Sunday, August 27, 2006

All Almodovar, All Month!

Beginning September 1 and for the rest of the month, the Castro Theatre will be part of Sony Classic's celebration of Pedro Almodovar by presenting the retrospective "Viva Pedro!". (This also coincides with the release of his latest feature "Volver", which opens after the retrospective.) The series includes 8 of his features, several of which I was able to attend previews of, and most of which I have either in my collection or seen recently enough to remark upon. Mind you, this is perhaps my SIXTH draft in wanting to remark on this collection! I feel sure that there will be textbooks devoted to Almodovar's work, if there isn't already. As I started thinking about these films, I found myself spiraling deeper into his artistic psyche. The man's a genius, and my few words here do not do him justice! However, in the spirit of my 'review caplets', I forge on...

The films will be screened in this order:

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988)
"All About My Mother" (1999)
"Talk To Her" (2002)
"The Flower of My Secret" (1995)
"Law of Desire" (1987)
"Live Flesh" (1997)
"Bad Education" (2004) and
"Matador" (1986)

(It would have been convenient, though fiscally irresponsible, to run these in pairs, however each film plays on separate nights.)

The series opens with "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988) I can't believe it's been almost TWENTY YEARS since I saw this! It was as if the 'next Fellini' had been discovered and brought to us, though he had been making films for over fourteen years by that time. It holds a naive charm to it, in that it is possibly his most out right farce. The campiness that has been associated with it, is really only in the production and costume design, not so much the performances, though Julieta Serrano's performance as the hysterical and nearly psychotic wife does touch that line. Ironically, this screenplay is possibly the least ribald or erotic of the set of films in the series. It takes a special artist who creates a farce that is the safest vehicle in his catalogue!

"Women..." is followed by "All About My Mother", which is probably his most mature and sober work. This will be a nice contrast actually, as you can observe how he is with his performers. The contrast of the screenplays are also remarkable, in that what might have been nearly chauvinistic in "Women..." becomes quite devout in "...Mother". It is perhaps the most sincere of the films I have seen of his. The performances are all quite naturalistic and shy away from the theatricality that seems to pervade most of his work. Of course for this reason, though I appreciate it, "...Mother" is not my favorite of his films.

My favorite in this series, would be what is screening last:

"Matador" is HOT! It's kinky, suspenseful, gorgeous, quirky and... HOT! It features a very young Antonio Banderas, playing perhaps one of his most complicated roles, or at least, it is one of the most sophisticated screenplays he has been associated with. The film portrays characters obsessed with bull-fighting, sex and death, and an other-wordly connection that brings all of it together in its climax. It was the first film in a long time where I never really knew where it was leading me, but I just held on for the ride.

Almodovar seems to like linking sex and death, or near death in an almost misogynistic fashion. "Talk To Her" is perhaps his most extreme example, as he leaves his women in a comatose state, where they are THEN loved. The women are gorgeous, yet to love them could prove fatal. It's a recurring theme in many of his films. Pedro is a cinematic tango artist. There is always passion, and that passion teeters on danger. There is always danger, however subtle. I think the appeal to me is that he is unafraid in placing his characters in exceptionally dangerous situations - emotionally, physically and sexually. Some of his edgiest and most fantastical work precedes "Women...", i.e. "Matador", and "Law of Desire". There is a thrill to watch Almodovar's quirky and accessible group of actors work their way through his perils.

Antonio Banderas and Carmen Maura, who appear in over half of the films in this collection, prove themselves to be Pedro's star chameleons. In seeing this so many years later, and recognizing Pedro's core company of actors, it's a wonder to see them evolve throughout the series. Maura stars in his latest release, "Volver" and just seeing her in the trailer, hints at an exceptional body of work. I can't wait to see it!

Viva Pedro!

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Altered Barbie 2006

In an attempt to maintain some sort of culture vulture status JimmyD and I attended "Altered Barbie 2006" at the .Market Street Gallery, here in
San Francisco. The email invite (so graciously forwarded by the infamous 'Castro Bob') promised "a video showcase and closing reception" featuring some 'festive shorts'.

