Film Archive for March, 2009

Marley & Me

I finally got around to watching Marley & Me, which releases on DVD today. Maybe it’s partly because I’m a dog person who’s enormously attached to her own canine companion (a sweet, hyper little Jack Russell named Sophie), but I loved the hell out of this movie. Great performances by both Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson — Wilson sometimes gets on my nerves, but here he was perfect. I liked the use of this couple’s ongoing relationship with their crazy dog as a device to track the trajectory of a marriage from that blissful honeymoon optimism when all things seem possible, through the inevitable changes that life brings to all of us, both individually and in our partnerships — especially when children come along and we’re forced to assess our values and make hard choices.
I liked Marley & Me much, much more than expected to, even given the positive reviews I’d read; in fact, it may be my favorite family movie of the past several years. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, given that one of the screenwriters on it is Scott Frank, who’s penned some awesome films including The Lookout, Minority Report (yes, I did actually like that one), Out of Sight and Get Shorty. And it’s directed by David Frankel, who helmed The Devil Wears Prada, which I also liked.
My one quibble with the film is that I didn’t find it realistic that a family with kids living on the single income of a newspaper columnist (even with his salary doubled when he agrees to write the column daily) could possibly afford to buy the home they move to in Boca — not a mansion, sure, but it’s a newish home, large and very nice, with an inground pool. I poked around on Boca real estate sites and homes that look similar to the one they move to in the film look to go for around $1,000,000; is it at all realistic that a newspaper columnist, even before the layoffs hit hard, could have afforded a home like that? Seriously? I live in Seattle, and our family lives fairly decently on two incomes — mine as a film critic and editor and my husband’s as a tech writer working on a contract gig for a “major software company in Redmond, WA.” We make a decent living, but there’s no way in hell we could afford to buy that expensive a house on two incomes, much less one. I’m just saying.
Then again, when Aniston was on Friends, she and Courteney Cox lived in a remarkably spacious and well-appointed New York City apartment for what their income level was, so I suppose I should just let go of my tendency to obsess over the details and just appreciate that I liked the movie overall. Great family film with a lot more depth than I expected, and well-worth owning on DVD, whether or not you have kids to pretend to buy it for. It’s a good film to have on-hand for those morose, moody kind of nights when you just want to curl up under a quilt with a nice glass of wine, a good movie and a box of tissues, get your heart warmed up, and have a good cry. Because you will cry at the end –yes, even you, tough guy. So here, have a tissue.

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Cinema Eye Awards

The Cinema Eye Awards ceremony is this Sunday in New York City. I will be at AFI Dallas, so can’t make it myself, but if you’re in NYC and love documentary film, you might want to check it out.
The ceremony starts at 8PM at the TimesCenter Stage, tix are available through the Cinema Eye website, and your $75 ticket gets you into the ceremony and the afterparty.
Here’s the description of the ceremony from the Cinema Eye Awards website:

Documentary makers gather to celebrate excellence and innovation in the nonfiction films of 2008. Awards presenters include Laurie Anderson, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Morgan Spurlock. The diverse array of nominated films include MAN ON WIRE, WALTZ WITH BASHIR, and MY WINNIPEG. More than a typical awards show, the night will feature music DJ-ed by composer and musician Ion Furjanic (composer of MANDA BALA and JESUS CAMP) and other surprises.
The ticket price includes a post-ceremony reception with hors d’oevres and an open bar at the nearby venue, ARENA (135 West 41st St).

You can check out the list of nominees right here.

Review: Knowing

It’s not often I come out of a movie hating it so much that I’m actually angered by how awful it is. I mean, studios finance, produce and market an awful lot of bad films every year, and moviegoers shell out millions at the box office (and millions more on concession stand buys) for the privilege of being insulted by 90 minutes or so of bad filmmaking. I get this. It’s pretty much a given, on any given weekend, that there will at least one really bad movie to plunk down $10 to see. And most of the time, I can say, okay, that was bad, but I can see how maybe certain audience segments would be drawn not only to see it, but even find the experience enjoyable. And then there’s a film like Knowing.
I don’t know if I can find words to adequately express just how bad Knowing is, but I’m going to try, in the hopes that perhaps I can save you spending your own hard-earned money in a tight economy on a truly wretched movie-going experience. Knowing is directed by Alex Proyas, who made a hell of a good movie with The Crow way back in 1994, so I wasn’t without hope that Knowing wouldn’t completely suck; the trailer even intrigued me, in spite of Nicolas Cage’s recent track record of making some spectacularly bad script choices. Unfortunately, it’s far, far worse than I could possibly have imagined.
And I don’t normally put spoilers in a review, but I’m making an exception this time, because the plot of this film is so horrendously stupid and contrived that it practically begs to be dissected and analyzed in the way a scientist might examine a particularly nasty strain of intestinal bacteria, in the hopes that one might find a cure for it, or better yet, a way to eliminate it from existence entirely. So you are forewarned that much of what is past the jump is spoiler heavy, but I’ll add that even if you’ve not see the film and for some reason this review fails to convince you to go see something else, it’s unlikely that the spoilers will have any impact on your enjoyment of the film, such as it is.

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There are some good independent films in theaters right now that I want to talk about, all of which are highly recommended.
First up, Steve McQueen’s Hunger, about Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands. This film blew me away when I saw it at Cannes last year, and I really felt it should have won the Un Certain Regard category over Tulpan. The direction by Steve McQueen, making his theatrical directorial debut, is taut and remarkably assured, and the dramatic tension in the film kept me on the edge of my seat. Michael Fassbender’s performance as Bobby Sands is powerful, and while the film has been criticized in some quarters for only showing one side of the long-standing conflict that led to Sands and the other IRA members being in prison to begin with, Hunger isn’t an historical account about the IRA, it’s specifically about the human rights issues around how the prisoners were treated at that time.

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"Minotaur" Gets Optioned

Mike Jones, who until recently helmed Variety’s The Circuit blog, just had his screenplay for The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, adapted from the novel by Steven Sherrill, optioned by The Gotham Group.
The story is about the mythical half man-half bull working as a short order grill cook, in a world where other mythological creatures also work in a variety of menial jobs and are treated like low-wage minorities. Says Jones, “Since they are all myths, they each have their metaphorical place, in a way. In the Minotaur’s case, he’s the object of all alpha-male aggression, so any stupid ex-jock that sees him wants to push his buttons. So M keeps moving to different jobs to avoid conflict.”
Things get spicy when the Minotaur falls in love with a waitress at his new gig, and she with him. “When the head cook starts pushing him around, M decides to stay,” adds Jones. “And since he’s the Minotaur, he blows his stack. All hell breaks loose.”
Jones notes that his script is very different from the book. “It’s very internal, the book. I really only used the first three chapters, then went to a completely different direction.”
The concept of the film sounds pretty cool to me. The film will be a live-action project, and is currently out to directors. Congrats to Jones on optioning the script; now I just need to pick up the book and read it, so I know what to expect when the movie comes out.

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho