ANOTHER YEAR: The Film Babble Blog Review

ANOTHER YEAR (Dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)

As a comfortable married couple living in London, Mike Leigh veterans Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are happily growing old together. Their jobs – he’s a geologist; she’s a therapist at a local clinic – seem as agreeable as they are to each other, and in their free time they enjoy tending to their large garden.

One of Sheen’s co-workers and friends (Lesley Manville) isn’t so happy however. She’s a frazzled mess barely holding it together, drinking too many glasses of wine and pining for a new man to come into her life.

Manville ends up embarrassingly flirting with Broadbent and Sheen’s 30 year old son (Oliver Maltman) at a backyard barbeque for an old college chum (Peter Wight) who’s also drinking away his sorrows in a miserable existence.

Over the course of the 4 seasons of a year, we follow these folks through their motions and get to know them in a engagingly emotional way.

When Maltman brings a spirited new girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) home to meet his parents, Manville, who happens to be visiting again, can’t hide her shaken feelings. It’s as naturalistic as a scene in a movie can be which must the result of Leigh’s patented improvisational methods.

Whatever the case, Leigh definitely deserves the Oscar nomination he just got for Best Screenplay for this fine film.

A film in which happily there’s no contrivances present – nobody has affairs, there’s no shouted speeches, and there’s no life changing revelations – there’s only pointed reflections on aging and painful neediness.

The entire cast is excellent, but Manville should’ve gotten a nomination herself for her work here. She embodies all of the flaws of this troubled woman flawlessly. The Academy may not have recognized this, but she was named best actress of the year by the National Board of Review and a best actress runner-up by the National Society of Film Critics so there’s that.

“Life’s not always kind, is it?” Sheen remarks at one point and it’s a apt statement which could act as the tagline for ANOTHER YEAR.

It’s a very sad film, but it’s not a depressing one. Roger Ebert once said that “all bad movies are depressing, no good movies are.”

Well, this quietly profound movie is very good and it sure didn’t get me down.

More later…

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Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2010!

This is an incredibly obvious statement, but when it comes to Oscar predictions there are 2 paths to take – what one thinks will win and what one wants to win. Sometimes a gut feeling is difficult to differentiate from a personal preference so on a few I’ve decided to denote the ones I’m the most up in the air about (no BEST PICTURE pun there – really).

1. BEST PICTURE:

THE HURT LOCKER

My gut has been sayng, no, shouting AVATAR, but I just have to go with my personal preference *. Many critics have been saying that it’s a coin toss between the 2, while others say that the vote will be split and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will pull a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and shock everybody with its dark horse win. Despite recent controversy, I intensely hope the modestly budgeted, little seen THE HURT LOCKER gets the gold Sunday night.

* Of those 2 front contenders that is – my favorite film of the year – A SERIOUS MAN – was nominated, but in this particular race it’s by far a long shot.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow – Roger Ebert said of Bigelow on Oprah Tuesday: “If you vote against her , you’ll be going against years of precedent that say the winner of the Director’s Guild Award will win the Oscar.” So there’s that, but since even her ex-husband James Cameron thinks she should win she really is a shoo-in.

3. BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges

Everybody I see online seem to be calling it for Bridges – consider me among them. It would be so nice for the 5 time nominee to abide this time.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Sandra BullockTHE BLIND SIDE was the only one of the 10 BEST PICTURE nominees that I didn’t see so I admit I’m jumping on the bandwagon here of all the folks who say its Bullock’s year. It does really feel like she’s got the momentum and support so like Bridges it’ll really be surprising if she doesn’t get it.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz

A personal preference AND a gut feeling. Although he had relatively little screen time, Waltz’s cold blooded yet sophisticated Nazi was as cutting and memorable as a supporting part can possibly be.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo’Nique – Walking out of PRECIOUS last year, my first thought was that Mo’Nique was definitely going to get an Oscar. That thought has never waivered.

And the rest:


7. ART DIRECTION: SHERLOCK HOLMES
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: AVATAR
9. COSTUME DESIGN: COCO BEFORE CHANEL

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: THE COVE

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: CHINA’S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE

12. FILM EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER
13. MAKEUP: THE YOUNG VICTORIA
14. VISUAL EFFECTS:
AVATAR

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: UP

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART

17. ANIMATED SHORT: WALLACE AND GROMIT INA MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH’


It would be easy to just go with Wallace and Gromit sight unseen, but after viewing all the animated shorts last night at the Carolina Theater in Durham it’s impossible to deny that it’s infinitely the most superior offering. LOGORAMA is kinda cool too though.


18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE NEW TENANTSMy gut feeling is the Cheronobyl tragedy THE DOOR, but I’m pulling for the dark comic THE NEW TENANTS. It has a great absurd edge to it and great turns by its spare cast including David Rakoff, Jamie Harrold, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Kevin Corrigan.


19. SOUND EDITING: STAR TREK

20. SOUND MIXING: AVATAR

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: UP IN THE AIR by Jason Reitman

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: UP

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE WHITE RIBBON


By the way, I don’t consider myself any kind of expert – I’m just a guy who loves movies and loves to write about them. My biggest prediction this year is that I’m going to get more wrong than usual. Tune in Monday to find out how many.

More later…

Are Critic’s Jeers Of The New Jarmusch Joint Justified?

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL

(Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2009)


“The best films are like dreams you’re never really sure you had.”

– Blonde (Tilda Swinton)


With a rating of 40%, THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is Jim Jarmusch’s lowest rated film on the Rotten Tomatometer. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus is that it’s “a minimalist exercise in not much of anything…a tedious viewing experience with little reward.” The venerable Roger Ebert, who usually has a more positive slant than most critics, gave the film half a star – which is also the lowest rating he’s given for a Jarmusch film. Ebert appraises the filmmaker’s motive: “I think the point is that if you strip a story down to its bare essentials, you will have very little left.”