As we entered, fashionably late, "The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll ... in About 15 Minutes" (dir. Tiffany Shlain, US, 2005, 15 mins.) was already playing. What I did not realize, until just now when I looked up its running time, is that we saw the entire thing. I thought we had walked into the end of some odd little documentary about modern Jewish identity and didn't understand the Barbie reference, except for the irony that Barbie is something of an Aryan figure that was created by a Jewish woman, Ruth Handler. Though it seemed to be well received by the small audience of early arrivals, I wasn't paying much attention.

JimmyD and I explored the pieces on exhibit. This was hindered by the fact that the video was projected in the MIDDLE of the tiny gallery and we were unable to get around the place until it ended.
However, there were some fun, if not kitschy pieces! Finding examples to display here is a bit tricky, as it is an annual, juried show, in which the pieces are available for purchase and NOT for photographs. However, these should give you an idea. Oh, the place wasn't as PINK as these two examples might suggest.

The next short was the nearly classic "Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour" (dir. Susan Stern, US, 1998, 53 mins.), which I had seen when it premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival. This comprehensive and authoritative history of 'Barbie' is actually sort of fascinating. Ruth Handler is exhaustively interviewed and she proves to be a fascinating woman. There are also the fans, er, I mean, 'players' who range from cute to annoying to down right disturbing. Though you gotta love reminiscing about sticking M-80s to a 'Barbie' to watch her explode! I will not so guiltily admit that JimmyD and I were chuckling like the Muppets 'Waldorf and Stadler' throughout, though we did NOT disturb any of the other viewers!

The infamous (and gracious) 'Castro Bob' caught up with us in the midst of this, and he shared his favorite pieces with us, which included a FAB chess set, in which one side was made up of Barbie and Ken heads and the other was made up of Powerpuff Girl heads. hee hee hee...

JimmyD's favorite piece appeared to be the 'Japanese Diorama'.

Mine were the totally surreal portraits that were behind
'grotesque Barbie'.

(This photo doesn't do them justice.)

Overall, there were more than 70 artists represented, so it was hard to take it all in, as it required really getting in there to see the detail. Of course, I am NOT an art critic, so I would not presume to evaluate the relevance of these post-modern deconstructions of a popular culture icon, nor speculate upon the artistic significance of the 'Altered Barbie' as a legitimate oeuvre.

Maxxxxx just wants to peck her eyes out.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The (not so) Quiet

"The Quiet" (dir. Jamie Babbit, US, 2006, 96 mins.) This maybe the closest thing we get to "Mommie Dearest" in a LONG time! It's terrible! I mean, LAUGHINGLY BAAAAD!! BAD in the way that could be a HOOT of a movie if you and group of your friends got together, had some cocktails and watch a group of decent actors get completely lost by a BAD (I am talking "what the hell were you thinking?!") script and really, poor direction. Jamie Babbit ("But I'm A Cheerleader"), who features heavily in the MPAA tell-all documentary "This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated", doesn't seem to have any control over the material. The events that take place in this 'suburban teenage girl melodrama' are so unrelentingly hideous, that the press screening I attended generated giggles and out right laughter. Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex") plays the EVIL father to Elisha Cuthbert's ("24" and associate producer of this thing) damaged daughter, whose mother is played by Edie Falco ("The Sopranos"). This dysfunctional (and that is SUCH an understatement!) family is observed by the arrival of 'Dot', played by Camilla Belle ("The Ballad of Jack and Rose"). She is newly orphaned, having just lost her father, and has been taken in by this 'family'. Oh, and she does not speak.

So, the underlying psychological set up here is two girls with intense father issues: one is abused and one is abandoned, though he died. How do they relate? How will they heal each other? That MIGHT have made a decent after-school special. However, in this "Showgirls"-for-the-high-school-set, the EVIL that the two girls are surrounded by is so venomous, that one almost gets a thrill to see just how far is this going to push it?

