Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview: The Return of Kirsten Dunst (A Very Good Thing)

at the NYC premiere
of All Good Things.
It might sound silly to say, but seeing her in the flesh is something of a shock. Kirsten Dunst has been in the movies for many years, and she's made such indelible mark in them, whether as a child vampire, an unknowable teen dream, a disciplined cheerleader, a superhero's better half and so on; one half expects her to flicker when one meets her,as if she's being projected still. But there she was earlier this month at a New York City luncheon honoring her heartbreaking work in All Good Things. Her image did not fade or dissolve but remained steady in medium shot. She ate, she sipped, she walked around the room talking with reporters, friends and peers.

There was, however, a close-up. We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries. Then she was whisked off, not by a sharp edit, jump cut or a quick pan, but by her people taking her to the next reporter. Imagine it!

I remind her of the busy luncheon a few days later over the phone. She's already thousands of miles away.  This time, she's a disembodied voice which is surprisingly more familiar, like a movie image. "You were so in demand," I say, reminding her of the crowd and well-wishers.

"You know...," she says, and I do having been there, "A lot of babies to kiss. A lot of hands to shake."

Katie (Kirsten) fixes her husband's bow tie in All Good Things.

It's good to hear the smile in her voice and remember her amiable presence in the room that day. Especially considering the sadness that lingers from her fine work in All Good Things. People have won Oscar nominations for giving much less to their films than she does here, in one of her finest performances. She starts out sunny and delightful, the girlish woman we sort of recognize from numerous other films but she's soon torn apart by her husband's (Ryan Gosling) dark almost alien soul.  The film is based on a true story, the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Katie Marks (Kirsten), the bride of the heir to a wealthy New York family.  I've followed her career enthusiastically for many years, once even referring to her as "the future of the movies" but naturally we start with the present and the subject at hand.

It's not the first time she's played a real life character but how did she tackle someone who isn't easy to research, someone who went missing? Here Kirsten cedes most of the credit to her director, who knew the case inside and out.

Kirsten: Everything that we knew about [Katie] is in the script. She's not a public figure. Yes, she's a real person but not someone that we know her mannerisms. It was really about making her feel like a whole person that was unravelling, as he was in a way, someone with her own strong motives so it wouldn't just be The Victim of this crime.

Doomed Love
Nathaniel: You have to have the full range of their romance.

Kirsten: That was so important. You have to believe these people were completely in love with each other in order for her to stay and to excuse the behavior.

Nathaniel: Did anything change a lot from filming to the finished movie?  You're acting piecemeal and the movie takes place over a really long span. Did anything surprise you about the finished product?

Kirsten: With every movie you kind of never know how exactly it's going to come together. I had an idea but obviously I wasn't there for the last half of the movie. [She pauses briefly, considering] ...I only saw Ryan in drag once on the set so I wasn't sure how all that was going to come together.

While we were working we played things very differently; we improvised a lot. The scene where he asked me to marry him was very different in the script. We got to play around a lot which was exciting. But you never know what it's going to end up being.

Nathaniel: I thought it was interesting that this movie  opened so close to Blue Valentine, another unravelling Ryan Gosling marriage, and then I remembered that you've worked with Michelle Williams before on Dick. Hollywood is a small world.

[more on All Good Things, Eternal Sunshine, and her favorite films after the jump]

The Year In Funny

year in review parts 1-7
tear-jerkers, music videos, worst films, gay characters and more... 
Four Lions

Michael C. from Serious Film here for a few good laughs.

Any future film historians examining the tail end of 2010 will likely mark this year as dark days for screen comedy. Comedy icons Woody Allen and James L Brooks rolled twin gutter balls, while mainstream audiences lined up around the block to watch the star of Taxi Driver do 98 minutes of boner jokes. As if to rub salt in the wound, the Golden Globes saw fit to nominate an inexplicable slate of comedies that were, with few exceptions, unfunny, unexceptional, or in some cases downright awful.

Still, if you managed to look beyond the large pile of high profile duds there were plenty of laughs to be had in 2010. So here for your consideration is the year in comedy. Not the best movies overall, but purely those films and performances that most moved the needle on the laugh-o-meter.

Funniest Leading Man - Most movie funny men neatly divide their comedic and dramatic work. Kevin Kline will be a goofball in A Fish Called Wanda then it's goodbye mustache and hello serious face in Grand Canyon. With his daring work in I Love You Phillip Morris, Jim Carrey managed the best of both worlds delivering one of his fullest performances to date while still scoring big laughs as the relentlessly dishonest con man Steven Russell. Bonus Points: Though his character can barely go a full minute without lying, Carrey is able to let the audience see just how sincerely smitten he is, keeping his character from becoming a one-note huckster.

Funniest Leading Lady - Easy A may have been a formulaic piece of slick Hollywood fluff but that didn't keep Emma Stone from rising above the material to show just what formidable comedic chops she's packing. Stone pulls every laugh possible from this familiar material and then adds a few of her own. Bonus Points: Stone's minute-long soliloquy on the subject of aphrodisiacs was a symphony of first date awkwardness that had me guffawing out loud. Riffing wildly on oysters and Spanish fly, Stone makes a rapid series of funny faces, giggles at her own jokes, and manages to include both the phrases "painful urination" and "bloody discharge". A star is born. [previous posts]

Funniest Supporting Performance - I'm as surprised as you are, but damned if no supporting performance of 2010 made me laugh as much as Sean Combs playing Sergio, Get Him to the Greek's egomaniacal, hard-partying, half-crazed music executive. To merely dismiss this performance as a thinly veiled version of himself is, I think, to sell short a genuinely funny comedic showcase. Combs manages to steals scenes from two of the biggest names in comedy today - no minor feat.

