Sunday, August 31, 2008
Mom, already busy with four kids of her own, decides to save the family name and her political career by faking a pregnancy and pretending the baby is her own! Sparks really begin to fly when Mom is tapped for a top-level job in Washington by a very, very old man.
"It's Northern Exposure-meets-Diablo Cody," explains one studio exec, "with contemporary politics thrown in." No word yet whether ex-stripper/Oscar winner Cody will be lending the script her patented "honest-to-blog" dialogue.
We'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Philip Roth’s novella The Dying Animal is a strange choice for a movie adaptation. A brief coda to Roth’s Professor of Desire series about the sex-obsessed David Kepesh, who in the first book, The Breast, transformed himself into a giant mammary gland, the book doesn’t naturally lend itself to dramatic treatment. It’s basically a monologue in which college professor Kepesh recalls his affair with a beautiful Cuban-American student 38 years his junior, who ended their relationship and then returned to him several years later under sad circumstances.
Director Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me) evidently saw this slender, phallocentric story as a tender romance, and has made it into a glossy drama with the unusual casting choice of Ben Kingsley — currently starring in nearly every movie in the theaters — as Kepesh. Kingsley is a fine actor, if a bit overexposed, but making Kepesh an Englishman is a bad, bad idea; he sounds unbelievably awkward lamenting that is lover never begged for his “cawk.”
Penélope Cruz is lovely as Consuela Castillo, the object of Kepesh’s desire, though she doesn’t quite evoke the voluptuous young siren whose breasts drove Roth’s Kepesh into an erotic frenzy. The supporting roles are better: Peter Sarsgaard is intense as Kepesh’s resentful son, Patricia Clarkson is fine in the small role of Kepesh’s longtime bedmate, and Dennis Hopper is delightful as Kepesh’s friend, poet George O’Hearn. (Just the idea of Hopper as a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is a kick.) Former Blondie singer Debbie Harry shows up briefly as the womanizing George’s long-suffering wife.
The cinematography, by the director with Jean-Claude Larrieu, is pretty, if occasionally succumbing to visual cliché, and the soundtrack is filled with tasteful classical music, reflecting Kepesh’s interest in playing the piano. Ho-hum. The film’s overall approach is arthouse-tasteful, wildly inappropriate for the risqué Roth, like a Masterpiece Theatre version of Portnoy’s Complaint.
There also isn’t enough story to sustain a feature film; the book consists entirely of Kepesh’s interior musings about eroticism and aging, difficult things to exteriorize, though screenwriter Nicholas Meyer makes an admirable effort to flesh things out. Coixet’s My Life Without Me was about a woman dying of cancer, and that may be a theme that attracts this director. But Roth’s book really isn’t a tragedy about cancer; it's a cri de coeur by an aging Lothario.
Technical gloss and high-quality acting will make this arthouse entry seem like a good movie, but Elegy is considerably less profound than it thinks it is.
Appeared in a slightly different form in the Cleveland Scene.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Of the eleven scheduled concerts at Aki, three will feature Erb compositions: Gregory Fulkerson will play the 1994 Sonata for Solo Violin, Ryan Anthony will premiere Dance You Monster to My Soft Song for solo trumpet, and the Case Western Reserve University Wind Ensemble will perform Cenotaph (for E.V.), Erb's homage to composer Edgard Varèse.
In the studio of the sunlit
Friday, August 22, 2008
Directed by Randall Miller, Bottle Shock tells the story of the event that put California wines on the map: the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting in which California wines unexpectedly prevailed over some of France’s finest vintages The film focuses on Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a struggling vintner who gave up his law practice to run a vineyard, cultivating grapes and meticulously bottling Chardonnay with the help of his long-haired, easygoing son Bo (Chris Pine), his young Mexican-American assistant Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), and a pretty intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor).
