Friday, May 30, 2008

The Fall (or Swimming With Elephants?)

THE FALL (dir. Tarsem Singh, India/UK/USA, 2006, 117 mins.) I think it's ART. But that's a tough call, since its creator is a television commercial director, with very little available for comparison. Tarsem Singh (now "renamed" as simply Tarsem) directed only one other feature, THE CELL, and one exceptional music video for R.E.M. ("Losing My Religion"), outside of his commercial work. I can only guess that he has been successful enough in advertising to allow him a project that is as broad and indulgent as THE FALL.

It is stunning to look at. STUNNING! The project was filmed against and among some of the world's most unique architecture, in no less than twenty three countries, across five continents. (In fact, at one point, as I felt as if I were watching a narrative of BARAKA, we cut to a scene with the Balinese Monkey Chant!) The temples, mosques, palaces and deserts, painted cities are all of such unique grandeur (WHERE is that outrageous stairway?!), I felt ignorant in not being able to name them as they appeared. Against these backdrops, Tarsem has enlisted Eiko Ishioka as costumer designer, who also designed THE CELL for him. Ishioka's work is as ethereal and stunning as always! She must dress actual period and the storytelling, and she has the unique ability to dress fantasy, but not so enigmatically so as not to become science fiction.

The screenplay is where Tarsem runs into criticism. The initial setting is in a 1920's Los Angeles hospital where a stuntman lies paralyzed from a stunt gone bad. He befriends a small immigrant girl, who is there with a broken her arm. (Both of them are injured from falls.) He is despondent and weaves a story in order to manipulate the girl into helping him. As he tells her the story, it is played out in HER imagination, resulting in a stunning sequence of settings. The use of these settings are nearly stream of consciousness, as the stuntman stumbles through his story and is reinterpreted by the the Romanian girl's imagination. (How else would an elephant arrive to help our heroes swim from a reef to shore?) The nearly random series of events is a little confusing as far as bringing him to his goal, unless you allow the imagery to seduce and manipulate you as it does the little girl. And it is how stories manipulate us that seems to be the heart of Tarsem's film.

Catinca Untaru plays the little girl with a nearly off-putting innocence. For my taste, she lacks the emotional scars that her character's history suffered. It may not be fair to compare the performance to Victoire Thivisol in PONETTE, or Brigitte Fossey in FORBIDDEN GAMES. However, in those two performances, the little girls displayed real emotional pain (Thivisol almost alarmingly so!), that might be considered true manipulation, however authentic the performance might be. It is not that Untaru is not genuine. It is just a matter of having cast such an innocent in a role that carries such a heavy emotional burden. In other words, she is CUTE. Almost annoyingly so. However, Tarsem does seem to understand that a little bit of that can go quite far. The pacing and editing into the storytelling seems to skim the fat off the cream, as it were.

Lee Pace plays the crippled stuntman. He is an exceptional performer and travels from one role to the next, nearly unrecognizably. Here, he has been given a nice challenge that extends beyond just narrating the story, but becoming a part of it, as he weaves into the darker recesses of his depression. He strikes a surprising heroic, yet tragic figure in the fantasy, and a rather tragic heel and sad manipulator in reality.

So, with those elements, all of which are unrepentantly and indulgently tossed together for optimal emotional effects, Tarsem's film has come under scrutiny for its obvious manipulation. But, as the final frames roll, that his POINT! Tarsem plays with the idea of what editing images together can do to trigger emotional response in the audience. Further, Tarsem's background in commercial advertising comes into incredible use, as he is able to strike an immediate nerve within a single frame. His use of "motion picture" allows the frame to breathe and move. The series of images then gather together for his ultimate effect. It could be argued that he has assembled not so much a motion picture, but a slide show gallery of imagery. If I were to argue that, it would be that the camera is fairly frozen in place in the tableaux. The cinematography by Colin Watkinson is gorgeously framed, but his frames lack movement. However, the argument in support for Tarsem's cinematic vision is the little girl's dream sequence after her second fall, which is spectacularly realized by animators Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein. The short sequence is a surreal and authentic break from the production design and pacing of the rest of the film. It would seem that Tarsem is saying that the only honest reality of our lives is in our dreams. Everything else is as manipulative as cinema.