Funniest Animated Performance - A three-way tie. Toy Story 3's Spanish Buzz Lightyear was a bolt of comic relief in the middle of the nerve-wracking climax. His mating dance for Jessie may be the comedic high point of 2010. The Illusionist managed to resurrect the gentle comic spirit of Jacques Tati in its protagonist, and like the live action version, his animated counterpart provides a movie's worth of warm smiles. Finally, in Tangled  [previous posts] Disney gave us one of their best supporting characters in ages with Maximus, the horse worth an entire squadron of royal guards.

Funniest Stare - Perched somewhere between a barn owl and Hannibal Lecter, Jonah Hill's level gaze is enough to reduce John C Reilly to cold sweats in Cyrus. Hill's oddball performance was the best thing about a film that often felt half-baked.

Funniest Parents - There are few roles more thankless than that of the parents in a teen movie. With the pressure off, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson [interview] took Easy A as an opportunity to crank up the zany charm and transform their limited screen time into a series of self-contained comic vignettes. Name another teen comedy where the audiences is hoping for more scenes where the lead goes home to talk it over with her parents.

Funniest Movie (From a Certain Angle) - It would be hard to argue with anyone who came out of Noah Baumbach's Greenberg asking, "What the hell was so funny about that?" But if you can summon a little pity for Stiller's filter-less malcontent, then you can see the humor in unleashing this out of control man-child on the greater Los Angeles area.

Funniest Movie That Is Not A Comedy - The Social Network is a unquestionably a drama, but it also has one of the highest laugh counts of the year. One could hear the audience actually pausing for a moment to absorb the sheer cleverness of a line before bursting out laughing. Bonus points for being the most quotable movie of the year.

Most Welcome Presence - Welcome back, Michael Keaton! How we missed you. He turned up to get laughs as both The Other Guys oblivious TLC-quoting police captain and as Toy Story's totally not a girl's toy, Ken. Here's hoping Hollywood keeps right on casting this comedic MVP.

Funniest Mystery Science Theater Fodder - Attention must be paid to the lovers of unintentional comedy, and those folks received a big gift with The Last Airbender. M. Night Shyamalan's epic mess hit the sweet spot of boundless silliness told with completely stone-faced solemnity. How many years until live audience-participation showings of Airbender spring up?

Biggest Waste of a Great Cast - Date Night. How can you gather a cast that includes Carrell, Fey, Franco, Kunis, Liotta, Fichtner, Wahlberg, Wiig, Ruffalo, and Taraji P Henson and still manage only minimal laughs? Put them through the motions of an exhausted plot nobody cares about involving stolen flash drives, car chases, and mobsters, that's how.

Somebody Get This Guy a Script -  Last year Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clements was wasted  in the universally hated Gentlemen Broncos. This year he is wasted in Dinner for Schmucks. One of my fondest 2011 wishes is that Clement gets a vehicle worthy of his priceless comic presence.

Funniest Ensemble - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. From Keiran Culkin's acid wit to Alison Pill's killer deadpan all the way down to the glorious appearance of the Vegan Police this cast is firing on all cylinders. And although everyone and their cousin have written about how Michael Cera needs to find a different role, Cera's comic timing in the title role was still spot on. [previous posts]

Biggest Waste of a Great Title - Hot Tub Time Machine. Surely we can use this title again? It's too good to blow it on these limp 80's jokes.

Biggest Let Down - I left all my critical faculties at the door and was ready for Robert Rodriguez's Machete to give me the guiltiest guilty pleasure ever, maybe this generation's answer to Kentucky Fried Movie. What I got was a movie that bored despite Lindsay Lohan in a nun's outfit shooting off a machine gun, all with a layer of deadly preachiness on top.

The Low Lows of High Concepts - When future generations ask what killed the romantic comedy I will sadly respond, "High concepts." Whether it was a magic wishing fountain in When In Rome, a special marriage proposal day in Leap Year, a sperm sample switcheroo in The Switch, or whatever was going on in Killers, Hollywood is so in love with their big ideas they forgot the little details like likable characters, relatable situations, or romantic chemistry.

I'll Pass - Grown Ups, Marmaduke, Little Fockers, The Bounty Hunter, Furry Vengeance...ugh... I can't go on. See you all at Wal Mart's 5.99 bin, or, more likely, the depths of the Netflix instant view selection.

The Ten Funniest Movies of 2010

One of the big surprises of the year. Despite an advertising campaign to the contrary we finally got an animated film that dropped the ironic Shrek-y pop culture references long enough to tell a sweet, straight-forward story. The result? Disney's best animated film in at least a decade and their funniest since The Emperor's New Groove.

It's getting more attention for Oscar-friendly tears than for laughs, but Lisa Cholodenko's heartfelt script was one of the most consistently entertaining and well observed of the year. We know the characters and their blind spots so well that we laugh and cringe in equal measure as they stumble directly into emotional land mines.

"Wait. Let me check your math."

