Film Essent Archive for April, 2009

Roger and Me

When I was a little girl growing up in Oklahoma City, I was a little geek who read books voraciously and wrote incessantly. I told stories to myself while walking to school to pass the time. I scribbled stories during class, hiding a notebook inside my textbook so my teachers wouldn’t know what I was doing. And I also, thanks in large part to my grandmother and Roger Ebert, came to love the storytelling of movies.
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Barefoot and pregnant

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a story on Jeff Wells’ blog, Hollywood Elsewhere, but this one just got me so riled I couldn’t let it pass by. Wells wrote a piece (relatively tame, for him) about how he doesn’t like the way Sasha Grey speaks in The Girlfriend Experience. There’s nothing wrong with the post itself — hell, we all get annoyed by the smallest things about particular films from time to time.
No, what got me irritated was the first comment on the post, in which the writer essentially blames the decline of “standards, manners and civility across the board” on the advent of the two-income family. Read: on women who choose to have careers rather than stay home barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, doing all those things that, you know, women are supposed to do. Because home is our place, right? What’s interesting is that the commenter very carefully avoids using the words “women” and “work” in the comment, but the intent underlying the comment is pretty clear.

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New on DVD: Nothing But the Truth

You could argue that Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, starring Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga in career-high performances, lost out on being an Oscar contender because its distributor, Yari Film Group, declared bankruptcy. And you’d probably be right.
Loosely inspired by the Valerie Plame case, the film focuses on Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale), a reporter who goes to jail rather than reveal her source for a Pulitzer-prize nominated story revealing Erica Van Doren (Farmiga), another mom at her son’s school, to secretly be a CIA operative.
The film shows us the events as they unfold from the perspective of a reporter who’s willing to stay in jail and lose her husband and son rather than reveal who her source was. And as you’re watching the film, while your sympathies lie primarily with Armstrong, there are points where you wonder, how much is this woman willing to take in fighting for this abstract principle of the right of a journalist to protect a source, even in matters the government considers to pertain to national security? You wonder, if I found myself in her place, would I have that strength myself?

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Ebertfest Dispatch: The Wrap

The last full day of Ebertfest started off early with an 11AM screening of The Fall, directed by Tarsem. Tarsem also directed The Cell, which played here at last year’s fest. I’d never seen The Fall, and I’m glad that I caught it here on the huge screen at the Virginia Theater, because this is a film that begs to be seen in a theater.
The Fall tells a story of a friendship of sorts between an injured stuntman and a young girl who are in the same hospital together in the 1920s. The stuntman, Roy (Lee Pace) passes time by telling an epic fairy tale of sorts to the girl, Alexandria (young Romanian actress Catinca Untaru, who was just seven when the film was made); Roy provides the story, while Alexandria imagines the visuals in her vivid imagination, creating the characters from the people she knows at the hospital. The rub is that the crippled Roy is telling Alexandria the story as a means to persuade her to steal morphine pills from the dispensary for him so he can commit suicide.

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Ebertfest Dispatch: Life/Art

I kicked off a busy second day here at Ebertfest with the panel I was on here, “Film Criticism and the Internet,” moderated by film historian David Bordwell and packed with panelists, including Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Peter Sobczynski (, Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times), Lisa Rosman (US Weekly/Flavorpill), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Erik Childress (, Steve Prokopy (AICN), Dean Richards (WGN) and Nell Minnow (The Movie Mom). Considering the scope of opinions and strong personalities on board, things went pretty smoothly, aside from a near-throwdown between Richards and Childress over whether there are, in fact, junket and quote “whores,” which Childress writes about on efilmcritic in a feature called “Critic Watch.”

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Ebertfest Dispatch: The Ebertfest Round Table

The mood is upbeat here at Ebertfest this year; everyone is delighted to have Roger Ebert back after last year’s fest, when he was forced to miss the event due to health problems. This year, Roger’s back in full force, smiling and cheerful, introducing films using his computer to talk for him in its soothing Sir Laurence Olivier voice, and smilingly scolding it with a shaking finger when it mispronounces any words.
I love the atmosphere of Ebertfest. It’s all about the love of movies here — the films are in one theater, so there are no scheduling conflicts that force you to miss one film to see another. There’s no market, no rush to break stories; there are few publicists (not that I have anything against publicists or anything) and therefore no pressure to work interviews into an already packed schedule. At Ebertfest, the conversations with filmmakers are casual, sitting in the Virginia Theater, at a party, or over a relaxing dinner.

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Ebertfest Dispatch: Woodstock Flashbacks

If I had the ability to travel back and forth in time, one place I’d for sure go would be Woodstock. Blame it on growing up with hippie parents, but I’ve always wished that my folks had made the trek to Yasgur’s farm just so I could say I was one of those nekkid little hippie babies running around there. Tonight I had the almost-to-next-best-thing: the opening night film at this year’s Ebertfest was Woodstock, the Director’s Cut. Four hours of hippie rock ‘n roll bliss, and even if I wasn’t interested in the rest of it, I’d have sat through the entire thing just to see Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on that big screen at the lovely Virgina Theater.

