Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pride & Prejudice, Walk the Line

Though I still enjoy watching the Oscars, especially the part where they show the honor roll of dead people who get varying levels of audience response (very, very funny to me), the best thing about then nowadays is what they drive to DVD.

This week we get two nominated films, "Pride & Prejudice" and "Walk the Line," which I enjoyed immensely. Here are brief synopses of my earlier reviews.

Pride & Prejudice

As I was discussing this new version of Jane Austen's best novel with some friends, we wondered how the story that had been told so well in A&E's celebrated five-hour miniseries could be condensed to a little more than two hours. "Did they just talk really fast?," one smartalec asked.

Well, in a way, yes. Director Joe Wright keeps the action brisk and screenwriter Deborah Moggach keep the barbs sharp. They understand that although "Pride & Prejudice" is an epic love story, it is even more a comedy of manners, or more often the lack thereof.

The reason Austen is so tempting an author for filmmakers is her books are above all else about class envy and its ills, which have only intensified over time. To pull off her vision, you need two perfect foils, the apparent snob and the latent snob, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Luckily we get Keira Knightley and the until-now unknown (at least to me) Matthew MacFadyen.

I've adored Knightley ever since the delightful popcorn nugget "Bend It Like Beckham," and here she has a role that actually requires some acting. She knows that, though a wise-cracking, impetuous young woman on the outside, Elizabeth is the most vulnerable character in "Pride & Prejudice," and she conveys this with her eyes as much as her voice. Though you probably won't hear her name on Oscar night as Best Actress, you should. She's that good.

A co-worker said she found Knightley's bad wig to be a distraction, but that was her biggest beef about the movie, so she liked it almost as much as I did.

As Mr. Darcy, MacFadyen is nearly perfect, as snotty and insolent as he can be. I can only think of one big-screen Austen hero I've liked more, Ciaran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth in 1995's "Persuasion." Check it out.

In smaller roles, Donald Sutherland works well as the pater familias of the Bennet clan, though his charm tends to make you overlook Mr. Bennet's many faults, and Dame Judi Dench shows up about halfway in as a perfectly brusque Lady Catherine de Bourg.

But the real star here is Wright, who as far as I can tell had never directed anything beyond TV miniseries before this. His large ensemble scenes, in particular the balls, have a kinetic energy that make them hard to keep up with but well worth the effort.

Walk the Line

Warden: Mr. Cash, try to refrain from performing any tunes that remind the inmates that they're in prison.
Johnny Cash: You think they forgot?

As the opening credits of "Walk the Line" rolled to a crescendo of stomping feet in Folsom Prison, I couldn't help but be worried.

What would Hollywood do with the story of Johnny Cash, a man who spent most of his professional life flipping off anything that could be called the establishment?

What I quickly learned, however, was that it is me who is woefully ignorant about the life of the late man in black.

Several years back at one of our annual old book sales I picked up the holy trinity of books about Cash, by Cash: "Cash," "The Man in Black" and "The Man in White." Had I bothered to read the first two volumes, I would have learned that the story of Johnny and June Carter Cash is one of yearning love that burns even brighter on screen in "Walk the Line."

Though it manages a large ensemble cast with ease, all the characters except Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny and Reese Witherspoon's June are wisely kept in the background. When those actors are playing Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and, most memorably, Waylon Payne as a delightfully wicked Jerry Lee Lewis, that's no small feat.

On paper it would seem to be monotonous as Johnny asks for June's hand and is rebuked again and again, but the sparks between these two are so hot it rarely gets boring on screen.

Like Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles before him, Phoenix invokes the spirit of Johnny Cash with almost chilling precision. From the smallest detail, down to the almost-cleft upper lip, he is the young Johnny Cash. And in early scenes from "Walk the Line," when he's on tour with his Sun Records mates, his singing and stage presence are pitch perfect.

He gets upstaged, however, by a shockingly good Reese Witherspoon. Until now I thought her range only went from cute to really cute, but again, I was wrong. Her skill in playing June Carter from the precocious young talent who was overshadowed by the other members of the Carter clan to the savior who would rescue Cash from his worst demons is fun to watch.

Though she's pretty much an Oscar lock, and a pretty worthy one, Keira Knightley is clearly more deserving. For a dissenting view on Witherspoon's performance, read this from Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday.

I've been railing for years, mostly at work to anyone who has the misfortune of sitting near me, about Hollywood's inability to cast Southerners to play Southerners. They let Nicole Kidman murder one of my favorite books, "Cold Mountain." Perhaps after this tremendous star turn from Nashvillean Witherspoon, who threatened to abandon the project if it weren't shot in and around Memphis, someone will get the message.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Madea's Family Reunion

Madea's sweet medicine

Tyler Perry certainly doesn't need me, or anyone else, to sing his praises, but I'm gonna do it anyway.