Donovan, who is one of the smartest and hunkiest actors on the indie circuit, seems to have dug deep to make sense of the performance he is required to do here. I wish, or at least hope, that he voiced concerns about the script. Falco is either miscast or completely at a loss of how to play the 'zombie-mom' of this family unit. Cuthbert actually comes close to being a human in this tragedy as any character in the cast. However, the character's choices are so extreme and lacking any kind of self-awareness, she psychologically resembles a 'slasher flick ingenue'. Newcomer Katy Mixon, as Cuthbert's best friend, is given some of the most caustic dialogue since Larry Clark's "Kids". Her character does not have a SINGLE redeeming moment, to the point that I could NOT believe that she would be at all popular. The boy that ALL the girls are after is played by Shawn Ashmore ('Iceman' of the "X-Men" films), and he is given a horrifically stupid chauvinistic monologue about his penis. None of these characters say, do or think anything that might incur the sympathy or empathy of the viewer. I deliciously awaited their come-uppance!

This totally screwed up cast of characters revolve around 'Dot', who Belle is forced to play as a cipher, though she has a seemingly endless interior monologue, played out in a seemingly endless narration. She does not perform any facial or physical revelation of the interior pain which has forced her into her 'disability' until THE BIG MOMENT!!! (And it was at THE BIG MOMENT that the room erupted into guffaws!) She just sits/stands/lays there, looking dumbly as the rest of them spew their inner most hideous secrets to her, since they believe she can't hear them.

Oh gawd, enough about the plot and cast! Let's move on to the look of it. Grey. Dusty, foggy grey. In fact, I would be hard pressed to recall an outside, day shot. It's just not a pretty movie to look at, which is a real shame, as Donovan, Falco, Ashmore and Cuthbert can be quite gorgeous when photographed well.

I don't know what more to actually say about this thing, except to wonder how did it gain distribution? How is it going to be marketed? It won't possibly have any pull-quotes in its advertising. But, it would do well in the home rental "let's watch a trainwreck tonight!" market!

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Bigger IS Better! (Third and last of a few)

As previously mentioned, "...volumes of critical essays have been written about most of these, I will only report upon the theatrical presentation, the film and sound quality and my gut reactions to the experience, as opposed to actually commenting upon the films themselves. They are all classics, for one reason or another, and ALL are worth seeing!"

"Playtime" (dir. Jacques Tati, France, 1967, 126 mins.) I have never seen this, though it does have something of a 'cult status' around it. I didn't realize how BIG of a cult status until I arrived only 10 minutes before the screening. The theater was PACKED! And now I know why. It is a beautifully designed and meticulously staged surreal farce. Paris is presented as a conglomeration of steel and glass mazes in which our 'hero' becomes hopelessly disoriented, if not lost. It's as if Terry Gilliam had directed "La Dolce Vita". The costuming is at times breathtaking. The 'cubicle farm' is a brilliant piece of stagecraft. The entire restaurant opening night sequence could have been apocalyptic! I wanted it to go farther! Tati, playing the recurring character 'Mr. Hulot' has an appealing manner and never lets his presence be overbearing to the proceedings. In fact, it is Tati's generosity, or at least his dedication to his vision of the film that is most impressive. Never did I sense his ego get in the way, though the cast of DOZENS is tightly choreographed within the frame.

Oh, and speaking of 'the frame'. This was an odd 'shaped' print. It was in 70mm, but it felt or looked like it was super 35mm. (There was also some problems with the matting in the theater which sort of clued me in on the oddity of the aspect ratio.) The print looked like it was only a week old! The restoration is fabulous. The sound design is another matter, as Tati dubbed the soundtrack. I do not know for a fact, but I assume that he filmed in silent as he was probably shouting cues and direction from behind the camera. The dubbing and foley are annoying at times, but at times hysterical.

Apparently, Criterion will be releasing a super packed DVD on September 5 and I think that I must have it!

To end this series, I planned on seeing "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" tonight. It was a 'cold storage print, in the 1:2.76 (ULTRA Panavision!!!) ratio and included the usually deleted overture and exit music and the heretofore missing intermission dialogue!! However, just as the overture music started, the sound blew. For the night. We waited about an hour as they attempted to fix it, but... to no avail.