So, with such painfully poor reviews to go by I went into THE LIMITS OF CONTROL with very low expectations. Maybe that helped because while I found it slow and fairly impenetrable I was never bored and the imagery mixed with the mood have stayed with me ever since. Let’s take a look at the plot:


Isaach De Bankolé credited only as “Lone Man” is a man on a mission in Madrid. We are never told this mission, only given cryptic clues. In between lying on his bed in his hotel room (much in the same manner Jarmusch filmed Bill Murray in his previous film BROKEN FLOWERS sitting on his couch doing nothing as the day light disappears), doing some form of Yoga, and visiting art galleries, he sits at outdoor cafés and orders two espressos in separate cups.


It’s all part of an unidentified plan – various contacts (including John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, and Tilda Swinton) approach his table and exchange matchboxes with him. They always begin the process by asking: “¿Usted no habla Español, verdad?” (translated: “You don’t speak Spanish, right?”) He nods “no” and then they alternately speak to him about different subjects. With one it’s music, with another it’s science, and most notably with Swinton it’s film.


Swinton references Orson Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI remarking that she believes it’s the only film in which Rita Hayworth played a blonde. As Swinton is wearing a platinum blonde wig for the first time in her career the moment is undeniably meta. This quality is also felt later in the film when while walking the streets sees a movie poster featuring a likeness of Swinton in the same get-up.


De Bankolé is trading matchboxes full of diamonds for ones with a small note inside. The notes have numbers listed on them and after a quick study he eats them and washes them down with one of his espressos. He returns to his hotel room at one point to find a woman (Paz de la Huerta) laying on his bed wearing only glasses. In as few words as possible he tells her he doesn’t engage in sex while on the job but since he just appears to be passing time until meeting the next contact this is as odd and mysterious as everything else in the film.


Aided by a map of that he destroys by burning, not eating, after reading, De Bankolé finally reaches his destination – a heavily guarded compound in which Bill Murray resides. Murray, only credited as “American” (nobody in this film is properly named) is a rich businessman who spouts out a critique of current society as De Bankolé prepares to kill him using a tightly pulled guitar string.


What the title means in all of this I have no idea – my attempts to form a theory have come up with no satisfactory results. I’m also perplexed by the vagueness of the narrative (perhaps Ebert is right about the point of it) and what anybody’s motivations are. Somehow though, these quibbles fade while the tone and beautiful photography of cinematographer Christopher Doyle remain in my mind.


This is the kind of movie in which you can agree to a large degree with the criticism heaped onto it but at the same time get something vital out of the experience. I can certainly understand reviewers wanting to warn average movie-going folks about enduring such an arty exercise when they’d probably be happier with more conventional fare but films like this shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.


Since his 80’s indie incarnation, Jarmusch has been an intriguing filmmaker who makes mesmerizing art out of the spare rhythms and meditative moods of his characters. Here he gives us next to nothing to go on about his lead, yet De Bankolé gives a serenely stoical (there’s only one instance in which I can recall him smiling) performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. A transfixing tone that I still can’t shake makes this a film I believe will be greatly re-evaluated in the years to come.


So to answer in more concrete terms the question posed in this post’s heading – I wouldn’t claim that there is no justification in the majority of the critics’ pans, nor would I say that there’s more to it than meets the eye. What I would say is that THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is a worthwhile watch for those not looking for the cozy comfort of meaning. It’s the sort of unruly cinema that frees one from meaning, and that usually takes some folks some time to catch up with.

More later…

Frank Zappa’s 200 MOTELS May Be The Most WTF Movie Experience Ever

To the elation of film buffs and 70’s art rock fans all over, MGM has just released a new 35 MM print of Frank Zappa’s 1971 freak-fest flick 200 MOTELS. The film played earlier tonight as part of the “Cool Classics @ The Colony” series at the Colony Theater in Raleigh and I was very anxious to see it for the first time. When I was much younger I went through a bit of a Zappa phase, yet while I collected dozens of his albums somehow I never saw 200 MOTELS. I had wondered what it was exactly. Well, after seeing it tonight I see that it’s not a concert film, though there are long sequences that make it seem otherwise, it’s not a tour documentary, and it sure isn’t any kind of musical with a linear narrative. Actually I’m still trying to figure out what the Hell it is.

Despite that it was “written” (that’s highly debatable), and directed by Zappa with wall-to-wall music of his composing, it’s really more his band’s – The Mothers Of Invention’s movie than his ultimately. The faces and voices of Martin Volman (Flo), Eddie (Howard Kaylan) and Jeff (Martin Lickert) dominate the screen with random pop-ins from ex-Beatle Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf who is oddly outfitted as Zappa. There’s also Keith Moon (infamous drummer from The Who) as a nun, Theodore Bikel as the Devil, and famous Hollywood groupies Pamela Miller, Miss Lucy Offerall and Miss Janet Neville as, well, groupies.

To complain that this movie is a mess misses the mark because it’s a mess by design. the comedic musical numbers like “Mystery Roach” and the Indian of the group (that’s how hi introduces himself) Jimmy Carl Black’s over-the-top redneck vocal on “Lonesome Cowboy Burt” are surrounded by the sketchiest of sketches involving the oppresive “Centeville community” and a lengthy discourse on the “Penis Dimension”. Then there’s a cartoon called “Dental Hygiene Movie” that may stand as one of the most amusing bits in the heavy mist of this wild offkilter “happening” disguised as a movie. Or is it a movie disguised as a “happening”? I dunno.