Judging by the size of the crowd that turned out Saturday at noon at the newly souped-up Galleria Cinemas in Centerville, his "Madea's Family Reunion" should be a much bigger success than "Diary of a Mad Black Woman", which grossed $50 million at the box office. Not bad for a man who got laughed out of movie studios just a few years ago.

"Madea" works best when Madea herself is on screen. Perry's message, much the same as Bill Cosby's of late, doesn't often run much deeper than "why can't y'all just act right?", but it somehow goes down a whole lot sweeter when delivered by Perry in drag as Madea.

Unlike Martin Lawrence's big momma or any other fool in a fat suit, Perry plays Madea as a real, tremendously politically incorrect character. Watching her (or him, or whatever) cut down to size anyone who crosses her is laugh-out-loud funny.

As for the rest of the movie, it's exactly what you might expect: drama, drama and yes, more drama. Following the traditional gospel play arc, these are people with serious problems, albeit people a lot prettier than you meet in the real world. There's family strife and some brutal domestic violence, delivered with frightful realism by usually-the-good-guy Blair Underwood. It would be a lot like watching Wayne Brady on "Chappelle's Show" if it weren't so brutal.

And it takes way too long to get to the happy ending we all know is coming, but I didn't really mind, and neither did anyone else in the audience. Along with Perry himself, the other thing that makes "Madea" work is these are characters we can actually identify with. Though, as far as I know, I've never been a single black woman with two kids, I could feel the pain of Lisa Arindell Anderson and the others who work hard to deliver on Perry's promise.

But it all get's back to Madea. I can't help but wonder how Perry came up with such a crazy character, but it's brilliant. It's a lot more fun if you can laugh while you're being lectured to. Pay attention and take notes, Mr. Cosby.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Game, set, match Woody

Many of you probably think you know Woody Allen, and you've had enough. What is he except an over-the-hill pervert whose best work is long behind him?

I admit that I felt much the same way, and therefore found it hard to get excited about "Match Point", despite the early accolades. Boy, was I wrong, at least for this one.

This is Woody like we've never seen him before. First off, there's very little that's funny here, in the best way. It's a dark tale about the truly evil side of human nature, and where it can take us if unchecked. If you can remember back to "Crimes and Misdemeanors", travel back to there and think much, much darker, but even more entertaining.

The story is about a young man (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with a mysterious past (the best kind for movies, of course) who works his way into a wealthy London family by befriending the son (Matthew Goode), marrying the daughter (Emily Mortimer) and eventually going to work for the father (national comedic treasure Brian Cox, all serious business here). Things get more complicated when Meyers' character meets, falls for and impregnates the son's fiancee, played by Scarlett Johansson.

To give away any more would be a crime, but I'll just say the rest hinges on what Meyers will do to get out of this proverbial tight spot and stay in his new family. Allen keeps the suspense high until the end, and Meyers never plays his cards too early. It's a restrained but rigorous peformance that carries the film.

As much I love Scarlett, and after "Ghost World" she had a life's worth of goodwill in my book, she's the weak link here. She ably makes us believe she's a struggling American actress (because, well, with this material, she really is), but her kvetching about her pregnancy predicament is tedious. Mortimer, on the other hand, is perfect as a woman so needy she turns a blind eye to all of this. Johansson is Woody's new favorite leading lady, so let's hope she fares better starring with him in his next film, "Scoop."

But back to "Match Point." What makes it work almost as much as the suspense is the sense of place you get in Woody's new base of London. From little jokes about London real estate, to luscious cinematography in neighborhoods that show us just why it's so impossible to live there, he makes it home just like he did NYC in "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall," and thankfully brings us all with him.

Along with "Match Point" starting Friday at the AmStar in Macon, there's an exclusive run of "Mrs. Henderson Presents" at the Galleria in Centerville. It's an arthouse bonanza for us, so please, please go out and enjoy it so we can get more.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Party over here

I had promised to review "Running Scared" today, but am really not feeling very well. As a public service to the people, here's a preview of something much more exciting coming Friday.

Since we no longer have to ask "Where's Dave Chappelle?", let's get to the much more interesting question: "Just what has he been up to all this friggin time?"

Well, in about 11 days, we all get to find out, and it should be a blast. It seems that, along with convalescing in South Africa, Dave took the time to throw a pretty wild party in Brooklyn last year.

And it seems Dave really does know how to throw down when he puts his heart into it. For this free concert event, he not only recruited pals Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez and others, he even managed to reunite the Fugees. And, thankfully, fimmaker Michel Gondry was on hand to capture it all for "Dave Chappelle's Block Party."