Admittedly this is as hit or miss as most other McKay projects, but for my money the scale tips firmly in the favor of hits. And when the hits are as funny as Whalberg's ballet dancing, Ferrell on the subject of Tuna vs. Lions and Jackson and the Rock going out with a whimper instead of bang then you can't leave it off this list even though the odd gag lands with a thud (Ferrell's pimping past, I'm looking at you).

Again, not a perfect film but when a story barrels along with such confidence you just go along for the ride. Bouyed by Carrey's ferocious performance and strong supporting working by an endearingly dim Ewan McGregor and a sweet Leslie Mann, Phillip Morris plays like the funny, seedier cousin of Catch Me If You Can.

Russell Brand and company were right to think this one-off character had legs. This one was an example of that rare species: the solidly funny mainstream comedy that manages to be raunchy without being mean-spirited. Brand stakes his claim as a Hollywood star while Hill proves he can get laughs as the comic straight man. Plus it also gave the entertainment industry a good spoofing without stretching the material past believability.

Toy Story's tear-jerking scenes may be getting all the attention but the laughs here are just as big as ever. For starters, Mr. Tortilla Head is an instant classic, and Ken, Big Baby, and a group of method acting toys made for hilarious new additions. The opening fantasy sequence by itself would earn this a place on the list. By my estimation the "death by monkeys" gag alone was worth a half dozen cookie cutter Hollywood comedies.

While not the masterpiece it's most ardent fans are making it out to be, the films flaws are minor when compared to the film's successes. Whip smart gags, a witty visual style that pops, an ensemble with nary a weak link, and best of all, Edgar Wright's energetic direction which keeps the whole production rollicking along with a spirit of giddy invention. Any serious critical evaluation of the film should be prefaced with the acknowledgement that watching Scott Pilgrim is massive amounts of fun.

If you were lucky enough to catch this concert movie of Louis CK's stand up act as it toured the country last fall then you know what I know, which is that this is possibly the best stand-up special of its kind since Chris Rock exploded with Bring the Pain in '96. Louis CK does that thing that the greats do - actually getting us to see the world with new eyes. His riff on how the miracles of the modern age are wasted on today's whiney consumerists deserves comparison with the classic routines of George Carlin. Oh, and it's clutch-your-side-gasping, fall-out-of-your-chair funny.

More than any other comedy this year, Christopher Morris' Four Lions took big risks for its laughs. A comedy about a band of inept terrorists plotting attacks like a group of overgrown children playing in a treehouse, Lions is at once shocking and hilarious. Like the racial humor in Blazing Saddles it gets double laughs, one for the joke and a second one for getting away with what it did. In broad strokes these guys aren't much different than Waiting for Guffman's incompetent actors, in that the laughs come from the huge gap between their grandiose view of themselves and their stubborn lack of actual ability. There was infinite ways for this material to go wrong, but the infallible test of its success is whether or not we laugh, and I did. Loudly and often.

So let's hear it. What made you laugh the hardest this year, and which flicks left you sitting their stone-faced?

some tears to balance this out? Check out the Crybaby Countdown: Tearjerk-iest moments of 2010


Here Comes a New Year...

What's your biggest movie wish? (I haven't given 2011 that much thought yet but I'm hoping that the Pedro/Antonio reunion is worth the wait.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crybaby Countdown: The Tearjerk-iest Moments of 2010

year in review

Kurt here from Your Movie Buddy, getting honest about choking up. I live to cry at the movies, but it's so, so rare. It's like genuine belly laughs: they're great, but they just don't happen that much, especially for frequent, discerning filmgoers. My strongest recent memory of getting all sniffly would probably be during the candlelight vigil scene at the end of Milk. Such a powerful sight. I don't discriminate, though: I'm not afraid to admit I fell victim to the climax of the DeNiro weeper Everybody's Fine. Tearducts play by their own rules. Here's what gave mine a workout this year:


9. “Because it's important to you,” Date Night
It's no must-see, but Date Night scores major heartstring points as a valentine to long-term commitment. In the end, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey (let's call them “Stina”) have a lovely breakfast scene in which Steve throws in this affecting, encapsulating line about the couple's shared suburban pastimes.

8. Funeral scene, Undertow
Yes, it's another gay film stricken by tragedy. But it's a very, very moving one, especially in its closing scene, when in-denial protagonist Miguel (Cristian Mercado) at last pays tribute to the lover (Manolo Cardona) he lost too soon.

7. On the bench, Rabbit Hole
I don't have one specific scene to cite here, but rather every park scene Nicole Kidman shares with Miles Teller (who, IMO, was robbed of Supporting Actor attention). Their moments together are such wise, aching and beautiful depictions of forgiveness and mutual healing.

6. “Just read it to me, as a friend,” The King's Speech
For me, moving and plausible friendships are right up there with troop-rallying battle cries and father-son reconciliations in the lump-in-the-throat department. This moment between Firth and Rush runs deep.

5. Scrubbing the sidewalk, For Colored Girls
In the wrongly-reviled Tyler Perry melodrama, the suffering is constant, but a lot of it hits its mark. The most shattering scene is when Kimberly Elise is comforted by Kerry Washington during an unfathomable moment of post-traumatic cleansing. Then someone walks over her stain, and it's like claws to the soul.

4. Wedding, Blue Valentine
There are crushing moments aplenty in this oh-so-painful love story, but none trump that which finally shows you – in one gleaming-white, all-American flashback – all the initial hope and joy that's deteriorated through the course of this tragic couple's marriage.

3. Off to college, The Kids Are All Right
This hugely emotional au revoir is the perfect capper to everyone's new favorite family portrait. When all is said and done, family comes first, and at the end of the day, what's truly important is that the kids are...oh, you know.

2. Lantern release, Tangled
I liked the story of Tangled just fine, and Rapunzel's quest for freedom and identity is nicely developed, but what truly underscores this absolutely breathtaking peak of the Disney gem is its pure ability to transport: to childhood, to Disney's princess heyday, to movie heaven.

1. Moving on (Finale), Toy Story 3
I am not on the Toy Story 3 bandwagon by any means, but you better believe I was a puddle of mush just like everyone else during the final scene. I truly think it's one of the most emotional series finales in history. The greatness of its impact is that it's at once universal and personal: it feels like it's speaking to every viewer individually.

Need to laugh now? The YEAR IN COMEDY

Your turn, TFE readers. Spill it.  
What had you fighting back tears this year?

Let's Do the Link Warp Again

A note for  impatient readers: My top ten list is coming (I'm aiming for January 1st / 2nd) but first there's a couple year in reviews things and an interview with Kirsten Dunst. The new site will be up soon, too. Hopefully everything will be running smoothly within the next week.

Vulture Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu speaks out. Good read. I especially liked the Woody Allen bits.
/Film Remember when Buried won that surprise NBR Screenplay award. That's not the end of the film's Oscar campaign story...
Wired Patton Oswalt (The United States of Tara) asks for the death/rebirth of geek culture by ETEWAF (Everything That Ever Was... Available Forever). Really interesting piece, especially if you're feeling burnt out by the internet's constant regurgitation of past things and repurposing of newish things.
Playbill has a list of a ton of people's favorite theater moments of the year. I wish I could still afford theater. [sniffle]
Towleroad my weekly article with a teensy bit on the "depressing" double of Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine.
Cinema Blend Casper the Friendly Ghost is coming back to the movies. In Related News: Hollywood isn't even trying anymore. True story: I saw the Christina Ricci Casper (1995) at the drive-in and my best friend cried and we all made fun of him for weeks afterwards.

Three random questions:

  1. Do you think Anne Hathaway is pissed that her Oscar co-host gets the EW cover but Natalie Portman gets what would then, symmetrically speaking, be hers? 
  2. Will there be a single day in 2011 where we aren't staring at Natalie Portman's mug?
  3. Was there a day in 2010 when we didn't see James Francos?

The Awl Call this next year twenty-eleven, please not "two thousand eleven". A compelling funny argument.

Distant Relatives: Repulsion and Black Swan

Robert here, with my series Distant Relatives, where we look at two films, (one classic, one modern) related through a common theme and ask what their similarities and differences can tell us about the evolution of cinema.  Since one of these films is still in theaters, I thought I'd mention that while certain plot elements are revealed I've done my best not to spoil any of the film's dramatic resolution.

Women well into their nervous breakdowns

We love to watch people go mad in the movies.  We watch people go mad because of fame and money.  We watch people go mad because of war or tragedy.  And we watch people go mad because of the relentless pursuit of perfection.  We're especially fascinated by beautiful people going mad.  "I hate to do this to a beautiful woman," said one of the cameramen of Catherine Deneuve on the set of Repulsion.  As if tormenting a plain looking person would be somewhat less repulsive.  We envy and idealize the beautiful.  What reason should they have to go mad, when life has dealt them such a winning hand?

But Natalie Portman's Nina and Catherine Deneuve's Carol do spiral down into madness.  Both are haunted by visions of walking nightmares.  Both see their reflections become broken and distorted.  And both are eventually brought to violence.  Each film contains moments of such fierce discomfort, we begin to expect (or fear) that the director is capable of showing us anything.  Now that is horror.  A scene of cuticle cutting in Repulsion suggests that Darren Aronofsky was probably influenced by that film's understanding of our empathy toward hangnail trauma.  But it's not fear of physical pain that's the catalyst for these beauties' insanty.

Would you fuck that girl?
They're all the same these bloody virgins, they're all teasers that's all.
Sex is dirty.  Sex is bad.  Both of these women have stilted sexuality in a world that demands they be sex objects.  Each film does a superb job of getting us into their heads, making us understand how they see sex.  As Carol lies in bed at night, hearing the animalistic moans and grunts being made by her sister and her sister's beau in the next room, we agree that they don't sound sexy at all.  They don't sound like something Carol would want to partake in.  They don't sound like something we would want to do.  For Nina, a subway encounter with a perverted old man tells us all we need to know about how sex appears before her: dirty, aggressive, a violation.  There's nothing present that suggests the comfort of love or even the enjoyment of pleasure.

For both of these women, being virginal is part of attaining or maintaining perfection.  Carol's pursuit of this ideal is subconscious.  She doesn't hope to achieve anything by accomplishing it, but being spoiled by a man would be akin to falling from grace.  For Nina, avoiding sex is part of her active pursuit of artistic perfection.  Her mother has pushed her in the direction of the pure innocent ballerina.  When company director Thomas Leroy insists that sexuality is her only path to perfection, it both contradicts and reinforces her attitudes toward sexuality and innocence.  After all, he demands she become sexual to embody the black swan, the dark character.  So sex may now be the goal, but it's still something sinister.