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Monday, August 21, 2006

Bigger IS Better! (Second of a few!)

As previously mentioned, "...volumes of critical essays have been written about most of these, I will only report upon the theatrical presentation, the film and sound quality and my gut reactions to the experience, as opposed to actually commenting upon the films themselves. They are all classics, for one reason or another, and ALL are worth seeing!"

"Baraka" (dir. Ron Fricke, US, 1992, 96 mins.) Fricke's popular take on the non-narrative-sociological-environmental-docu-drama (i.e. "Koyaanisqatsi" which he was the cinematographer and editor) was screened in its 70mm format with that glorious 6-track dolby soundtrack! (I LOVE one of the music contributors, 'Dead Can Dance'!) The print itself showed some wear. It is the most regularly screened of its genre, though it still falls short of the heart pounding and near cathartic experience that is "Koyaanisqatsi", which Fricke seems intent on duplicating. However, what it lacks in drama it makes up for in its stunning visuals. After having seen this many, many times, the Cambodian Monks sequence is still the highlight of the piece for me. But I wish Zoetrope was as generous in allowing "Koyaanisqatsi" to be screened. (How many times did YOU think you'd ever see the word "Koyaanisqatsi" mentioned in a single paragraph?!)

"Hamlet" (dir. Kenneth Branagh, UK, 1996, 242 mins., aka 4 hours, 2 minutes, plus intermission) What a beautiful looking thing, this "Hamlet" is! Visually, the print was pristine, with the glaring exception of the first few minutes of the final reel, where there was color deterioration. The soundtrack which should be in 6 track dolby, was just 'off' in some way. I don't know whether it is the way the sound was recorded on the set or print deterioration, but the levels were extremely inconsistent and there was a good deal of echo in the house, which made following the language difficult. Seeing Branagh on such a LARGE screen doesn't necessarily play to his or the casts benefit, as the make-up needed to be subtler, unless the theatricality of such was on purpose. Branagh may have also taken a bite more than he could chew in directing himself in the largest role in English theater. He hits some really BIG moments pretty early. In this my second viewing, I was able to take more note of Kate Winslet ('Ophelia') and Julie Christie ('Gertrude', aka mom), who provide intense moments without chewing the scenery in which they are placed. The majority of the male cast, however, do play it with a certain testosterone laden gusto, which doesn't seem to be all that necessary to me. But then, I'm no Shakespearean authority.

As the Castro's 70mm Fest progresses, "Cleopatra" has been rescheduled for TODAY, however I think I'll pass. I'll return for "Playtime" (which I've never seen) and "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (which I've seen and own nearly every possible version!). It concludes on Thursday with "Titanic" which I may or may not dip into. Mood swings, doncha' know!

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Saturday, August 19, 2006


"Snakes On A Plane" (dir. David R. Ellis, US, 2006, 105 mins.) There are VOLUMES of reviews and p.r. and blogs and mash-ups and postings about this one. So, I'll just leave you to browse those. My FAVORITE is actually from my friend JimmyD. I couldn't say it better myself, but I'll just throw down a few words of my own.

Yes, it fucking ROCKS!

Samuel L. Jackson is all testosterone in this over whelmingly phallic, cinematic, roller coaster. He rides it by winking at us and playing it straight. He KNOWS it's all about the snakes! On the muthafuckin' plane! He ROCKS! Julianne Marguiles does play it pretty straight, but that's ok. Also, of some note are Kenan Thompson (an "SNL" semi-regular) playing a rap artist's bodyguard and Bruce James, who plays the male air steward. They cracked me up! (Bruce James is sorta cute, too! I've sent fan mail, like a smitten little girl. gawd.)

So, just leave any cinematic pretension at home and GO OUT and see this thing! It's about Snakes, dammit, on a friggin' Plane!

