Paul Newman R.I.P. (1925-2008)

One of the most solid actors to walk the planet in the last century has just left us. I suspect many of my fellow film bloggers out there are too young to truly know the depths of his work so I would suggest filling NetFlix queues with Newmans finest. Undisputed classics such as THE HUSTLER, HUD, COOL HAND LUKE, and Sydney Lumet s THE VERDICT are highly recommended. As are his fun period piece buddy films with Robert Redford – BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING.

Extracurricular work would include Sydney Pollack s ABSENCE OF MALICE, NOBODY’S FOOL, and MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE. Honestly you can’t go wrong with a Paul Newman movie – even BLAZE and THE TOWERING INFERNO have their merits. He worked with many of the great directors – Alfred Hitchcock on TORN CURTAIN, Robert Altman on BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, Martin Scorsese on THE COLOR OF MONEY (which Newman won the Best Actor Oscar for) and even the Coen Brothers on the unjustly underrated THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (pictured at the top of this post).

His comical side has been overlooked in many of the obits I ve read the last day or so but his appearances on Letterman over the years have been hilarious self-effacing affairs – check out this clip on youtube. Its fitting that his last role was the voice of a 1951 Hudson Hornet Automobile named Doc Hudson in Pixars CARS. Nice that the wee ones will get an intro to Mr. Newman there.

So put some Newmans Own popcorn in the microwave, fire up the DVD player and pay proper tribute to the man.

More Later…

What’s Up With Woody? Case In Point – CASSANDRA’S DREAM

It used to be that a new Woody Allen movie opening was an event. In the summer of 1989 the North Carolina Museum Of Art in Raleigh had a Woody Allen film festival. Every Friday night a different Woody Allen film was shown in chronological order and I went to nearly every one (I missed HANNAH AND HER SISTERS but had seen it already if I remember correctly). It was timed to lead up to the release of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS that fall. Throughout the 90s Woody Allen movies played at many theaters in the Triangle area, mostly arthouses but some multiplex action too, so it was a bit of a sobering slap to have his latest film be the first one in my lifetime to not play in my hometown of Chapel Hill. I grew up with Allens films – my parents told me that they took me to see SLEEPER at the Plaza theater (now an empty lot) when I was four years old but I dont remember the experience. Of course not, right? Ive seen the movie many times since then so it really doesnt matter. Despite the declining quality of his recent work Im pulling for the Woodman – I believe he can still pull a great movie out of his ass one day. Sorry to say this one, newly released on DVD, aint it:

CASSANDRA’S DREAM (Dir. Woody Allen, 2007)

There is a scene early on in Woody Allens 38th film as director in which the protagonists (Ewan MacGregor and Colin Farrell) in the middle of a discussion in a garage leave the shot while the camera stays still. While the dialogue of their tense talk is still audible they exit into a back room for a few moments then reappear with no breaks; no cuts. It is notable because it is one of the only times, apart from the standard white on black opening credits that is, that this British brothers gone bad thriller feels like an actual Woody Allen movie. As it goes on with the questionable character of their Uncle played by Tom Wilkinson, fresh from his crazily sane (or sanity-driven insanity) turn in MICHAEL CLAYTON, showing up with a out to the brothers financial worries, a few unmistakable Woody Allen themes pop up – jealousy and greed to be exact. A murder movie in the mold of Allens last hit MATCH POINT is the order of the day but since I was in the minority that was unfavorable to that first foray into British societal class crime, I am even less forgiving to this unmoving neo-noir creeper caper.

Comparisons are inevitable to BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, Sydney Lumet’s thriller also involving corrupt money-mad brothers doomed to fail in matters of finance and family; but this can’t really be considered a copy-cat because production of it was well underway years before that film was forged and it certainly doesn’t have anything in common with its narrative structure. Still it doesn’t bode well that that fine film would so definitively overshadow Allen’s incredibly self-conscious effort to make such an uncharacteristic and cold morality play as this. MacGregor and Farrell put in solid performances that show signs of rehearsing and multiple-take re-focusing but the material they have to work with feels like it came from pages of a first draft with the repetition fat uncut.

