Friday, September 17, 2010
It’s a wonderful thing, watching a rookie TV show find its way. When Community premiered on NBC in fall of 2009, it was an immediately likable and legitimately funny show, thought not in a terribly exciting way; it functioned, as so many of today’s sitcoms do, as a character-based comedy heavy on pop culture references (albeit one without a laugh track). The expectation was that, as the season continued and the characters grew more entrenched, it would get marginally funnier and remain a slightly off-beat and frequently enjoyable series—something along the lines of How I Met Your Mother.
But that’s not what happened.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Fitzgerald famously wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives,” but Fitzgerald wasn’t a film critic. He might have revised his opinion had he witnessed the somewhat spectacular resurrection of one Ben Affleck, who went from Oscar winner and must-have leading man to overexposed pop culture punchline in the space of about half a decade. Some of this was his fault (he certainly didn’t have to make Surviving Christmas, or Paycheck, or that cameo in then-girlfriend J-Lo’s music video), and some of it wasn’t, but Affleck did just about the smartest thing he could’ve done—he went under the radar. Onscreen, he limited his appearances to compact character roles; off-screen, he cast an eye towards the future, co-writing and directing the critically-acclaimed 2007 adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Gone Baby Gone.
Will Gluck’s Easy A is such a step above the standard high-school sex comedy, so much smarter and funnier and drier than expected or, frankly, required, I can’t imagine it will actually make any money. It’s a breezy, sly effort, with a quick wit and a charmingly dirty mind, and those tend to be the “teen movies” that flop—unless you go back to something like Clueless, which it bears a more than passing resemblance to. Like that film, Easy A takes a classic piece of source material (in this case, The Scarlet Letter) and whirls it through a blender of knowing satire, relatable situational comedy, and pop-culture percipience to whip up something new and fresh and genuinely funny. And, like Clueless, it could very well make a movie star out of its lead. (Hopefully that works out a little better for this one.)
The fact of the matter is, if you can see Catfish without knowing anything about it—without seeing the trailer, without perusing the back story, without hearing about its controversy—you should just do that. It’s just impossible for us to talk about the picture or any of its secondary concerns without giving away more than, frankly, I wish I’d known going in; if you have an interest, then yes, it’s worth your time, so go see it and read this later.
The Freebie is the kind of movie that surprises you with its boldness, and then disappoints you with its timidity. It deals in matters of monogamous intimacy with a frankness and honesty that is downright refreshing in the current cinema, independent or otherwise, but then gets itself all hung up in conventional conflicts and fake-outs. It builds up a tremendous amount of power and goodwill in its first two acts, and then, unfortunately, chips a good chunk of it away.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
"What Newman does here is casual American star-acting at its peak; he's as perfectly assured a comedian as Bogart in The African Queen, even though the role isn't particularly well-written and the picture itself isn't in the same class. In The Sting, he was smooth and charming, but there was no hardness in him; he wasn't a con man for a minute. He's gone beyond that sweetie-pie succulence here. What he does as Reggie isn't very different from what he's done before; it's that the control, the awareness, the power all seem to have become clarified. He has the confidence now to value his own gifts as an entertainer. In a picture such as Winning, he was impressive but a little somber; there was nothing to crack open--he couldn't use his resourcefulness. Here his technique seems to have become instinct. You can feel his love of acting; he's not fighting it or trying to hide it."
-From review of Slap Shot
The New Yorker, March 7, 1977
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The blue, red, and white striped collar is worn by French chefs who have been awarded the honor of M.O.F. (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), after a rigorous and complicated competition that is only held once every four years. If the collar is worn by anyone who is not an M.O.F., they can go to jail. So yeah, they take it pretty seriously over there. Kings of Pastry, the new documentary by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, tracks three of the sixteen M.O.F. semi-finalists through the final days of their years-long prep for the competition, and walks with them through the fast-paced, nerve-jangling event.
Monday, September 13, 2010
There’s plenty to be said, mostly by people smarter than me, about the corrupting influence of lobbying and campaign fundraising on the legislative process. Everyone, no matter what their political stripe, will complain that “nothing gets done in Washington, D.C.”—that no meaningful legislation that’s good for Americans can get to a vote because of the wealthy business interests who money up against it, that politicians can’t get any work done because of the amount of their time they have to spend hosting fundraisers and calling people to beg for money. And thanks to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, now corporations can spend freely to buy even more influence. But start talking about fixing the system, about comprehensive campaign finance reform, and everybody loses their minds. You can’t dictate that, genie’s out of the bottle, socialism, whatever.
"So, this is odd," reads one of my early notes from my viewing of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, though I’m not sure what the hell I was expecting—it’s directed by Werner Herzog and executive-produced by David Lynch, after all, so the fact that their collaboration bore a peculiar offspring certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is shocking about the enterprise is how borderline-unwatchable the whole thing is. It doesn’t play like the work of the men who made Fitzcarraldo and Stroszek, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr.; it feels instead like a poorly-executed copycat film by an untalented film school student. It’s strange, but in a self-conscious and frankly self-indulgent way.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
She tells the story early in her new special If You Will, and it’s hard not to wince while hearing it. “No offense,” the Starbuck’s barista said to her, “but you look like Janeane Garofalo!” But that’s not the bad part (“None taken?” she replies). The scorcher is the follow-up question: “What ever happened to her?”