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Uh, Oh in Ohio

"The Oh In Ohio" (dir. Billy Kent, US, 2006, 88 mins.) has a GREAT cast: Parker Posey, Paul Rudd, Danny DeVito, Heather Graham (who is uncredited for some odd reason) and Liza Minnelli, for gawd's sake! The script portends to be a farce. However, for some reason that I just can't put my finger on, it doesn't work. I smiled. A lot! And the scenario of having Liza with a Z as a sex therapist leading a roomful of women in a workshop to discover their vaginas seems LOADED with hysterical possibilities, but it just comes off as crass; Parker Posey, whose 'sexually disfunctional' (read frigid) over achiever, falling in love with a vibrator comes off as crass; and Paul Rudd, playing her husband, taking 'vengeance' by having an affair with one of his high school students ("The O.C."'s Mischa Barton) comes off as chauvinistic and crass.

Oddly, or ironically enough, Danny DeVito, who one would expect to be the vilest of the characters, is the ONE character who reveals a soul of affection, tenderness and intimacy. He is the only actor or character in the film who actually came close to a genuine moment for me.

The rest of the film is reduced to being a long dirty joke. Mind you, it's a dirty joke performed by a stellar cast. However, it's still a dirty joke, which explains why it is disappearing (if appearing at all!) at the theaters. Maybe the poster says it all...

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Insanity: Brilliant and Maddening

The first of two, er, really, one and a half screenings today:

"Lunacy" ("Sileni") (dir. Jan Svankmajer, 2005, Czech Republic, 118 mins.) Who else but Jan Svankmajer ("Alice" "Little Odik" "Conspirators of Pleasure") would take a short story by Edgar Allen Poe (about lunatics who take over an asylum), and then rewrite it in the style of the Marquis de Sade, and pepper it with stop-motion animated butchered meat? No one. Which is why he is a genius. I LOVED this! It is incredibly grotesque and beautiful to look at. It is blasphemous and ultimately spiritual. It is pornographic and, well, no, it isn't ever erotic. At least not to me. The film reveals itself in sequences, which on one hand seem to drag the pace down. However, those sequences are stunning little shorts unto themselves (spoilers follow, NOT that it matters much in a Svankmajer film): the asylum run by chickens, both real and tar-and-feathered humans; the re-Crucifixion and Holy Communion Chocolate Cake orgy; the carriage rides over highways. His visuals are so rich and deeply layered that I can watch them for hours and still find details that shock and amuse me.

The one hesitation one might have is that Svankmajer is still steeped in a post-holocaust, Soviet dominated Eastern European aesthetic, and that the film feels like it was transported from 1979. The director opens the film with a short speech about how this is not 'art' since 'art' is dead. This is just a horror film, with no social relevance at all. And then he intercuts an animated beef tongue, just to be beligirent and tells us that his little speech is all lies, anyway. He continues to focus upon the human existence as being nothing more than meat to be ground up by 'the system', and in "Lunacy" that system is Medicine and Religion. The body and soul are the victims in his asylum, and Svankmajer is such a pessimist that he doesn't see any escape for the inmates or their keepers.

Please keep in mind that this is MY interpretation, as I have yet to read the relatively hefty press packet that was presented at the screening. I could be misinterpreting Svankmajer completely! At the very least, I want convey how the time is well worth descending into his insanity.

Unfortunately, the time spent descending into the insanity of the MPAA would prove a bit more frustrating.

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (dir. Kirby Dick, 2006, US, ?? mins.) This documentary revealing the history and faces behind the MPAA Ratings Board was decently paced for a 'talking heads' documentary that included a lot of clips exemplifying the ironies and dichotomies that the Ratings Board has ensued itself. The cast of interviewees include a 'Who's Who' of directors and performers, i.e. John Waters, Kevin Smith, Allison Anders, Maria Bello, etc. It also follows a private investigation team as they uncover exactly WHO are the members of the Ratings Board. Unfortunately, at the 90 minute mark, the fire alarm at the Metreon (where I was seeing this) went off and the film stopped and the audience was asked to leave. So, I will have to remark upon this at a later time, after I've seen the entire film. I just wanted to throw this film in here to give it some extra notice, as it has some eye-opening facts that even I (and my friends Jimmy and Gretchen) were unaware of! I want to see it all!