I must say, I'm really excited about this doco, scheduled for release Friday, March 3. Crazy or not, Chappelle is easily the funniest guy around right now, as we all learned on his Comedy Central Show.

As we also learned there, he has impeccable taste in and connections to the hip-hop world, bringing on as musical guests Common and Kanye, de la Soul and Big Boi, among many others. He also managed to recruit the GZA and the RZA for multiple comedy sketches, including the priceless racial draft where they were recruited with the rest of the Wu Tang to join the Asians. Rude, wrong and really hilarious.

How Chappelle and Gondry got connected I have no idea, but we should all give thanks. If any of you haven't seen Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", well, I don't know what to say except do it. Gondry's fractured view of time and space should mesh well with Chappelle's likewise view of the world around him.

The long trailer available at Yahoo! promises a great mix of Chappelle cutting up with his friends pitching in some great music. Check it out here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Not-so-great "Date Movie"

Will Alyson Hannigan ever be able to get over that flute joke? Apparently not, so she's embraced it and jumped right into the mildly amusing "Date Movie."

What was I expecting from what is supposed to be a spoof of romantic comedies? Well, just to laugh. And we did, a few times at least, but not enough even to fill the movie's measly one hour and 20 minutes.

What's good? Hannigan is. Having watched her grow up as Willow on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I've always liked her, and she almost manages to charm her way through this mess. Along for the ride and great as usual are Tony Cox and Eddie Griffin, both of whom could be funny at a funeral.

But what are they given to work with? Almost nothing. There is plenty to parody in today's movies, romantic and otherwise, as the makers of "Scary Movie" proved. But before setting out, you need one thing, a script, which the makers of "Date Movie" didn't seem to bother with.

The two most frequent targets are "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Meet the Parents," both of which I liked. But lifting complete scenes from these movies is not parody, especially when your spoofs aren't nearly as funny as the original material.

I hate it when they do this in trailers, but I have to share what I thought was the best joke, which probably only serves to show how old I am. After our heroine dumps her would-be suitor, he goes all Lloyd Dobler, standing outside with his boombox raised high, blaring Player's "Baby Come Back" as the neighbors pelt him with vegetables. The only time I genuinely laughed out loud.

Will our Alyson ever get to be a leading lady in a good movie? I'm gonna keep hope alive, because I still think she deserves the chance. Unfortunately, this is definitely not it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mr. Jackson and "Freedomland"

Is it possible to like a movie tremendously but be utterly frustrated with it at the same time? I didn't think so. I thought it had to be one or the other, until I found the oddity that is "Freedomland."

At it's best, "Freedomland" is about a devoted cop, "Samuel L. Jackson" working harder than he has in many years as detective Lorenzo Council, trying to hold things together in the type of neighborhood everyone else has given up on. It's also about a woman, "Julianne Moore" on constant edge, who levels a charge - that her son has been kidnapped by a carjacker from the neighborhood - that could bring the whole situation crashing down. If only it had stopped there.

Onto this possibly compelling plot, normally reliable screenwriter and novelist "Richard Price" and studio executive turned director Joe Roth felt the need to tack on at least two too many tangential subplots that go nowhere and just feel like an insult to the viewer.

Jackson, through sheer power of will, manages to keep the story compelling when the spotlight is on him. When's the last time he played a character you actually cared about? I don't just mean a character who was cool, because he's the king of that. For me, the last time he played a character I felt a connection to was Elijah Price in "Unbreakable". Since then he's done a lot of shucking and jiving through unwatchable crap like "The Man" and sleepwalking through the "Star Wars" prequels.

But not here. In his quest to save the fictional N.J. town of Dempsy, separated as many northern cities are into racial enclaves, he reminded me of two other characters, both from television. The first is Andre Braugher's detecive Frank Pembleton from the much-missed "Homicide", who clearly felt he was above the common thugs he dealt with every day but still did what he could to keep Baltimore from falling into the Abyss.

The other is "Helen Mirren's" D.C. Tennyson, from the fantastic BBC "Prime Suspect" productions. If you haven't seen them, do. You can rent them all online, and it's the best fictional example I've seen of focusing in on one very tough case from start to often ugly finish.

If only "Freedomland" director Roth had had the sense to keep his focus so disciplined, he too could have told a great tale. At the moments when Jackson is trying to find out what actually happened to the missing child, and Moore just makes his work harder, "Freedomland" comes close to greatness.

It first gets distracted, however, when we are introduced to a group known as the Friends of Kent, led by a very earnest "Edie Falco", who specialize in finding missing children, dead or alive. I would have found this a fascinating subject for a movie in itself, but here it's just an inexplicable dead end.