Wilkinson energizes the few sweaty desperate scenes he’s in but he acts as if he has secrets he’s not willing to share with the brothers, the audience, and even the movie. The female characters don’t make much of a mark either – as gorgeous as Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins, and Ashley Madekwe are they are just decorations on a boy’s club class project. CASSANDRA’S DREAM, named after a boat the brothers name after a race winning dog at the tracks that doesn’t really have much of a consequence to the movie’s themes, is unfortunately another movie misstep for Woody Allen. In trying to make a movie so unlike any other from his canon he ended up with a film so indistinct that it is instantly forgettable.

Whew! Next Time I’ll Tell you what I really think. This August comes yet another Woody Allen film – VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA which as a Spanish murder movie (that’s just going by the trailer) doesn’t look like a very characteristic work either. The oft repeated line from STARDUST MEMORIES (and real life) was that of his movies folks prefered “the early funny ones” well I’m going to start calling all his filmography before the last decade – “the early good ones”. So for the blogosphere film geek record here’s my list of my top 10 favorites of the early good ones:

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Woody Allen Films

1. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) As the title pretty much states this is a serious drama with a comic subplot. Martin Landau plays a wealthy ophthalmologist whose massive guilt over murdering his mistress (Angelica Huston) puts him in existential turmoil. In the subplot Woody Allen plays a struggling documentary film maker in a bad marriage who pines for a PBS producer (Mia Farrow) while he has to do a fluff piece portrait of a man he despises – a corporate TV bigwig played by a perfectly smarmy Alan Alda. A top notch screenplay filled with great lines like: “Comedy is tragedy plus time” and “Show business is, is dog-eat-dog. It’s worse than dog-eat-dog. It’s dog-doesn’t-return-other-dog’s-phone-calls.”

2. MANHATTAN (1979) Shot in widescreen black and white with a Gershwin score and again a magnificent script this a rich rewarding movie over and over. Relationships, digs at shallow popular culture, pithy party repartee, heart breaking partings, and so on – Allen captures New York in the “Me Decade” like nobody else could. The great cast (Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemmingway, Meryl Streep) all inhabit the material beautifully. Of course again, there are the great one-liners: “My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst.”

3. ANNIE HALL (1977) Allen’s most popular movie (it won the Best Picture Oscar) is an obvious but crucial choice because it signified a new direction and style after years of silly (but still terrific) comedies. Diane Keaton (who won Best Actress) as the title character and Woody as, well, Woody (actually his comedian character’s name is Alvy Singer) do their crazy chemistry thing over an almost surreal mix of 4th wall breakage, childhood memory revisionism, overlapping comic dialogue, and even animation. “If life was only like this!”Allen says directly to the camera at one hilarious point and yes, I often wish it was.

4. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992) Hard to separate this from the real-life break-up of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow but this take on Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE has a lot more going for it than what is now dated gossip. The late great Sydney Pollack, in what is definitely his best performance, and Judy Davis announce their divorce to Allen and Farrow, before their planned dinner out together mind you, and the two couples struggle through crises caught on a shaky cam with odd cuts and a docudrama style. Juliette Lewis as a writing student of Allen says: “Life doesn’t imitate art – it imitates bad TV”; in this film though, art does a pretty good impression of awkward desperate living.

5. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) Smack dab in the middle of the Reagan era and Woody’s Mia Farrow era as well, this is another sweet blend of comedy and drama. A large cracking cast including Diane Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Michael Caine (who won an Oscar for it), Sam Waterson, and Carrie Fisher keep the proceedings lively but Allen on the verge of suicide and getting rejuvenated by a chance midnight moviehouse showing of the Marx Brothers’ DUCK SOUP is why this movie makes the list.

6. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) At the movie theater I work at part time one of my co-workers, who has worked at theaters for over 20 years, often remarks that this is his favorite Woody Allen film. Fitting for a projectionist to love a movie that largely takes place in an old 30’s movie palace. One of Allen’s best premises, a character (Jeff Daniels) in the movie within a movie of the title walks off the screen and into the real world of the depression because he falls in love with a woman (Mia Farrow) in the audience. Farrow sighs: “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.”

7. ZELIG (1983) Looking a lot like I am stuck on 80’s Woody Allen, huh? A mockumentary (I don’t care if Christopher Guest hates the term) about a human chameleon played by Allen who can change his form or ethnicity depending on the company he keeps. Through the movie magic of editing and insertion Zelig finds himself rubbing shoulders with key players in early 20th century history – Hitler, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, and James Cagney are among those who convincingly appear in archival footage. Forget the forgery that was FORREST GUMP, and relish ZELIG.

8. LOVE AND DEATH (1975)Woody’s War and Peace! Much headier than the comedies that made his name this was the most ambitious of his early career – an epic period piece with battle scenes and much Foreign film influence but the silliness and rapid-fire jokes ranks this as one of his all time funniest films. Another great pairing with Diane Keaton and yes, another great script. One of many hilarious one-liners: “There are worse things in life than death. If you’ve ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know what I’m talking about.”

9. DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997) The last great Woody Allen movie IMHO. It is different terrain with vulgarity, profanity, and depravity and that’s just what comes out of scorned lover Judy Davis’s mouth! Woody Allen plays Harry Block, rumored to be based on author Philip Roth, who takes everyone’s suffering and turns it into literary gold, as his ex-wife says. His creations catch up with him and he takes a look back at his parasitic existence with help from a large cast featuring Robin Williams, Billy Crystal (as the Devil!), Richard Benjamin, Demi Moore, Tobey McQuire, and a clever cameo by Mariel Hemmingway. Maybe the most acerbic and divisive film of Allen’s career.

10. TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) I have a soft spot for this one because it is the first Woody Allen movie I remember seeing as a kid on television. Maybe one of the first mockumentaries it tells the story of Virgil, a petty thief who goes from heist to the slammer again and again. Essentially a series of sketches filled with patented one-liners and sight gags, it remains one of my favorites of his early funny ones because of the sheer amount of material that works. I saw it again recently on TCM and it still holds up. Virgil on meeting his wife (Janet Margolin) for the first time: “After fifteen minutes I wanted to marry her, and after half an hour I completely gave up the idea of stealing her purse.”

Okay! Now, there are a number of other Woody Allen films I love and recommend as well (like BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, RADIO DAYS, and SLEEPER) but that’s my top ten. Maybe this’ll encourage some young novice film geek to put some of the Woodman’s work in their NetFlix queue.

More later…

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

“I don’t value a film I’ve enjoyed making. If it’s good, it’s damned hard work.” – Sydney Pollack

Earlier this evening I was working my part-time job at the Varsity theater here in downtown Chapel Hill and overheard a few folks in the lobby talking about OUT OF AFRICA for some reason. I almost said “Best Picture Winner, 1985” in a silent space between their comments about how much they loved it. I caught myself because well, I wasn’t really a part of their conversation and I didn’t want to broadcast my film geekery to total strangers for no real reason. And maybe because I’d never seen the movie. That’s right, I’ve never seen OUT OF AFRICA. Spouting out trivia, especially a uninvited comment, about a movie I’ve never seen just seemed to be such an uncool move (and still does) so I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.

So, it was a bit of a shock to get home and find out from a fellow blogger that the director of said film Sydney Pollack, who has had his hand in over 40 movies as either director, actor, or producer (or all three), has shuffled off this mortal coil at age 73. Now, I’ve seen his movies all my life but can’t honestly say he’s one of my favorite directors ever. In fact in a post from last year – “Clooney Is The New Redford & 5 Pivotal Sydney Pollack Parts” I wrote that “I like Sydney Pollack as an actor more than I do as a director”. I still stand by that statement but have enjoyed a few of his films as director including THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR *, TOOTSIE, and ABSENCE OF MALICE. The news of his death hasn’t fully spread yet – the IMDb hasn’t even reported it yet but then this is a holiday. I’m sure tomorrow the mainstream media and the film bloggosphere will be filled with Pollack tributes. I’m looking forward to the appraisals from film folks better qualified in terms of Pollack than me and the reactions from his colleagues in the days to come. Well, I’m going to go put OUT OF AFRICA in my NetFlix queue and maybe add his last film which I had been curious about before – the documentary SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY (2005). Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

*By the way, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), which incidentely is my favorite Pollack film, is on TCM at 1:30 AM tomorrow night. Do yourself a favor and DVR it if you haven’t seen it.

