Friday, July 25, 2014

Image = The Eternal Magic of Woody Allen

As a self-proclaimed Woody-phile, I look forward to a new Woody Allen film every summer.  (And since he’s 78 ½ who knows how many more he will make? Although he is shooting the next one right now)...  Naysayers like to lament about the golden age of Woody, completely discounting anything he’s had to offer since the ‘80s.  I strongly disagree.  In fact, I assert that Magic in the Moonlight, opening today, is one of the most intelligent and articulate scripts the Wood-man has ever written.

The main character is the typical Woody-esque curmudgeon but the dialogue is so infused with British aristocratic jargon that it sounds much more elegant than usual AND it is still funny as hell.  The film is also a beautiful period piece, with more color and elaborate costumes than Woody used to use in his early Upper East Side stories.  The thing that I love the most is that Woody is still asking questions about faith and magic in the universe versus knowledge and science.

The entire movie is led brilliantly by Colin Firth.  His performance is pitch-perfect and he must be acknowledged for being Woody’s leading man without doing a Woody Allen impersonation.  Bravo Mr. Firth!  It’s the most engaging work I have seen him do in an always fantastic career.   

It will be interesting to see if this film gets the acclaim that Blue Jasmine did.  It seems like a good formula: Woody plus seasoned lead actor from another country = greatness and acclaim.  We shall see… 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Image = Philip Seymour Hoffman's Final Film

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died last February, Entertainment Weekly uncharacteristically published their next issue with a full page photo of PSH on the cover with the caption: Brilliant. Troubled. Tragic., and the article inside began with "This one hurts."  Out of all that was written about Hoffman that week, EW came closest to commiserating with my grief.  After 5 months I still find Hoffman’s death inconceivable and extraordinarily tragic.  It still hurts a lot.  It's difficult to write about the final film he completed, but I also feel like I need to. This may be the last opportunity I have to write about the greatest actor of the past 25 years …  I had to honor his extraordinary talent once again, as I did in February.

PSH & Anton Corbijn on set
A Most Wanted Man is a suspenseful thriller about a manhunt for an immigrant who may be a terrorist in the port city of Hamburg, Germany.  This is not a genre that I normally seek out, but I made an exception because it is PSH's final film to be released (I am NOT counting The Hunger Games) and it is very well done.  It has a great international supporting cast, including relative unknown Grigoriy Dobrygin and German stars Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl.  I was most impressed with Rachel McAdams, who plays a German bleeding heart lawyer surprisingly well and holds her own with the likes of Willem Dafoe and PSH.

Although I believe Phil could play anything, this was still a departure for him in terms of tone and character.  The film is extremely tense and his character is a troubled German spy who is trying to do good work in the face of many personal and professional demons.  I don't intend to spoil anything and I am not a film critic, so I will be brief.  There are a few scenes where PSH displays incredible proficience in the art of subtle but profound acting.  I will now defer to Phil, his fellow actors and the director to speak for the film.     
One more thing - director Anton Corbijn and PSH had plans to work together again and Mr. Corbijn wrote a beautiful tribute in his grief on February 3.  My favorite part is, “His strength was a total immersion in the role and a lack of vanity.”  

A fitting epitaph for a remarkable actor.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Image = Comedians Doing Something Dramatically Different

It is fascinating to me when performers are known for one thing and then they do something totally different very effectively.

Ricky Gervais is best known for his toxic persona and skewering everyone in the room as two-time host of the Golden Globes.  And now he has created a lovely series like Derek.  He is wonderfully affecting as a seemingly mentally challenged man who works as a caretaker in a nursing home.  This mockumentary style show has so much heart and compassion that all I could think was - how is this the same person?  Is his persona just a persona?  Or is this poignant stuff just a bunch of bunk?

Now, I’ve seen other comedians do drama very well – Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Will Farrell – but this is something different.  Derek is a different kind of comedy – or dramedy if you will – and there’s also an element of social commentary on Derek – about caring for the elderly and the bureaucracy of institutionalized care.  It took me completely by surprise and moved me to tears.  Derek is simply wonderful and everyone should watch it.    

Saying that, I definitely would not call myself a Ricky Gervais fan.  I hated what he did on the Golden Globes.  What’s the point of hiring a host to tear apart Hollywood at an event meant to honor Hollywood excellence?  And I can’t stand The Office – British or American.  However, The Invention of Lying (which Gervais also wrote) was ingenious and he was great in Ghost Town.  After two seasons of Derek, I am now definitely more inclined to seek out other projects Ricky is involved in from now on.

{An aside - It’s interesting that Netflix is getting so much acclaim for Orange is the New Black & House of Cards and no one is talking about Derek, also a Netflix original series}. 

One more thing about comedians crossing over.  I am intrigued by Steve Carell, who displayed some non funny chops last summer in The Way Way Back.  Since Cannes, there is Oscar buzz for his portrayal of a paranoid schizophrenic murderer in the film Foxcatcher.  I definitely would call myself a Steve Carell fan and I would love to be forced to call him “Academy Award winner Steve Carell” for the rest of my life. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Image = Indie or what?

What is going on with indie film these days?  In the past few years there have been some truly great independent films.  Ruby Sparks, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Any Day Now, In a World…,  Enough Said and Nebraska - just to name a few.
Me with Lake Bell - Writer/Director of In a World...
I have been blown away by many films with a unique take on storytelling, a great effort by a first time writer/director and emotionally impacting characters and plots.  Lately though, I feel like every indie I see has a fatal flaw – like killing off a main character for no apparent reason.  Or – starting off as one genre, then becoming a totally different one and then changing back again.  WTF? 

I felt this way about everything I saw this year at Tribeca and the trend continues at subsequent screenings.  I just saw Words and Pictures which started off strong with many redeeming qualities.  Great script and powerful performances by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, but it was at least 15 minutes too long.  And the story - which starts off with an English teacher and an art teacher arguing the merits of words versus pictures (great concept!), became a dark, melodramatic love story based on the old chestnut of two characters who hate each other falling in love.  I would think that above all - indies would be much more economical with their exposition.  The budgets are small and the shooting days are limited.  Feeling that an indie is too long is absurd.  I come from the school that I don’t care how long a movie is – just as long as it doesn’t feel that way.  When it feels that way – and it wasn’t worth the wait – there’s a problem.

The other thing I don't understand is why are festivals like Tribeca showing films that already have distribution and/or major celebrity involvement?  There are so many tiny films that desperately need exposure, so why does Courtney Cox need to show her film at festivals? And what sense does it make that Jon Favreau, one of the biggest directors in Hollywood wins $25,000 (although Chef is absolutely wonderful and I heard Favreau donated the money to charity but that's beside the point) for his film when other unknown filmmakers are much more in need of financing?  The line between indie and mainstream is very vague these days and it makes me very sad.          

Friday, May 9, 2014

Image = Meet Your Heroes!

This post is not about movies but my other lifelong passion – Broadway.  Going to Broadway shows was an integral part of my life being raised in NYC and to me there is nothing like seeing a Broadway show on Broadway.  The energy and magic of live performance – I am always blown away by how Broadway performers can do what they do eight times a week.  The Tony Award nominations were announced last week so ‘tis the season to celebrate The Great White Way! 

I studied dance for many years and to me dancers are the most astounding performers.  My all time favorites are Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Chita Rivera, Gene Anthony Ray and Gregory Hines.  At a recent gala for Amas Musical Theater , I met a Broadway dancer who inspired me from a very young age.  His name is Hinton Battle and Amas honored the 3 time Tony winner for his phenomenal career on Broadway and beyond. 

My mother took me to my first Broadway show, The Wiz when I was 5 years old and it was also Hinton’s first show, playing The Scarecrow at age 18.  Mr. Battle went on to star in Dancin’, Sophisticated Ladies and Dreamgirls on Broadway – all of which I was too young to see at the time. Then I saw The Tap Dance Kid while I was singing & dancing at the High School of the Arts and Hinton was the star of that show too.  The Tap Dance Kid was a powerhouse of dance and earned Hinton his second Tony award.  I will never forget it.

At the beginning of the gala, I said hello to Mr. Battle and told him it was an honor to meet him and expected that to be that.  But as the evening progressed, I had the opportunity to spend more time with Hinton who was incredibly gracious and interested to meet a fellow dancer and Broadway baby.  Later, when an original signed poster from The Tap Dance Kid was unclaimed at the auction, I saw another opportunity to have a permanent souvenir of an incredible event – and so I grabbed it.  Then I had a great photo opportunity with Mr. Battle that I will cherish, with my collector's item poster, forever.