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Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

UNCANNY RESEMBLANCE

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm

With Oprah’s tearful announcement about ending her show, all I could think about was her uncanny resemblance to another, erstwhile arbiter/ginormous profiteer of mass taste


Jacqueline Susann

begging the question: does inordinate success breed bouffant and the pursuit of Pucci?

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

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THE RED SHOES, MICHAEL POWELL AND THELMA SCHOONMAKER

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 8:08 am


Moira Shearer

In this ever uglier, more terrifying and bereft world, you owe it to yourself to catch some beauty. What better way to do so than by seeing the magnificently restored new print of THE RED SHOES?

More essential questions:

“Why do you want to dance?”

“Why do you want to live?”

I had the pleasure of interviewing director Michael Powell’s widow, the eminent film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, in GAY CITY NEWS. Read it here .

Here’s a gallery of more Moira Shearer, so bewitching she was like a Vivien Leigh who could dance, who made one of the most spectacular film debuts ever in THE RED SHOES, to lift your day.

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

PENULTIMATE PENELOPE & PEDRO

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2009 at 7:31 am

In BROKEN EMBRACES, Penelope Cruz with this latest, deliriously movie-mad offering by Pedro Almodovar, enters that rarefied realm of extra-special muses who have inspired our greatest directors since cinema’s earliest beginnings:


Gish and Griffith


Dietrich and von Sternberg


Setsuko Hara and Ozu


Anna Karina and Godard


Diane Keaton and Woody Allen.


and before, Penelope, there was Carmen Maura and Pedro Almodovar


Gong Li and Zhang Yimou

of course, these intense relationships can have negative as well as positive effects, as when Zhang Yimou’s daughter recently accused Gong Li of “ruining her childhood” (see story here):

Here’s my review of BROKEN EMBRACES in FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL; just click on the link below

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

GIRLS ON FILM

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2009 at 10:56 pm


The cast of WOMEN IN TROUBLE

It’s a simple, clear-cut fact: movies need women in them. Women bring basic interest, grace, beauty, glamour, sensitivity, human depth and intelligence -qualities necessary to art. Any film without them, you can rest assured, will be primarily concerned with macho competitiveness, sports, war and/or violence, often lacking in any emotional reality, and, if that’s your cup of tea, be my guest. But be honest: what would you rather watch, THE WOMEN or TWELVE ANGRY MEN?

The lack of a strong female presence in today’s films is often decried but, lately, beginning with PRECIOUS, this has happily not been the case. Of course, these current women-centric films are not all 100% artistic successes, but, nevertheless, I’m very grateful that, in the independent sphere, especially, the filmmakers responsible for them are not subject to the oppressive chauvinism and 14-year-old boy mall target audience mentality which has all but ruined Hollywood.

With the delightfully raunchy WOMEN IN TROUBLE, writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez turns from the pulp-y concerns of his scripts for GOTHIKA, SNAKES ON A PLANE and THE EYE and focuses on an interrelated group of ladies trying to make sense of their hectic Los Angeles lives. The fact that a good portion of them are porn actresses bespeaks yet more involution, as well as this auteur’s deliciously prurient interest in the X-rated genre, itself.

Gutierrez captures the edgy, neurotic rhythm and fast, smart, often profane conversation of these ladies who lunch upon one another (Carla Gugino, Adrinne Palicki, Emmanuelle Chriqui), as well as a shrink (Sarah Clark) dealing with her husband’s (Simon Baker) canoodling with one of her patients, and her sister (Connie Britton) who has a lifelong secret concerning her niece (funny, wry Isabella Gutierrez). He tosses hoary ingredients like the porn girls’ witnessing a mob murder or getting stuck on a stalled elevator into this flavorful stew and makes them seem bracingly fresh. Elizabeth Berkley (bringing her seasoned SHOWGIRLS seasoning to the mix), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as a hilariously nerdy porn aficianado who goes too far) and Josh Brolin (having fun as a dissolute Brit rocker who joins the mile high club with disastrous results) appear in small, yet amusingly telling roles.


Carla Gugino as Elektra Luxx

Cast performances are uniformly strong with the bad girls standing out in particular. Gugino (who was so luminous in Broadway in AFTER THE FALL and disappointing in DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, a needless O’Neill revival) is in top form. As Elektra Luxx, a porn queen who could give Jenna Jameson, herself, a run for the quick money, she has an amusing jaded aplomb, especially describing the silliness of having a top-selling replica of her vagina on the market (“It vibrates and it squirts”). Chriqui, with her synthetic rich mahogany tan evokes deliciously hard-boiled, been there-done that dames of the past like Iris Adrian and Mayo Methot, and Palicki is a delightful dippy Monroe for the millennium, forever getting bonked in the head and wailingly admitting, “Dirty talk embarasses me and I hate eating pussy: I’m the world’s porn star!”