Noted as the first feature-length movie to be shot on video tape and later transferred to 35mm Technicolor film, 200 MOTELS is on surface a trippy experience. It sinks in though pretty early on that Zappa didn’t not partake in, in fact distained, the psychedelic drugs of the era. The footage is screwed around with considerably – sped up slowed down with certain actions repeated over and over, but not in a way that would soothe hippies’ mindsets whatever their level of chemical enhancement.

In his 3 star review (from the original release), Roger Ebert said that it was “not the kind of movie you have to see more than once. It is the kind of movie you can barely see once.” I have to agree with that. Though I know that this has appeared to be a less than stellar review, 200 MOTELS is still somehow an experience I recommend. It’s like some half remembered dream in which Monty Python silliness is filtered through Sid and Marty Kroft imagery with what sounds like Spike Jones discovering funk blaring overhead. If a circulating print comes to your area – check it out. Sure, it’s dated and weird as all get out, but it’s still an extremely worthwhile demented diversion.

More later…

A Few New Release DVD Reviews Just for You

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE (Dir. Robert B. Weide, 2008)


Ah, the art of the snark. In his blog not long ago, Roger Ebert wrote a brilliant breakdown of the current over-proliferation of snarking in the press (“Hunt not the Snark but the Snarker” – February 25th, 2009). After calling it “cultural vandalism” he chided writers such as Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke and LATimes reporter Patrick Goldstein for their cheap shots at the Oscars and he concluded gracefully, as Ebert is known to do, by quoting a Lewis Carroll poem. If the protagonist of this film, celebrity journalist Sidney Young, was a real person there’s no doubt Ebert would’ve singled him out too. For despite that Young is the creation (and alter ego of) paparazzi pundit Toby Young (from his book of the same name), as played by an in-your-face Simon Pegg he would be likely be one of the most unavoidable media masters of snark today.


After upsetting a posh party with a pig he claims is Babe from BABE 2, Pegg is hired by the editor of Sharp’s magazine (Jeff Bridges again in very un-Dude territory). Pegg and the magazine, based on Vanity Fair, are an uneasy fit as he insults everybody in sight especially an extremely miscast Kirsten Dunst who bases her entire performance on constant eye-rolls (oh, was that too snarky?). Pegg has 2 goals – to get ahead at the magazine no matter what it takes and to bed a model/starlet played by Megan Fox. He has to contend with Fox’s powerful publicist (Gillian Anderson) and an asshole boss (Danny Houston) as we have to contend with his unlikable unctuousness while the predictable plot goes through the motions.


This is the kind of film that doles out such beaten to death comic clichés as a transsexual that fools the leading man and a small dog getting crushed (see A FISH CALLED WANDA for how to deal with this better). Pegg, who can lift even a lightweight rom com like RUN FATBOY RUN above total mediocrity, here is helpless to save this material. Bridges sums up Pegg’s character’s sense of humor in their first interview scene as: “snarky, bitter, and witless.” That sums up the movie as well; it mistakes snarky for funny over and over again. But if the joke that Pegg wore a bright red t-shirt that said “young, dumb and full of come” to the interview makes you laugh then this might be the movie for you. As for me, this film lost and alienated me, but I know I’m probably the millionth snarky movie

blogger to say that.


FLASH OF GENIUS (Dir. Mark Abraham, 2008)


“You’ll never look at a windshield wiper the same way again” could be the tagline for this biopic of frustrated inventor Robert Kearns. Kearns, played with pluck and aplomb by Greg Kinnear (in non smarmy mode happily), developed an intermittent windshield wiper in the 60’s and took his idea to the Ford Motor Company. After studying his work they pass on paying him but use the method anyway causing him to sacrifice his marriage and sanity to fight for the credit. His wife (Lauren Graham) tries to be supportive, as do his 5 kids, but he goes off the deep end and has to be institutionalized – a point the movie stresses by opening with a bath robed frazzled Kinnear on a bus claiming he’s going to Washington D.C. by request of the Vice President.


There’s a big heart here but the obsessed man alienates the world around him to plead his life’s case formula is adhered to way too strictly. I knew nothing of the real life story here but because I’ve been schooled in the scenario, from Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON to Richard Dreyfuss in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I knew exactly what to expect in terms of the plot-point highs and lows. But I bet most people would watch this and just know it’s going to end in a climatic court scene, you know? Still, it is an interesting story told well with solid performances by Kinnear, Graham, Dermot Mulroney as a subtle backstabbing colleague, and most notably Alan Alda as a crusty but suave lawyer who advices our hero to settle. FLASH OF GENIUS is an earnest and straight forward effort that will surely fall in line with other inventor-done-wrong-by-the-system biopic ilk (TUCKER, anybody?) some night in the future on The History Channel. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but it’s the best I can do for this fair film.

BOTTLE SHOCK (Dir. Randall Miller, 2008)

As another period piece true story that I was unaware of, (hey, that’s why they makes these movies!), this film delivers a case study of how California became a contender in the worldwide wine wars. Alan Rickman, in his best comfortably cagey demeanor, plays sommelier Steven Spurrier, who in 1976, traveled to Napa Valley to sample wines for a blind taste test against French wine. At the same time, a grizzled Bill Pulliman with a winery named Chateau Montelena is struggling with massive debts while he labors to make chardonnay. He’s also struggling with his long haired freewheeling son Bo (Chris Pine) and foreman Gustavo (Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriquez), who grew grow up with soil underneath his nails and the smell of the grapes in the air that he breathes (his words) and so has wine plans of his own. For the obligatory sex subplot there’s a blonde UC Davis graduate student (Rachel Taylor) who sleeps with both Pine and Rodriquez because, uh, the movie needed a sex subplot.

The best thing about this film is its cinematography. The film makers were obviously in love with the Napa Valley with many sweeping shots of the orchards bathed in luscious crisp sunlight. It gives SIDEWAYS a run for its money in that department for sure. There is a nice sprinkling of wit mostly coming from Rickman’s snotty character: “You think I’m an asshole, and I’m not really -it’s just that I’m British and you’re not” but I wouldn’t say this movie is really that funny. It’s a likable lark with some wine fun facts about fermentation even if doesn’t give as much color to its characters as its scenery. BOTTLE SHOCK moves no mountains and shakes no new ground, but, to borrow wine jargon, it goes down smooth and finishes well. It would be the perfect complement to a wine tasting party, even (or especially) with the sound turned down.

MY NAME IS BRUCE (Dir. Bruce Campbell, 2007)


“Getting you laid is hard enough without having to explain the whole Bruce Campbell factor” says one scruffy teenager (Logan Martin) to another (Taylor Sharpe) at the beginning of this low budget “comedy horror” (as Campbell himself calls it) film. This sarcastic kid taunts his friend by going through a stack of DVDs (for some reason he has in his car) reeling off their titles – “Death Of The Dead”, “Maniac Cop”, “Moonwarp”, “Man With The Screaming Brain”, “Alien Apolcalypse”, and so on – I seriously don’t know which of these is real or fake but I’ll get around to IMDbing it. Not being able to take his buddy’s abuse anymore, Sharpe hits the brakes screeching his vehicle to a halt and exclaims “Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation!” Martin replies: “Dude, forget thumbs, Ebert wouldn’t wipe his crack with this trash!” He does however concede “I kinda liked BUBBA HO TEP.” Sharpe: “*Everyone* liked BUBBA HO-TEP!” This is a nice self mocking intro to an entire movie of self mockery but if you haven’t seen EVIL DEAD (or any of its sequels) and had no idea who that odd square jawed guy was in small but vital parts of all 3 SPIDERMAN movies, then this movie wasn’t made for you.


It’s a movie for Bruce Campbell fans exclusively, made by a Bruce Campbell fan – namely Bruce Campbell. Like the in-joke precedent set by Ricky Gervais’ Extras, Campbell plays an exaggerated version of himself. Hes a heavy drinker that bitches at gofers on the set of a sci-fi cheapie named “Cavealiens” when his lemon water isn’t cold enough (actually its one literally pissed off gofer’s urine) and, of course, he has an ex-wife who he calls at 3:00AM from the floor of his back woods trailer. Yes, these are all obvious joke clichés about a “big ass, self obsessed movie star” (as wooden love interest Grace Thorsen says) but that’s the point you see. The premise is that a small town named Gold Lick (that’s right) is tormented by a Chinese war diety called Guan Di and they call upon Campbell to bring his zombie/vampire/alien/whatever fighting skills to defeat this demon. Yep, ¡THREE AMIGOS!, GALAXY QUEST, and more recently TROPIC THUNDER have done likewise actors-must-become-what-they-portray plots much better but here it’s just an excuse to make fun of a career full of schlock and bombast. I mean, as stupid as the residents of Gold Lick are, they dont seem to think hes anything but Bruce Campbell and his thinking its a movie shoot is pretty poorly handled as well.


Campbell quips through every scene with his unique brand of big chinned charm but unfortunately very few of his one-liners are funny – “You don’t know fear, kid. You’ve never worked with Sam Raimi” being one of the better ones if that says anything. As for the production, it’s about as cheap as one would expect with fades that give it a “made for TV” feel. To call this movie bad or even a turkey would surely be taken as a compliment by Campbell and crew because that’s what they were going for – a ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe, but as Enid in GHOST WORLD said: “it’s so bad it’s gone from good back to bad again.” Sure, it’s a straight to DVD for fanatics only throwaway and one that’s not without its charms but if you don’t appreciate Campbell or his oeuvre I doubt it’ll win you over. As the taunting kid quoted above said, BUBBA HO TEP is a better gateway to geekery * but the EVIL DEAD films are the most essential of Campbell’s filmography. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure indeed. Except here it’s the same man.


* With apologies to the Onion A.V. Club.


More later…

Why Film Babble Blog Is Boycotting The New Steve Martin Pink Panther Movies (As If You Couldn’t Guess)

Short answer:

Long answer:

Come this Friday, with the release of THE PINK PANTHER 2, there will have been 5 Pink Panther films since the great Peter Sellers died in 1980. One was made from Sellers outtakes, 2 of them were failed reboot attempts with actors Ted Wass (as an actual original character named Clifton Sleigh) and Roberto Benigni (as Clouseau’s son), and then in early 2006 a new re-imagining of the series hit the theaters featuring Steve Martin taking on the role of the world famous detective Inspector Clouseau. It was supposed to be a prequel to the Sellers movies somehow and though it wasn’t a direct remake it was just called THE PINK PANTHER. It was met with horrible reviews and outrage over Martin’s wrongness for the part, yet still the film was a huge success making close to $200 million and it did introduce a new generation to the clutzy character.

I just couldn’t bring myself to see the film. Seeing the trailers and TV commercials was bad enough – Martin’s pencil thin mustache, his unconvincing accent, and his forced slapstick was unbearable in small doses so I knew watching the entire film could be akin to a nightmare. Also I just simply couldn’t believe he was doing it. I grew up with the comic work of Martin as much as I did Sellers. From his stand-up to SNL to a string of still great comedies (THE JERK, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, ALL OF ME, etc.) I savored the guy’s career. Unfortunately his later film work (with the possible exception of SHOP GIRL) leaves a lot to be desired. Broad commercial crap like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (and its sequel) and BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE typifies his current oeuvre. What I saw of his Clouseau capering looked more in line with the bland family fare of late instead of a desired throw-back to his “wild and crazy guy” days.


