I'll be on vacation until Dec. 8, but I will pop in here sporadically for the occasional rambling, such as telling you what I thought of Che (which I am finally seeing Monday).
A happy holiday to all.
Here are the slightly wine-fueled text messages I sent to my editor Sara Frederick over the course of tonight's series-ending episode of The Shield. Her messages are in bold italics. I will spare you the content of our voice conversations during each commercial break. (note: just because I theorize about plot developments doesn't mean they actually took place):
- 9:59 p.m. I can't believe this is the LAST Shield!
- 10:00 p.m. I'm scared!
- 10:01 p.m. Me too. Really!
- 10:09 p.m. Corinne is gonna shoot Vic.
- 10:37 p.m. I'm shutting this off.
- 10:37 p.m. No!!!!!!!!!!!
- 10:39 p.m. It's too painful. Poor Shane! I hope he makes it.
- 10:39 p.m. I want them all to. How do you get addicted so freaking quickly?
- 11:10 p.m. Dutch is a serial killer!
- 11:10 p.m. You think?
- 11:11 p.m. YES
- 11:18 p.m. OMG!
- 11:28 p.m. I hate this show.
- 11:29 p.m. I'm very upset. What do you think is going to happen to Vic?
- 11:31 p.m. HA!
- 11:34 p.m. This is AWESOME.
- 11:38 p.m. GENIUS
Australia is being marketed as the kind of old-fashioned romantic epic Hollywood rarely makes anymore, and after you've sat through it, you'll be thankful they don't.
It's not that the movie lacks ambition or showmanship: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet), who co-wrote and directed the film, couldn't make a boring movie if he tried. Australia has no shortage of spectacular sights, be it a cattle drive in which the runaway herds are stampeding toward a cliff, the Japanese bombing of Darwin (which made Pearl Harbor look like a brush fire), or the impossibly blue eyes of Nicole Kidman, who is clearly a magical being, since she looks more beautiful with every movie she makes.
It's the whole of Australia that is the problem. This is a cockeyed, daft picture that aims to ground its Harlequin-ish romance between Sarah (Kidman), an upper-class Englishwoman, and Drover (Hugh Jackman), a rough-and-tumble cowboy, in a historical background detailing the country's racist assimilation policies, which included sequestering young Aborigines of mixed descent and teaching them the "proper" ways of the white world.
One such boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), plays a key role in the on-again, off-again affair between Sarah and Drover, who become his surrogate parents after the death of his mother (one of the film's few genuinely moving moments). The elements are all there for a stirring, passionate adventure, right down to a moustache-twirling baddie (David Wenham) who is so cartoonishly evil, it is shocking to discover that not only is he married, but that his wife is a good, noble woman instead of a Satan worshiper.
But the script, which Luhrmann co-wrote with Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), lacks the kind of pacing this sort of material requires. Australia moves in fits and starts - the film's middle third brings the story to a standstill - and Luhrmann never finds a consistent tone for his expansive (and expensive) epic.
At times, Australia plays like a comedy (a humorous high-point: Sarah's first glimpse of a kangaroo, which quickly devolves from delight to horror); in other moments, the movie comes off as a satire of bodice rippers ("I mix with dingos, not duchesses!" Drover snarls at the thought of shacking up with the dainty Sarah). There is also a recurring motif based on The Wizard of Oz intended to add a touch of whimsy to the already overloaded film.
Instead, it just makes Australia feel longer than it already is. The picture does succeed at exploring a period of the country's history that may not be familiar to Western audiences, and Luhrmann once again proves he is incapable of framing an uninteresting image. But you know something's amiss when you're in the middle of a movie that runs under three hours and you're tempted to whip out your cellphone and send friends a text message that reads "Send food."
Monday Nov. 24
Here's a link to my holiday film preview that ran in today's Weekend section (is that the most ridiculously cute Weekend cover of all time, or what?
Go here to check out my interview with Marley & Me director David Frankel, which also appeared today.
Frankel, who lives in Coconut Grove, will be appearing at a seminar at the Miami Beach Cinematheque entitled From Florida to Hollywood: Conversations With David Frankel, in which he'll talk about the differences between shooting in South Florida (where he made Miami Rhapsody and Marley & Me) and the Hollywood-New York circuit (where he shot Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada and the Entourage pilot, among other).
Frankel, who graciously let me yak his ear off for 90 minutes when I interviewed him for Marley, is a smart and engaging storyteller, and the seminar is completely free, so you should really check it out. It'll be held from 6:30-8:30 Nov. 25 at the Cinematheque, 512 Espanola Way, Miami Beach. I'd go see him too if I wasn't seeing a movie that night. Go here for more details.
I missed Tuesday night's screening of Twilight in order to see The Wrestler, so I'll have to brave the crowds this weekend and check it out at a regular showing.