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack

More Later…

Clooney Is The New Redford & 5 Pivotal Sydney Pollack Parts

It’s official – George Clooney is to this decade (sorry – I hate calling it the Aughts or Aughties) what Robert Redford was to the 70’s. He’s the gruff but good looking beacon that guides us through the dark corridors of misappropriated power and serves as the conscience of poli-sci centered cinema. In a run of ambitious films (excluding the OCEAN’S series, that is) like SYRIANA, THE GOOD GERMAN, and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, Clooney is coming close to matching Redford’s run in the Nixon-Ford-Carter era – a run that included such classics as THE CANDIDATE, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and BRUBAKER.

MICHAEL CLAYTON cements the case that Clooney has definitively assumed Redford’s role as symbol of liberal unrest and righteous though mostly impotent outrage against the machine. So here’s the Film Babble review :

MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007)

As the title character Clooney brings a doomed demeanor to a once prominent NY lawyer who now acts as a “fixer” that is a hatchet or bag man to do his large firm’s dirty work. Called a “miracle man” by some but self described as a “janitor”, Clayton can’t quite clean up the mess made by a fellow tormented litigator – Arthur Edens played to intense perfection by Tom Wilkinson. Edens threatens to sabotage his firm’s handling of a multimillion dollar lawsuit against a agrichemical company. Clayton struggles to protect Edens and grapples with overwhelming ethical dilemmas while juggling his own personal set-backs – financial insecurity brought on by divorce and a former gambling problem recently replaced by a risky restaurant venture.

Some of the narrative turns can be seen coming at a fair distance and there are some drawbacks with a few undeveloped characters – specifically Chief Counsel for the bad guys Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) and also the unnecessary druggie brother heavily implies there was some cut material. Sydney Pollack (one of the film’s producers) as Clooney’s boss does add some clout though it’s a character he’s played slight variations on before (see below). Tony Gilroy’s direction, decorated by hushed grey tones and a overcast aura, is impressive for a first time director (Gilroy scripted the BOURNE series). There’s a lot to admire in this anti-slick suspense flick. So as long as Clooney doesn’t pull a ELECTRIC HORSEMAN on us – we’re heading in a good direction.

After seeing MICHAEL CLAYTON I realized something – I like Sydney Pollack as an actor more than I do as a director. Sure, he mostly plays incidental side parts – giving a folksy gravitas to the proceedings in a the Yoda you may worry ’bout trusting sorta way. Also he re-inforces this blogpost’s conceit because of his collaborations with Robert Redford, so continuing my blog’s HIGH FIDELITY obsession with lists here goes :

5 Pivotal Sydney Pollack Parts :

1. TOOTSIE (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1982) It’s hard to imagine what TOOTSIE would’ve been had Hal Ashby (who was originally signed on but after what Wikipedia calls “two years of laborious negotiations” – was axed from the project) directed it. I mean there would have been no hilarious arguments between Pollack and Dustin Hoffman both on and off screen! Pollack signed on to direct but resisted Hoffman’s idea that he play the blunt agent character in the film. He finally gave in and it’s a great thing too because his part really makes the movie. Priceless moment – Hoffman in drag runs in to an oblivious Pollack, who had told Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey character that “no one will hire you” earlier, at the Russian Tea Room. After fooling Pollack with his Dorothy Michaels persona for a few minutes, Hoffman drops his voice low and reveals himself. Pollack : “Michael, I told you to get some therapy!”

2. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (Dir. Woody Allen, 1992) Pollack’s biggest role to date and one he excels in though at first glance it’s a stock best friend who’s having an affair part – a role usually reserved in Woody Allen movies for the likes of Tony Roberts or Michael Murphy. Pollack plays a man constantly on the verge of crumbling during his separation from wife Judy Davis but somehow holding it together. A misguided affair with a ditsy aerobics trainer (Lysette Anthony – pictured on the right) gives some funny yet dark insights into his nature. We’re left liking the guy in the end though we don’t know why – perhaps because he’s just a flawed fucked-up human like the rest of us.

3. EYES WIDE SHUT (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1999) Another best friend/mentor/would be Yoda role in this troubled and troubling movie. I won’t go into the details about this notoriously comprised Kubrick project – that’s well documented elsewhere – I’ll just say that Pollack pulls no punches in his portrayal of Victor Ziegler. Woody Allen was originally considered for the role of Ziegler but he claims that Kubrick “came to his senses”.

4. CHANGING LANES (Dir. Roger Mitchell, 2002) put this one in the “guys the main character shouldn’t trust” file. A fairly lame Ben Affleck / Samuel L. Jackson dueling NY commuters thriller (as if that’s an actual genre) features a rare Sydney Pollack as complete bastard role as yet another corrupt lawfirm boss (see above). Especially, in a moment that will come back to haunt him, when he tells Affleck – “at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm… what other standard have I got to judge by?” At the end of the day this guy is judged pretty harshly.

5. RANDOM HEARTS (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1999) Another flawed as fuck film (only 18% on the Rotten Tomatometer – pretty much consensus says it’s a stinker) that nonetheless gives good Pollack. Sure it’s another advisor/mentor character but when it boils down to it – he’s one of the only interesting elements in this failure of his own making. If Pollack can shine when Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas appear drab and unconvincing then maybe the guy really is a genius director! Nah, I’m just blogging out of my ass again.

Okay! Another post – another list. Next time out : the countdown to my first blog convention – Converge South 2007 – continues and more babble ’bout movies of course.

More later…

Film Babble’s 100th Post!

“It’s too cerebral! We’re trying to make a movie here, not a film!”
Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999)

No special features or self congratulatory crap for my 100th – just some good ole fashioned movie reviews. A couple of new movies I caught at the theater and a few new release DVDs – nice and simple. So let’s get going –

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (Dir. Frank Oz, 2007) After one of the most misguided remakes in history THE STEPFORD WIVES, a film Nathan Rabin in his excellent My Year Of Flops column (The Onion A.V. Club) would most likely call a “fiasco”, Frank Oz brings us a funeral farce. Set in and around a countryside house during what should have been a stiff-upper lip service – a cast of mostly British mourners all with their own agenda or issue clash, argue, and fret over many outrageous obstacles. Obstacles such as money matters that are driving rival brothers (Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves) apart, a misplaced bottle of LSD tablets labeled as Valium, and a dwarf (little person? Trying to be PC here) played by the wonderful Peter Dinklage (THE STATION AGENT) that has a family shattering secret. There is some cringe-inducing slapstick and unnecessary scatological nonsense but through its economical brevity (it follows the unwritten rule that comedies should be 90 min) the mixed bits are happily reigned in. DEATH AT A FUNERAL contains a number of genuine big laughs and while it may never be considered a comedy classic it will be most likely fondly remembered for many seasons to come. Oh yeah – it also more than makes up for THE STEPFORD WIVES.

ROCKET SCIENCE (Dir. Jeffrey Blitz, 2007) So the first non-documentary by director Jeffrey Blitz (SPELLBOUND – 2003) is another adolescent angst movie in the tradition of Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz (especially RUSHMORE and WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE respectively). Unfortunately it’s nowhere as good as those touchstones with its self conscious screenplay filled with forced humor and standard grade quirkiness. Stuttering student (Reece Daniel Thompson) is a debate club star wannabe but his speech impediment gets in the way of his academic career and love life. He pines for a cold condescending classmate played by Anna Kendrick who is way ahead of him in the debate game and also way out of his league. A huge miss-step of many is the voice-over narration by Dan Cashman which in tone and context sounds to much like Ricky Jay’s opening MAGNOLIA spiel. Not able to surpass or be the equal of its influences and peopled by characters which are hard to care about ROCKET SCIENCE misses its mark by a movie mile. It simply should have had more moxie.

Some new DVDS I’ve recently seen :

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Dir. Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, 2006)

“He knows that the party needs artists but that artists need the party even more.”
– Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme)

This is an amazing and affecting wire-tapping tale set in East Germany (GDR) in 1984. A time when artists such as playwrights who were thought to have subversive tendencies are bugged and blacklisted by the secret police (Stasi) in the remaining years before the Berlin wall came down. One such playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch – who was one of the only highlights of BLACK BOOK) has a actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck) who has some too close for comfort ties to the Stasi. The real star of this piece though is the character of Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) who develops a protective sympathy for the people he’s assigned to spy on. More of a drama with tense moments than a thriller, THE LIVES OF OTHERS fully deserved the Best Foreign Picture Oscar that it won this year and should go right to the top of your ‘must see’ list or your Netflix queue which I guess is the same thing.

Postnote : This movie is going to get the American remake treatment by Sydney Pollack set for 2010. Whatever makeover they give it I hope it doesn’t have that damn thriller thunder dubbed on top of it.

GHOST RIDER (Dir. Mark Steven Johnson, 2007) I honestly can’t remember why I ordered this one up. I mean I like Nicholas Cage but hate his action movie crap (CON AIR, THE ROCK, NATIONAL TREASURE, etc) and I successfully dodged the bullet that was THE WICKER MAN remake – not really action I suppose but still looked like crap so I’m drawing a blank right now as to why I added this to my queue. I am completely unfamiliar with the comic book (sorry – graphic novel) that this is based on and I didn’t hear anything good about it when it was released in theaters earlier this year so go figure. Cage plays Johnny Blaze – “a badass stunt cyclist” (Netflix’s envelopes words not mine) who makes a deal with the Devil, played by Peter Fonda no less – who I guess shows up whenever the pitch “it’s a motorcycle movie” is made. The Devil’s son Blackheart (that charismatically creeply kid from AMERICAN BEAUTY – Wes Bently) wants to take over for his dad and destroy the creation made from the contract – the Ghost Rider of the title that Blaze can change into at will. “Oh, and his face was a skull and it was on fire” says a punk clad Rebel Wilson credited as ‘Girl in Alley’ and I couldn’t say it any better. This film is supremely stupid but oddly not severely sucky – I mean as mere pop entertainment goes you could do worse with a couple of hours than watching it. Then again, that blank white space on the wall over there is looking mighty appealing.

Okay! I didn’t think the word “crap” would show up 3 times in my 100th post but otherwise all is good. Hope you stick around for my next hundred posts.

More later…

I was telling my brother how much I enjoyed CAPOTE on the AIM and he said something to the effect of “there will be a oscar for the fat faggy”. Such a crude way to speak of the best actor of the Aughts: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. A little respect here bro. Anyway I’m not going to go into plot details or the real life subject matter because 1.) You can read any review to get that stuff and 2.) this movie is more about emotions or lack of them than details. IN COLD BLOOD (1967) was from the killers point of view and romanticized them in Brando fashion while keeping a disturbing point-by-point attention to accuracy. Catherine Keener does a good job as Harper Lee, Chris Cooper is again solid, and Clifton Collins as Perry Smith picks the right note to play all the way down death row.

Now that it is the season for a higher quality supposedly Oscar-worthy fare like CAPOTE, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED and THE SQUID AND THE WHALE among others one has to mourn the loss of the all the Deuce Bigalows and movies based on 70’s TV shows. Sigh. They’ll be back next summer I bet.

THE INTERPRETER (Dir. Sydney Pollack)

This came out last summer and failed to make a splash. I watched it on DVD this last week and could see why. Not that it is outright horrible just pretty bad. Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn (once again humorless as Hell) look like movie stars and aren’t convincing as their characters, particularly not with Kidman’s accent or always perfect hair. Catherine Keener as Penn’s Secret Service partner has very little to do. There are so many lamely plotted sequences and laughable conveniences that any element of suspense or actual sentiment is in vain. Pity too.

Pollack has made a number of fine films – a much better political thriller of his was THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). Honestly though Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway looked like movie stars in that too. Maybe the only thing worth seeing on the DVD is a bonus feature about his choice of the widescreen format over full frame: Sydney Pollack: “I’m making a plea for my colleagues and myself who spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to tell you the story in the best possible way visually and then someone else has to come in and cut the edges off of all of that and pan and scan it so you’re not seeing what story we tried to tell you.”

Pollack once brought a lawsuit on a Danish TV station for how that pan and scanned one of his films – “mutilated it” he said. To fight to preserve the full visual imagery of one’s art is a pretty cool stance – too bad THE INTERPRETER is not.

More later…