And then there’s the case of the actual character Inspector Clouseau (“Chief Inspector!” I hear his ghost correct me). Over 5 films from 1964-1978 (THE PINK PANTHER thru REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER) directed by Blake Edwards, Peter Sellers crafted one of the most unique comic creations in film history. As a definitively bumbling police detective who somehow rises in rank at the French Sûreté, Sellers developed a preposterous, yet still believable, overly accented voice and perfected some of the most dangerous looking physical comedy ever seen on the silver screen. 2 years after Sellers’ death, as I previously mentioned, a film was assembled out of mostly unused footage called TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER. It was the first attempt to keep the series going and it featured this notable and regrettable title card during the tradtional opening cartoon:

Halfway through the movie they run out of outtakes and we are told that Clouseau is missing. The film then becomes a “best of”-type exercise with former Pink Panther vets (David Niven, Capucine, Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark, etc.) recalling their favorite moments with Clouseau like one of those filler TV episodes full of previous clips. The next in the struggling series was CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER. It involved a new, just as bumbling, detective recruited to track down Clouseau. Ted Wass, best known for work on the sitcom Soap and as the Dad on Blossom (which means he’s not really known), filled the shoes and actually did a decent job of it but could Edwards really believe he could keep the series flying? Clouseau only appeared at the end played by, wait for it, Sir Roger Moore (which I covered in 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos, June 5th, 2007). The intrepid detective had plastic surgery to make himself look like the former James Bond after going into hiding for reasons I forget and I just rewatched the damn thing! You see I just got this Blake Edwards Pink Panther DVD boxset from Costco but I digress…

10 years later there’s another reboot attempt – SON OF THE PINK PANTHER (1993) with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s outrageous offspring. Not much good to report here but it did have the last appearance of series regular Herbert Lom and Claudia Cardinale – who despite playing Princess Dala in THE PINK PANTHER (1964) appeared as Maria Gambrelli here, a character that was played by Elke Sommer in Clouseau’s second screen aventure A SHOT IN THE DARK. Whew! Elements like that make The Pink Panther series to be unquestionably the most inconsistent movie series ever – character and plotline-wise that is. By the way, SON OF… was Edward’s last ever film as director – for so many all too obvious reasons.

After those unsuccessful efforts (TRAIL, CURSE, and SON OF… which at least they were more imaginably titled than with sequel numbers) you’d think that 3 strikes and they’re out but as John Belushi would’ve said “but Noooooooo!” Earlier this decade, still wanting to keep one of its previous cash cows alive, United Artists announced plans to revive the series and names like Kevin Kline and Mike Myers were tossed around as possible candidates to don the trenchcoat, tweed hat, and apply the fake mustache. It was indeed shocking that Steve Martin, not a man known for accents or imitations of any kind, got the part and even more shocking was the sight of the first released pictures of him in Clouseau garb. It all just seemed like it couldn’t really be happening – it was just a bad joke, right? Well, yeah a bunch of bad jokes strung together to save a franchise but they were really happening as I could see when ads appeared full of embarrassing clips of the phony Clouseau falling out windows and causing mass destruction at every turn but with none of Sellers’ charm.

This week Roger Ebert in his review of THE PINK PANTHER 2 wrote: “Peter Sellers was a genius who somehow made Inspector Clouseau seem as if he really were helplessly incapable of functioning in the real world and somehow incapable of knowing that. Steve Martin is a genius, too, but not at being Clouseau. It seems more like an exercise.” I am usually very strict about not judging a movie before I see it but I believe I have incredible amounts of evidence that these movies are abysmal attempts to rekindle the flame that Sellers sparked 40 years ago and that it would further depress and anger me to see them. With 11% (so far) on the Rotten Tomatometer I seriously doubt that PP2 is going to be THE DARK KNIGHT of comedy sequel reboots but I’m willing to listen to people stick up for the Martin Panther movies. That is if there is actually anyone out there that really likes them. I just can’t go there, you understand? Otherwise I implore my fellow bloggers and readers to stay home, rent an old classic Peter Sellers Pink Panther film this weekend, and avoid this unholy concoction. I’m sure Sellers is tired of spinning in his grave, but I bet by this point he’s probably used to it.

More later…

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: The Film Babble Blog Review

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2008)

The buzz has been a-blazing on this film way before it made the news when Roger Ebert got smacked down (literally) by a fellow critic at a screening in Toronto last September. Right now it is topping many Critics’ Award lists for 2008, getting multiple Golden Globe nominations, and gaining massive word of mouth as it gets a wider release. What’s more impressive is that this film deserves every accolade and award and then some. It is a “feel good” movie in the least cynical use of that well worn publicity phrase with its inventive story-telling and rich palette of visual splendor, simply amazing considering its squalor-filled settings. So how can depictions such as poverty, child abuse, and even the sight of somebody drenched in feces be in a film that adds up to an overwhelmingly happy and heart-warming experience? I dunno, but this film pulled it off magnificently – echoing the power and grandeur of CITY OF GOD crossed with the clever charm of Boyle’s own MILLIONS, and its done with wit and grit to spare.


Our hero is 18 year old Jamal (Dev Patel along with Tanay Cheda and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as Jamal at younger intervals) who is being interrogated by police, USUAL SUSPECTS-style, about his suspiciously improbable winnings from appearing on the Hindi version of the modern classic quiz game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. His answers involve engaging and sometimes disturbing flashback sequences that are handled deftly and definitely more fluidly than in many other recent broken narratives. From an early age, Jamal made a couple of connections that would deeply affect his current predicament – his love for Latika (Freida Pinto with Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, and Rubiana Ali as younger incarnations) and his stormy clashes with fellow slum kid Salim (Madhur Mittal, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail – whew!) All of these talents, tested (especially Anil Kapoor as the unctuous game show host) and untested are up to the task at hand here.

A end credits dance sequence (that can’t possibly be a Spoiler!, can it?) is the only thing Bollywood about this Indian movie made by Brits but that works as well and as entertainingly as everything else here. Despite a fair amount of subtitled dialogue (which is pretty stylized as it goes for subtitles) 80-90% of it is spoken in English and it’s instantly accessible so it’s sure to pick up even more acclaim and box office in the weeks to come. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is one of the best movies of the year for sure and will endure to be much more than a winner this awards season – I feel that for years to come it’s going to be a favorite of the same folks who can love AMELIE and an edgier work like GOODFELLAS equally. It has plenty of pure stultifying competition (got MILK?) out there in what’s shaping up to be a precedent setting prestige motion picture season, but from what I’ve seen so far this has the “fun factor” on its side in spades.

More later…

10 Slapped Actresses

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Sometimes fake fights turn out bad,

Sometimes, actresses get slapped.

Some nights, makin’ it look real might end up with someone hurt.

Some nights, it’s just entertainment,

and, some other nights, it’s real.”


These lines from the track “Slapped Actress” from the latest album (“Stay Positive” VAGRANT 2008) by New York rawkers The Hold Steady call upon the neo-realism of the films of the independent film innovator John Cassevettes. Written and sung by feisty front-man Craig Finn, who was influenced by watching a friend’s Cassevettes DVD box set, the song shines a theater spot-light on the hazy line between art and real life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song here is a live clip from YouTube (albeit crudely recorded, but you should know how that goes) of The Hold Steady performing it live.


Since the impact of a slap in the face can not be easily faked and such a dramatic device is so effective yet so still such a common place cliché (think soap operas) I thought it would be somewhat insightful to look at the case studies of:


10 Slapped Actresses


1. Gena Rowlands in OPENING NIGHT

(Dir. John Cassavetes, 1977)


The Hold Steady’s “Slapped Actress” directly references all the principles of this film: “We are the actors. The cameras are rollin’. I’ll be Ben Gazzara, you’ll be Gena Rowlands” and “We’re the directors – our hands will hold steady. I’ll be John Cassavettes—let me know when you’re ready.” Finn in an interview with Uncut Magazine elaborated: “I was really taken by the scene where Cassavetes wants to slap Gena Rowlands, and he says, ‘If I don’t really slap you, it won’t look real for the performance.’ And she says ‘It’s a play, why would you have to actually slap me, that’s the whole point.’ That kinda connected with the way I think people are preoccupied with my relationship with the characters I write about. Ive always said no one really cares whether Quentin Tarantino kills people or does karate but for a songwriter theres this question of a perceived honesty, that your songs are the story of your life.”


“Performances were scripted, but delivery was not” says Wikipedia on the films of Cassavetes. A slap is one of the potent forms of delivery, so to speak. Rowlands after protesting is told by Manny (Gazzara): “It’s a tradition. Actresses get slapped. Its mandatory you get hit.” Rowlands does eventually get hit but as convoluted as it may be it’s on her own weird terms. Rowland’s Myrtle goes through the motions of a dying diva later commnented on by The Hold Steady’s sing-along concluding chorus which says of this brand of “perceived honesty”: “we make our own movies, we make our own movies…


2. Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1971) (Major Spolier!) “She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…my daughter [slap]. She’s my sister and my daughter!” Dunaway gets multiple slaps from Jack Nicholson as not so hard nosed (he had his nose sliced by the knife of Polanski playing a small time hood) detective Jake Gittes who had no possible patience left. According to the IMDb: “After several takes that never looked quite right, Dunaway told Nicholson to actually slap her. He did, and the scene made it into the movie.” Dunaway got her slap happy revenge years later in MOMMIE DEAREST playing Joan Crawford – who Ill get to later.


3. Diane Keaton in THE GODFATHER PART II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)


In arguably one of the most powerful confrontation scenes between a husband and a wife in cinema history, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) reacts violently upon being told Kay (Keaton) not only wants a divorce but that she had an abortion because she feels this “Sicilian thing” must end. This sends him over the line in what looks incredibly like the real thing – his incensed slap sends her reeling back onto a hotel sofa. No quotes from Keaton on whether it was authentic but this passage from Deborah C. Micthell’s biography “Diane Keaton: Artist And Icon” is pretty noteworthy: “When her parents saw Godfather II in Los Angeles, the audience applauded when Michael slapped Kay in the confrontation scene. She (Keaton) defensively explained: ‘he was a horrible character…I say to Hell with those people who applaud. My parents were with me.’” Watch the scene on YouTube here and see if you would applaud.


