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I am a Rehabilitation Specialist, working at the Dept. of Veteran's Affairs Blind Rehab Center, VA American Lake, in Tacoma, Wa. I think that I was born a movie buff. I had young parents, and as a family we went to the movies weekly. Movie palaces of the '50's were places of worship for me. I'm a graduate of the Professional Actor's Training Program at the U of W ( 1973 ). I've worked at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, Empty Space Theatre, Cirque Dinner Theatre, and the old Aqua Theatre on Green Lake. For 10 yrs. I was a professional actor, here in the Pacific Northwest, and in Los Angeles. In the '80's, I discovered that helping people, making an actual impact in their lives, was much more satisfying for me than entertaining them. When I was 30 yrs. old, I had already seen 5,000 films. I still go to movies at least twice a week. I do regret I never became a journalist; film critic. I took the Actor's path instead. My old friend, John Hartl, Seattle Times film critic, was just a cub reporter for the U of W paper in the '70's. A gang of us, pre-video days, used to gather in his basement and watch bootleg 35 mm films. Many of that gang went on to create the Seattle Film Society. I have a VHS/DVD video collection that numbers more than 11,000 films. My entire 1500 sq.ft. basement is floor to ceiling in shelves. My love affair with movies is eternal. Are there movies after death ? Of course there are, and I'll bet they are really impressive.
Thanks for letting me read this lovely novella. It had all the ingredients of a fable, rife with both heart & morality. Somehow, without a lot of exposition, it gets to the marrow of our urban madness; it points the way to peace gently, quietly. It goes a long ways to explain the merits of inner silence, of meditation. For Yukitaro, whom I feel must have watched Genjiro at his "looking place" for years, to approach this man, to befriend him, to be his companion, was nothing short of miraculous, tingling with magic, with cosmic truth, with balance, with light & love. And of course, like any good fable, or tale, it speaks volumes about acceptance, paranoia, racism, distrust, selfishness, and the joy of letting another into our sphere, into our inner realm--and somehow to do so with silence, without specific language, without cajoling or begging or demanding--is a marvel of story telling.
As a film, and I think it would make a fine one, I see it, saw it in my mind as a hand-painted Anime by the master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. His films have thrilled me and touched me for decades. He is getting too old now to do the animation. He has a grandson to runs the empire now; has even allowed a bit of CGI to enter the stories. But as I read your book, I could see the rich colors, and the expressions, and the situations all happening in a Miyazaki film. Many of his films use the narrator too.
Welsh-born film director, Marc Evans, who has given us HOUSE OF AMERICA (1997), and RESURRECTION MAN (1998), stepped back from the Thriller/Horror genre, and was lured to the wilds of Wawa, Ontario--a small Canadian town of 4,000 that is lorded over by a huge statue of a snow goose, by a very sensitive script written by Angela Pell, and a powerhouse dream cast. SNOW CAKE is a film about pain, retribution, angst, revenge, inner demons, middle-aged angst and sex, disabilities, small town idiosyncrasies and politics, acceptance, and love--that can rear its beautiful mug in the dangdest places at the weirdest times.
The poster tagline was, "sometimes stopping is the most important part of the journey." An ex-convict, Alex (Alan Rickman) was on a road trip, a painful and emotional odyssey, to Winnipeg. He harbored dark secrets and stress, and we are not at first aware of the exact nature of his "crime". At a truck stop diner, the reserved and taciturn Alex met a loquacious, bubbly, sweet yet eccentric young woman--Vivienne (Emily Hampshire). Reluctantly, Alex offered her a ride to Wawa.
Tragically, just as they pulled out onto the highway they were T-boned by an 18 wheeler semi. Vivienne was killed, but Alex emerged without a scratch. Traumatized, he decided to contact the girl's mother to convey his condolences and regrets. When he met the mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), he was confronted with a middle-aged highly-functioning autistic woman. She seemed to beguile him with her lack of emotion, and she invited him to stay with her until Vivienne's funeral--so that he could, "take out the garbage on Tuesday. Vivienne always did that. I don't do garbage."
Alex did stay for several days, and he found a gentle way to co-exist with Linda's eccentricities, her obsession with cleanliness, her fascination with "sparkling" things, her need to jump often on her trampoline, her love of eating snow, and her need to keep all hands and feet out of her kitchen. Soon Alex met the attractive next-door neighbor, Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), and they made an attempt to "start" a relationship. Before the funeral, we discovered Alex's pain-ridden past, and why he railed so emotionally against the truck driver (Callum Keith Rennie)--we met Linda's wonderful parents, who had raised Vivienne, and we learned to appreciate the relative independence that Linda had carved out laboriously for her self.