Maxxxxx says
re THE FALL: "Such a pretty bird!"

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sweeney Todd - The National Tour in Atlanta

John Doyle's reconceptualization of SWEENEY TODD has reached Atlanta, playing at the GINORMOUS Fox Theatre in Atlanta, before continuing on to its last two stops in Houston and Denver. Though with a capacity over 4,700 seats, the Fox closed off the side sections and probably the upper balcony, though I did not look to check on that. My seat was N-78, which was a bit further back than preferred, but provided exceptional sight lines. The sound design was fairly well adjusted for the size of the space, though the set was dwarfed by the immensity of the Fox itself.

The reputation and discussion of Doyle's production precedes it, so before going into that, my biggest surprise and delight was the performance of Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett. She was a revelation! With a mixture of Merman-esque brass, charm and a coloratura control, Ms. Kaye didn't waste a syllable or moment. This was the first performance of Lovett that I have witnessed in which an actual character arc was effectively played out. "A Little Priest" is as much a musical hall number as it is her seductive brainstorm into Sweeney's psyche. In what could be considered Lovett's big numbers ("Worst Pies in London", "A Little Priest", "By The Sea" and the "Final Sequence"), her emotional journey into seduction, love, disillusionment and finally, fear, are performed with laser like precision. It was Ms. Kaye which truly blew me away in this production!

Playing opposite her is David Hess as Sweeney Todd. He gives what is the most traditional performance and aspect of the production. Perhaps the motives are fairly, bluntly voiced in the book and lyrics, leaving little room for variant interpretations. However, Hess does give an exceptionally vocally violent rendition of "Epiphany", in which his sacrificing of tone is spine tingling in its anti-tonalism.

Edmund Bagnell plays Tobias, which has become the start and center of John Doyle's reinterpretation of the play. It is Tobias' story being told from an asylum, ala "MARAT/SADE". Throughout the play, he is the only character who is involved even when he is at the side playing his violin. In casting the character as story teller and on violin, he is also something of the concertmaster for the on-stage orchestra. Bagnell is INTENSELY involved in observing everything happening on stage, almost scene stealingly so. He may also have been a bit intimidated by the size of the house, as I sensed a bit of overplaying to the back.

Two other character reinventions are Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford, played by Keith Buterbaugh and Benjamin Eakeley, respectively. They are both strikingly handsome performers, which is playing against type. However, this adds a surprising depth of hypocrisy to the roles. In fact, as a crucifix is spotlighted on the wall whenever Turpin sings, and the reinclusion of "Mea Culpa", Turpin becomes a Jimmy Swaggart character - wealth, charm and beauty, yet evil. Beadle is his suitably, stylishly dressed "henchman", played with mafia-like verve.

The final reinvention is Pirelli, who is played by a woman, Katrina Yaukey. Interestingly enough, it is vocally perfect for the soprano. I am not exactly certain why a the role was cast like this, except that with the elimination of a chorus, there needed to be another soprano cast.

The roles of Johanna, Anthony and Beggar Woman, and Jonas Fogg who is not usually credited as a principal, are all traditionally performed. Well, except for the addition of the instruments. And here is where John Doyle's production has gained such notoriety - his integration of orchestra and cast. I do not know what the inspiration for such a move was, but to downsize what is usually an enormous undertaking (10 principals, minimum chorus of 12, 18 orchestra) to just 10 total performers seems nearly insane! Yet, he does it and quite successfully. There are a couple of awkward blocking moments, as the attempts at Brechtian out fronts can lose an upstage performer in the sight lines (particularly Anthony's first verse of "Johanna") and climbing around the centerpiece coffin is a bit awkward, also. The inclusion of the instruments and chairs makes the space surprisingly cluttered and doesn't leave the performers with much room, which is probably quite intentional. The single unit set seems to owe a LOT to Derek McLane's design of I AM MY OWN WIFE, in that there is but a rear wall with a tower of memorabilia. Richard G. Jones' lighting design is fabulous and specific!

This production struck me on a more personal note. Many, many years ago, I studied voice with Kathryn Kaye in Denver, who it happens is (was?) Judy Kaye's sister-in-law. I studied with her for nearly five years preceding a Denver production of SWEENEY TODD that I was in, playing The Beadle. Nostalgia sort of swept all over me last night...

