Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Smash His Camera"

We first meet Ron Galella, the self-proclaimed “paparazzo superstar,” in his darkroom, where he talks us through the process of developing his pictures. He’s then seen going through his old notes, and fondly recalls a week in October 1971 when he “got Jackie five times.” The “Jackie” is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whom he pursued with a relentlessness that some might say bordered on obsession for something like the last twenty-five years of her life. Of particular note was their encounter on September 24, 1969, when Galella got too close for her comfort and she called the police on him. “Smash his camera,” she instructed her guards.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On DVD: "LennonNYC"

In the thirty years since his untimely death, there has been no shortage of documentaries and docudramas concerning John Lennon, and as a diehard Lennon and Beatles fan, I’ve seen them all. So it is with some surprise that I found the American Masters portrait LennonNYC so fresh and inspired; it takes a new angle on its subject, and paints its picture of him with a wealth of rare material and seldom-told tales from lesser-known sources.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In Theaters: "The Fighter"

There isn’t a moment in The Fighter that you haven’t seen before. This is not a jab—this is fact. The story of the aging boxer taking his last shot, torn between his loyalty to his troubled Boston family and his love for a good woman, is filled with echoes of other films, better and worse: the Rocky movies, The Wrestler, Cinderella Man, The Champ, The Hammer, Good Will Hunting. Those echoes surround the picture, and sometimes threaten to envelop it; they make it easy to shrug off as an also-ran, a cliché. And, in a macro-cinematic sense, perhaps it is.

In Theaters: "The Company Men"

There’s a wonderful movie happening in Tommy Lee Jones’s eyes, a tale of man worn down by the world, who has seen it all twice and doesn’t care to see it again, who has heard all your stories and pierces through all your bravado. It is the story of a man who has been doing what he does for so long that he’s not even sure why he’s still doing it, who can barely be bothered to raise his voice anymore, since downing a big glass of scotch will get him about the same results.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bookshelf: "The War for Late Night"

Once the dust had settled, one piece of good news emerged from the much-publicized melee between Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and NBC over the future of The Tonight Show: Bill Carter, the New York Times writer whose 1994 book The Late Shift brought to vivid life the last fight for Tonight, was hard at work on a follow-up. The resultant volume, The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy (Viking, $26.95), shares many of its predecessor’s virtues: the prose is crisp, the narrative is tightly-wound, and Carter has a knack for fleshing out and humanizing key players. It is excellent reportage. The (admittedly minor) disappointment is that Carter is so busy playing fair that he doesn’t push past the surface to the analysis that seems the next logical step.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On DVD: "Inception"

With Inception, Christopher Nolan has taken the resources and budget of a major studio summer blockbuster, and utilized them to make a complex, challenging, thoughtful, thrilling, and ultimately rewarding film—to basically do everything you’re not supposed to do in a big-budget summer movie. But he did it, and in response, audiences have come out in droves. It’s a massive hit. There ought to be dancing in the streets when this happens.

On DVD: "Restrepo"

PFC Juan “Doc” Restrepo is featured in the opening moments of the documentary that bears his name, in home movies that he shot himself; he turns the camera around as he mugs and jokes with his buddies, all about to be deployed to Afghanistan. “We’re goin’ to war, we’re goin’ to war, we’re goin’ to war,” he chants, giddily. He would not make it out alive. His fellow soldiers would eventually build an outpost where they were fighting, and name it after him. It stood in the Korangal Valley, which CNN dubbed “the deadliest place on earth.” American forces had another name for it: “The valley of death.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

On DVD: "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel"

There are several different levels of admiration and/or disgust that one can feel about Hugh Hefner, often simultaneously. But the complexity of our feelings about the Playboy founder isn’t really on the table in Brigette Berman’s documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel, which is less an examination of Hefner than it is a celebration of him. Make no mistake, there are things about him worth celebrating, no matter where you stand on the magazine he is irrevocably tied to. But it’s a sliding scale, and for all of its virtues, the primary flaw of Berman’s film is that it sees him in black and white terms: you’re either with him or you’re against him.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On DVD: "30 for 30 Gift Set Collection, Volume 1"

I try not to make this about me, but here’s the thing you have to understand about my response to 30 for 30: I am not a sports guy. Not by the longest shot, not even a little. This is not meant as a judgment of those who are; I know plenty of them, and they’re very nice people. But there are few things on this earth less intrinsically interesting to me than watching a sporting event, either live or on television—I can’t help it, it’s just how I’m wired. On top of that, it’s a time management thing; the notion of wiling away three hours of television time watching a football game while there are still Robert Altman films I haven’t seen is, frankly, unacceptable.