Sigourney Weaver was astonishingly good, just excellent, as Linda. She had studied Autism, and somehow found a way to deglamorize herself, and be emerged completely in the tic-ridden, quirky yet likeable Linda. The writer Angela Pell, has an autistic son, and so understands the bumpy emotional terrain she wrote about. Alan Rickman of the dour smirk, quick wit, and carefully phrased speech, found a character in Alex that was flawed and still redeemable, middle-aged sexy, very capable of terrible anger, yet equally capable of growth, of an epiphany, who at the end of his journey in Wawa discovered some form of acceptance and patience. Carrie-Anne Moss presented us with a Maggie who was outspoken, an outsider in a small town, sexually emancipated, fiercely independent, well read, well versed, needy yet giving, warm and real, yet still vulnerable, and of course incredibly sensual. She took what was essentially a "nothing role", embraced it and breathed life into it.
SNOW CAKE like other Canadian winter dramas, reminiscent of Atom Egoyan's THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), and Sarah Polley's AWAY FROM HER (2006), created a movie malleable microcosm of humanity and human nature--that touches us as it teaches, that provided a lively peek into the lives and hearts of several unique and "special" characters. It is a quiet film that nevertheless grips our shoulders firmly, a stern but patient tutor who had an interesting lesson to share.
Director Krzysztof Kieslowski had previously explored the concept of multiple and parallel possibilities in life for the same person with his film, PRZYPADEK, (BLIND CHANCE) 1987, and with a brief subplot in the ninth episode of THE DECALOGUE (1990). With VERONIQUE, he probed deeper into the metaphysical probabilities in life, and postulated that each of us could, or might have a "doppelganger" out there, walking on this sphere just as we are, two almost identical parts of the same spiritual entity, and two separate but nearly identical souls. We can, or might be "aware" of that other presence, and we could share insights, instincts, fears, mishaps, dangers, and health issues.
Weronika (Irene Jacob) lived in Poland, a young woman still residing at home with her father. She has a fabulous natural singing voice, and is discovered one day by a famous music teacher--but she also has a cardiac condition that she does not deal with. Disregarding her heart problems, she launched into strenuous voice training, and plunged headlong into a fledgling career--but during what would have been a triumphant singing debut, she collapsed and died mid-performance.
We then are introduced to Veronique (Irene Jacob) who lived in France. She was a music teacher, who seemed to be taking singing lessons. She had recently returned from a trip to Poland, and without realizing it, she and Weronika had glimpsed each other while in the Great Square at Krakow. Weronika had seen Veronique clearly, although she made little of it. Veronique had snapped a photograph of Weronika without recognition of her. There is a myth that if we ever meet our doppelganger, one of us will die. Krieslowski seemed to subscribe to this notion.
Moments after Weronika's death, Veronique while making love suddenly felt a tremendous loss, an overwhelming sense of grief--somehow becoming aware that she was now "alone" in the world. She immediately contacted her singing teacher and cancelled her lessons, abandoned the notion of a singing career. This cross over of instinct or genetic knowledge was not explained--it is just presented.
Most of the film dealt with Veronique's life in France. She fell in love with a dashing and mysterious writer and puppeteer, who somehow seemed to "understand" the duality of her nature, and of her life. When he created two puppets, possibly representing this probability, Veronique fled from the relationship, fled from her full recognition of her special circumstance. It was if Weronika had ventured forth first on this firmament, like a fraternal twin, taking a breath mere minutes before the other. The choices she made for herself, however catastrophic, resulted somehow to serve as guidelines and considerations later for Veronique.
Kieslowski presented us several delicious overlapping and synchronicious symbols and objects that became the common warp and weave of the two lives in both countries--leaves, upside down imagery, landscapes, churches, colors, string, fathers, missing mothers, toys, and a weak heart among others; nothing overt yet still significant enough to reinforce our tingle of deju vu. There is a reoccurring character in both scenarios--a stern looking woman is a large hat; reminiscent of the angelic "observer" who appeared in most of the episodes of DECOLOGUE.