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Cry Me a River

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Susan Boyle’s rise from obscurity to fame this past week. Boyle, 47, is the Scottish woman who took the judges and audience by suprise on the April 11 episode of Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle is a plain and simple woman, and when she took to the stage both judges and audience visibally reacted to her looks; they were all waiting to laugh at her. She sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis and within a few honey-drenched notes she had the audience and jugdes in the palm of her hand.
Boyle’s story is as good as her voice. She put her singing on hold to care for her elderly mother, who died in 2007 at the age of 91. She says she’s never had a boyfriend or been kissed. And she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” better, I think, than I’ve ever heard it performed. Now she’s the frontrunner in the competition, which last year was won by a rotund cell phone salesman who’s gone on to become a hugely popular opera star. And the offers are already rolling in. And with good reason: the YouTube video of Susan Boyle’s performance as been viewed, at this writing, nearly 35,000,000 times.
I find it interesting how people are reacting to the story of Susan Boyle. Many — myself included — find her inspiring. Her voice speaks for her, and with a voice like that, you need no other calling card. But I wonder, if her talent had been acting, would she ever have gotten her foot in the door, even if she acted as spectacularly as she sings? I imagine what it must be like to be an aspiring actress in Hollywood who’s 47 years old, pudgy (at least, by Hollywood standards), with graying hair and a plain face untouched by Botox or plastic surgery, and a cat at home named Pebbles.
By the by, I like this audio track of her singing “Cry Me a River” back in 1999 even better than her audition performance. Just close your eyes and listen to it … very sensual and sexy.


Hey Baby, Wanna Fornidate?

I wonder how many people actually think this is a serious site and have tried to sign up

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Review: 17 Again

So, 17 Again. More-or-less your basic body-swap tale, with the slight difference being that we start out with the younger version of the character, Mike O’Donnell (played by Zac Efron), who gives up his college hoops future to stick with his pregnant girlfriend (although the film is never clear on why he couldn’t both stick with her AND pursue his dreams, as more than one college athlete has done successfully).
We flash-forward to 20 years later, where Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) is a miserable schlub who’s spent probably most of the previous two decades blaming his wife and kids for his failure to do anything inspiring, or even to see things through to the finish at all. After an encounter with Brian Doyle-Murray as a magical janitor (hey, at least this time the filmmakers didn’t take the route of it being a magical minority), Mike finds himself back into his 17-year-old body (played by Efron again). The twist here is that he’s not switching places with his own teenage son, or traveling back in time to rectify what he sees as his past mistakes; he’s 17 again, but in the present day, with his adult wife and teenage children still there.

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Observe and Report Q&A

In the comments section of the previous post on Observe and Report, T. Holly asks:

Sorry about my tone, but would like to know what you think of Rizov’ quiz Kim, and if you’d care to answer the four questions. I did, and not in a jokey way: A. is a script fix that I could realistically imagine an savvy Producer ordering, even as a pick-up/re-shoot to cover the bases (the button and the in-character come back; a third hit or payoff would only be necessary for the hearing impaired).

Thanks for the pointer, T. Holly. While GreenCine is usually one of my regular reads, I’ve been sick as hell this week and am way behind on my usual blog reading, and missed this piece, in which Vadim Rizov also writes about the “date rape” controversy over Observe and Report (and, good for him, also slams the writers who have been excoriating this film based solely on the trailer, which I agree is totally unprofessional). Unfortunately, this GreenCine piece didn’t turn up in my Google reader search as I was looking for any posts on the subject I might have missed, or I would have inluded a mention to it, so giving it a shout-out here.
At the end of his piece, Rizov posits that there’s a “massive misreading of the film going on” and offers what he sees as the “right” questions. Below are my answers to his questions — and here’s a link to the post T. Holly refers to, if you’d like to read his questions … it’s too much material for me to feel comfortable pasting in here, even with a link back to his piece. So go there and read what he has to say, then you can come back here and read my answers and see if you agree with them.
My answers are after the jump ….

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No embed link for this, so you’ll have to go to this link right here to watch this video of 47-year-old Susan Boyle, hardly the type one would think of for a show like Britain’s Got Talent, blowing away the inherent judgments both the judges and audience viewed her with when she walked out on stage. Wow. What an amazing voice she has.


Who's Your Daddy?

Just read this NYT article about the website, which hooks up would-be “sugar daddies” with “sugar babies”. Is it prostitution, or modern “dating” that’s simply more open and honest about what each party seeks than traditional dating models?
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m ambivalent about whether a site like this objectifies women any more than dating or staying in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons.
Your thoughts, one way or the other?
Hat tip to the various folks who posted this on Facebook …


City of Gold?

Very revealing article from The Independent about what lies under the glittering surface of Dubai … the environmental issues, the financial issues of a city built on a mountain of debt and, worst of all, the human rights abuses of the slave class on which the city relies to keep building and keep functioning.
Fascinating read.

Scott Foundas Takes on Tyson and Toback

LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas has an excellent interview with Mike Tyson and James Toback. Here’s a teaser:
The Tyson who shows up at Green Valley Ranch seems yet another chameleonic apparition, this one not unlike a T-Rex that has realized its might is no match for the fossilizing tar creeping upwards from its ankles. There is an existential sadness about him now that is partly the inevitability of a fighter who no longer fights but also the Dostoyevskyan disappointment of a man consumed by the thought that all of his achievements may have been for naught. “My whole life has been a waste — I’ve been a failure,” he told a reporter in 2005, eight days before the McBride fight. Not for nothing did Toback name the Tyson production outfit Fyodor Productions.
Excellent, thoughtful piece. Read the whole thing right here.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon