Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

MOVIE REVIEW: A ‘Conspirator’ to commit murder by boredom

April 18, 2011

No, despite appearances, this is NOT a love story. Robin Wright plays Mary Surratt and James McAvoy is the attorney defending her.

Despite my long aversion to films “based on true events,” I so wanted “The Conspirator,” Robert Redford’s latest direction job, to be a great and powerful one.

On the surface, the story — the trial of Mary Surratt, one of the people tried and hanged for plotting to kill Abraham Lincoln and his top Cabinet members — appealed to my fondness for American history. And the marketing was clever enough, too: opening the film on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death (April 15), and just past the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War (April 12).

So I plunked down my 10-and-a-quarter at Sierra Vista in Clovis and waited for the greatness.

I’m still waiting. Not that anyone would expect a thriller, but I walked away underwhelmed, at times supremely bored and feeling that this member of the choir had been beaten over the head for two hours. It’s a relentlessly bleak film, and besides, you know the end result going in. Sure, it’s essentially a film about a trial (albeit a milestone one; a law was passed banning civilians being tried by military tribunals after this). But what happens between points A and B doesn’t have to drag on and on. Perhaps this film, despite its striking big-screen visuals, would play much better on a small screen.


New Haven Register archives: LOCAL BOY DOES SPLENDID: After a career of character roles, Elm City native Paul Giamatti has his first lead role in ‘American Splendor’

February 17, 2011

New Haven native Paul Giamatti’s first leading film role, after over a decade of character parts, is that of Harvey Pekar, a Cleveland VA hospital file clerk, who enlisted some artists to draw a comic book about his mundane life called “American Splendor.” The film of the same name, based on Pekar’s life and books, won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year; it opens locally Friday. Photo by John Clifford.

(This story originally appeared on Page B1, the Living section cover, of the New Haven Register, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003.)

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

You would think this would be a film’s kiss of death.

In “American Splendor,” which opens locally Friday, Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, a longtime file clerk at the Cleveland VA Hospital who with the help of several cartoonists, including underground legend Robert Crumb, created a comic book about his mundane existence.

There’s also the real-life Pekar on camera, looking at Giamatti and rasping, “He don’t look nuttin’ like me! But whatever…”

But it’s part of the charm of Pekar — an unvarnished, pessimistic, abrasively honest, obsessive-compulsive-neurotic working-class intellectual. And it sure didn’t prevent the film from winning the grand jury award at Sundance this year.

Besides, said New Haven native Giamatti, “I actually do think I look like him.”


Surely you’re not dead! I am … (Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010)

November 29, 2010

You can tell me -- I'm a doctor. First Peter Graves, then Barbara Billingsley, and now Leslie Nielsen.

It was the end of eighth grade — spring 1975, Long River Middle School, Prospect, Ct. — and I was making my stage debut: as the dim-witted comic sidekick to the lead in the school play. I’m spacing on the title, but hey, it sure beat having to prepare for the bullshit school essay contest, like my classmates.

It was the first time I could remember receiving attention for something besides ridicule from the other kids. People were laughing at my lines! And they were applauding me! And I learned at a young age why so many lonely, tortured souls gravitate to the stage: as an escape and, when it’s done right, to receive positive reinforcement that you can’t get in the real world.

I also learned something else early on. The director — my English teacher, Don Gray, who was once a roommate of Paul Newman at Denison College in Ohio — told me: A stupid person can’t play someone smart, but it takes a smart person to play someone stupid very well.

That said, Leslie Nielsen was a genius.

And his passing Sunday of pneumonia in Florida, at 84, also marks an “Airplane!” three-on-a-match this year: Peter Graves, then Barbara Billingsley, and now Nielsen.

After a lengthy career of roles in movies (“Forbidden Planet,” “The Poseidon Adventure”) and TV — where he exuded maximum gravitas, with a baritone just north of fellow Canadian Lorne Greene — who knew that there was a serious idiot just waiting to break out?

Well, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker did. And I’m sure most of you wouldn’t remember his character’s name — Dr. Rumack — but you sure as hell remember Nielsen’s lines. But the key was the acting. If it weren’t for the Most Serious Tone carried out with the straightest of faces by Nielsen and Peter Graves (as the pilot, Capt. Clarence Oveur), we wouldn’t be celebrating “Airplane!” 30 years later as one of the funniest films ever made.

And, of course, that led to some very happy, non-accidental typecasting — as Lt. Frank Drebin in one of the criminally shortest series in TV history, “Police Squad!” — which led to three hilarious “Naked Gun” movies. And I’m sure Nielsen was crying to his local bank over being typecast the rest of his life as the somber bumbler.

So it’s the laughter we will remember. Whenever we remember …

Surely you can’t be quoting Streisand!

I am …

And don’t call me Streisand!

MOVIE REVIEW: Smoking a little ‘Wild Grass’

October 10, 2010

Andre Dussollier and Sabine Azema make you want to think twice before returning a stolen wallet.

I walked into Fresno Filmworks’ screening Friday night (Oct. 8 ) of “Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles)” at the Tower Theatre with a totally blank slate — no preconceptions whatsoever. I left with an overwhelming sense of “Whaaaaaa?”

The latest film by 88-year-old director Alain Resnais (still best known for his ’50s masterpieces, “Night and Fog” and “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”) is about shoes, stealing, stalking, obsession, double obsession and airplanes — and a whole lot of confusion.

The film was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes last year and four Cesars (the French Oscars) this year. (Resnais also won a Special Jury Prize and a Special Award at Cannes last year for his body of work.)  I would’ve thought one of the nominations was for Weirdest French Film.


MOVIE REVIEW: A well-connected ‘Network’

October 2, 2010

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg: The dump that launched 500 million profiles.

As of this point, I do not have a Facebook account. Nor, despite way too many prods from way too many people, do I really care to.

Not that I live a TMI life, but I don’t want people knowing more about me than I care to let them know (although if you read this blog, you know that a good chunk of my life, to some extent, is a pretty open book). Much worse, I’ve heard and read way too much about the site’s Byzantine privacy settings structure — and, worse, Mark Zuckerberg’s seeming disdain for others’ privacy matters.

Besides, the same people who are noodging me now and saying “You’ve gotta get on Facebook!” are the very same ones who said “You’ve gotta get on MySpace!” three years ago. And in a year or two it’ll be or something else some other socially dysfunctional genius concocts to facilitate social interaction in the name of generating hits and satisfying advertisers.

Of course, there was one time a friend posted a link to one of my music posts from here on Facebook, and I amassed what is still my all-time one-day record for page views. So, if at least to build a readership for the blog, I still might one day put up a profile. But I’m certainly not in a rush.

But the founding of the social phenomenon of our times is, indeed, a fascinating story — the inspiration, the formation, the ego-tripping, the wildfire speed at which it eventually spread from Harvard to the world, the friendships left crushed in its wake, the money and the power — and I’m interested in reading Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires,” which formed the basis for the most talked-about film of the year so far: “The Social Network.”

As someone who’s always leery of movies based on true events — after all, you never know what and how much the creators are embellishing — I left with a feeling of not knowing whether I have a feel for the real Zuckerberg after seeing writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher’s film version, as translated on screen by Jesse Eisenberg.

But I do know that whatever the real story, the one on the screen was very well presented. To keep one’s interest in a two-hour film that’s essentially about a socially inept guy, a lot of keyboard tapping and a hearing in a law office, it had better be. It’s pretty much as good as the massive buildup.


MOVIE REVIEW: Much to ‘Howl’ about, some to bitch about

September 19, 2010

“I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix …”

James Franco owns Allen Ginsberg in "Howl," coming soon to a theater near you. Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories

And thus, at a reading at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on Oct. 7, 1955, began the skyrocket ascension of an unpublished 29-year-old poet, a New Yorker, an openly gay Jewish man then living in San Francisco. Allen Ginsberg unleashed his word-shattering “Howl” on the world and influenced subsequent generations of poets for better and worse.

And, with his liberal use of sexual and drug imagery, he created a major test case; Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, who first published “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956, was brought to trial on obscenity charges in San Francisco the following year.

