Tuesday, January 25, 2011

tribalism

Given that the notion of independent thinking is dead in Hollywood, not only are its films generally a bore, but so are the assorted award shows that bestow usually undeserved laurels upon them.

The last in the line of the Big Statuette Giveaways is, of course, the annual Oscarcast - the biggest company picnic ever. And the general feeling is that all the other piddling award presentations that precede it have effectively watered down its importance. Probably. But what about the utter predictablity of the modern awards process in general?

Even before the nominations were announced this year, it had become (rather painfully) apparent that 2011's Oscar victors would be Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and, if the Weinsteins have their way (and they probably will), "The King's Speech." No contest. Yawn.

Exacerbating matters is the news that this year's Oscarcast will be hosted by the ubiquitous (and oddly unappealing) James Franco and bland Anne Hathaway who, I sense, will work hard at being "cute" and witty.

I'll pass.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

quiet masterwork

Unorthodox and strangely, wondrously soothing, Sofia Coppola's "Somethere" is the great American film of 2010 that got away. After making something of a splash at the Venice Film Festival, the film was pretty much abandoned, an orphan at the mercy of indifferent hands.

None of this is surprising - neither its success at Venice, where it won the Golden Lion, or its invisibility on the American movie circuit.

The film is very European, in both its temperament and the languid way in which it moves. There's a reason why a precious few film critics have astutely compared Coppola's work here to Antonioni's.

The plotline is a matter of not being what you think it is.

Superficially, it's about the day-to-day life of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who, by turns, is either Brad Pitt or Charlie Sheen (take your pick) as he goes through the deadening paces of being a modern movie star.

Right now, Johnny - who lives at the Charteau Marmont - is doing promotion for his latest film. The ennui is so strong that even nightly visits by pole dancers don't bring him much happiness. He usually smiles at them, half-heartedly, and then falls asleep. Yes, he's going somewhere.

Nowhere, to be exact.

Turns out, Johnny is - surprisingly - a father. He has an 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), who is plopped into his joyless life and becomes his unexpected companion, accompaying him to movie functions or on impromptu outings in his Ferrari. A tiny road film ensues.

Dorff is wonderful in a near-wordless performance as he floats through the Hollywood landscape and, along the way, tackles remarkably serious matters for his director about getting through life, parenting and responsibility. Like its star, the movie makes its points without pushing or sweating or underlining those very points. It's lovely and, yes, loopy.

Yes, much like Johnny himself.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"the snot evacuated from a large, bulbous nose"

The curious title of this post is a spoof on David Thomson's predictably snotty take on actor Hugh Grant: "An incipent sneeze looking for a vacant nose." Only my self-satisfied quote is about, well, Thomson himself.

Movie critics (or in Thomson's case, film historian), like movies themselves, are often an acquired taste. Thomson is wildly celebrated by a band of movie critics who are far less clever and much less articulate than Thomson is, and not nearly as secure in their judgments. I affectionately refer to them as "The Davidians" (a play on the infamous "Paulettes.")

Then there are those for whom Thomson's brand of "criticism" is athematic. Count me in.

Thomson, who is obviously keenly intelligent and probably makes a great sparring partner, has been churning out his torturous insults about film celebrities for 35 years now and in the latest edition of his Biographical Dictionary Of Film, he bravely takes on Elizabeth Taylor-wannabe Angelina Jolie (referring to "the carnal embouchure that is her mouth") and her rival Jennifer Aniston ("while one can make gentle fun of Jennifer Aniston, it’s hard to dislike her").

The odd thing is, I find myself grudgingly agreeing with Thomson's often-poisonous assessments. and envy the delight with which he pens them.

He's a wordsmith par excellence.

On the other hand, the cheapness of it all - glorified tabloid fodder really - inevitably demoralizes. It seems like such a waste of talent.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

turner classic movies. january. 2011.

The ever-incorrigible Peter Sellers is the Star of the Month on Turner in January, but the pick of the month, moviewise, is "99 River Street." This satisfying little noir gem, airing at 8 p.m. on 14 January, may be the definitive Phil Karlson movie. John Payne, an underestimated, solid actor, stars as a washed-up boxer named Ernie Driscoll, who once lost a heavyweight championship match, is a has-been and drives a taxi for a living, much to the chagrin of his awful, unfaithful wife (Peggy Castle), who blames Eddie for her own failures. When his two-timing wife ends up dead, murdered by her paramour, Eddie is framed for her death and needs to prove his innocence. He gets off-beat assistance from a terrific Evelyn Keyes who plays a spunky actress who tricked Eddie with a scam of her own and now uses her wiles and creatively fertile mind to help prove that Eddie is part of a set-up and, inevitably, the two have to elude traps on their road to the truth.