Kieslowski's universe was both Gnostic and existential, natural and surrealistic, mundane and nearly surreal at times--but there is no doubt that he led the way for many other film directors to explore to notions and philosophies he created. Many of us presently are less impressed with him than we should be, for we are inundated with CGI games that effortlessly offer us multiple choices for specific outcomes. We make one choice and our character is killed. We simply rewind, back up and start over, making another choice and hoping to emerge victorious, the master of our fantasy scenario. In the 1980's however this was a "new" twist, a new concept--the role of both chance and parallel histories.
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991) took Cannes and the world by storm in 1991--despite its nonsensical plot premise and unorthodox structure, liberally mixing non-linear and parallel storylines with metaphysical postulates. I feel that it is a classic, a barn burner, a trend setter, and it is not to be missed.
Director Peter Howitt had been a professional actor for over 15 years when he wrote the script for SLIDING DOORS (1998), and it became his directorial debut. I think he understood the creative debt he owed writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski for the "concepts" put forth in his films BLIND CHANCE (1987), and THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991). In BLIND CHANCE we found three parallel story lines having to do with catching, or not catching a train. Ironically, German director Tom Tykwer's RUN, LOLA, RUN (1998) was being developed and filmed simultaneously with Howitt's project. LOLA had three story lines all kicked off by arbitrary actions. So all together now--let's have a tip of the director's beret to Kieslowski.
Howitt as an actor made 27 film appearances from 1982. He was featured in IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), where he met actor John Lynch, whom he used later in SLIDING DOORS. Howitt had a role in the TV series HIGHLANDER (1993). He was also in SOME MOTHER'S SON (1996), again with John Lynch. He appeared as the "Cheeky Bloke" in SLIDING DOORS because suddenly while filming he realized had not cast the part. Since DOORS in 1998), he has directed six films, like JOHNNY ENGLISH (2003), with Rowan Atkinson, and LAWS OF ATTRACTION (2004), with Pierce Brosnan; who by the way had also worked with John Lynch in EVELYN (2003). What a small and tight little world the business of filmmaking can be.
The plot of SLIDING DOORS sets into motion a metaphysical maze. Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been "sacked" from her male dominated PR job. Heading home early she uses the underground. Rushing along we see her miss the train--but then zip-zap the film backs up like a one-reel silent comedy, and then we see her catch the subway. From this point on we start experiencing two parallel story lines with Helen both sitting on the train, and standing forlorn on the platform as the train pulls away.
Helen A., who caught the train, arrived at her flat hoping to get some emotional comfort from her live-in boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch)--who is being supported by her as he writes his first novel. But she does not find a loving and caring ear for her tale of vocational woe--rather she finds Gerry "shagging" a strange woman; who turns out to be named Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Outraged, Helen A. left the "wanker" standing naked, wrapped in a damp blanket, and she headed straight for a pub where she proceeded to get "drunk as a monkey"--where she is reunited with a chance acquaintance, James (John Hannah). Helen A. moves in with her best friend, Anna (Zara Turner), cuts and dyes her hair blond. Soon her life becomes enriched with her new and wonderful "independence".
Helen B., who missed the train, is nearly mugged while hailing a taxi, and has to be taken to the emergency room to get some stitches in her forehead. She arrived at her apartment mere moments after Lydia had exited. Gerry was able to bluster his way through a miasma of lies regarding his activities of the morning, and she decided to believe him. But as the months went on, and she worked two jobs to support him, Gerry continued to cheat on her with Lydia. Finally fatigued waiting for him to leave Helen B., Lydia decided to intervene in their domestic life, demonstrating what a wicked and controlling vixen she really was. There was also the complication of pregnancy in both plot lines--Helen A. by James, and both Helen B. and Lydia by Gerry.
Both story lines proceed toward a tragic denouement. Then miraculously we witness the threads of one life cross over to the other. Perhaps there could have been more of that in this movie. Kieslowski would have allowed more synchronicity to be at work, more instinctual intuitive transfers, and more coincidence. Sometimes director Howitt became so frantic showing us the parallel plots that it became a bit confusing as to which "dimension" we were immersed in. Perhaps that is why he had Helen A. dye her hair blond, to ratchet down the possible confusion.
Somehow Gwyneth Paltrow was fully able to develop "both" Helens into individual characterizations, Helen A. becoming stronger and more independent, and Helen B. becoming more other directed and gullible. Paltrow's English accent sounded very authentic. This was the first time she attempted that Brit accent, for EMMA (1996), her Oscar for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998), and her role in POSSESSION (2002) were still projects for her future. In DOORS she reminded me of a young Audrey Hepburn--slim, sexy, and vulnerable. This film was very enjoyable, vintage Paltrow. She actually lives in London now with her musician husband and two children. She can smile when she reads about herself being referred to as "that English actress who used to be engaged to Brad Pitt."