The biggest sin of "Freedomland," however, is that after taking great strides to set up the racial strife, it cops out at the worst moment. I won't reveal to you the truth of what happened to Moore's child, but, since the director doesn't seem to care at all about this other sideline, I don't feel bad at all about telling you how it ends up.

After bringing things to a boil with the black residents of the fictional housing project facing off with a line of cops in riot gear, it goes straight for the incompetent director's favorite crutch: Slow motion. As the two sides ultimately clash, to the tune of what sounds disturbingly like Enya, we get slo-mo footage of cops beating kids over the head, blood flying everywhere, and that's it ... this is near the end of the movie, and unable to find any resolution, Roth just drops it and moves on.

Now, I don't frequently look for answers to life's questions in movies. To do is often silly, and more often futile. But when you go to all the trouble they did in "Freedomland" to set up the tension, you can't just sweep it all away and move on. Well, you can, but I really wish they didn't here.

All that aside, I would say I liked "Freedomland" more than I hated it, and all the credit for that goes to Samuel L. Jackson. His Detective Council is a rarity in big-budget movies, a cop who is very, very far from perfect but is determined to do the right thing without becoming a cliche.

Welcome back Sam. We've really missed you.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Of human Bond-age

This is direct from the mouth of MGM, via Ain't It Cool News for me.

It was announced today by producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc, and Sony Pictures Entertainment that EVA GREEN has been cast to play the enticing Vesper Lynd opposite Daniel Craig in his debut appearance as James Bond in the highly anticipated 007 adventure thriller, CASINO ROYALE.

It was also announced that renowned Danish-born actor MADS MIKKELSEN has accepted the role of Le Chiffre, Bond's nemesis in the film and JEFFREY WRIGHT has joined the cast as Felix Leiter.

The rest is from me. Having seen Eva Green in Bertolucci's weird, wonderful "The Dreamers," I can attest that she certainly has the physical attributes requisite for a Bond girl, the proper mysterious accent and some good acting chops to boot. Good news indeed.

Even better might be the addition of Jeffrey Wright. I first saw him on Broadway with Mos Def in the disappointing play "Top Dog/Underdog." Both actors gave all they could for a script that didn't match their abilities. Since then, of course, Wright has taken off, and managed to steal "Broken Flowers" from Bill Murray in every frame they shared. The wit he showed there should pay off as he plays Bond's right-hand man Leiter.

Not familiar with Mikkelson whatsoever, and would have preferred Clive Owen over Daniel Craig as 007, but this is still shaping up to be a return to form for the temporarily slumping Bond franchise

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whither whit?

Or should that be wit? Well, for a brief shining moment in 1990 they were essentially synonynous with the release of Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan".

Sandwiched between "Woody Allen's" best work and the frothy fun of "Sex and the City", Stillman's best movie, released this week on DVD similarly offers a snapshot of the Big Apple from a specific time and place.

It centers around a set of young preppies living and partying it up on the Upper East Side in the late '80s. While that may not sound like the most appealing of premises, Stillman keeps the dialogue sharp and always tongue-in-cheek, mixing equal parts Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald for a portrait of a subculture on the decline.

Sadly, Stillman would never again reach the heights he did with this small gem. His second effort, 1994's "Barcelona," was most notable only for introducing the world to "Mira Sorvina", and his third and last, 1990's "The Last Days of Disco," was just plain bad. What was meant as a trilogy is also a sad, slow downfall.

But Woody, before he set his sights on London with the spectacular "Match Point" and now has completed the upcoming "Scoop", and Whit at their best painted vivid pictures of New York and were masters at the dying art of dialogue.

You can still find witty banter in the movies of "Kevin Smith" or Stephen Frears, but it's now largely relegated to TV. I find my weekly dose on the "Gilmore Girls" and anything by "Joss Whedon", and now I'll get a welcome blast from the past in the mail from Netflix this week with "Metropolitan."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Anticipating “Freedomland”

"Freedomland," opening in Macon and everywhere else this Friday, has all the ingredients of a great potboiler.

With stars Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, with a side helping of Edie Falco, how can you go wrong?

And yet, I'm nervous. Why? The trailer leaves me unsettled.

The story itself is basic enough: A white woman gets carjacked by what she claims is a black assailant. What the thief failed to realize is that her young child was in the backseat.
This would all seem pretty pedestrian if Richard Price weren't involved. He wrote both the screenplay for this one and the novel it is based upon.

Price is a great writer, in my opinion, and an even more astute observer of race relations in America. His first novel, "The Wanderers," is among my favorites, and he also wrote the novel and screenplay Clockers, made into a smokin' Spike Lee joint.

So why the worry? The trailer has ominous signs ... after setting up all the ingredients for a combustible mix, fear and hatred tearing up a neighborhood as the result of such a horrendous crime, it drifts off in so many different directions that you could end up anywhere, or worse, nowhere at all.

But don't take my word for it. See the trailer yourself here, and give the movie a shot.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Oscar handicapping, hurrah!

Is it too early to handicap the Oscars? Absolutely not. Besides, it's much more fun than watching Steve Martin fall down or Harrison Ford shout his way through another by-the-numbers "action" flick.

Can anything stop the "Brokeback Mountain" onslaught? For the big one, best picture, probably not, but there are still plenty of interesting acting and writing awards.

As an omen, the Grammys were definitely not a good sign. Like Oscar voters usually do, Grammy voters this year went for the important (U2, which won big) over the popcorn (Mariah Carey, who won three Grammys but was snubbed in the big categories.) I'm no Mariah Carey fan, but when the people speak so loudly and are ignored, well, I guess we're all used to it by now.

This can already be seen in the Oscar nominations. Is "Brokeback Mountain" better than "King Kong." In my opinion, no. "King Kong," though a bit bloated, is a cinematic accomplishment along with just being a fun flick. If it got any nominations at all, they were only in minor categories. A quick check at www.oscar.com confirms it got at least four, for art editing, sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects.

So, "King Kong" looks great and sounds great. That was enough for me, but not for the Academy, obviously. But enough of my grumbling, on to the nominees. In all the categories I feel I can comment on with authority, I'll offer my picks of who will win, who should win and, in some categories, who should have been nominated but wasn't.

Best supporting actress:

Nominees: Amy Adams, "Junebug"
Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"
Catherine Keener, "Capote"
Michelle Williams, "Brokeback Mountain"
Frances McDormand, "North Country"

Who will win: Weisz, for "The Constant Gardener." How being the second lead in this great political thriller makes her a supporting actress, I have no idea. Regardless, she shines as a doctor who doggedly pursues the truth about what drug companies are up to in Africa.

Who should win: This is the strongest acting category by far. Two other nominated performers are stronger than Weisz, Keener for "Capote" and Williams for "Brokeback Mounain. As Truman Capote's friend and enabler Nelle Harper Lee, Keener is laid back but convincing, but Williams would get my vote if I had one. We feel every ounce of her pain as she finds out about her cowboy husband's secret life, and it's a true breakthrough performance.

Best supporting actor:

Nominees: George Clooney, "Syriana"
Matt Dillon, "Crash"
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain"
Paul Giamatti, "Cinderella Man"
William Hurt, "A History of Violence"

Who will win: This one is tough. Clooney, Dillon and Gyllenhaal gave great performances in the kind of socially conscious movies Academy voters love. I'll go with Clooney here, only because he will get snubbed in the Best Picture and Best Director categories for "Good Night, and Good Luck." Put this one on your radar for most tiresome speech of the night.

Who should win: William Hurt, in only about 10 minutes of screen time in "A History of Violence," is menacing, witty yet wounded all at once, and takes over the movie.

Who should have been nominated: Two actors got the big snub from Academy voters in this category. Ludacris, yes, Ludacris, is hilarious as rapper Skinny Black in "Hustle and Flow," and good comedy is a rapidly dying art. Even more deserving is Clifton Collins, Jr. in "Capote," who manages to make us care about the fate of cold-blooded killer Perry Smith. Keep your eye on him.

Best actress

Nominees: Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line"
Judi Dench: "Mrs. Henderson Presents"
Felicity Huffman: "Transamerica"
Keira Knightley: "Pride & Prejudice"
Charlize Theron: "North Country"

Who will win: Not even a dame as grand as Judi Dench will be able to stop Witherspoon in this one, and why not? No longer happy with being simply adorable, she makes us believe she is a young June Carter Cash, who OK'd Witherspoon for the part before she died.

Who should win: Hands down, Knightley. "Pride & Prejudice" is the wittiest movie of 2005, and she shows she can keep up as her Elizabeth goes rapidly from snobby to snubbed and finally to being loved. Simply a joy to watch.

Who should have been nominated: Maria Bello, for "A History of Violence." Like Weisz, she might have been considered a supporting actress somehow, even though her reaction as her family crumbles around her is the heart of a truly compelling flick.

Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman: "Capote"
David Strathairn: "Good Night, and Good Luck"
Joaquin Phoenix: "Walk the Line"
Terrence Howard "Hustle and Flow"
Heath Ledger: "Brokeback Mountain"

Who will win: Much like Witherspoon, Hoffman has been a lock for this one for a long time. It will be the night's biggest upset if his preening, prissy but persistent Capote doesn't take home the big prize, and he'll be a deserving winner. However ...

Who should win: I have this habit, even in public. of sometimes talking to the TV set. I managed to keep quiet during the Oscar nominations, for the most part, but let out a little whoop at work when Howard's nomination was announced. He simmers throughout "Hustle and Flow" until he finally explodes, and it's the best performance by any actor from 2005. 'Nuff said.

Who should have been nominated: I was shocked Jeff Daniels didn't get a nomination for "The Squid and the Whale," which incidentally, is on the schedule at the Macon Film Guild for March. (whoop again!) He's all ego as the pater familias who can't seem to understand how his actions have led to the breakup of his family.

Best Picture

Nominees: "Brokeback Mountain"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"

Who will win: "Brokeback Mountain" will certainly win for two reasons: It makes voters who probably haven't even seen all of these movies feel good about themselves and it is a good, but not great, flick that is as much about the decay of the American West as it is about the tragedy of hidden love. And yes, gay cowboys.

Who should win: Of these, I'll take "Good Night, and Good Luck" by a nose over "Capote." Clooney's look at how Edward R. Murrow took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy is a pitch-perfect example of agenda filmmaking that also manages to be very entertaining. An aside: How the hell did "Crash" end up on this list? What serves for dialogue in this stinker makes Rodney King's "can't we all just get along" seem downright poetic.

Who should have been nominated: My five: "The Constant Gardener," "A History of Violence," "The Squid and the Whale," "Pride & Prejudice" and "KING KONG." Though my heart is with "King Kong," my mind is with "A History of Violence," the best movie of 2005.

Best director:

We'll skip this one altogether, because Ang Lee has it all sewed up for "Brokeback Mountain"

Best animated feature: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
"Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride"
"Howl's Moving Castle,"

Who will win: After previously winning Oscars for his short adventures of "Wallace & Gromit," director Nick Park and Aardman Animation take this home for a movie that was laugh-out-loud funny for both kids and adults.

Who should win: The Academy will get this one right with "W&G." I absolutely adore Hayao Miyazaki, but his "Howl's Moving Castle" was a visually stunning but otherwise vacant tale. I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't seen "Corpse Bride."

Best documentary feature: "Murderball"
"March of the Penguins"
"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"
"Darwin's Nightmare"
"Street Fight"

Who will win: Oddly, it takes the documentaries to deliver the people's champ. "March of the Penguins," a French flick with Morgan Freeman narrating, is charming and made mad cash in the theaters. If not, look for "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room."

Who should win: "Murderball," easily the worst name for a movie in 2005, is also the best documentary. It has an almost "Hoosiers"-esque feel as it chronicles the true exploits of quadraplegic rugby players in pursuit of the world championship. I'm not kidding.

If you can bear with me, there's only two more I'll comment on:

Best adapted screenplay: "Brokeback Mountain"
"A History of Violence"
"The Constant Gardener"

Who will win: "Brokeback Mountain" can't be stopped here, and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana will share credit for adapting E. Annie Proulx's tale for the screen. However ...

Who should win: By a nose over Josh Olson for "A History of Violence," Jeffrey Caine should win for keeping all the suspense in his taut adaptation of John Le Carre's "The Constant Gardener."

Who should have been nominated: Deborah Moggach, for undertanding that along with being an epic love story, Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" is above all else a deep-cutting comedy of manners.

Original screenplay: "Crash"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
"Match Point"
"The Squid and the Whale"

Who will win: Though I found long stretches of it simply unwatchable, the supposedly deep "Crash" should take this one home, edging out "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Who should win: "The Squid and the Whale." Noah Baumbach's autobiographical script about the break up of his parents is touching, tragic and funny, and it just might upset "Crash."

Who should have been nominated: Not having been a pimp myself, I can only wonder at how Craig Brewer, also a white, non-pimp dude, managed to bring the seamy underbelly of Memphis to vivid life in "Hustle & Flow." Show some love. On a final, rather tangential note, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," "Hustle & Flow" 's nominee for Best Song, is an earworm like no other, but a very pleasant one.

Finally, a word about this blog: I have been posting only once a week, and those who enjoy it, if you're out there, thank you. I've decided to make it more lively. Along with a review a week (if I can bring myself to see what's out that week), there will be additional postings throughout the week, on new DVDS I like, trailers that get me excited about upcoming movies, or whatever crosses my mind. I'll try and make it three to four times a week, if you want to come along for the ride.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Silence, please

If the thought of seeing Steve Martin embarrass himself even more than he already has by trying to even come close to Peter Sellers as "The Pink Panther" repulses you, here are a couple alternatives for this weekend in Macon.

Sunday afternoon at 3 at the Capitol Theatre there will be a showing of the 1927 silent film "Sunrise" accompanied by organist Ron Carter. The movie was directed by F.W. Murnau and won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Here, according to www.imdb.com, is the plot summary: "An attractive woman from the city, on vacation, stays in a small farming community and dazzles a young married farmer. The wicked woman suggests that the man's deceptively dowdy-looking wife might "accidentally" drown. Can he, will he go through with it? The scene changes; in unexpected company, the man gets a kaleidoscopic taste of what the actual city is like. The dramatic climax comes in a fearsome storm and its aftermath ..."

Sounds juicy to me, and co-worker Dan Maley assures me that the acting is so good that there are very few title cards between scenes.

I've only seen a silent film in this type of setting once, when I got to see the National Symphony Orchestra perform as accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus" at the Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia. It was a memorable evening, and a great way to see silent movies.

While the Capitol may not have a full symphony, I'll be there Sunday for "Sunrise" with theater organist Carter. If you wanna join me, note this: There is no admission, but they will be taking donations to support the Capitol.

Also downtown Sunday, and for it's first two shows at least, in competition with "Sunrise," is the Macon Film Guild's presentation of "Touch the Sound" at the Douglass Theatre.

It is a documentary about percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is nearly completely deaf but is able to feel the vibrations of the sounds she makes. Along with experiencing the wonder of her art, the movie offers a travelogue of sorts as we go with Glennie on tour through shows in California, New York, England and her native Scotland.

If I ran the world, and believe me, I'm working on it, the Guild would be showing "The Squid and the Whale," my second favorite film from 2005.

You doubt my powers? Although it's a little unclear, the postcard I get from the Guild each month seems to imply that March's movie is indeed this great little autobiographical film from Noah Baumbach about his parents' divorce and its impact on his childhood. The house will surely be packed for this one.

In the meantime, check out "Touch the Sound." It's showing at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Douglass, with a discussion led by Guild guru Camp Bacon after the 4:30 show.

With these two events unfolding simultaneously in our normally tranquil downtown at the same time, a dark thought floated through my mind: Is this too much cinema for one fairly small city? Luckily its a thought that passed quickly, because it's one that I simply can't accept.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Two sneak peeks

Is it healthy for a grown man to get excited about a teaser-trailer for an animated movie that doesn't even come out until November? Of course not, but I do anyway, especially when it involves Aardman Animation.

Some of the folks that brought us "Wallace & Gromit," though not, apparently, creator Nick Park, are behind the upcoming "Flushed Away." Brace yourselves for some fairly tame fart jokes, parents: This one's about a rat who gets flushed down the toilet and has to survive in the London sewers.

An odd premise, for sure, but it has potential. Hugh Jackman does the voice of our hero, and Kate Winslet is the feisty female companion he meets up with undergound.

Want to know more? Don't take my word for it of course. Link to the site below for a 3-minute-or-so teaser-trailer that features plenty of footage plus interviews with the director and other crew members. Good stuff. Here it is, for Quicktime, Windows media player and Real Player:


Except for the careerbuilder ads with the monkeys and jackasses, the ads at the Super Bowl really blew chunks. Much like the game itself.

One other bright spot, however, was the ad for "V for Vendetta." Flowing from the minds of the wily Wachowski brothers of "Matrix" fame and based on a graphic novel, it's the story of a terrorist freedom fighter (Hugo Weaving) known only as "V" who begins a violent guerilla campaign to destroy those who've succumbed to totalitarianism, and recruits a young woman (Natalie Portman) he's rescued from the secret police to join him.

This wild plot all takes in a futuristic vision of London, which from the preview, is a wonder to behold. Throw in Sir Ian McKellen as the totalitarian leader of this future world, and I'm there. In my mind, at least. We won't be able to see the real thing in theaters until March 17.

If you were raiding the fridge when the ad came on, fear not. You can see it and two other trailers at the link below. The Super Bowl ad, in my opinion, revealed a lot about the story, but if you don't mind spoilers, enjoy. Here's the link to see, in Quicktime, the Super Bowl ad plus two other trailers:


Government should fear their people? Amen to that. I can't wait for this one.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Capote" and the ultimate antihero

"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.' "
- Lyndon B. Johnson

Thanks to "Brokeback Mountain" and the performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Felicity Huffman, many wags have dubbed Hollywood's upcoming coronation night "the gay Oscars."

With "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" both nominated for Best Picture, however, it may be better described as "the journalism Oscars," which to a certain segment of the populace would be just as abhorrent.