Of course, the Metreon in its typically non-communicative and crowd displeasing manner, had no information as to what was happening at the complex, if it was necessary to evacuate, if the film would restart. We were just sort of pointed in the way of the box office for refunds/passes, which we didn't need anyway. (Nor do I really want from the Metreon to begin with, at this point.) Not to mention, this sort of topped my day after having parked in a tow-away zone during "Lunacy". Ironic, huh?

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An Unadulterated Plug

I received a nice little note, so I think I will return the favor and post the screening info here.


I've enjoyed reading your film blog. It's always good to see reviews written by a movie fan, not just a "critic."

But, today I'm writing to bring to your attention a film that's playing in the Bay Area soon (tomorrow evening). It's called "My Child: Mothers of War," and it's the first documentary to present war from the perspective of the mothers of soldiers. Filmed in California and Texas, this film shows mothers of all political stripes and levels of military involvement. The director, Angeliki Giannakopoulos, finds all sorts of mothers, from immigrants who came to the U.S. so they and their children wouldn't have to fight wars, to families that have served in the military for generations, to mothers who protested the Vietnam War only to find years later that their sons decided to serve.

This documentary is compelling because it shows what the war is like from the perspective of people who aren't serving, but feel very invested in what goes on over there. By showing mothers who are for and against, as well as confused about, the war in Iraq, "My Child: Mothers of War" is able to spark a fresh dialog about an issue that has been run into the ground by newspapers and politicians alike.

It's playing at the Film Arts Foundation, and is currently featured on their home page:

And, some more information about the screening time:

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006, 7:30 PM
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission (at 3rd Street)

Tickets: $8 General Admission ($6 for Film Arts & YBCA Members)
For advance tickets, please call 415-978-ARTS or visit

If you could put a notice on your blog about the film, that would be great. The director will be there for Q&A. It's part of the "True Voices" series for new documentaries. The film is about midway through its festival run, with a few big screenings coming up this Fall.

Thanks so much for your help.


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bigger IS Better! (First of a few!)

It is a tradition at the Castro Theatre to present a week or so of 70mm, wide-screen epics! I am SO THERE this year!! The majority of the line up is fantastic! And, yes, though I have almost all of them sitting on my DVD shelves, the opportunity to be completely overwhelmed and absorbed into the sights and sounds of it on a GIANT screen is unmissable!

Seeing as volumes of critical essays have been written about most of these, I will only report upon the theatrical presentation, the film and sound quality and my gut reactions to the experience, as opposed to actually commenting upon the films themselves. They are all classics, for one reason or another, and ALL are worth seeing! The Castro started it with a bang:

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (dir. Stanley Kubrick, UK, 1968, 139 mins.) This was a restored print, including the fabulous pre-show moment: Lygeti's "Atmospheres" is played while the house SLOWLY dims to black before "Thus Spake Zaruthastra" begins! I. Love. It! The print was in excellent shape and the sound just blasted into the space! AND, this is for all of you die-hards out there, it included The INTERMISSION!! I can't stress how fabulous this is, as the beginning of the second part is when HAL has killed Frank and that laborious 10 minutes of silence/heavy breathing takes place! If you watch this in one sitting, the scene is at the 1 hour and 45 minute mark, which is sort of deadly. But having a 10 minute break before beginning it was just the breath of life the scene needs!

The presentation of "Cleopatra" was postponed due to a print error: it was not presented in Dolby Stereo, so it has been rescheduled.

"Lawrence of Arabia" (dir. David Lean, UK, 1962, 216 mins. = 3 hours and 46 mins., PLUS intermission!) This was the restored print that was re-released a few years ago, and the last time I saw it was in the Dolby Screening Room, where it was a near religious experience! This was a pretty good screening at the Castro. There was the same theatric of the SLOW dim during the overture. Peter O'Toole is breathtaking on the huge screen for the first couple of hours before he becomes very dirty. The print was in great shape, though there was a reel here and there that seemed to show a bit more wear. However, for nearly FOUR HOURS of film, it held up pretty well. The sound was... GORGEOUS! Maurice Jarre's score is just breathtaking. You've got to LOVE David Lean's eye for spectacle and landscapes, though to really get through this. And I do! Intermission was at the 2 hour and 20 minute mark, which I found a bit unsettling. However, it does make that last hour and a half easier to take, as that is where the meat of the story lies.