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roll Yer Own, 2008

ASIFA-Atlanta (Association International du Film d'Animation - Atlanta) presented its 2008 collection of locally produced, independent animation. It was a hefty sized program of seventeen pieces, representing a surprisingly broad number of techniques, even including a TI-86 Calculator(?!). The event was held at Five Spot in the Little Five Points area in Atlanta. The space is, in essence, a roughed out cabaret. What it may lack in projection size, quality and sight lines, is more than made up with by the sound design. Karl Sigler did a great job in transferring the various media onto a single, perfectly readable disc, which is something that certain other festivals may want to contract him to do! Though there could have been a slightly longer pause between a few of the pieces, that is an overtly anal-obsessive critique on my part, considering the excellent transfer quality. The directors were each presented with a disc containing the entire program, which will also be submitted to ASIFA-International for participation in "International Animation Day", which is celebrated worldwide around October 28th.

ASIFA-Atlanta President, Brett W. Thompson, gave a short introduction of the evening, as well as moderated the extensive Q&A afterwards, and launched the program with a title sequence that he created.
[Brett has gathered some of the entries onto his blog at Fluidtoons!]

[Film titles are hyper-linked to the artists' most apparent webpage, if available. Errors or misdirections may occur and will be corrected upon notice.]

"Roll Yer Own 2008 Intro" (dir. Brett W. Thompson - Flash - 0:47) Brett's little character literally vomits up art! (Perhaps this was a subliminal message about finishing those last few frames, or even pulling together festival programming?) It was a quick and humorous way of opening the night, and I would hope that Thompson creates more such "intros" for the area!

"Pullumo Arrives" (dir. Solomon Mars - Flash - 4:50) Mars creates a surreal alien world, in which even the actions and motives are nearly unrecognizable. His pacing and visual wit kept me interested, regardless of how disorienting the piece became. However, he needs to sharpen the uniqueness of his vision and be self critical of pacing and length. His style is reminiscent of Sally Cruikshank's early work. Given more time, tools and editing maturity, Mars could find himself in her ranks!

"Sustainability 101" (dir. Mark Smith - Flash - 5:00) Mark Smith submitted an educational film about energy sustainability, which is a dry subject if ever there was one and which is perhaps why animating it might be the best way to spread its message! It has an exceptional commercially accessible style. It would be cool to see Smith "unleashed" with a topic or storyboard that was not so "lecture bound".

"Code Monkey" (dir. Jennifer Barclay - Flash - 3:20) Jennifer Barclay, who is also the webmaster of ASIFA-Atlanta's site, submitted a great music video of "Code Monkey", by Jonathan Coulton. Her pacing and energetic visual style did not compete against the music it accompanied, but was excellently matched and complemented it. It was a fabulous few minutes!

"Knight vs Knight" (dir. Thomas Riley - TI-86 Calculator - 1:41) This was so retro as to be experimental! Who would think of animating a pair of battling knights on a Texas Instruments TI-86 Calculator?! What it may have lacked in drama and artistry, it makes up for in just plain "Huh!" factor. At less than two minutes, it is pretty fairly timed for the technical and visual oddity that it is.

"Global Warming is Your Fault" (dir. Jerry Fuchs - Flash/Traditional - 1:30) Short, well paced and to the point. However, I sort of wished that Fuchs pushed this to an underground and perverse limit! It could have been an ecological "Bambi Meets Godzilla", if he were to allow himself a more explicit ending! But that's just my sick sense of humor. As it is, it works perfectly well for "general audiences".

"Hitler's Brain" (dir. Count Lear Bunda - Stuff - 10:19) This is the third time I have screened Count Lear Bunda's acid trip of a desktop nightmare. I take a certain pride in my 'editorial memory,' and every time I've seen this, I swear I am seeing a newly edited version! But I know that can't be so. The visuals, the pacing and the sequence is so off the charts that it always feels like "the first time" for me! This time, I ended up becoming focused on the voice of Hitler's brain. It is an outrageous performance that reminds me of Invader Zim. The vocal talent is as unleashed as Bunda's visuals. When I first saw this (at home on a screener provided by the Atlanta Film Festival), I sort of passed it off as an indulgent hobbyist effort. But on every subsequent viewing, I'm falling deeper into the psychosis and... yes, loving it! I am afraid...

"Playtime" (dir. Candice Ciesla - Flash/Traditional - 1:40) This was a brief collection of visual one-liners and gags! It makes for a great demo reel, at the very least, and the individual segments would work pretty well, spread out amongst a programmed offering, rather than lumped together. Ciesla is quick and to the point, and the segments individually, would leave you wanting more! I mean, a snail trying to launch a kite?! What's NOT to laugh at that?!

"Moviekiss: The Lite Brite Video" (dir. Gina Niespodziani - Lite Brite - 4:57) This is another entry I previously saw at the Atlanta Film Festival, both on a home screener and in the cinema, but this is the setting where it belongs! Niespodziani's photography is a bit inconsistent. However, as screened in a club like Five Spot, the background lighting of the Lite-Brite was inconspicuous, and the nearly herculean effort of FIVE MINUTES of Lite-Brite animation was even more mind blowing! I would humbly, yet strongly suggest, that at some point, the video be matted so that the background lighting is removed, just for aesthetics sake. The recording sounded great, too, on the Five Spot's system!

"Bee Bog" (dir. Bryan Fordney - Traditional - 2:50) Bryan Fordney was represented with works at Animation Attack!, in last year's Atlanta Underground Film Festival. He has created an immediately recognizable character for his work, as well as an exceptionally unique and recognizable artistic style. His plots and sequences are so surreal as to be dreamlike, which causes them to bleed together in memory. This is the third or fourth piece of Fordney that I've seen, yet can not recall what happens, though I do vaguely recall the "plot" to "GETGOT". With a more definitive storyboard, I think Fordney will breakthrough on the international circuit, and this entry may be the most likely to be screened during International Animation Day.

"Special Delivery" (dir. Taylor Pate - 3D - 2:02) This was a nice homage to Warner Brothers 'toons of old! As a student project, it was quite exceptional. Pate displayed a good sense of pacing and some wild, visual panache, particularly during some of the more gruesome frames. He displays an adeptness at visual effects, and should he concentrate on characterization, he will have the whole package, as far as a one-man animator is concerned. His concentration on the visuals are particularly apparent, as the sound design, with its sampling of classic cartoon themes, needs some real balancing and mixing, and sounded almost tacked on.

"Farewell to Momentary Picture" (dir. Laurence Laufer - 2D/3D/Trad - 5:48) Perhaps one of the most poetic of the submissions, Laufer begins his sequence by literally hypnotic patterns, before moving across an ocean, onto an island, and into a television set that features jellyfish. Each segment has its own visual style. For me, that did add to the lengthy feel, and I would encourage a bit of editing, or a swifter pace. Underneath the visuals, he has laid down a soundtrack of effects and minimalist music, which ably supports the dreamlike nature of the film. I just got a bit hung up on the jellyfish...

"Maniacal" (dir. Em Kempf - Stopmo/Traditional - 4:48) This was Em Kempf's first foray into animation. It is a fine example of an artist taking sketchbook work and stretching it into another medium. She has a unique visual style, which she may find difficult to work with in animation. However, if she finds the patience, and she may find herself fine tuning or minimalizing her drawing technique, she does have a poetic and transfiguring vision that could well serve future projects.

"Madagascar Taxi" (dir. Albino Mattioli - Traditional - 1:26) Albino Mattioli is an exceptionally, highly respected artist in Atlanta, with a national presence. His work is discussed on levels that I am unprepared to do. However, as far as discussing his cinematic contributions, I must say that his work leaves me cold. I have been exposed to his "Visual Haiku" series and can appreciate the attempt to "animate" art. However I am not as appreciative of the animation of "art". In other words, what Mattioli seems to be reaching for is to give life to his artwork, as opposed to contributing to the art of animation itself. In his submission here, it begins with an intertitle explaining that the entire piece was made from a single drawing. What would be more specific, and which would point to the differing mindset that I am trying to elaborate on, is that the entire piece was drawn on a single page. Though, it could be argued that it is his intention that it be viewed as a single drawing, versus the traditional definition of animation, that is the viewing of consecutive drawings to produce an illusion. So, to his credit as an artist, his work does illicit commentary and discussion. However, from my own aesthetic, I would refer to Lily Tomlin, "Is it soup? Or is it art?" I choose 'soup' in this case.

