Sunday, October 23, 2005

Duelling Capotes

Speaking of giving films a chance, I'd like to note that there is another Truman Capote film in the works, Have You Heard [or possibly, Every Word Is True]. Given the success of Capote and the rave reviews Philip Seymour Hoffman has gotten, one can only hope this other Capote film gets a fair shake at distribution. Although it doesn't have nearly as well known an actor playing the lead role, it's got some heavy starpower of its own with performances by Sandra Bullock, Daniel 007 Craig, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Isabella Rossellini and Hope Davis. I have no idea if Have You Heard will be a better, worse or as good a film as the current release, but I look forward to seeing it, if and when it comes to Seattle.

Domino

The other night at the Capote preview Kathy Fennessy told me how much fun Domino was. I was skeptical, given the terrible reviews the film had gotten, but then she began reeling off the names of the people in the film. Mickey Rourke, Delroy Lindo, Dabney Coleman, Lucy Liu, Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Walken and Tom Waits. I was like, holy shit, that has to be good! And, indeed it was. I saw it last night at a virtually empty theater in the Meridian and I gotta say, it's one fucking entertaining movie. Why didn't the critics like it? I mean, c'mon, it's got explosions, carnage and a nunchuck wielding Kiera Knightley, sporting a far skimpier outfit than the one she wore in Pride & Prejudice. Plus, it's got very smart and funny script by the guy who wrote Donnie Darko. Given its relative failure at the box office, I have no idea how much longer it'll be playing. So, do yourself a favor. Get your ass over to the theater and see it tonight.

Friday, October 21, 2005

More Shopgirl, or Lunch at Saks

SHOPGIRL
(Anand Tucker, US, rated R, 104 mins.)


shopgirl2.jpg

I was at the same screening of Shopgirl as my colleague. Initially, I was just going
to leave a comment stating that I felt the same way about it. Then I realized there were a few things I wanted to add-even if my conclusion is pretty much the same.

First of all, I thought Claire Danes was miscast. She does a good job, but seems
far too sturdy for the role of Mirabelle, at least as suggested by the script. And I'm not using "sturdy" as a pseudonym for "heavy"-Danes has never looked thinner.

I was reminded of Jessica Lange in the HBO revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.
While she gives a fine performance, she looks far too healthy for the role of the fragile Blanche DuBois, unlike Vivien Leigh in the Elia Kazan classic, who looks as
if she's been kicked around a little by life (much like the actress who played her).
Then again, Shopgirl seeks to recreate the charm of Breakfast at Tiffanys (1961), so
I may have been projecting the dainty image of Audrey Hepburn onto Danes, a different physical type. After all, Mirabelle comes from a small town, has a shabby chic-meets-couture style of dressing, and is torn between a wealthy older man (Steve Martin) and a more age-appropriate working class model (Jason Schwartzman).
[And speaking of her Vermont hometown, could Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under)
and Sam Bottoms (That's My Bush!), as her silent parents, have been more wasted?
I wonder if some of their footage ended up on the cutting room floor.]
Then there's Martin, author of the original novella, as Ray. It was really hard for
me to see what Mirabelle would find so appealing about this creep-and I don't
mean Martin the actor, but the walking stiff he plays in the film (he gives a similar performance in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner,* but to much better effect).
Maybe it's a form of anti-vanity on Martin's part, i.e. he didn't want to seem too eager to be liked, in which case, he succeeds spectacularly. I didn't like him. And
nor did I buy him as a great lover, but then that might be where Martin chose to concentrate his vanity (ironically, Shopgirl was preceded by a trailer for Casanova...).
shopgirl.jpg
Last but not least is Schwartzman's Jeremy, who looks as if he got lost on the
way to the set of another film-a sequel to Rushmore, perhaps. Fortunately,
that very incongruity helps to salvage this one. Arguably, he overdoes the
whole slacker-doofus thing, but he's genuinely funny and even a little touching.
I also liked the ending, in which the fate of the central trio is revealed. I was less enamored by the mystical mumbo-jumbo that transpires immediately afterwards.
That's why, to quote Ebert and Roeper, I'm giving Shopgirl "a marginal thumbs-up," although I agree that the conclusion feels borrowed from Woody Allen's ouvre.
That hadn't occured to me at the time, but now that I think about it, I suspect
Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) also had Annie Hall in mind while making it.
But back to my quibbles... I hated the soundtrack, which isn't horrible in and of itself, but plays as incongruously portentous in a film aiming for elegance and restraint.
Worst of all is the omniscent narration, a device that elevates Amelie and Y Tu Mam/* Tambien, but is deployed with great clumsiness here. It's provided, of course, by Martin. Hence, I thought Ray was speaking at first, although he couldn't possibly know the things this God-like creature does. Further, some of the lines, like "That's life," are just plain flat-footed. If the film is ever re-cut, I hope they get rid of the narration altogether. It sounds tacked-on, and does more harm than good.
On the plus side, Peter Suschitzky's crisp cinematography is an asset. If I'm not mistaken, he also shot David Cronenberg's Crash, and he makes LA look much like Toronto, i.e. way cleaner than it really is (even if Shopgirl was shot on location).
I guess I should condemn such glamorization, but I liked the way it brought me
right back to Blake Edwards' lovely looking Breakfast at Tiffanys, a far superior
effort. But at least this one isn't marred by Mickey Rooney and his prodigiously unfunny Japanese impression. Instead you get Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
playing yet another bitchy blonde-although she sure does it well.
shopgirl3.jpg
Postscript: Shopgirl is currently available on DVD.
* Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, has a cameo in the film.