With a general lack of intellectual curiosity in this cowtown of a half-million, plus one small organization (Fresno Filmworks) that only has the wherewithal to show one film for two screenings one night a month, it’s rare that we get any first-run art-house fare here. But not only did we get that, we were fortunate to see “Howl” a week ahead of its widespread release, thanks to a screening Friday (Sept. 17) at Reel Pride, the city’s 21st annual LGBT film festival.

What the rest of you will get to see in the coming weeks is a fantastic, perhaps career-defining performance by James Franco, who’s not only excelling in showing his versatility, but reveling in it. Also, we see some excellent editing and pacing. But at the same time, we also get a pedestrian story and some annoying and wrongheaded animation.


MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Piranha 3D’ bites, and I mean that in the best way possible

August 21, 2010

Jerry O'Connell in "Piranha 3D": Let's just say the fish bit off a little more than they could chew.

I can’t believe I actually went to this movie.

But these are the things that people do for friends, and as it turns out, it was my friend Nate’s birthday, so a bunch of us of went out for a bite and “Piranha 3D” on opening night.

Sometimes you know going in that a film is gonna be so incredibly, unashamedly bad that it’s gonna be great on a certain level. This is one of those times. You could tell by the “quality” of the trailers on TV that this would be oozing, dripping cheese like a late-’70s fondue gone wild, and on that level, it’s a hell of a fun experience. Provided, of course, you can put up with dozens of horribly mutilated bodies.


MOVIE REVIEW: Much more than ‘All Right’

August 8, 2010

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo: We're a happy family. Then again, maybe not.

Fast-forward to five, six years from now — provided, of course, the radical right doesn’t take over the country and we all manage to get past the end of the Mayan calendar. Gay marriage will be a long-settled issue in America, and we’ll have seen enough films and TV shows with gay relationships that we’ll all yawn or just glance without a second thought.

And given that scenario, we’ll still look back and talk about how excellent a movie “The Kids Are All Right” was.

Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s twist on the nuclear family dynamics is a perfect harmonic convergence of disharmony: two Oscar-nominated actresses at artistic peaks and two promising teenage actors brilliantly playing out a scenario in which a major monkey wrench is thrown into a lengthy relationship, causing upheaval to everyone involved. It’s not just acting at its best, but writing at its most brilliant and directing at its most nuanced.


ARCHIVES: All good things don’t have to end

May 30, 2010

This pre-Franorama World post is from my MySpace blog Oct. 4, 2008, 6:53 a.m.:

And so starts my brilliant film career. (Except for that time in the early ’90s when I was in a dance scene in a grade-Z horror film with SpongeBob.*)

A few days ago, I got a small package from my pal Chip Damiani back in New Haven, and we know what comes in small packages. In this case, the good thing was a loaned screener copy of “America’s Lost Band,” the new documentary about the band for which Chip played drums in the mid-’60s (and still does from time to time), The Remains. It just had its world premiere Sept. 14 at the Boston Film Festival — appropriate enough, since the foursome came together as dorm mates at Myles Standish Hall at Boston University.

OK, I’m a little bit prejudiced here, but it was more than worth the wait, even with its flaws.


ARCHIVES: monks documentary FINALLY coming out here!

May 30, 2010

This pre-Franorama World post was from my MySpace blog Sept. 30, 2008, 8:30 p.m. PDT:

While I’m on a music documentary kick this week … The one non-junk email in my box this morning was from the makers of one of the best documentaries I’ve seen — about a band close to my heart and a band I was fortunate enough to have seen (twice). And if you’ve never seen or heard these guys (like 99.99999% of the population), you’re in for a trip.

“monks: the transatlantic feedback” is coming (back) to the States for five weeks, starting on Halloween at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. It will be shown in NYC Oct. 31-Nov. 6, the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore., Nov. 7-13,  the Charleston County (S.C.) Library Nov. 8, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, Nov. 10-15, the Red Vic in San Francisco Nov. 14-17 (I’m so there), and the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine, Dec. 5. Hopefully, the DVD will be out after that, but you need to see it on a big screen if you can.