And a biopic about Truman Capote, who had the nerve to be both gay and a journalist? Add to this that he was a tremendously talented jerk, and you've got what must be the ultimate antihero.

But in retelling how he got to the truth behind the horrible murders of a Kansas farming family, "Capote" manages to deliver both a compelling tale and an insider's look at how far a good reporter will go to find the real story. Capote went to Kansas as a writer for The New Yorker before he realized he had a story much too big for one article.

Like the movie that was made of Capote's non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood," this flick is more sympathetic to the two killers than to their four victims, who we see only in pictures, dead and alive. But you couldn't have made a movie about Capote any other way. The close relationship he develops with one of the killers, Perry Smith, gets him the story he wants, which is all he cares about in the end.

It's this hard truth that drives "Capote" at its best, and what makes people either love or hate journalists. Me, I like them quite a bit, which is a good thing since I sit among them every day. I never had the drive that Capote did, and many of the reporters I know do, to get at the truth at any cost. It's why I stopped being a reporter, though I still fancy myself a writer from time to time.

Hoffman's Capote works so well because he takes all the writer's faults to heart and plays them straight. It goes from unfailingly funny as he vaingloriously makes himself the center of attention in any room he enters, to painful to watch as he manipulates everyone, from the condemned killers to the circle of friends who cling to his every word.

Capote could never have gotten away with essentially creating a whole new literary genre, the true-crime novel, without a cast of enablers, led here by Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee. Keener is low-key but engaging as she accompanies Hoffman to Kansas and endures his constantly trying to upstage her. Bob Balaban is also great as William Shawn, the editor who let Capote out on an incredibly long leash. Luckily he didn't have Judith Miller on the other end.

And Clifton Collins Jr.'s performance as cold-blooded Perry Smith stands with Jeff Daniels in "The Squid and the Whale" as the two biggest Oscar snubs for this year. Collins manages to make Smith just human enough that you have to struggle to hate him as you watch "Capote," a true accomplishment given the horror of his actions.

Should Hoffman win an Oscar for his performance? To me, he just barely misses out to Terrence Howard, as in a way they play very similar characters. As a struggling Memphis pimp, Howard plays the same kind of mind games Capote did, and he is electric throughout "Hustle and Flow."

Should "Capote" win an Oscar for Best Picture? If I were voting, it wouldn't have been nominated, but of the five that were, it just barely loses out to "Good Night, and Good Luck," George Clooney's portrait of the battle between Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy.

I guess, in these hard times for journalists, I'll take the crusading hero over the talented primadonna. My tiny way of scoring one for the good guys.

Bored "New World"

As millions of people were watching Martin Lawrence run across a beach in a fat suit, about 15 or so people in Macon turned out for the 1 p.m. Sunday screening of Terrence Malick's "The New World" at the AmStar. I'm sorry to have to say it, but I'm not sure which audience got the short end of the stick.

Watching Malick's movies can be a truly maddening experience. He is an extremely gifted visual filmmaker. He spends so much time constructing the perfect image, however, that he has little time for small details like plot and character development.

If he cared for such things, he would have had an epic story of love and discovery to tell. Though the story of John Smith, Pocahontas and John Rolfe is one we all know from elementary school, it is also a juicy love triangle. Or at least, it could be.

What Terrence Malick wants it to be, instead, is a meditation on the impact of man and industry on nature. He would have made a great photographer for National Geographic, and his reconstruction of Jamestown, near the original site in Virginia, is impressive. But here, he's all style and no substance.

At one point Christian Bale's Rolfe says about Pocahontas, or at least thinks in voiceover (it's often hard to tell with Malick): "She sometimes goes hours without saying anything." I couldn't help thinking the same thing, about all the characters in this dud.

There are two high points, all to do with the American Indians. I was talking about this earlier with Telegraph photographer Grant Blankenship, and he said he was looking forward to a rare movie where the Indians are treated as more than savages. Well, in short bites, Malick delivered that much.

As John Smith is at first imprisoned and later, after Pocahontas' intervention, welcomed by the Algonquin tribe, we get a look at their everyday lives that is refreshing in its simplicity.

Plus number two is newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. Not only is she an incredibly beautiful woman, but she can express a wide range of emotions without saying a word, a very necessary skill when working with Malick. She easily overshadows Colin Farrell's John Smith in every scene they share. Farrell goes through the whole show with a dazed, almost vacant look, one I shared as Malick panned across the Virginia wetlands slowly for the 27th time.

Kilcher, however, is definitely one to watch. I can't wait to see what she can do for a director who cares about the actors as much as the scenery.