Lars Von Trier, the 47 old ditsy Danish director, once dubbed the enfant terrible, has placed in the mainstream of celluloid a movie that manages to be anti-film, even as it passes itself off as an artistic endeavor. Was this film a religious allegory, a morality play, or just the germ of an idea that aborted as it came to full term? Yes, came the thunderous reply, and more, and less. But one thing is abundantly clear,"Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.". Roger Ebert said of this film," Von Trier exhibits the imagination of an artist, but the pendantry of a crank.".
The choice of a minimalist set, a sparse world for the word play, just so many fat chalk lines and a few assorted props, was far from innovative; rather it was enervative, actually sapping the vigor of the piece and reducing its vitality. Von Trier, a guiding force behind the Dogme Movement, feels that as an artist, it is his job to alienate, to shock, to outrage and to confuse his audience. Like Brecht, he seems hellbent on breaking the illusion that comes from developing feeling for a character. As a writer, he created dialogue that would drive an insomniac crashing into slumber, flat non-sequiturs that lethargically lead from one dead end thought to another.
This film outraged me, but oddly, I also treasured the excruciating experience. I was witness to both a travesty and a pivotal form of greatness. Von Trier is so arrogant that he seems to believe that he needs to pummel down the conventions of film, and create a whole new form. But he works fitfully, like a mentally deranged amateur. Actually his premise is a workable one. I just felt that his hubris prevented him from creating something cohesive. His Dogme principles of natural lighting, poorly executed camera angles, and handheld jerky documentarian six o'clock news utilization of his camera, are all leagues short of successful composition or cinematic closure. He shot the film on a sound stage in Copenhagen. A stage, I'm certain that came equipped with state of the art cranes, stedi-cams, gyros, tracks, and mulitiple cameras. Why did he chose to disregard them?
A Von Trier film is a virtual netherland of wandering zombies who demand our attention, but who resist our overtures for clarification of thought, plot, and action. His dialogue is flat, preachy, colorless and monotone gray. His actors are forced to mouth it like month-old bread; stale, dry, and tasteless.
His cast was a powerhouse, albeit mostly wasted on the mundane material; a whirlwind blend of bankable stars that were willing to take chances for their art, and veteran stars that were just glad to get the work. Nicole Kidman, as Grace, the sacrificial lamb, was very effective. Her role will be memorable, more for its outrageousness than for its integral value or artistic merit. Many of her past performances outshine and eclipse this one. Paul Betteny was appropriately shallow, enigmatic, self-serving and hypocritical as young Tom Edison. Presented at first as a probable protagonist, he emerged quickly as a coward and opportunist. Stellan Skarsgard as Chuck, the cynic hiding in plain sight was very good. His sense of despair was clarion. John Hurt as the narrator who droned on in theatrical tones about the good people of Dogville, seemed to be chorus and godhead in one. I would have liked to have met him incarnate, interacting with the townsfolk, ala OUR TOWN. James Caan as the Big Man, the enforcer, was also very effective, effortless emulating his past roles, creating a solid presence with a minimum of effort. Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Blair Brown, Jeremy Davis, Zeljko Ivanek, and Philip Baker Hall, all were given little to do, so they responded in kind, making barely a ripple in the big pond. Patricia Clarkson was the exception. She was able to wrest an interesting performance from the lameness of the script. Most of the cast were satisfied with underachievement, and they became almost faceless fabric in the weave of the murmering mosaic of townsfolk.
This film is worth the watch, if one has the energy, and three hours to spare.
This is a small film, a very good one, told large. The director, Jared Hess, is a 24 year old wunderkind from the barrens of Preston, Idaho, and he has created a gem; a cousin to the Coens. This is a comedy that will sneak up on you, the stuff of belly laughs. Last year he did a 9-minute short film, PELUCA, starring Jon Heder, and it seems to have been the outline for this feature film. Hess is from Preston, and he filmed it as only a resident could; full of empty landscapes, lonely roads, farmers, ranchers, and rednecks. A scene where Napoleon gets a job for the day on a chicken ranch is worth the price of admission.