The early reviews popping up around the web seem to confirm my impression of the film based on the trailer. Variety's Justin Chang called Twilight "a disappointingly anemic tale of forbidden love that should satiate the pre-converted but will bewilder and underwhelm viewers who haven’t devoured Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling juvie chick-lit franchise."
Roger Ebert essentially concurred, predicting the movie will more than satisfy its target audience. Ebert also deftly condenses the entire story into a couple of quick sentences: "Come on now, what is Twilight really about? It's about a teenage boy trying to practice abstinence, and how, in the heat of the moment, it's really, really hard. And about a girl who wants to go all the way with him, and doesn't care what might happen. He's so beautiful she would do anything for him."
The Associated Press' Christy Lemire came down hardest on the film, claiming "much of what made the relationship between Edward and the smitten Bella Swan work in Meyer's breezy book has been stripped away on screen. The funny, lively banter — the way in which Edward and Bella teased and toyed with one another about their respective immortality and humanity — is pretty much completely gone, and all that's left is a slog of adolescent angst."
Finally, there's The Herald's movies editor Sara Frederick, who is a big fan of the books and reviewed the film for us. Her critique will be posted a little later today, but she recommends bringing along a certain accessory when you go see the movie this weekend:
"Note to mothers and teenage boyfriends accompanying Twilight fans to the theater: Bring earplugs. You'll want to protect your hearing from the shrieks and screams coming from teenage girls. And there will be screams each time a beloved character from the first novel in Stephenie Meyer's bestselling young-adult series appears for the first time; each time a particularly juicy line of dialogue from the book is recalled; and each time the story's star-crossed lovers touch."
I skipped tonight's screening of the much-anticipated Twilight (which, judging by the trailers, looks terrible; sorry!) in order to catch a screening of The Wrestler, in which Mickey Rourke makes a triumphant comeback as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging pro wrestler on the indie circuit whose life fell apart long ago - and whose body is now following suit.
Darren Aronofsky, who directed The Wrestler, has set aside all the extreme style he brought to Pi and Requiem For a Dream, as well as the twisting narrative of The Fountain, in order to tell a straightforward, linear story anchored by two sensational performances.
Just as crucial to the success of the film is Marisa Tomei as a single mother who moonlights as a stripper and is the closest thing to a romantic partner as The Ram has in his life. Tomei is fantastic in the part, bringing poignancy, dignity and emotional complexity to a role that could have easily come off as a cliche.
But this is Rourke's show through and through - the kind of pairing of actor and role so ideal, it usually comes along only once in a career. Despite the gaudy brutishness of his profession, The Ram is something of a teddy bear - a good-hearted, achingly lonely man scrambling to fill the void that has consumed his life now that he's no longer a wrestling superstar. And despite Rourke's tough-guy screen persona, he's at his best when playing gentle, misunderstood giants.
I'll be writing more about The Wrestler closer to its release (it's not scheduled to open in South Florida until Jan. 16). Tomorrow I'm interviewing Aronofsky and Tomei, who are in town and showed up at tonight's screening at the Regal South Beach to do a Q&A with the audience after the film. Below is a crappy picture I took with my cellphone, but they're so tiny in it the photo is useless.
Aronofsky said it was cool to be showing the movie on Lincoln Road, since he first met with Rourke to discuss the role at an Italian restaurant across the street. He said he was drawn to Robert D. Siegel's screenplay because unlike boxers, "no one's ever told a story about a wrestler and no one's seen it before."
The filmmaker also said he purposely shot the film in a plain, near-documentary style because "I wanted to do something very different than I had done before. You have to change and reinvent yourself and keep growing."
Aronofsky also said that Rourke wished he could have been there tonight and "sends his love to everyone in Miami," but that he was stuck in New York doing interviews for the film. So what are we, chopped liver? I hope I get some phone time with him for my story.
Tuesday Nov. 18
The Wrestler (2008)
Will Smith and his Seven Pounds co-star Rosario Dawson stopped by The Herald's newsroom this afternoon to talk about the film. Normally, I would have interviewed them at some fancy hotel (usually this one), but a studio publicist told me Will didn't want to be cooped up all day and preferred to come to us, instead of the other way around.
I chatted with both of them about Seven Pounds for a story that will run next month. I also briefly asked Smith about that Oldboy remake he and Steven Spielberg are reportedly preparing. Here's what Smith had to say:
Q: So is this Oldboy remake really happening? Because I can't quite picture you playing that character, considering how the movie ends and where the story goes.
A: We're working from the original source material. That element you're talking about - what's in the movie - is actually a deviation from the original source material. That was their artistic choice, and it worked for that market, but it was actually a deviation. We haven't even started getting into it yet, though.