More Shopgirl, or Lunch at Saks

SHOPGIRL
(Anand Tucker, US, rated R, 104 mins.)


shopgirl2.jpg

I was at the same screening of Shopgirl as my colleague. Initially, I was just going
to leave a comment stating that I felt the same way about it. Then I realized there were a few things I wanted to add -- even if my conclusion is pretty much the same.

First of all, I thought Claire Danes was miscast. She does a good job, but seems
far too sturdy for the role of Mirabelle, at least as suggested by the script. And I'm not using "sturdy" as a pseudonym for "heavy" -- Danes has never looked thinner.

I was reminded of Jessica Lange in the HBO revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.
While she gives a fine performance, she looks far too healthy for the role of the fragile Blanche DuBois, unlike Vivien Leigh in the Elia Kazan classic, who looks as
if she's been kicked around a little by life (much like the actress who played her).
Then again, Shopgirl seeks to recreate the charm of Breakfast at Tiffanys (1961), so
I may have been projecting the dainty image of Audrey Hepburn onto Danes, a different physical type. After all, Mirabelle comes from a small town, has a shabby chic-meets-couture style of dressing, and is torn between a wealthy older man (Steve Martin) and a more age-appropriate working class model (Jason Schwartzman).
[And speaking of her Vermont hometown, could Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under)
and Sam Bottoms (That's My Bush!), as her silent parents, have been more wasted?
I wonder if some of their footage ended up on the cutting room floor.]
Then there's Martin, author of the original novella, as Ray. It was really hard for
me to see what Mirabelle would find so appealing about this creep -- and I don't
mean Martin the actor, but the walking stiff he plays in the film (he gives a similar performance in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner,* but to much better effect).
Maybe it's a form of anti-vanity on Martin's part, i.e. he didn't want to seem too eager to be liked, in which case, he succeeds spectacularly. I didn't like him. And
nor did I buy him as a great lover, but then that might be where Martin chose to concentrate his vanity (ironically, Shopgirl was preceded by a trailer for Casanova...).
shopgirl.jpg
Last but not least is Schwartzman's Jeremy, who looks as if he got lost on the
way to the set of another film -- a sequel to Rushmore, perhaps. Fortunately,
that very incongruity helps to salvage this one. Arguably, he overdoes the
whole slacker-doofus thing, but he's genuinely funny and even a little touching.
I also liked the ending, in which the fate of the central trio is revealed. I was less enamored by the mystical mumbo-jumbo that transpires immediately afterwards.
That's why, to quote Ebert and Roeper, I'm giving Shopgirl "a marginal thumbs-up," although I agree that the conclusion feels borrowed from Woody Allen's ouvre.
That hadn't occured to me at the time, but now that I think about it, I suspect
Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) also had Annie Hall in mind while making it.
But back to my quibbles... I hated the soundtrack, which isn't horrible in and of itself, but plays as incongruously portentous in a film aiming for elegance and restraint.
Worst of all is the omniscent narration, a device that elevates Amélie and Y Tu Mamá También, but is deployed with great clumsiness here. It's provided, of course, by Martin. Hence, I thought Ray was speaking at first, although he couldn't possibly know the things this God-like creature does. Further, some of the lines, like "That's life," are just plain flat-footed. If the film is ever re-cut, I hope they get rid of the narration altogether. It sounds tacked-on, and does more harm than good.
On the plus side, Peter Suschitzky's crisp cinematography is an asset. If I'm not mistaken, he also shot David Cronenberg's Crash, and he makes LA look much like Toronto, i.e. way cleaner than it really is (even if Shopgirl was shot on location).
I guess I should condemn such glamorization, but I liked the way it brought me
right back to Blake Edwards' lovely looking Breakfast at Tiffanys, a far superior
effort. But at least this one isn't marred by Mickey Rooney and his prodigiously unfunny Japanese impression. Instead you get Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
playing yet another bitchy blonde -- although she sure does it well.
shopgirl3.jpg
Postscript: Shopgirl is currently available on DVD.
* Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, has a cameo in the film.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Herzog, Trumbull...& Reptile Rock

November is shaping up to be a great film (& music) month in Seattle.
Here are a few events, from the latest SIFF newsletter, that caught my eye.

48m.jpg

HERZOG FILM SERIES
November 2005
Featuring the filmmaker in person
Discounts for SIFF Members
More details to come

SIFF SPOTLIGHT SERIES
Works of David Cronenberg
November 11-13
Seattle Art Museum
More info: www.seattlefilm.org

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS FILM SERIES
Presented by the Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame
All films hosted by Seattle film critics

11/13: Silent Running - Hosted by Academy Award-winning director Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey)
11/27: Dark Star
12/4: Alien
12/11: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

All screenings: 4:00 pm at the JBL Theater inside EMP
Tickets: $6
Series Tickets: $30 general public, $24 for SFM/SIFF Members
SFM/EMP Box Office: 206-770-2702

****
While I'm at it, I wanted to mention a couple of music events:

THE DEADLY SNAKES
November 1
The Funhouse
9:30pm, $7
More info: http://www.thefunhouseseattle.com

THE DETROIT COBRAS
With the Reining Sound
November 8
Chop Suey
8:00pm doors, $10
More info: http://www.chopsuey.com/

The Deadly Snakes' Porcella (In the Red) and the Detroit Cobras' Baby (Bloodshot) are two of my favorite records of the year...just as Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Herzog's Grizzly Man are two of my favorite films. Local film critic Sean Axmaker, who'll be introducing Steven Soderbergh's Solaris at the Sci-Fi Museum on 10/16, also gives Baby his highest praise.

Herzog, Trumbull...& Reptile Rock

November is shaping up to be a great film (& music) month in Seattle.
Here are a few events, from the latest SIFF newsletter, that caught my eye.

48m.jpg

HERZOG FILM SERIES
November 2005
Featuring the filmmaker in person
Discounts for SIFF Members
More details to come

SIFF SPOTLIGHT SERIES
Works of David Cronenberg
November 11-13
Seattle Art Museum
More info: www.seattlefilm.org

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS FILM SERIES
Presented by the Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame
All films hosted by Seattle film critics

11/13: Silent Running - Hosted by Academy Award-winning director Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey)
11/27: Dark Star
12/4: Alien
12/11: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

All screenings: 4:00 pm at the JBL Theater inside EMP
Tickets: $6
Series Tickets: $30 general public, $24 for SFM/SIFF Members
SFM/EMP Box Office: 206-770-2702

****
While I'm at it, I wanted to mention a couple of music events:

THE DEADLY SNAKES
November 1
The Funhouse
9:30pm, $7
More info: http://www.thefunhouseseattle.com

THE DETROIT COBRAS
With the Reining Sound
November 8
Chop Suey
8:00pm doors, $10
More info: http://www.chopsuey.com/

The Deadly Snakes' Porcella (In the Red) and the Detroit Cobras' Baby (Bloodshot) are two of my favorite records of the year...just as Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Herzog's Grizzly Man are two of my favorite films. Local film critic Sean Axmaker, who'll be introducing Steven Soderbergh's Solaris at the Sci-Fi Museum on 10/16, also gives Baby his highest praise.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

SIFF 2006 Dates Change

For those who like to plan way in advance, the Seattle International Film Festival has announced new dates for next year's SIFF. Due to scheduling conflicts with the Cannes Film Festival, the festival will now take place from May 25 - June 18. If you're a SIFF member, you should receive your Early Bird form by the end of the month (included with the next issue of Reel News).

For more info about SIFF: www.seattlefilm.org

SIFF 2006 Dates Change

For those who like to plan way in advance, the Seattle International Film Festival has announced new dates for next year's SIFF. Due to scheduling conflicts with the Cannes Film Festival, the festival will now take place from May 25 - June 18. If you're a SIFF member, you should receive your Early Bird form by the end of the month (included with the next issue of Reel News).

For more info about SIFF: www.seattlefilm.org

Monday, October 3, 2005

Eat The Document

With the release of No Direction Home Dylan fans have a further opportunity to glimpse some of the most sought after footage of his career. Although the film elides a few key characters [Carolyn Hester, Edie Sedgwick, Sara Lowndes], it delivers a well presented, if official, bio of Dylan's early years and has comments from many of the main players, including the man himself. Most effectively, it builds the tension between the divergence of electric Bob from folkie Bob, the former being represented by his infamous '66 tour. Most of the clips from that period are presented for the first time and give a fairly good taste of just how on fire he was when he let loose with The Band.