"Words Won't Fail When Words Are Not Applied" (dir. Gary Eddy - ToonBoom - 10:26) Musician Gary Eddy has animated several of his songs. It might be pointed out that he is a performer/songwriter first, and an artist, second. By using ToonBoom, he was able to bring his drawings, sometimes nearly doodles, to life to accompany his music. His music, too, appeals to a particular taste. Simply accompanying himself on a ukulele, Eddy sings in a free-verse poetic style, which can test my patience, frankly. His animation of this free-verse, felt a bit long, if not slow. The subject matter, basically about relationships, and possibly regarding someone specific, as well as his artistic style, has been accomplished by others, namely Don Hertzfeldt and L E V, who seem to understand that animating a relationship requires a pace, verging on (or in Hertzfeldt's case, engaging) violence. Eddy's near passive-aggressive approach is nearly counter productive. He's just too nice!

"A Mother Goose Tale" (dir. Paige Adair - Flash - 2:05) Paige Adair is another Atlanta artist who is experimenting in animation. She is a painter and appears to have a style and sensibility that is quite agreeable to the animated form. She offered an impressionistic animation of a nursery rhyme. The beautifully painted characters have a pastel fantasia about them, and Adair has a lyrical pacing that befit the delicate appearance of her visuals. I look forward to future work from Adair.

"24 Frames" (dir. Brad Patullo - Stopmo - 18:12) Perhaps the most "commercial" of all the submissions in the collection, Brad Patullo creates a behind-the-scenes look at a disastrous university animation program. At eighteen minutes in length, I was wary, at first. However, Patullo has worked with the Will Vinton Studios and the influence is quite apparent. He has an eye for expressive detail in his models and in voice casting, which includes himself. This entry is also nearly the only one with a 'traditional' script. In a program such as this, it only emphasized the challenges of sync and character expression, not to mention pace, all of which Patullo handles with professional panache.

"Curtains" (dir. Amanda Goodbread - Flash/Live Set/After Effects - 2:54) Perhaps the most experimental of the group, and a last minute submission, Amanda Goodbread attempts a bit of existentialism as her character is peeping up at her, awaiting inspiration. The sound design is chaotic and slightly disturbing, as the animation, purposefully, does not know where it wants to go.

The next ASIFA-Atlanta screening event will be in July, with a program of commercial animation.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just throw him the Oscar, NOW!

Richard Dreyfuss heads to the White House To play Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's upcoming "W"
By Steven Zeitchik, Hollywood Reporter
May 22, 2008, 08:44 AM
CANNES -- Josh Brolin has a vice president.

Richard Dreyfuss could soon make the trip to Oliver Stone's White House, entering final negotiations to play Dick Cheney in the provcateur director's upcoming "W."

The role is the last major position in the Bush administration to be filled; the West Wing is already occupied by the likes of Brolin (President Bush) Thandie Newton (Condoleezza Rice) and Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush).

The 60-year-old Dreyfuss has never played a U.S. leader, but has had a few related roles. He starred as an opposition senator to Michael Douglas' commander in chief in 1995's "The American President," as Alexander Haig in a television movie about Ronald Reagan and played the president of a banana republic in the 1980s comedy "Moon Over Parador."

The QED-produced "W," which has been granted a waiver by SAG, begins shooting this month in Shreveport, La. QED has been selling territorial rights at Cannes' Marche du Film, with the idea that the movie will be released in October, before Americans elect a new president. A DVD release will follow in January timed to Bush leaving office.