4. Charlize Theron in HANCOCK

(Dir.Peter Berg, 2008)


This is from a mediocre summer superhero-with-a-twist Will Smith vehicle, mind you – but to be fair I liked the first half of said film with the slap appearing to perfectly divide it. Theron went on the record: “He tried to fake slap me one time, but the fake one just didnt happen. Were still debating this one. I think he just hit me! But Will claims I leaned into his hand and thats how it happened. I was so shocked! I was like, He just slapped me! Then to another source she said: But he said, I did not slap you. I had my hand there and you turned into it Theron, however, insisted that the incident did not sour their relationship. Were just like kids, its so much fun. Hes not a woman beater! she said. Whatever the case, the Will Smith bitch slap will no doubt echo through out the ages…


4. Michelle Pfeifer in WOLF (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994) This was another incident that inspired this post – recently Christopher Plummer revealed in his new memoir (In Spite Of Myself) : “I had to lose my temper and slap [Michelle] in the face . . . Gazing into those deep, limpid eyes of hers, I was so hypnotized, my expertise at faking a slap utterly deserted me and I let her have it with full barrels. He lamented that it was: one of the worst days of my life. Again I believe, Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, should just take comfort in the sometimes actresses get slapped clause.

5. Brigitte Bardot in CONTEMPT

(Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) I recently saw this again, for the first time on the big screen, and I had forgotten about the slap Michelle Piccoli lays on Brigitte Bardot’s face during their lengthy domestic argument. The sequence which takes place at their flat is a painful but compelling series of break-ups and make-ups with the slap coming midway as Phillip Locate in the New York Times noted: In any film today, a man slapping a woman would end the scene, but in Contempt we keep watching the sequence for 25 more minutes, as the adjustments to that slap are digested.” It is indeed startling how Bardot brushes off the abuse, to her character Camille it seems like just yet another daily indignity.


6. Marisa Tomei in

IN THE BEDROOM (Dir. Todd Field, 2001) File this under when actresses slap other actresses. In what Roger Ebert called “the most violent and shocking moment in a violent film” Sissy Spacek slaps a hysterical Marisa Tomei. According to IMDb: There were 15 takes of Sissy Spacek slapping Marisa Tomei. The final version of the film used the first take.Looks like Tomei sure was a trooper in the slapped actress department there!


7. Anne Baxter in ALL ABOUT EVE (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)


Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Academy Award winning screenplay describes the action between Addison (George Sanders and Eve (Anne Baxter) as follows:

She smiles. Then she chuckles, then laughs. A mistake.

Addison slaps her sharply across the face.


Actually there are many comparable slaps from movies from this era and it’s a quick cold one but it’s a personal favorite because I (and I’m sure many audiences) so wanted to slap Eve throughout the whole movie. Incidentally there was a little known semi-remake called SLAP HER…SHE’S FRENCH (Dir. Melanie Mayron, 2002).


8. Shirley Maclaine in

THE APARTMENT

(Dir. Billy Wilder, 1960)

As Dr. Dreyfuss, Jack Kruschen really strikes Maclaine’s face exactly as written in Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay (also an Academy Award winning script):

With his free hand, Dr. Dreyfuss slaps Fran viciously across the face. Bud winces. Dreyfuss, still holding Fran by the hair, takes a box of ammonia ampules out of his bag. He crushes one of the ampules in his hand, passes it under her nose. Fran tries to turn her head away. Dreyfuss slaps her again, hard, crushes another ampule, repeats the process.


So it goes for reviving a heartbroken woman from a Christmas eve suicide attempt, huh?

9. Joan Crawford in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

(Dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford famously did not get along so there is absolutely no doubt this slap is real. Apparently mere slaps were the least of their worries according to Wikipedia: During a scene after Blanche makes a desperate attempt to call Jane’s doctor, Blanche is kicked around by Jane. In reality, Crawford had several broken ribs from the scene, as Davis had really kicked her.” Crawford also felt pretty symbolically slapped later when she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for the film while Davis was.

10. Lee Bryant in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abrams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Thought I’d end on a comical note with definitely the fakest slaps not just on this list but possibly in movie history. As frightened passenger Mrs. Hammen (but probably better referred to as hysterical woman), Bryant starts freaking out: I can’t stand it anymore…I’ve got to get out of here! A stewardress tries to restrain her then another passenger takes over, then Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielson) all repeating calm down, get a hold of yourself! Soon enough just about everybody on board is lining up to slap (or worse) the troubled traveler. Watch the clip here.

There are hundreds, if not thousands more slapped actresses out there but that’s my top ten and I’m sticking with it. Of course, there are many slapped actors as well but I was keeping with The Hold Steady song that inspired the post. Still may do a slapped actors post someday – so stay tuned.

More later…

7 Years Later, Does MULHOLLAND DRIVE Make Any More Sense?


Short answer: Maybe a little. Long Answer:

Last Friday night as part of a series on film noir, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh had a screening of David Lynch’s twisted surreal drama MULHOLLAND DRIVE. The film was introduced by Independent Weekly Arts Editor David Fellerath who considers the film a masterpiece and one of the greatest of the last 10 years. He asked how many folks were seeing the film for the first time and a surprisingly huge amount of hands were raised. After some background and an attempt at plot summary, he assured the almost full room that 95% of the film holds up to “logical scrutiny”. I’m not so sure about that, but the film did seem to gain levels of coherence that it lacked for me back in 2001. Fellerath had also stated that if anybody still had problems with the film’s meaning afterwards – “there’s lots on the internet.”


There sure is lots on the internet, starting with one of the lengthiest Wikipedia entries for a film that I’ve ever seen with content headings like “Interpretations and Allusions”, detailed character breakdowns, and long intricate paragraphs on the style and critical reception. The references for the entry site 82 articles with such titles as “Nice Film If You Can Get It: Understanding Mulholland Drive (The Guardian) and Salon.com’s “Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Mulholland Drive” (which Roger Ebert considers “the best explanation”). Another worthwhile read is Anthony Kusich’s “Mulholland Drive…Explained” which deals which the 10 clues that Lynch included in the notes for the original DVD release. The existence of the clues is curious because Lynch was quoted in the New York Times a few years later as saying that DVD extras can “demystify” a film.