No way out

The activeness of Nina versus the passiveness of Carol is one of the major differences between these two films.  Yet in both cases it seemingly makes their downfall more inevitable.  Carol has no direction in life, no goals, no hobbies even.  Her descent into madness seems a natural progression of that emptiness.  For Nina, her pursuit of artistic triumph is so great, it can only lead where it eventually does - downward.  What both of these women do share is obsession, and that, however manifest, is the key to their fates.  The two women justify their darkness differently as well.  Black Swan plays with the doppleganger (echoing Swan Lake).  Nina, perhaps unable to accept any darkness within herself, creates mirror images of herself, onto whom she can project her inner evil.  Carol recedes within herself, becoming further and further the eternal victim.  She rationalizes her actions as necessary self-defense.  She has to.  By the end of her film, even the walls are attacking her.

In the over forty-five years between these two films, we notice that audiences have changed little.  Stories of beauty and obsession are still captivating.  Both films present us with a heroine who the picture empathizes with and sexualizes, almost becoming another one of the many gazing and lecherous men that surround them.  Like Nina, Black Swan the film is more active in its pursuit of our emotional distress.  The film is bombastic, swirling around, throwing a large amount of stimuli at is from all sides.  Repulsion is more passive like Carol, building slowly to a point where fantastic images truly shock.  Both methods work for their respective films, though the more modern one is maybe indicative of a time when the weight of film history and media saturation requires images be louder.  But however the times have changed, we still respond to beauty in peril.  We still are shocked at beauty embodying evil.  And like that camerman we feel terrible about it, but keep it in our gaze.

see new episodes of this series

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Patty Clarkson's 2010 Triple: Cairo Time, Easy A and Shutter Island

come see the new blog

Patty and the NYC premiere
this summer
Earlier this month I met with Patricia Clarkson to discuss another fine year in one of the most pleasurable of modern character actor filmographies. Hers. I was waiting for the right opportunity to share it with you, and since Cairo Time is out on DVD, Academy voters are busy weighing the various Best Actress options, and today is Patty's 51st birthday, it was high time.

Through an unfortunate scheduling snafu I was less prepared when I met her than I am accustomed to being. I apologized with a wee warning that I'd be winging it. I bring this up because, as many of will remember, I have closely clocked her career. She came in at #2 in my 2005 countdown "Actresses of the Aughts" (yes we should revisit that list now that the decade has wrapped) and because I just want to share the unedited transcript. She was just so delightful to talk to. The punctuations and descriptions are my own of course to convey the flavor of the conversation. Happily, she's as vivacious and fun to interview as she is to watch onscreen.

Our conversation started by chatting about the NYC premiere of Cairo Time this past summer.

Nathaniel: Really enjoyed the movie. We didn't get a chance to talk afterwards at the banquet but you seemed very buoyant and happy that evening.

Patty: Yes. It was very nice night and it had been a long journey with the film. So... just up until then my mother and sister were in town. It was just a wonderful night to share it with my friends and my family [pause] ...and strangers.


Nathaniel: Strangers like me sitting at the corner table. But it was wonderful to see you carry a whole movie for change.

Patty: It's a nice thing. It's rare. You know, I've been the female lead in a few things but it's rare to really kind of carry a film -- especially for me but it's even rare for women in general. We're always sharing top billing with somebody, you know what I mean? Or we're often the supporting people. It's beautiful that Ruba [Ruba Nadda the writer/director] wrote a film with a woman, almost 50, in the lead. That's how she wanted it. I'm very thankful to her for that always.

Patricia as Juliette.
Nathaniel: This character ["Juliette" in Cairo Time] has a really slow burn. I mean the character arc is very gradual.

Patty: Very! So gradual. It's really truly one of the most deceptively difficult parts I've ever played in my career. Not only because you're in every frame and you're shooting every day all day. But emotionally, oddly, it was... [her voice trails off thinking of the work]. It's a very, very quarter-inch by quarter-inch slow burn progression.

Nathaniel: In a situation like that do you have to have a lot of trust that the editing, for example, would bear you out since there's not that one scene? If you compare it to something like Far From Heaven where you can play a hairpin turn in the character that's just so devastating.

Patty: Right. Well that's also such a more forward character. This is... she [Ruba] wrote a very passive protagonist -- I found it very beautiful -- a very setback reluctant, for lack of a better world, woman at times. Antithetical to me and often to many characters I've played which are very forward and very gregarious and very present. This is a woman who is reserved, truly reserved. But I still think lovely and approachable in her own way.

Nathaniel: One thing I loved about the movie was the costume design.

Patty: Beautiful dresses, yes.

Nathaniel: They went along with the gradual arc so well. And the resolution of the movie -- those final scenes are just beautifully played.

Patty: Oh, thank you. It's the courage that Ruba had to really trust that those scenes would work, that they'd stay with the film and take this very, very subtle intimate --no bells and whistles! -- film and be around for the end and have the payoff. Most of the people I've seen have gotten it. They took the journey and were moved and transported. So...

Patricia & Alexander Siddig in the final scenes of Cairo Time

Nathaniel: Would you reteam with Alexander Siddig when you could let 'er rip more?

Patty: IN ANYTHING! There will be a sequel to Cairo Time. And it's just me and Alexander on a train. I've already written it. Ruba doesn't know about it but I've written it. And neither does Alexander.