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Standard Operating Procedure

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (dir. Errol Morris, US, 2008, 118 mins.) It has taken me a few days to digest this. I know there are volumes of criticism and analysis of this film out there, but I can only briefly describe my experience. It is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. At one point, I really wanted to get up and leave, but I forced myself to see it to the end. I can compare the experience to the 'finale' of Pasolini's SALO: THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. Except,of course, these images are real. Director Errol Morris uses his near innovative interviewing technique with the primary participants of the Abu Ghraib 'incident', including Lynndie England, Sabrina Harman, Megan Ambhul Graner, Janis Karpinski, among the dozen or so military personnel. Morris also includes perhaps some of the most riveting "testimony" from Brent Pack, who was the special investigator in charge of analyzing the photographs. The pictures were captured on three digital cameras, from which Pack assembled a timeline of events. In a strange way, his investigation is dramatic relief from the bleak and disturbing commentary provided by the participants in the photos themselves. To discuss any of their interviews here, would only provide spoilers.

As bookends to all of this, are some truly beautiful pieces of title work, with a musical score by Danny Elfman, which suggests themes by long time Morris collaborator, Philip Glass. It is a dizzying opening, and the equally lush underscoring works to suck your attention further into a world that you probably do not want to really know about. What is really sad, is that the Abu Ghraib incident is really only a cover for the real atrocities that occurred in the interrogation rooms, themselves - actions which are only hinted at by the evidence of a dead body in one of the photographs.

This would seem to be a pinnacle in Errol Morris' preoccupation with death. With the exception of BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME and FAST, CHEAP, OUT OF CONTROL, his documentaries focus on death, ritual, war, etc. I don't know if he can get any bleaker than he has here. I am afraid of what his next film might be...

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Friday, May 16, 2008

TLA Releasing: STORM

The latest DVD release from TLA Releasing ,as part of the "Danger After Dark" line, STORM (dirs. Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein, Sweden, 2005, 110 mins.), is an exceptionally designed and photographed psychological thriller of a man faced to deal with his own repressed memories. The screenplay is a bit difficult to literally follow, and it does liberally leave plot holes. However, the primary effect on the main character, an emotionally and physically numbed slacker, played by Eric Ericson, as he travels through his memories to unwittingly solve the source of his desensitivity, is beautifully done! The coordination of cinematography, production design and special effects transforms the 'real world' into a dreamscape. It is a visual feast, even if the majority of it is frozen in Swedish fog!

I think this film plays better to the "Donnie Darko" fandom, than to "The Matrix" audience that it seems to be marketed towards. The screenplay doesn't successfully merge the external and internal worlds that are fighting for our hero's will. The actual action is more psychological than physical, even if the female protagonist is given a couple 'Matrix-like' fight scenes. The inclusion of otherworldly influences, in the form of assumable comic book characters, is not so clearly spelled out or explained, and any potential theories are thrown a large wrench by the final moment.

In short, this would be a great viewing late at night when you don't want to think too hard, while watching someone struggle with the surrealism of emotional memory.

The DVD is a bit bare bones and includes Swedish and English soundtracks and English subtitles, plus a selection of TLA Releasing previews. The street date is May 26th, at $19.00 SRP.

Maxxxxx says
re STORM: "What?! WHAT?!"

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for [a VERY LONG] Day

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (dir. Bharat Nalluri, UK, 2008, 92 mins.) The film has an incredible cast, who are beautifully photographed and ably directed. Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Shirley Henderson, and Lee Pace and Ciarán Hinds as their intendeds (yes, three against two, from whence the "farce" derives), are their typically brilliant selves. In fact, director Bharat Nalluri has guided them through an awkward script to actually deliver exceptional little gems of moments. There may be many more of those moments, but who is to tell in this "Evelyn Waugh wannabe" of a farce. Set in the beginning of World War II in London, the story concerns a society of materialistic and self absorbed characters, who are "visited" by a homeless woman, posing as a social secretary. She will, of course, show them the error of their ways. Frances McDormand is the would-be social secretary to Amy Adams' EXTREMELY flighty actress, who is sleeping with two men for opportunistic reasons while being pursued by a third, who loves her. Adams' best friend, played by the near alien being that is Shirley Henderson (I LOVE HER!), is also in pursuit of an opportunistic marriage, while dallying on the side. It befalls McDormand to straighten out all of these couplings.

Unfortunately, the production design is so ostentatious as to challenge the performers to overcome it. There are breathtaking moments of architecture and costume design! However, such an ELABORATE background dwarfs the farce that is played against it. Though it can be argued that this near cartoon of a setting is reflective of the inner state of the characters, the cast is so adept at squeezing the realism out of the situations, that there is a stylistic disconnect.