Barrett can scarcely keep the winery afloat until his Chardonnay is chosen to compete in the contest by Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a supercilious British wine expert and merchant in
The story folds with a minor romantic rivalry as Bo and Gustavo compete for the affections of Sam, a father-son conflict between Jim and Bo, who work out their differences with boxing gloves, and some amusing cross-cultural humor between the California growers and “the Brit” Spurrier (“Why don’t I like you?” says Jim, to which Spurrier responds, “Because I’m British and you’re not.”). The beautifully photographed northern
Originally appeared in slightly different form in the Cleveland Scene.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The advance buzz onWoody Allen’s latest film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, was that it featured a hot lesbian sex scene between Scarlett Johannson and Penélope Cruz. The gossipers should have known better: Woody Allen movies are seldom about sex. Relationships, yes. Art and philosophy, certainly. But erotic heat is just not his thing.
The slight but enjoyable film does include a brief Sapphic dalliance, mostly rendered offscreen. But overall it is less about sex than love — Allen’s love of
It seems to me that Woody Allen movies have been greeted in recent years with responses ranging from indifference to outright hostility. Maybe some people still haven’t forgiven his “heart wants what it wants” justification for marrying his former girlfriend’s daughter (now 38 and mother of their two adopted children). Others may be disappointed that his films are so much smaller in scope than his early, ambitious works. His late career resembles that of Rossini, who retired from composing grand operas to write smaller, more intimate pieces. This one we might call “Serenade to a City in
The movie finds Allen in a lighter mood than in last year’s tense British murder drama Cassandra’s Dream. The story, with narration by actor Christopher Evan Welch instead of Allen’s familiar voice, tells of two friends, dark-haired, sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and blond, impulsive Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who share a summer vacation, and a lover, in
Vicky is a graduate student whose interest in art and architecture gives Allen the opportunity to drop names like Gaudi and Miró into the script. She is engaged to marry ambitious, reliable Doug (Chris Messina). Cristina, restless and vaguely artistic, is trying to get over a painful breakup. They stay with Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn), the kind of smart, successful couple who are a staple of Woody Allen films.
At an art gallery opening (another Allen staple), Vicky and Cristina spot Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), a handsome painter who recently ended a violent marriage. At a restaurant, Juan Antonio approaches the Vicky and Cristina and suggests they join him on a weekend trip to
When Juan Antonio’s seduction of Cristina goes awry, he and Vicky enjoy the old city together, and one night make passionate love. After their return to
It’s a mere wisp of a movie, but the clever, talky script and fine cast make it go down like a cool glass of limonada. Lissome English actress Rebecca Hall, who was in the underrated Cassandra's Dream, is a credibly American Vicky, and Cruz is ravishing and funny as the temperamental Maria Elena. Bardem, with his soft brown eyes, has guileless appeal in a role that happily doesn’t require a Monkees haircut and bolt gun.
I remain baffled, however, over Allen’s continued allegiance to Johansson, whose reciting of his artistic-intellectual dialogue about such things as Scriabin piano sonatas brings to mind a toddler scuffling about in mommy’s heels. Nonetheless, at the movie's recent Los Angeles premiere, Allen pronounced her "one of the great American actresses." Johansson is the kind of child-woman Allen often idealizes in his movies, but is, I think, the least talented of any of the actresses he has cast. Maybe Allen sees something in her the rest of us can't. Or perhaps the explanation lies in the line Juan Antonio purrs seductively at Cristina: “You have very beautiful lips.”
This appeared in a slightly different version in the Cleveland Scene.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The characters in American Teen seem like stock figures from a high school comedy: the stuck-up prom queen, the ambitious jock, the pimply nerd, the misunderstood artist. It’s Mean Girls, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Revenge of the Nerds. But American Teen is a documentary, and the kids are real. That their stories conform to the tropes of teen movies demonstrates that these narratives are universal, rolling around somewhere in our collective unconscious.