[Much laughter]

Alexandre Desplat Interview Part 2

Part 1 "How to Watch Movies... with Alexandre Desplat"

Part 2 Excerpts
Alexandre Desplat is the busiest composer in film but he made time to talk a few weeks back. My profile will be up at Tribeca Film in January but for now I thought I'd share a few unused excerpts from our conversation whilst Academy voters are presumably scribbling down his name on their ballots for Best Original Score. But will they vote for The King's Speech or The Ghost Writer? [We discussed both movies ~ coming in Part 3.]

We'll know which score the voters preferred on January 25th unless, who knows, maybe they'll both be nominated? A double dipping wouldn't be unprecedented in that category and considering Desplat's workload it's bound to happen eventually.

On Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
official soundtrack page

Nathaniel:  Is it difficult to take over something, a franchise, with ten years of pre-existing themes like Harry Potter? Did you have a lot less freedom?

Desplat: Well, John Williams, being one of the best composers of last 50 years, if not the last master of them all; I was more than happy to use some of his themes. The only theme that was meant to be reprised was "Hedwig's Theme" which has become kind of the Harry Potter main title. As I was starting work on the film I let my imagination go in many territories around this theme. When I was spotting the movie and started diving into the film it occurred to the director [David Yates], more even to me, that the theme did not have much left to do in this story because they're away from their school and the heroes are now grownups and this lovely world of fantasy is not their world anymore. So we used it two or three times early in the film almost to get rid of it, like they're getting rid of their childhood. It's part of their childhood to which they say goodbye. And the theme just vanishes for the same reasons.

On Process and Inspiration

Nathaniel: Is your process different for each film? How do you even begin the work?

Desplat: It differs for each film. The King's Speech I was shown the movie almost on its final cut. Some other films I get the script beforehand -- I got the The Ghost Writer script a year before. It's all very different which is good because you have to find different energies and different ways of getting inspiration. The main issue is how do you get excited, how do you get your cortex in movement? It could be from reading the script, it could be from seeing the images. Watching the images remains what I prefer because it has what the film has become. Reading the scripts it still belongs to literature so I am almost in favor of watching the first edit.

On Composing For International Cinema
I was struggling with a question about Jacques Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped (one of my favorite Desplat scores) and he saved me by predicting the question and jumping in.

Desplat discussing Benjamin Button with David Fincher

Desplat: You know the only difference is the language because the directors have the same obsessions. Even though they have their own grammar it's always the same vocabulary: closeup, wide shot, tracking shot, overhead shot, aerial shot, whatever. How many actors and the way you put them in the frame? So it's just a matter of communication for me to be able to translate in music what the director wants. Again, If the director has a strong point of view I enjoy the process that brings the music into his films. It's just a matter of spending time together, exchanging ideas.

I would always choose to work on a project that the story or the director resonates with me. With Ang Lee, Jacques Audiard or David Fincher, I found the same notion of exchange. These filmmakers have actually a huge cinephilia behind them. They know the history of cinema as well as I do. So we are in the same territory in a way.

Nathaniel: You're speaking the same langauge.

Desplat: Exactly.

On Oscar Ballots
You know I had to ask him about this.

Nathaniel: In addition to enjoying Oscar nominations, you've been a member of AMPAS for the past few years. When it comes time to judge other composers and fill out your ballot, what are you looking for?

Desplat: I want to see what the composer brings to the film that was not there -- what else is the score bringing? Is it just following the action or opening a dimension of emotion that only this score could create? That's what i'm looking for, to be moved and surprised.

And also I'm interested in the instrumentation, if the composer takes chances, puts himself in danger. Comfort has never been good to artists. I don't mean every day comfort. It's good to eat and have hot water but I mean the artistic comfort zone where you repeat yourself... [he spoke at length about why this happens and that you must avoid it]

Desplat admires Maurice Jarre's experimentations in the 80s.

So when Maurice Jarre in the early 80s stops doing orchestra scores and dives into the electronic and makes, with Peter Weir, almost a revolution in film scoring, that's a great move. I'm always impressed by these kinds of actions.

But at first I look at the movie. I'm trying to be like a sponge just waiting for the emotion to overwhelm me. And if the score is good, it will.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Year in Review: Music Videos a.k.a. Short Movie Musicals

I couldn't be happier that the music video has regained its cultural capital in the age of YouTube. There's something about the form that is just magical. Or maybe it's just that it's been the most reliable fix for movie-musical lovers during the past 30 years. You can pretend these 3 to 5 minute show stoppers are but one scene in a larger movie musical, can't you? At least that's what I do with my favorite videos.

So herewith, several favorites in no particular order. If you're wondering what music videos have to do with The Film Experience remember that they're short films and that this year's most celebrated director David Fincher (The Social Network) started that mammoth career by making mammoth music videos for Madonna (among others).

Please to enjoy. And let me know your favorite(s) in the comments.

Why only 8? I ran out of steam. You don't have time to watch 10 anyway.

Brandon Flowers "Crossfire"

In which Charlize Theron kicks much ninja ass. I love the self-effacing helplessness of your rock star hero who just can't stop getting into predicaments from which his hot girl (Charlize) must rescue him. Movie stars slumming in music videos is one of the best things in the world though this video does bring up my constant worry about Charlize: Why is she so awesome without making any movies worth caring about?

Janelle Monáe (feat. Big Boi) "Tightrope"

Those feet. The way they slide, spin, shuffle, dance. It's quite a feat.