Even when their motives are the most deceptive, the performers never allow themselves to become as BIG as the settings in which they are playing, with the exception of Amy Adams. It is her performance which highlights the flaws of the production surrounding her. She raises her energy to match the settings. However the rest of the ensemble do not dare match that without sacrificing their moral centers that they must expose at the end. Had Adams been the villainess in this, the rest of the characters could have met her. However, Shirley Henderson's character (which is as close to villainy as the script allows) is playing a much more social and subtle game that the rest of the ensemble must be attuned to, but which Adams can blithely ignore.

This all becomes disconcerting as the script's outcome is all too obvious within the first ten minutes. One hopes that the remainder of the film would be filled with flippant witticisms or outrageous physical and sight gags. But no. The plot plods along, not to interrupt the seriousness of the moral it will expose at the end. I had such high hopes for this, but considering it took me nearly two months to get in there to see it (as opposed to nearly waiting at the theater the morning ZOMBIE STRIPPERS opened), I was not overly surprised by the disappointment.

Maxxxxx says
re MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY: "Such a pretty bird!"

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Xanna Don't and 'Do Does Atlanta

Southern Exposure Gay Musicians Series is continuing at Blake's on the Park, here in Atlanta. It began a number of weeks ago, and appears to be a regular feature for Thursday nights at Blake's, as there is a schedule of performers into the end of October. I don't generally attend "gay music nights" at bars. Nothing against them, it's just not my "scene". However, a couple of weeks ago, a fabulous woman who I met at the Atlanta Film Festival kept me informed of her appearance there, and I was intrigued. Although I am far from qualified to formally comment upon live music in a club setting, I feel the need to get this girl OUT THERE more!!

Miss Xanna Don't takes the stage with a pitch black, swirling beehive of a 'do that defies description, which magnificently offsets her porcelain skin, highlighted by ruby red lips. In short, she has perfectly coiffed herself so all focus is on her face. (I can't even remember what she was wearing, except for production pictures provided by Southern Exposure's MySpace site.) The first couple of moments of a performance tends to set the stage (so to speak) for me. I need to TRUST that the performer trusts what they are bout to do, or I can become guarded. Miss Don't's stage manner was charming and thoroughly professional and in control of the house. Phew!! I knew right then, that this was going to be at least good enough to face her afterward. And then...

She sang! I'm not an aficionado of "punk-C&W-fusion" or whatever style one might try to label Miss Don't, but it was as if a warmer and hipper version of kd lang was in the house. Her music (which you can preview at her MySpace page) felt to be a jazzier (and therefore more accessible to ME) twist on Country & Western. She seamlessly performed a mix of covers and original songs. Here is where my club reporting inexperience is glaringly obvious, as I can only note in writing a couple of titles. Her "Midnight Blue" (an original) was just lovely, as was her cover of "A Cowboy's Work is Never Done" a campy hoot! Miss Don't was accompanied by a pair of guitarists. The lead (pictured on the right) was quite able, and their "support" WILL catch up with some more performances.
The set was about an hour long and followed by the opportunity to buy her disc (which I DID!). It was also an opportunity for me to thank her for her performance, which I was truly grateful for. She REALLY delivered, and I was NOT in that embarrassing situation of "finding something good to say" after a friend's performance! She is on the schedule to appear again at Blake's, but not until October... Unless she can be convinced to appear EARLIER?!

Maxxxxx says
re MISS XANNA DON'T: "Dooby dooby dooo-ooo!"

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Christmas is Coming!!!

The Hollywood Reporter reports:
Johnny Knoxville, Parker Posey join 'Fruitcake'
John Waters' film may go to ThinkFilm
By Gregg Goldstein
May 8, 2008, 12:24 AM

Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey are attached to star in John Waters' Christmas film "Fruitcake."

The plot is officially under wraps but is said to center on the title character, a boy named after his favorite dessert. He runs away from home during the holidays after he and his parents are caught shoplifting meat, then meets up with a runaway girl raised by two gay men and searching for her birth mother.

This Is That Prods. and Killer Films are producing "Fruitcake," which once was set up at New Line. ThinkFilm is said to be in talks to come aboard.

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