Lynn Collins and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in UNCERTAINTY

Joseph Gordon-Levitt also appears in UNCERTAINTY, an affecting effort by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (the team that brought you THE DEEP END) which simultaneously spins a double tale of lovers Bobby (Gordon-Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins), who realize they are about to experience a blessed event. At the beginning, these two flip a coin on the Brooklyn Bridge on the Fourth of July, after which each run in the opposite direction – to Manhattan and Brooklyn – as their stories in each New York borough begin. The Manhattan section involves their finding a cellphone in a cab which they discover is wanted by all kinds of shady characters and, as they realize its possible money-bartering value to them, they also become aware that it may be putting their lives in danger. Brooklyn’s story focuses on Kate’s Argentinian family who have them over for one of those family barbecues, fraught with combative love.

McGehee and Siegel have a neat sense of pacing and keen ear for authentic dialogue. “Somebody’s hating his life right now,” Bobby mutters when he finds that highly coveted Trio, and anyone who has ever lost a mobile will completely relate. The Manhattan tale, while rather far-fetched, has kinetic energy, while the Brooklyn sequence is rich in familial tension and well-observed inter-relationships. Spanish actress Assumpta Serna, who was in Almodovar’s MATADOR, has a tensile strength as Kate’s quietly dominating mother, the very kind who simultaneously draws and repels her daughters, and, as Kate’s likable younger sister, Olivia Thirlby once again proves herself, after JUNO, as one of our freshest, most appealing young actresses.

Gordon-Levitt gives a highly appealing, understated performance, the kind that could be described as “perfect leading man” without a trace of condescension. Collins has the more emotional turn, and is up to the challenge, being affectingly real in every frame. Apart from their romance, made true by the unforced chemistry of the leads, the film is also in love with New York, which, shot with beautiful crispness and fluidity by the wonderful young cinematographer Rain Li, hasn’t looked so good in years. It’s a wonderfully fresh look at the city, without any Woody Allen glossiness, in which Chinatown, Union Square and quiet residential Brooklyn streets and backyards have a recognizable authenticity, with an ever so slightly heightened yet buzzing, ecstatically summery quality.


Robin Wright Penn and Keanu “Peter Pan” Reeves in THE SECRET LIVES OF PIPPA LEE

Arthur Miller was never particular great shakes when it came to writing women – look at all those ladies in housedresses standing around wringing their hands over their men’s misdeeds in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, ALL MY SONS and A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE and what he did to Marilyn in THE MISFITS and AFTER THE FALL, although, finally, his film script for EVERYBODY WINS afforded Debra Winger a great opportunity – but his writer/director daughter, Rebecca, is doing something to remedy the family honor on that score with THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE. It’s the story, riddled with flashbacks, of Pippa (Robin Wright Penn), married to an older man, Herb (Alan Arkin), and still suffering the scars inflicted by a benzedrine-addicted mother Suky (Maria Bello), who tries to maintain the perfect, gourmet-cooking balance in the retirement community where they’ve moved.

There’s a lot of good stuff and quirky observation going on here, but we somehow never get fully pulled into Pippa’s plight, as she’s been mutedly drawn as too much the stoically benevolent nurturer and accommodator of, and reactor to, everyone else’s nuttiness, a Nora who takes forever to slam the door of her doll house. Although the movie revolves around her, Wright Penn, always quietly intelligent and agelessly bautiful (at times recalling Julie Christie), must still wait for the role that will really celebate her undoubted talent (something I haven’t seen since THE PLAYBOYS way back in 1992). Miller makes Pippa a well-heeled Everywoman we’re all supposed to relate to, endeavoring to transcend a problemmatic family and past; what she hasn’t done is make her interesting.

Arkin is much more compelling, and does maybe his best screen work ever, creating a full portrait of this semi-retired editor, facing a scarily quiet new suburban life, as well as his imminent mortality, with admirably economic intelligence. Pippa’s unspoken worry about his inevitable demise, which will certainly prefigure hers, becomes a funny-sad leitmotif here. Bello seizes her flamboyant opportunities as a woman obsessed with image, yet fragmenting before the eyes of her perfectly groomed children. Monica Belluci has a wild moment of black humor as the woman whom Herb leaves for Pippa, throwing a disastrous farewell lunch in which she serves stuffed pig and cow head, “so we can see the faces of creatures who have experienced pain.” Winona Ryder has a small comeback role as an emotional mess of a woman who brings yet more stress into Pippa’s life, and she goes all the way with it to amusing effect. Julianne Moore stridently overdoes it as lesbian photographer who takes in the teenaged Pippa (Blake Lively, who’s no Wright Penn), as if the actress had read some manual entitled “Dyke Cliches.” Also in the strident category is Zoe Kazan, all too convincing as Pippa’s disagreeable daughter.

Keanu Reeves, sporting a ridiculous Jesus tattoo on his torso, plays Chris, the troubled son of a neighbor of Pippa’s in the community, with whom she becomes involved. It’s a role in which he seems to be typecast, ever since “saving” Diane Keaton’s middle-aged life in SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. It’s rather amazing: Reeves is now 45 years old and a truer example of a Peter Pan, and I’m including the late Michael Jackson, never existed. He is still boyish after all these years, completely lacking in any kind of seasoned, masculine weight and, when he attempts anything like this, it’s as heavy and forced and suddenly as dead-serious and semi-risible as Shirley Temple used to be when suddenly told that her mother, or father, or both, had died.

Stay tuned for reviews of YOUNG VICTORIA and THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND, two more “women’s films.”

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

A REAL BROADWAY TRAGEDY

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 5:09 am

brighton3

I was really saddened to hear of the sudden closing of BRIGHTON BEACH ME MOIRS as it was a rare bright spot in a mostly dismal Broadway season so far. The direction of David Cromer deserved the kudos he got for the revival OUR TOWN, which, frankly, left me cold. Cromer’s acting of the Stage Manager was too intrusively hectoring, giving an unwonted “edge” to the play which robbed it of its existential soulfulness and quiet beauty, and there were serious aesthetic issues, like having the mothers wearing pantsuits at the wedding of Emily and George, as well as casting missteps, like an off-putting, much too mature actress as Emily. (Martha Scott, who originated the role on Broadway in 1938, was also too old by the time she made the film of it in 1940, but did manage to retain a certain authentic starry-eyed fervor.)

With BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, however, Cromer’s intent digging into the text really paid off in emotional terms. I was frankly rather dreading an evening of Neil Simon, but found myself completely involved in the economically strapped travails of the Jerome family and even shed a tear or two during the wrenching leave=taking scene between older brother Stanley (Santino Fontana, a piercingly real, smashing find of a young actor) and young Eugene (Noah Robbins, who managed to be really funny, natural and touching, besides completely ridding his cliched narrator/commentator role of any rote, noxious urban precocity). I doubt that there will be a more magically moving onstage moment this year than when Eugene takes Stanley’s old sports medal as a departing keepsake.

santino
Santino Fontana and Noah Robbins

Ben Brantley’s dismissal of Laurie Metcalf’s performance as Mrs. Jerome in the New York Times was doubtlessly a definite coffin nail for this production (although some have even surmised that it was Neil Simon himself who pulled the plug, not liking it as being too dark and not funny enough). Once more, Brantley misses the boat, besides possibly needing glasses, or a stronger prescription if he already wears them, as witness two off-the-wall recent observations of his, the first in his review of THE ROYAL FAMILY in which he described Catherine Zuber’s abysmal costumes, which included a pashmina shawl for Rosemary Harris that looked as if it had been picked up from a Times Square street vendor, as “mouth-watering.” In his review of BYE BYE BIRDIE, he actually cited a physical resemblance between Gina Gershon and Ava Gardner, the most gorgeous white woman who ever lived. Gershon maybe recalls Yvonne DeCarlo, at best, Gardner, never.

Metcalf, always a forthright, vivid actress, played her part with an unsentimental toughness; her anger and exasperation gave a fresh spin to her dominating, eternally wrongheaded Yiddische mama lines and the sympathy she assuredloy evoked from tthe audience was as admirably hard-won as it was genuine. Dennis Boutsikaris was blessedly handsome (thereby making his wife’s jealousy believable) and understated as Papa Jerome, avoiding the eyeball-rolling corn inherent in this all-wise paterfamilias role right out of Andy Hardy’s never-wrong, sage Judge of a father. Jessica Hecht, that intelligent actress, made her strongest, most poignant impression to date as the spinster aunt possessed of an endearingly annoying wheezy laugh and sudden terror when her sister decides to lend her a special necklace for an all-important date. The gawky, terrified way Hecht ran away from the bauble as if it was a brandished gun was but one of the myriad behavorial felicities of Cromer’s direction.

The closing of this show is not only a shame but an outright indictment of producer lack of faith as well as the Broadway audience, itself, who crave movie stars in idiotic plays (see A STEADY RAIN) or the lowest form of musicals (see MAMMA MIA!) over a play which, although set during the Depression, addresses the current economic situation and its devastating impact on a family with heart and humor in a way that could speak to everyone, even those clueless tourists currently crowding Times Square, impeding true New Yorkers’ progress and avidly dropping bucks at the Hershey’s store. BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS was the kind of a show that might have built up a special word of mouth, but, obviously, nobody cared enough.

Onward to (shudder) SPIDERMAN!

COPYRIGHT: nohwaymail2009