Cosmo Jarvis "Gay Pirate".

I heart this so hard. That "Yo Ho" chorus is to die. Plus, it's lit and choreographed cleverly for one take (joy) and it's easily enjoyable both on the surface -- gay pirates!  -- and moreso if you want to dig deeper (think don't ask don't tell) which is the best kind of artistic trick.

But there's more: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gaga, and more one-take madness coming...

Yes, No, Maybe So Double: "Hanna" and "The Other Woman"

It's a double dip for Yes No Maybe So as we're way behind. Can't the movie world just stop for a little bit during the holidays so that we can all enjoy the movies we have right in front of us? Too many things. Too many things. Here's a girlish double and we'll get more manly in the next installment.

Let's start with The Other Woman which used to be called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (better less generic title) starring the ubiquitous Natalie Portman. And that's ubiquitous with a capital U because, really, she's only going to get more inescapable from here on out.

The Other Woman

First there's this movie, then there's that Ashton Kuchner romcom, then Your Highness, then there's Thor (yes, 4 releases in 2011) plus the next two months of awards shows and then the wedding and the baby and so on. Is she aiming for Jolie/Pitt levels of über celebrity status? You won't be able to get away from her. You're going to look in the mirror and see Natalie Portman.

Don Roos's key successes (The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings) were told in a unique voice (always a plus) and revealed a deft hand with actors. His frequent collaborator Lisa Kudrow (yay!) plays the first wife and I think everyone wants to know if Natalie, post-Swan even though this was shot earlier, is going to be able to up her game as she moves into her thirties.

On the other hand this looks soft, overly happy and above all unfocused (child rearing, adultery, infant death, custody battles, family bonds, the kitchen sink). It also displays this other woman and asks you to root for her to win the married man which is...unnngh. Really? But it's a trailer, and maybe this isn't at all easy to summarize. Roos, particularly in Happy Endings, was able to balance a lot of flawed characters and emotional arcs. So maybe the marketing department just doesn't know what to do with it?

Despite what seems like far too many plot points (especially for a trailer) you have to admit there's a certain amount of 'wow... this could go in all sorts of interesting emotional directions.' That is if, and it's a big if, the trailer is a false witness to the actual tone.

It doesn't look promising to me but I am curious. You?

This trailer and discussion has presumed spoilers.


Next we have Saoirse Ronan training for kills in the woods, with the dissonant mix of modern music and fairy tale titles. Little Saoirse's eventual target: Cate Blanchett.

You can't say that Joe Wright skimps on acting talent lining up Queen Blanchett to square off against Eric Bana (daddy?) and Saoirse Ronan (baby girl?). You also can't say that he didn't earn a couple films worth of experimentation and possible failure after his first two terrific pictures (Pride & Prejudice and Atonement).

I know that the deady little girl thing is a rite of passage for all underage startlets (just ask Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, Dakota Fanning and Chloe Moretz and whoever gets cast in Hunger Games) but I can't say that the child soldier thing is for me. Rooting for trained assassins is so ... unpleasant. Child assassins? Even worse. Why is it such a popular genre? And isn't the trailer giving away a huge twist. [SPOILER?] Isn't it basically saying that Saoirse is Cate's daughter and that Cate is the villain rather than the victim/target? [/SPOILER?]

Visually there are a handful of hooky images and many trailers don't succeed at that even though they all try. Maybe Joe Wright and team could provide real chills (acting) and thrills (action).

So I guess that's two Maybe Sos for me. How are you feeling about seeing either of these pictures?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Lisa Kudrow Binge

"I don't need to see that."
This week I accidentally binged on Lisa Kudrow.

I've usually enjoyed her comic movie roles (especially in the Don Roos films The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings) though I was a little unnerved by what seemed to be an encroaching bitterness in her comic persona the last time couple of times we visited (Kabluey and Easy A). I was starting to miss "Phoebe"'s sunniness on early seasons of Friends.

But I had somehow never seen The Comeback (2005) which I watched this week (two episodes left... maybe I should save them). Its very brilliance probably doomed it as it's an exceedingly uncomfortable showbiz comedy. Its comic impulses have satiric bite... one might call it comedy with real fangs. I was squirming even while laughing loudly. Immediately after watching those I tried a few episodes of Web Therapy, which I am also super late to -- hey, I'm too busy with the movies-- and now I'm fully back on Team Kudrow which I had somehow slipped away from. I got so nostalgic for past Kudrow glory that I even ended up looking up what Jennifer Aniston & Courtney Cox were up to, which I assure you I have never purposefully done before, though I do watch and enjoy Cougar Town on occasion.

Kurdow laughing at Streep's guest
role antics on Web Therapy
It's fascinating that Kudrow's big fame began with such a naive neo-Bohemian persona as Phoebe Buffay and now she so eagerly conquers these self-lacerating or unlikeable characters... It's almost like she's been morphing over the year's from Phoebe to Phoebe's misanthropic twin Ursula. Remember her?

My point is this: Lisa Kudrow is talented and underappreciated, even if she's not exactly underrewarded - hello gazillion$ in Friends residuals. She's probably only less of a mainstream presence now because her preferred style of comedy is of the take-no-prisoners variety.