For those with a hunger for this stuff, an even rarer opportunity is being presented by the EMP when it screens the largely unseen film Eat The Document, this Friday at 8:00 at the JBL theater. The film derives from the same footage seen in No Direction Home and was shot by D.A. Pennebaker with the intention that it would be completed by Dylan for an TV special to be broadcast by ABC. The network passed on it and it was shown only once, in 1972 at the Academy of Music in New York before disappearing from circulation; only to re-appear at a one-time screening in 1998 to promote the release of the Live 1966 recording. The film has had a second life as a not too terribly hard to get bootleg of which I own a rather excellent copy [sorry, I won't tell you where I got it].

For fans of Pennebaker's portrait of the '65 tour, Dont Look Back, this latter film will be a shock. Pennebaker employed a similar shooting style, but the editing was done by Dylan, along with Howard Alk, who had worked as a cameraman on the '65 and '66 tours and who appears in the film as the man in black hat and beard. Unlike Dont Look Back, which employs verite' documentation with some improvised staging to create a linear narrative of Dylan's experiences in London, Eat The Document cuts the footage into a Godardian stew, often confusing and denying the expectations of the viewer. The movie opens with Bob collapsed over a table, laughing hysterically and gets woollier from there. Musical segments are abruptly cut, people and places are shuffled like cards and chronology is thrown out the window. In addition, the image of Dylan as a wisecracking upstart is replaced largely with that of a weary, brittle, dandified ghost; one of the few times he gets talkative is when receiving a backstage visit from Steve Winwood and Spencer Davis. Ironically, the very thing that facilitated this mode was Pennebaker's development of a style beautifully suited to catching the spontaneous, intimate and oddly surreal moments that occurred. As usual, the question arises, what was Bob thinking? There are two schools of thought on this. One is that Dylan was artfully trying to reproduce the sense of disorientation he felt on the tour; the other is that he had no idea of how to edit a fucking movie. As tempting as it might be to ascribe it to the latter [especially in light of Renaldo and Clara] there is a third possibility that, faced with the prospect of having to cut innumerable hours of footage into a 52 minute piece, he had no alternative but to cram everything into a dense, overstuffed package. Viewed in this light, one can view the results as an interesting, but butchered curiosity. However, if one is willing to set documentary expectations aside, the film exerts a hypnotic vibe and fairly entertains with its odd associations and daft moments [a particular favorite is when a sliver of food gets passed along a long table in a manner that resembles more of a last snack than supper].

The EMP is to be truly commended for making this rare treat available and yet, there is an even holier grail which, to my knowledge, has never been screened, due to the fact that it seems to have vanished as completely as the lost reels of The Magnificent Ambersons. Although Pennebaker served only as a cameraman on Eat The Document, he reputedly kept a working print of the footage and cut his own two-hour version, entitled You Know Something Is Happening. In a 2002 interview by Chris Hollow, Pennebaker has this to say about the movie, "That's kind of like a lost jewel. I feel like I've got a piece of string with chewing gum on it trying to get a nickel out of the grading when I think about that film." The film has no IMDb listing, doesn't appear on Pennebaker's resume and isn't credited as a source for No Direction Home. Needless to say, you can forget about finding a bootleg version.

Regardless, many of the '66 tour sequences which appear in No Direction Home do not appear in Eat The Document and some of the ones that do appear use footage from a different camera. The evidence would suggest that, whether they were culled from the long lost Pennebaker film or the original footage, much of the material still exists in pristine condition. Indeed, the clips in No Direction Home are beautifully restored with rich and full sound [a testament, really, to Pennebaker's talent]. It is a pity, then, that such stuff should be parceled out like caviar. The DVD includes a few full-length performances as extras, but largely presents those sequences as truncated clips. It would be nice if, someday, a fuller document would be released, whether it be the Dylan edit or the Pennebaker edit or a newly edited film or possibly, best of all, all three. But I suppose that's about as likely to happen as Brian Wilson finishing the Smile album.

Eat The Document

With the release of No Direction Home Dylan fans have a further opportunity to glimpse some of the most sought after footage of his career. Although the film elides a few key characters [Carolyn Hester, Edie Sedgwick, Sara Lowndes], it delivers a well presented, if official, bio of Dylan's early years and has comments from many of the main players, including the man himself. Most effectively, it builds the tension between the divergence of electric Bob from folkie Bob, the former being represented by his infamous '66 tour. Most of the clips from that period are presented for the first time and give a fairly good taste of just how on fire he was when he let loose with The Band.

For those with a hunger for this stuff, an even rarer opportunity is being presented by the EMP when it screens the largely unseen film Eat The Document, this Friday at 8:00 at the JBL theater. The film derives from the same footage seen in No Direction Home and was shot by D.A. Pennebaker with the intention that it would be completed by Dylan for an TV special to be broadcast by ABC. The network passed on it and it was shown only once, in 1972 at the Academy of Music in New York before disappearing from circulation; only to re-appear at a one-time screening in 1998 to promote the release of the Live 1966 recording. The film has had a second life as a not too terribly hard to get bootleg of which I own a rather excellent copy [sorry, I won't tell you where I got it].

For fans of Pennebaker's portrait of the '65 tour, Dont Look Back, this latter film will be a shock. Pennebaker employed a similar shooting style, but the editing was done by Dylan, along with Howard Alk, who had worked as a cameraman on the '65 and '66 tours and who appears in the film as the man in black hat and beard. Unlike Dont Look Back, which employs verite' documentation with some improvised staging to create a linear narrative of Dylan's experiences in London, Eat The Document cuts the footage into a Godardian stew, often confusing and denying the expectations of the viewer. The movie opens with Bob collapsed over a table, laughing hysterically and gets woollier from there. Musical segments are abruptly cut, people and places are shuffled like cards and chronology is thrown out the window. In addition, the image of Dylan as a wisecracking upstart is replaced largely with that of a weary, brittle, dandified ghost; one of the few times he gets talkative is when receiving a backstage visit from Steve Winwood and Spencer Davis. Ironically, the very thing that facilitated this mode was Pennebaker's development of a style beautifully suited to catching the spontaneous, intimate and oddly surreal moments that occurred. As usual, the question arises, what was Bob thinking? There are two schools of thought on this. One is that Dylan was artfully trying to reproduce the sense of disorientation he felt on the tour; the other is that he had no idea of how to edit a fucking movie. As tempting as it might be to ascribe it to the latter [especially in light of Renaldo and Clara] there is a third possibility that, faced with the prospect of having to cut innumerable hours of footage into a 52 minute piece, he had no alternative but to cram everything into a dense, overstuffed package. Viewed in this light, one can view the results as an interesting, but butchered curiosity. However, if one is willing to set documentary expectations aside, the film exerts a hypnotic vibe and fairly entertains with its odd associations and daft moments [a particular favorite is when a sliver of food gets passed along a long table in a manner that resembles more of a last snack than supper].

The EMP is to be truly commended for making this rare treat available and yet, there is an even holier grail which, to my knowledge, has never been screened, due to the fact that it seems to have vanished as completely as the lost reels of The Magnificent Ambersons. Although Pennebaker served only as a cameraman on Eat The Document, he reputedly kept a working print of the footage and cut his own two-hour version, entitled You Know Something Is Happening. In a 2002 interview by Chris Hollow, Pennebaker has this to say about the movie, "That's kind of like a lost jewel. I feel like I've got a piece of string with chewing gum on it trying to get a nickel out of the grading when I think about that film." The film has no IMDb listing, doesn't appear on Pennebaker's resume and isn't credited as a source for No Direction Home. Needless to say, you can forget about finding a bootleg version.

Regardless, many of the '66 tour sequences which appear in No Direction Home do not appear in Eat The Document and some of the ones that do appear use footage from a different camera. The evidence would suggest that, whether they were culled from the long lost Pennebaker film or the original footage, much of the material still exists in pristine condition. Indeed, the clips in No Direction Home are beautifully restored with rich and full sound [a testament, really, to Pennebaker's talent]. It is a pity, then, that such stuff should be parceled out like caviar. The DVD includes a few full-length performances as extras, but largely presents those sequences as truncated clips. It would be nice if, someday, a fuller document would be released, whether it be the Dylan edit or the Pennebaker edit or a newly edited film or possibly, best of all, all three. But I suppose that's about as likely to happen as Brian Wilson finishing the Smile album.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

New Thing!


Struck by a desire to avoid housework this morning, I hacked up a current-listings set of updating film showtimes for a selected set of Seattle-area theaters. It's drawn, circuitously, from the customizable movie times listings to be found via My Yahoo, which is why the film links point at Yahoo, and there's no direct ticket-buying link. I may experiment with getting the data from the Google Movie Times page, but that does not yet allow one to exclude by theater.


You can see the list in the sidebar. Hopefully I can figure out how to do something like this for SIFF next year, too.