

Another instrumental of “If You Want To Sing Out…” now played on a banjo punctuates Harolds confident walk away from his Mother’s bedroom after telling her that he intends to marry Maude.

“Trouble” powerfully fills out the final sequence which cuts back and forth from Harold in Jaquar/Herse recklessly driving the winding roads of previous scenes and the ambulance drive and Maude’s admittance to the hospital on the night of her death – unbearably untimely in Harold’s eyes.

“If You Want To Sing Out…” of course takes us through the end credits right after a now newly inspired Harold plucks a few chords on his Banjo – a gift from Maude – right after discarding the Herse/Jaquar – a gift from his mother – in a particularly dramatic fashion.

More later…