Monday, November 30, 2009

The month in theater

From Live Design: Finian's Rainbow and Superior Donuts on Broadway, and The Age of Iron and Wolves at the Window Off. Pictured are Finian's stars Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson.

My Popdose Top 50 list

Here's my Top 50 picks for Popdose. Would it be a different list if Cineaste went in for this sort of thing? Is it really a "best" list, or more of a "favorites" list?

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (pictured)
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
4. Pan's Labyrinth
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
6. Brokeback Mountain
7. Hero
8. Almost Famous
9. Sideways
10. Spider-Man 2
11. The Hurt Locker
12. Casino Royale
13. Let the Right One In
14. Donnie Darko
15. Ghost World
16. 25th Hour
17. Adaptation.
18. Traffic
19. Shaun of the Dead
20. The Devil Wears Prada
21. Zodiac
22. Yi Yi
23. Memento
24. No Country for Old Men
25. Ratatouille
26. Man on Wire
27. In the Realms of the Unreal
28. The Son (Le Fils)
29. High Fidelity
30. The Pianist
31. The Queen
32. Grizzly Man
33. Lost in Translation
34. X-Men
35. Michael Clayton
36. Iraq in Fragments
37. Gosford Park
38. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
39. Gladiator
40. Catch Me if You Can
41. Moulin Rouge!
42. Dogville
43. The Lives of Others
44. I Heart Huckabees
45. The Hidden Blade
46. The Host
47. Volver
48. A Scanner Darkly
49. Elegy
50. Jackass: The Movie

Of that TIFF list, incidentally, I most highly value In the Mood for Love, Tropical Malady, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Elephant, The World, and, from Canada's irrepressible Guy Maddin, the hilarious My Winnipeg and his superb short The Heart of the World.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blind Sided by list broadsides

A Hollywood Elsewhere post on the popularity of The Blind Side drew the following response from filmmaker George Hickenlooper, who is best-known for the short film that became the indie hit Sling Blade (1996): "I know [Blind Side writer-director] John Lee Hancock. Our sons were on the same Pasadena T-Ball team. John is one of the great ignored and underrated Hollywood writer/directors. His films hearken back to the golden age when movies were about telling stories and not narratives littered with characters being quirky and snarky to titillate the postmodern sensibilities of the effete New York literati. The polarity of tastes that has grown between the so called fly-over states and the two coasts is not the consequence of the dumbing down of the Midwest, but rather the infantilization of New York and Los Angeles. Where high art has become confused with the puerile masturbatory self examination of stone dead emotional detachment and characters who no longer mirror real life but are rather created to titillate the cynical sensibilities of critics who have seen too many movies and are no longer emotionally engaged with reality."

Is that the taste of sour grapes being spat out at the critics, in New York and elsewhere, who dismissed Hickenlooper's stone-dead biopic of the emotionally detached Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl? Perhaps. But Hickenlooper is getting at something more nagging than a defense of the journeyman director of The Rookie (Dennis Quaid) and The Alamo, now enjoying his first $100 million-and-counting blockbuster.

Popdose printed its Top 100 movies list last week. A reader, who I think spotted it at The (and who I think I may know from Dave Kehr's blog, harrumphed at the pop, Hollywood-centric nature of the post and proposed a "better" list, from TIFF Cinematheque. This set off a fiery exchange of posts, with me--who works both sides of the street, Hollywood and for lack of a better word "world" cinema--stepping in like Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo to oversee the bitch-slapping. Look: I disagreed with a fair number of the Popdose choices, at least a few of which were prankishly made. But as I said during the exchange the TIFF list also left something to be desired--too parochial, too joyless, and, maybe, too snootily elitist, heavily weighted toward subtitled auteurist fare that's lucky to play two weeks in allegedly cosmopolitan New York.

But they're both fine. It's not a death match; co-existence is possible, and, indeed, necessary. A Hollywood-exclusive diet is too heavy on junkfood. But a "world cinema" one is entirely too rarefied. The Hollywood-only crowd needs guidance to select the best of what else (and there is much else) out there, but trumpeting lists of the usual, almost pre-approved suspects as somehow superior isn't the way to go about it, cinephiles. (Hey, the Popdose list has more of the TIFF films than vice versa.) Everyone needs to sample both flavors--and, when it comes time to make one of these lists, choose from both these menus (and others besides as the movie market continues to fragment). Or just give up this artificial "best" pose and pick favorites, which isn't the same thing but is maybe less predigested and more idiosyncratic.

So let's join hands, sing "Kumbaya," and head off to the movies--maybe a double feature of The Headless Woman and The Blind Side, one a movie I need to see, and the other the first film in years of former gal pal Sandra Bullock that I may actually see at the theater.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bean Off Broadway

Unseen in New York since 1932, Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean has been resurrected by TACT. A review for New York Theater News.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Popdose: Movie cornucopia this Thanksgiving

And on the flipside: Not just DVD reviews of the sequel Angels & Demons and the Criterion release of the excellent Gomorrah, but a countdown of the Top 100 films of the decade, as compiled by our editors. What's on top? Hint, it's not Precious, but the precious...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Popdose: Movie misery this Thanksgiving

This is the dreariest turkey day selection of movies ever--partly because they're lame (a sequel to the so-so teenpic Twilight doesn't get my blood pumping) but mostly because they're so goddamned depressing--Precious (pictured), The Road, etc. Try not to kill yourself after reading this piece.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Popdose: Downhill Racer on DVD

Robert Redford on skis, in Michael Ritchie's debut feature. Does the Criterion disc cross the finish line?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Popdose: Wings of Desire on DVD

Wim Wenders' 1987 hit Wings of Desire has been reissued as a Criterion Collection title, just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of one of its principal locations, the Berlin Wall. Is it a transporting experience?