Here's the first of the three most recent episodes of Web Therapy (episode #46) which starred Meryl Streep (as "therapist" Camilla Bowner) who is doing reparative therapy on Fiona Wallice's (Lisa Kudrow's) gay husband. Wickedly subtle humor courses under the less subtle verbal gags ... it's all in their nuanced line deliveries, reactive beats and funny expressions.

Are you now or have you ever been on Team Kudrow?

Related Reading:
Signatures: Lisa Kudrow
Monologue: "Michelle's Miracle Glue"

Utah & Phoenix Film Critics: 127 Inceptions For the King

It's so cute that film critics circles are so interested in "their own" as it were. Boston is always accused of rallying behind Boston-set films (in their defense they often have many of them to choose from) and a few days back Utah, where 127 Hours takes place, really handed that film some water in its moment of need. Not that the Academy voters are actively debating Utah's choices before filling out their ballots this week... they're more likely to be swayed by James Franco's grandma (see video after the jump).

But given that 127 Hours has been slipping down a thin rocky crevice away from sunny awards heat (AWKWARD METAPHOR ALERT) it'll take every honor it can get. Will AMPAS go for it or do we have another Into the Wild (2007) on our hands i.e. lots of preseason heat, little to show for it on Oscar nom morn?

Link House

In Contention on another 'Year of the Woman.'
Acidemic's wildly surprising top ten. Erich is his own man as a critic. Which is why I like reading him.
BoingBoing life size wax figure of Patrick Swayze in Road House. No really.
Playbill if you're in NYC for the holidays, a ton of good shows are closing. Here's your last chance to see them.
Movie|Line Mike Ryan looks back at his year interviewing celebrities.
The Wrap 25 new films for the National Historic Registry including A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Exorcist.
Chateau Thombeau Joan Crawford in a loud dress. (love the punchline)

And now from the completely random department,  Ranker has a list of the "steamiest incestuous relationships on film" a perfect topic for the, uh, holidays? The list has a surprising amount of good films on it (from Chinatown --um the incest is not steamy. Ewww! -- to The Lion King (yes, really) to The Dreamers). But the obvious exclusion, and you can't really make a list this specific without including it is Close My Eyes which features a very young and constantly naked Clive Owen as a man who just really loves his big sister. Do you love Clive Owen? Like a brother or...

Where he be anyway?

Box Office Blather: Jeff Bridges Double Dips

A weekly box office series, in beta, to see if we like. To remind you that you're here and not elsewhere and we can't just do things normally, we'll come at it from weird angles when we can.

Jeff Bridges stars in TRON GRIT
  1. Little Fockers $30 NEW
  2. True Grit $24.8 NEW
  3. Tron Legacy $19.5 (cumulative: $87.3)
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader $9.4 (cumulative: $62.5)
  5. Yogi Bear $7.8 (cumulative: $35.8)
  6. The Fighter $7.6 (cumulative: $26.6)
  7. Tangled $6.4 (cumulative: $143.6)
  8. Gulliver's Travel $6.3 NEW 
  9. Black Swan $6.2 (cumulative: $28.6)
  10. The Tourist $5.4 (cumulative: $40.8)
  11. The King's Speech $4.4 (cumulative: $8.3)
  12. How Do You Know $3.5 (cumulative: $15)
With Little Fockers and True Grit topping the charts and we experience an unexpected flashback. Bridges & Babs haven't dipped into the top box office together since The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). And this time Jeff is double-dipping.

♪ this is it... OHHHH i finally found someone... someone to share my life ♪♫

The first thing to note is that Jeff Bridges is hogging the higher altitudes of the chart as both True Grit's grizzled Rooster Cogburn and the god/father figure for Garret Hedlund (and cross-generational computer geeks) in Tron Legacy. I haven't seen the latter picture but it's good to see Bridges back in sleeker form again after those last two sloshed rundown beer-bellied men in Grit and Crazy Heart. The new old western is is now the Coen Bros' best opening narrowly beating Burn After Reading (2008) which, had almost exactly the same budget but more stars to sell itself with. No Country For Old Men (2007) is their highest grosser though. Will Grit surpass it?

art by Daniel Foez

Couple other things.
  • You'd think the Narnia series would die as its box office descends with each film but it's still popular globally and the budget on this one dropped considerably. Does it show?
  • Christmas was the first wide weekend for The King's Speech, arguably the only major film relying entirely on Oscar buzz to sell tickets. (You can't really count the films that have barely even tried to open and they are unfortunately many.)
  • Tangled is holding well, despite losing some theaters to Christmas fare, demonstrating long legs to accessorize that golden hair. It'll need them. For some reason it cost $260 to make -- which is at quite a bit more expensive than the three animated films which have outgrossed it this year. Was it the frequent retooling that made it that expensive? It'll presumably be awhile before profits once you factor in marketing costs.
Speaking of animated fairytales... Does anyone else remember The Last Unicorn? Is that even on DVD? Here's Jeff Bridges (as the charming Prince) serenading/romancing Mia Farrow (the unicorn)

 It's not some sick interspecies romance because somehow she's a beautiful woman and not just a unicorn. No, I don't remember the story at all.

Three questions to send you on your way: 
  1. The Mirror Has Two Faces? Go. (even if you haven't seen it you MUST read this awesome review of it by Glenn at Stale Popcorn. It's laugh out loud funny)
  2. Aren't you glad Jeff's musical talents improved before The Fabulous Baker Boys and Crazy Heart?
  3. What did you see over Christmas?
Barbra Streisand