"99 River Street" is terse, snappy and gorgeously photographed by the great Franz Planer (Audrey Hepburn's "house cinematographer," so to speak). It's followed immediately by another Karlson great - "Kansas City Confidential" (1952).

The rest of the month? Well, There's Joseph Pevney's Debbie Reynolds vehicle, "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957) which features Leslie Nielsen in his leading-made mode before he became a joke (a role Nielsen seemed to relish). It airs 12:15 a.m. on 2 January. Later, at 10 p.m., you might want to check out Ralph Nelson's forgotten "Fate Is the Hunter" (1964), one of those air-crash dramas, but this one smaller and more thoughtful and with a good cast - Glenn Ford, Nancy Kwan, Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette (fresh from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" from the year before).

Meanwhile, Jane Wyman and Van Johnson effectively stir up the suds and the tears in Rudolph Mate's "Miracle in the Rain" (1956), a moody, black-and-white soap airing at 4 p.m., on 4 January.

The Canadian actor Nick Mancuso, who promised to be the next Big Thing in the '80s, had an early role in Allan Eastman's relationship drama, "Snapshot" (1978), which Turner debuts at 2 a.m. on 8 January. Laurence Olivier coaxed an winsome performance out of Marilyn Monroe in his production of "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), based on Terrence Rattigan's play, "The Sleeping Prince," about a showgirl who awakens an uptight prince. It's on at 9:30 p.m. 8 January. The next day - 9 January - at 10:30 a.m., the adorable Betsy Drake, who made way too few films, delivers a ditheringly charming performance in Bretaigne Windust's "Pretty Baby" (1950). That's her above with co-stars Zachary Scott and Dennis Morgan.
Nunnally Johnson's version of the best-seller, "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956) - the "Mad Men" of the '50s (or, if you will, the original "Mad Men") - stars Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in a tale of a public relations man, his family and his memories. Screens at 8 p.m. 10 January.

Two intense political dramas, set in different eras, are showcased on 15 January, beginning at 10 p.m. - Costa-Gavras's "Missing" (1982), starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek and John Shea, and Volker Schlöndorff's "The Tin Drum" (1979), featuring the preternatural David Bennent.
William Wyler's final film, 1970's racial drama, "The Liberation of L. B. Jones," starring Roscoe Lee Brown (in a rare leading role), Anthony Zerbe, Lee J. Cobb and Lola Falana, airs at 10 p.m. on 16 January. Wyler died in 1981 at age 79. Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier (below) make fascinating adversaries in Richard Brooks' film of buried conflicts, "Something of Value" (1957), being shown at 11:15 a.m. on 17 January. Meanwhile, an evasive Leo McCarey title, "Tom and Jerry" (1955), starring Peter Lawford," airs at 8 p.m. on 19 January.

On 20 January, starting at 1:45 p.m., Patricia Neal stars in the double-bill of Alexander Singer's
"Psyche 59" (1964), with Curt Jurgens and Samantha Eggar, and Ulu Grosbard's "The Subject Was Roses" (1968), based on the Frank Gilroy play, in which she tood on the role created on stage by Irene Daily (Dan's sister). Original Broadway co-stars, Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen co-star.

Terry Moore, so cute, and Robert Wagner, such a hunk, are the leads of Robert D. Webb's '50s hit, "Beneath the 12-Mile Reef" (1953), scheduled for 6 p.m. on 21 Jaunuary. Later that night - at 2:15 a.m. on 22 January - Susan Strasberg and José Ferrer have fun in Ed Hunt in "Bloody Birthday" (1980). Otto Preminger had a huge popular hit with his film version of "The Cardinal" (1963), a three-hour consideration of a young Boston priest (Tom Tryon, right with Romy Schneider) as he is challenged by familial problems and church duties. Turner screens it at 1 p.m. pm 24 January. Take time to appreciate Leon Shamroy's cinematography and Saul Bass' commanding main titles footage.
The month winds down with Peter Sellers in arguably his last great performance in Hal Ashby's "Being There" (1979), 9:45 p.m. 27 January; Christopher George in William Girdler's grind classic, "Grizzly" (1976), 2 a.m. 29 January, and Jim Hutton and Dorothy Provine (with co-stars Walter Brennan and Bob Denver above) in Howard Morris' charming "Who's Minding the Mint?" (1967), 10 p.m. 30 January, about a treasury worker who inadvertently takes $50,000, destroys it and then has to come up with a plan to return it before his boss finds out and fires him. Irresistible.