My own Wall fall story: I was living in Hong Kong when the momentous event occured. I was about to rent a new apartment. The prior tenant of the place (which had a glorious little view of the harbor) was a German woman who was returning to the country in tremendous haste--so fast, she asked me to please take all her furniture. I offered her some money but she said, no, it was OK, I was doing her a favor by letting her leave all the stuff behind. And off she went. The German people got their freedom, and I got free Ikea furniture that I owned for years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The new Prisoner

I'm hoping against hope that the reimagined Prisoner, which starts up on Sunday as a six-hour event, won't be too bad. AMC will always have a black mark in my book for trashing its movie programming but someone there must know something given the quality of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Though I own the Patrick McGoohan original on DVD I haven't really spent much time with the show since I gobbled it up on PBS years ago. But I've certainly read about it since then, not least in Video Watchdog magazine, and I remember it fondly. It was one of those shows that helped me grow up, to look at the world differently.

Not so, says the new No. 2, Ian McKellen. In a New York Times piece, the actor more or less calls the original, well, No. 2. “I thought it was camp, frivolous, something without substance, an entertainment without any weight or bottom to it,” he said. “I thought McGoohan was tremendous. He was terribly good at playing enigmatic, clearly angst-ridden and suffering, edgy and sexy too. It was all designed to intrigue and delight. But what was under the surface? Was there something?” Mr. McKellen added that he “wouldn’t have wanted to play the original, because it would just be playing a caricature, an idea, a symbol.”

But symbols have great power--more than too easily caricatured "reality," which is what I fear this soapier-looking redo, replete with backstory and the actor who played Christ, will amount to. McKellen's a smart guy, and a good blogger, and his emergence as a bankable character actor has been most welcome. (Then again, it seems that all British actors have to do is wait for the offers to come in from across the pond, as they do eventually.) He knows the value of publicity by going a negative; I'm sure Prisoner and TV chat rooms have lit up with his comments. But we'll soon see if he lives up to his hype and shows us what's under the surface.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mad Men and dinosaurs

In the grip of last night's third season finale of Mad Men, I had a dream. I dreamed that the show was excellent--and that I was really happy that there was only scene with dinosaurs. My gripe with the show had been that there was too much focus on dinosaurs, and I was pleased that--finally!--the producers had gotten it down to just one scene. I recall Don Draper and a T-rex hanging out together in a Jurassic Park setting.

What was going on here? Perhaps my sleeping self had somehow wired Mad Men and Primeval. Or maybe I was reacting to the notion that the modes of behavior in the show are extinct (or, like birds, have simply evolved). Perhaps I was nostalgic for a time in my own life when the idea of a workplace as a substitute family was appealing--does anyone think that way now? (Don's Manhattan family, dysfunctional as it is, is a lot more fun than the one collapsing on him upstate.)

Don't know. But I teared up at Don and Peggy's big scene. Television--dramatic art--at its finest. This show, at least, is far from an ice age in quality.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Popdose: DVD knockouts

TKOs this week: Costa-Gavras' Oscar-winning "Z," from Criterion, and a hard-hitting Samuel Fuller box set that includes the DVD debuts of The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The biggest losers

Clearly New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who won tonight, but not by much. The term limits shenanigans cost him, and all the money he threw at the election couldn't buy him a mandate. Expect a typically bumpy third term that tarnishes whatever legacy he's built up, then, I trust, out.

Second biggest loser: Me, for buying the atrocious Lionsgate DVD of an old favorite, John Huston's last film, The Dead (1987). The thing's apparently missing 10 minutes of footage, no surprise, really, given the label's careless handling of catalog releases. But I got burned.


From Dave Kehr's blog:

A brief interruption for a public service announcement. For those of you who may have purchased the new DVD of "The Dead" that apparently dropped a reel of the film, Lionsgate would like to make things right. Here's the release I just received:

It has come to our attention that due to a technical malfunction, the initial DVD shipment of John Huston's THE DEAD contained an incomplete version of the film. We deeply apologize to all our consumers for this unfortunate error and want to offer them an opportunity to replace their current copies with the complete version as soon as it is available to ship the week of November 23rd. We regret this inconvenience, as Lionsgate is committed to providing our consumers the highest quality home entertainment experience.

All consumers who purchased a copy and wish to receive the new complete version should do one of the following:

• EMAIL with their address and a scan/attachment of their receipt
• FAX (310) 222-5562 with their address and copy of their receipt
• MAIL their receipt along with a note including their address to: 20102 S Vermont Ave Torrance, CA 90502

Or please call (800) 650-7099 directly if you have any further questions.

But Lionsgate will not be recalling Bloomberg.

UPDATE: My corrected copy of THE DEAD arrived Dec. 17.