On his way out of the newsroom, Smith graciously agreed to make a surprise appearance at the editors' news meeting and say a boisterous hello to a slightly startled Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, pictured below.
You can read more about Smith's visit to the Herald here.
Now that The Road won't be out until 2009, there's only one movie coming out this year I am anticipating more than the series finale of The Shield, which airs Nov. 25 (coincidentally, the very same day I am seeing said movie).
Here's an interview with Michael Chiklis and series creator Shawn Ryan talking to The Hollywood Reporter about The End. It sounds like Vic Mackey is in store for some major karmic comeuppance.
Saturday Nov. 15
Bolt (2008): Cute.
Sunday Nov. 16
Madhouse (aka There Was A Little Girl...) (1981): One of the lesser known entries in the list of 74 "video nasties," or movies banned in the U.K. in the 1980s for inappropriate content. The story of a woman terrorized by her evil twin sister, who has a nasty skin rash and a man-eating Rottweiler, the movie is receiving its first-ever DVD release in the U.S. courtesy of Dark Sky Films. As is sometimes the case with films on the list, it's hard to understand why it was banned, unless the British censors wanted to shield the public from some hilarious sequences involving an incredibly fake-looking rubber dog that made me think of Triumph finally losing his temper and going on a rampage.
The Sentinel (2006): Sat through this one primarily for completion's sake, and also because director Clark Johnson played a recurring role in the last season of The Wire (and directed the series finale, along with several episodes of The Shield). Rote and by-the-numbers, although I find Michael Douglas to be the kind of actor (like Gene Hackman or Michael Caine) who can make any movie watchable simply by being in it.
The new Watchmen trailer playing in front of Quantum of Solace this weekend is even better than the first, although I kinda miss the Smashing Pumpkins song from the previous trailer. The new one uses pieces of Philip Glass' score for Koyaanisqatsi, which is one of the great movie scores of all time, but it's been overused.
Meanwhile, if you want to get an early peek at the trailer for J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek reboot, click here .
CNN reports Wal-Mart will be offering a Magnavox Blu-ray player on Black Friday for a measly $128, a price that should push a lot of people who have been contemplating jumping into the format over the edge.
The player is only Profile 1.1 compliant, which means that you won't be able to connect to the Internet and partake of the BD-Live online features some discs offer. But most people will never use those anyway. So it's really just a matter of braving those Black Friday crowds, which can be pretty intimidating.
Friday Nov. 14
I've Loved You So Long (2008): When I saw Frozen River in August, I figured there was no way anyone could beat Melissa Leo for the Best Actress Oscar. Now, I'm 100 percent certain Kristin Scott Thomas has the award in the bag for her performance as a woman readjusting to the outside world after a long stint in prison. Elsa Zylberstein, who plays her sister, is also guaranteed a Supporting Actress nomination. They're both fantastic. (Opens Nov. 21).
Seven Pounds (2008): Sony Pictures has done an exemplary job of selling this one without spoiling the entire story, which is good, because the movie is built around the same mystery as the trailer, which is: Why is Will Smith helping seven strangers, and what, exactly, is he going to do for them? This is a full-bore, dead-serious (and heavy) drama, with only a few fleeting moments of levity that allow Smith to trade on his familiar persona. Serious tear-jerking action ensues in the final half-hour, but I felt more manipulated than moved throughout, at least up until the very last scene, which isn't as obvious as everything that had preceded it. Also: The title finally makes sense, but there's no way to explain what it means without ruining the movie. (Opens Dec. 19).
I interviewed Gus Van Sant via telephone yesterday for his upcoming Milk, which opens Nov. 26. One of the things I hate about interviewing filmmakers by phone is that if the conversation starts out on an awkward note, it is really difficult to set it right before your allotted 15-20 minutes are up.
I am much better at salvaging an interview gone wrong in person, because on the phone I end up getting all tongue-twisted and stammery when I feel I'm losing the other person's attention. This never happens in a face-to-face, because I happen to have a really loud voice that I know how to use to either a) make people listen to me, or b) annoy the hell out of them.
Van Sant is an exceedingly nice guy who I've interviewed many times in the past, but he's a little spacey and distant and his focus tends to drift if he's not feeling engaged. Suffice to say that this was not one of my best efforts.
I did, however, manage to seize his attention when I pointed out how smart I thought it was to show Anita Bryant in the film only through real news footage, instead of having an actress play her, because the things that come out of her mouth are so outrageous, they would only seem credible if you were watching the actual person.
"What you just said is exactly why we did it," Van Sant said. "I fell into a search for stock footage of her because of a suggestion in the script [by Dustin Lance Black] that indicated we should only use stock footage to depict her, because he didn't think it would sound right coming from an actor. It would sound corny and odd. And he was right. If he hadn't suggested it, we probably would have cast the character."