Nanette Burstein, who co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a biography of movie producer Robert Evans, made American Teen by living for ten months among a group of high-school seniors in
Burstein was influenced by Seventeen, an edgy PBS documentary centering on
Burstein selected a high school in
The top caste is represented by Megan, homecoming queen and student council climber whose personality appears to be modeled on Tracy Flick from Election: ruthless, arrogant, “a total bitch.” And, of course, very popular among her posse of friends.
This originally appeared in Cleveland Scene.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Why anyone thought it necessary to make another Brideshead Revisited is a mystery. The fondly regarded 1981 British television miniseries should have been the last word on Evelyn Waugh’s elegy to friendship, art, aristocracy and religion in Edwardian England.
And yet the urge to revisit classic literature cannot be restrained. As Anthony Andrews, who portrayed Sebastian Flyte in the ’81 series, remarked, “Remakes are often an excuse to associate young movie stars with a good title. They think it adds up to magic."
The new adaptation, directed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots, Becoming Jane) and written by Jeremy Block and Andrew Davies, is anything but magical. It’s a flat-footed, CliffsNotes condensation that strips every last bit of wit from Waugh’s novel, leaving the bare bones to rattle about onscreen for two and a quarter hours. It is like a bad term paper by a student who only skimmed the book.
Although the semi-autobiographical Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, is Waugh’s most famous novel, it is an uncharacteristically serious and florid work by a writer better known for lean, savage satire. Waugh remarked in letters that it was written during “a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster” — 1944 and 1945 — “and is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.”
Some critics found other elements distasteful, particularly the book's religious component. Waugh, originally an agnostic, converted to Catholicism in the 1930s, and the novel reflects his conservative views on religion, ideas that led the atheist George Orwell to remark that Waugh was “about as good a novelist as one can be while holding untenable opinions.” Brideshead’s protagonist, Charles Ryder, is enthralled by his friend’s noble and devoutly Catholic family, and by novel’s end has apparently adopted their faith.
The story is told from the point of view of Charles, an aspiring painter from a modest
Sebastian, a free spirit who carries around a cherished teddy bear named Aloysius, invites Charles to Brideshead, his majestic family estate, and Charles is enthralled by Brideshead’s beauty and the aristocratic family’s fealty to their demanding faith. Sebastian, haunted by his powerful mother, Lady Marchmain, and ideas of himself as a sinner, descends into alcoholism. Years later, Charles becomes romantically involved with Sebastian’s sister, Julia, while both are married to other people. Their marriage plans are doomed by Julia’s unwillingness to renounce her faith. Later yet, Charles, now a soldier, wanders through Brideshead, now being used as military housing. He enters the chapel, kneels and utters a prayer, “a form of words newly learned.”
The story is complex, but the film chooses disastrously to reframe it as a romance, exaggerating the affair between Charles (Matthew Goode) and Julia (Hayley Atwell) and inventing a jealous love triangle that didn’t exist in the book.
The casting is also problematic. Waugh describes Sebastian as “magically beautiful, with that epicene quality which in extreme youth sings aloud for love and withers at the first cold wind.” In the television serial, Anthony Andrews was a charismatic Sebastian alongside Jeremy Irons’ Charles. In the movie, Ben Whishaw makes the character annoyingly effeminate. If Charles seems to forget about Sebastian in the second half — a source of regret in the novel — with this Sebastian it’s understandable. The viewer might like to forget about him too.
The film makes scant use of the novel’s fine prose, choosing to substitute its own clunky writing for Waugh’s words. Goode is a serviceable Charles, but without the author’s narration, the character is rather a cipher. The rest of the cast, including Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain and Andrew Gabon as Lord Marchmain, don’t fare much better by the lackluster script, though Atwell is a zesty Julia and Greta Scacchi is striking in her brief appearance as Lord Marchmain’s wise mistress, Cara.
Adapting literature is always problematic; good books, as a rule, make bad movies. If you want to revisit Brideshead, you’re best advised to watch DVDs of the ITV series, or even better, read the book.
A shorter version of this appeared in the Cleveland Scene.