Next: I'm skipping "The Razor's Edge" and going to "Baraka"!

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Scoop on Little Miss Sunshine

I snagged a double feature of a these two possibly overlooked flicks. One I LOVED and one I liked. First, the love..

"Little Miss Sunshine" (dirs. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006, 101 mins.) played to a good bit of hype at Sundance, was on the cover of 'Entertainment Weekly' and is just doing ok box office. It deserves MORE! I LOVED this! No, it is not flawless. There are moments of forced zaniness that only seems so out of place because the performances, actually the relationships within the family, are so well done. The core cast of six (Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear) are at least, REALLY GOOD (Kinnear), and at best, BRILLIANT (Collette, Carell and Arkin). The kids (Dano and Breslin) keep up their end of the work also, particularly Dano's tormented 15 year old. Kinnear, as the father, has a harder time of it, perhaps because it is his character that is responsible for the aforementioned 'forced zaniness'. Out of this odd family, it is he who eventually comes out being the oddest, in my view anyway. Carell is nearly unrecognizable as the suicidal brother-in-law. His performance is still, quiet and much deeper than anything he has given to my knowledge. Collette is... well, Toni Collette! Of course she's great! And out of the blue, Alan Arkin portrays one of the filthiest old men in some memory. He was fantastic. Breslin, who plays the little girl around which the plot revolves, holds her own without crossing the line into 'cute'. (I HATE 'cute'.)

I just wish the script hadn't forced a couple of bits and there is one unbelievable coincidental moment involving Carell's character, which is to lead us to one of the 'zany' moments that was really unnecessary in the first place. The film plays like an indie-family-comedy, however it's tendency towards farce reveals what might be a hopeful commercial aesthetic that was unnecessary. In other words, I don't know if the authors/directors had enough faith in the heart of the story, without adding the farcical elements to ensure laughs. The best laughs came from some of the more painful moments, especially from Dano's silent 15 year old.

I could easily watch this over and over for the performances alone, though! The ensemble's timing, interactions and dialogue are priceless, disciplined and almost short of phenomenal. I would love to find out how the directors rehearsed the group!

One already knows that Woody Allen abhors that much work on his projects, and I think it shows in:

"Scoop" (dir. Woody Allen, 2006, 96 mins. - of course!) Here, Woody seems to want to reinvent or concoct an homage to classic, 40's Alfred Hitchcock. Hugh Jackman takes the Cary Grant role and Scarlett Johansson is the blonde in peril, though not as icy as Hitchcock's. Woody's spin on this is the insertion of... HIMSELF. Ok. I really LIKE Woody Allen movies. I do NOT like Woody Allen IN his movies. He annoys the hell out of me. The stuttering and stammering and forced communicative confusion just bugs me. And in the case of "Scoop" that is too bad, as Jackman and Johansson are never really allowed to take over the film without Allen interrupting it, either physically or with his gimmicks. In this, it is the ghost of a journalist (Ian McShane) who is feeding clues to Johansson and Allen in tracking a murderer, assumably Jackman. The story itself is fairly small, in that it centers on this quartet, though there are numerous 'cameos' by some British stage legends. Yet, within the quartet, the only relationship allowed to bloom is between Allen and Johansson, and that seems to rest mostly on Johansson's shoulders as she is expressing the frustration I felt in watching it: will Allen NOT SHUT UP?! In fact, the most suspense I had in the film was whether Allen was going to seduce Johansson! Thankfully, that never happened. Instead, we were allowed some nifty beefcake shots of Jackman, whose character is subjugated to being a mere charming cipher for the majority of the film.

However, watching Allen's film technique is always diverting and pleasant enough. I may not remember seeing this in a month, but I don't feel it was a waste of time, as it was academically satisfying enough to watch him dabble in Hitchcockian milieu.

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