For its first 20 or so minutes, Synecdoche, New York, the directorial debut of the Oscar-winning, mind-bending screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, appears to be a meditation on death. We first meet its protagonist, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), while he's lying in bed listening to a radio talk show host prattle on about the arrival of fall is a metaphor for the arrival of death.
"I don't feel well," Caden informs his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) over breakfast, but she's too busy minding their young daughter to pay him much attention. A visit to the doctor reveals something may in fact be wrong with Caden physically, and he's soon sprouting pustules all over his body.
Hovering at the edges of all this are fleeting elements of the surreal (like Caden showing up in a cartoon his daughter watches on TV) that seem to signal Synecdoche, New York is building towards a fantasia about a man confronting his own mortality. But that turns out to be far too limited a description for Kaufman's ultimate ambition.
I cannot properly tell you what Synecdoche, New York is about, because even after seeing the film, I haven't a clue. What I can definitely and conclusively say is that although I did not exactly enjoy watching the movie - it has maddeningly tedious and repetitive stretches - I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, either.
Kaufman, of course, has never colored inside the lines as a screenwriter (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). But this movie makes those earlier pictures seem like the work of someone who was just getting warmed up. On the surface, Synecdoche, New York tells the story of what happens to Caden (and the various women in his life) after Adele leaves him, he receives a MacArthur Grant and devotes himself to creating a "massive theater piece" that will be uncompromising and honest.
But the movie, which gradually departs from all traditional logic and reality, is not what about happens next, but what it makes you contemplate as you're watching it. The more you ruminate on Synecdoche, New York - which starts folding into itself as Caden's play consumes his life (and everyone in it) - the more resonance you find in it.
Kaufman is grappling with big themes usually reserved for dense literature: the meaning of life, its sadness and tragedy, the devices and traps we use to manipulate, get along with, or simply tolerate other people. The movie is overstuffed with ideas, many of them visual (like the house of one of the characters, which is always on fire, yet no one ever mentions is - the elephant in the room), and it is improbably - no, impossible, to take them all in with one viewing.
Kaufman doesn't care: This is not that kind of movie. Synecdoche, New York defies simple description, and I can't say, after seeing it once, it is entirely successful. But despite my fidgeting and occasional watch-checking during my first viewing, I'm looking forward to seeing it again, when I suspect a few of its teasing, beguiling mysteries will become a little clearer. But just a few. And only a little. You have never seen a movie quite like this one.
Ridley Scott has signed on to produce and direct a feature film based on the Monopoly board game. Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House) will write the screenplay. This is actually going to happen.
If you ask me, Parcheesi would have made a much better movie.
Normally, when a distributor sends cast members from an upcoming movie on promotional appearances around the country, they send the film along with them.
But when actors Taylor Lautner (pictured at left) and Edi Gathegi, who play Jacob Black and Laurent in the much-anticipated Twilight, meet with fans at the Shops at Sunset Place mall in Miami at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, there will be no opportunity to see the film.
Distributor Summit Entertainment is being extremely coy with the movie, which opens Nov. 21. I was interested in interviewing director Catherine Hardwicke for an advance feature story on the Twilight phenomenon, but they wanted me to talk to her without seeing the film, which would make an interview rather tricky.
Executives at Summit have obviously made the decision to market Twilight directly to the books' fans instead of bothering with pesky journalists, who may have less-than-adulatory opinions about the movie. Twilight is going to make a billion dollars regardless of its quality. But I can't help thinking that if the movie was really good, Summit wouldn't be so protective of it.
Anyway: If you want to meet Lautner and Gathegi (who is the middle vampire in the trio above), you're gonna have to cough up $30 and line up outside the Hot Topic store on the mall's second floor. Get there early (the queue starts forming at 6 a.m.), since only the first 750 people in line will receive a Twilight bracelet that entitles them to a) a Twilight T-shirt b) a Twilight poster signed by the actors and c) the opportunity to say hello to them in the flesh.
Yeah, it's not much for $30. But we're in a recession. Times are tough. And this is, after all, a movie about bloodsuckers.
From the stranger than fiction files: Huseyin Kalkan, the mayor of the southeast Turkey town Batman, is preparing to file a lawsuit against The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan and distributor Warner Bros.for using the Batman name without permission.
"There is only one Batman in the world," Kalkan told the British newspaper The Guardian. "The American producers used the name of our city without informing us."
Kalkan also claims the success of the blockbuster film contributed to a series of unsolved murders and a high suicide rate among females within the town.
No word yet whether other communities are planning to follow suit.
Monday Nov. 10
Frost/Nixon (2008): I did not see the stage version, so maybe something got lost in translation. But try as I might, I cannot come up with one reason why this movie exists.