Perhaps what Lynch and many critics have proposed is the most sensible way to take MULHOLLAND DRIVE – not to try and make sense of it. Just absorb the mood and visual tones winding through the various narrative strands. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring are either friends turned lovers named Betty and Rita in a dream or the former lovers now estranged Diane and Camilla in reality or vice versa. It appears that Justin Theroux is one of the only constant characters – an arrogant film director who is pressured by Mafioso types, to cast Camilla in his newest film. In one of the most memorably amusing scenes has Theroux meet a cryptic character called “The Cowboy” (Lafayette Montgomery) who tells him: “A man’s attitude goes some ways. The way his life will be.” When The Cowboy can be seen passing through the background of a party scene later on it is impossible not to take as intensely comical.


A turning point comes when Betty and Rita doing some detective work because Rita has lost her memory (she took her name from a Rita Hayworth movie poster) locate a woman’s dead body. Identities then blend (the Igmar Bergman-esque screen capture above says a lot about the merging of identities I believe) with Rita donning a blonde wig and then they shatter completely with the aid of a shiny blue box (that of course appears with no explanation) and then reassemble or emerge from a dream – as when The Cowboy says: “Hey, pretty girl, time to wake up”. Many elements familiar to fans of Lynch fill the frames throughout – among them the darkened old fashioned back room of the mysterious movie studio string puller Mr. Rogue (Michael J. Anderson) wouldn’t have been out of place in the dreams of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) on Twin Peaks and the creepy Club Silencio that Betty and Rita attend one fateful night is somewhere you would expect to see Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) from BLUE VELVET lounging around in.


Writting before about the “love/WTF?” relationship I’ve had with the films of David Lynch (“Inland Empire Burlesque” and “Hey, I Finally Saw…ERASERHEAD”) I had decided to let go of the idea of determining definitive meanings and just go with the freaky flow. Wading through the various analyzing articles previously mentioned of this particular film though is still extremely fascinating because many interpretations can exist side by side, none more valid or more convincing than the other. Maybe MULHOLLAND DRIVE doesn’t make any more sense now than it ever did but its captivating spell has indeed grown and its perverse passion is definitely more powerful than when it was first shown in the heady distracting days shortly after 9/11. For those who haven’t seen it before and lived with it for a while, I have to relate this – while the end credits were rolling at the Art Museum last Friday, a irrate woman who was obviously one of those who had earlier raised their hands, was heard complaining: “I’m very upset – it didn’t make any sense! Even PULP FICTION made sense! At the ending it all came together. I mean even AMERICAN BEAUTY made sense too!” So much for discussion, huh?

More later…

Film Babble Blog Falls For THE FALL

Roy (Lee Pace): “He does tricks for pictures, flickers…moving pictures.”

Alexandria (Catinca Untara): “I’ve never seen one!”

Roy: “You’re not missing much.”

THE FALL (Dir. Tarsem, 2006 *) I only recently saw Tarsem’s THE CELL which looked great but was pretty stupid exactly as a friend (and many critics) warned me. Like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, Tarsem came to the movies from the world of music video production (he directed R.E.M.’s famous “Losing My Religion” video) so his visual mastery is his calling card. Still though I was unprepared for the absorbing and splendiferous experience that is THE FALL. With a much improved less slickly formulaic premise and screenplay (not to mention no stars in the cast) than his previous film every shot has a purpose and power that is joyous to view.

Set at a hospital at an unspecified era, most likely Los Angeles in the 20’s, the story concerns a young girl with a broken arm (Catinca Untara) who befriends a bedridden man (Lee Pace) while strolling through the wards. Pace was injured doing a stunt for a movie that involved jumping off a train bridge onto a horse. He charms her with a mythic tale about 5 bandits (he at first calls them pirates but Untara doesn’t like that) who vow revenge on an evil General who banished them to a desert isle. Pace posits himself as the masked Black Bandit and his partners are an escaped African slave (Marcus Wesley), an Italian explosives expert (Robin Smith), a soul shattered Indian mystic (Jeetu Verma), and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) who is obviously the brain of their operation as they escape confinement and journey towards salvation or death. The grand tale overlaps with real life as it is peopled with folks from the hospital and Untara’s family WIZARD OF OZ-style.

* Though this film was originally premiered in 2006, it is only now that it is in wide theatrical release as presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonez.

It’s a film filled with incredible shots with plenty of action as well as personal drama that fill the frame too. Pace has had his heart broken along with his bones so he casts his ex-girlfriend (Justine Waddell) as the fabled Sister Evelyn in his impassioned bedtime story. There is a nice chemistry between Pace and Untara and a charm to this whole pretty package even when he uses the story as a bargaining tool to get her to break in to the hospital’s sanctuary to steal morphine for him. Yes, all this luscious euphoric beauty comes for a dark price but not one that would be too intense for most intelligent kids. That’s right, at heart this is a kids movie but an incredibly stylish and inventive kids movie. I was expecting something along the lines of the gothic tension and creepiness of PAN’S LABYRINTH but THE FALL is more colorful, infinitely more clever, and frankly a lot more fun. Reviews have been very mixed (except for Roger Ebert who gave it 4 stars and wrote that the film will most likely make his top ten of the year list) but I implore those to look for it if it comes to your area. The beautiful photography and fantastic CGI-free imagery deserves to be seen on the big screen – it would truly make a fantastic IMAX movie. A wonderful ride stocked with eye candy as well as a tribute to the power of storytelling, you will really be missing much if you miss THE FALL.

More later…