There have been numerous comparisons for this movie to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, and RUSHMORE. But for me this film stands firmly on its own. It plays out like an absurdist straight drama that also happens to be funny. It is reminiscent of some of the best moments in the Coen Brother's RAISING ARIZONA.
The film was a big hit at Sundance, and it has been distributed well; a lucky break for Hess. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more of the youth of our country could rally behind this tiny epic, and create it as a cult film; that for a moment they step away from the commedia del raunchy that they mostly immerse themselves in; that they actually laugh at themselves, the way they really are, just kids struggling to grow up? The 13-30 year old demographic dictates our art, our music, and our movies. This little film could go a long ways in restoring the missing heart, the naivete and grace to the comedic genre.
One real plus for me was the odd wholesomeness of this movie. There was zero profanity. Most of the time when a script deletes realistic high school vernacular, and changes the language to a lot of goshs, dangs, hecks, frigging, and freaking, it usually morphs quickly into the landscape of the lame. But somehow, Hess makes the lack of profanity work, and we don't miss it.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Jon Heder," geek deadpan perfection." He loved the film, and directs us," to laugh until it hurts." Heder is a lanky beanpole with a red Afro, all Adam's apple and oversized glasses, and overbite. At first glance one sees a young Yahoo Serious, or a Scott "Carrot Top" Thompson. But no, Heder is more natural, more believable, more absurd, and wonderfully unselfconscious. He is less the over-the-top screamer. In his best moments, like when he played tetherball with himself, or practiced his killer dance moves in his room, he reminded me of some of the great clowns; like a young Jerry Lewis, and even the precursory shadings of the great ones like Jackie Gleason in GIGOT, or Jacques Tati. Heder is Napoleon Dynamite, a prince of Preston, a nerdish Conan out to slay demons, or maybe just to get laid.
The setting for the film seems to be the early 1990's. Napoleon, and his older brother, Kip, live with their grandmother, played by Sandy Martin, who does a great turn as a biker grandma, who still dates, eats entirely too much steak, and loves her llama. Aaron Ruell, as the brother Kip, a 32 year old who has been a nerd for so long he is oblivious to it, does a fine job with the role. He lives in front of his computer, logging countless hours in chat rooms, searching for cyber-love, running up huge internet bills. Tina Mjorino, as girlfriend Deb, was wonderfully wacky, off-center, and loveable. A former child star, from films like WATERWORLD, she is 19 years old now, and she is good enough to be slugging it out with the likes of Thora Birch, Jena Malone, and Christina Ricci for those Odd Girl parts. She found the sweet quirkiness and heartfelt honesty of her character. Jon Gries, an actor since 1968, son of famed film director Tom Gries, was very good as the arrogant deluded ignorant Uncle Ricco; a man stuck in the past, reliving a fake fantasy that when he played high school football he might have been a great star, even turned pro...if his stupid coach had not left him on the bench so much. Efrem Ramirez, as Napoleon's best friend, Pedro, is a veteran actor from 10 films. His baby face, and deadpan delivery served him well. He did an excellent job. When he decided to run for class president, against a popular cheerleader, the tempo begins to shift, and we begin to see that this sad and funny drama was going to bend into a kind of fantasy tale; with underdogs rising to the occasion, taking on overwhelming odds, and of course, emerging victorious.
In smaller roles we first find Diedrich Baker as the karate teacher Rex, and he is the most seasoned veteran of the cast, having appeared in 33 films. He had a lot of fun with this part, prancing around in his American flag "bad-boy" pants, and pushing around the local kids while taking their money. Then there is Shondrella Avery appearing as Kip's cyberlove La Fawnduh. She is one hot mama, and she seems to like short skinny white dudes. When Kip boards the bus with her, bandana on his head, glasses in his pocket, suitcases in his hands, leaving home for the first time, we realize the film has come full circle, and now is a fairy tale.
I had approached this film skeptically not being sure how I would react or relate to it...but it won me over. It was not just another dumb comedy that would disintegrate two points off my intelligence quotient just by sitting through it. Rather, it was a fine little film, large on ambition, that I came to care about. I recommend it highly.
Chris Kentis had an interesting idea, based on true events, and for a slim 130k he produced it, wrote it, directed it, was the cinematographer, and with is wife edited it. He clearly illustrated that a talented man with a nothing budget could create a good film. He packed up his actors and sparse crew and flew to the Bahamas. He simply went out into the open sea and shot the piece. The actors were put in thin metal mesh under their wet suits, but when the shark wranglers tossed out the chum bait, those were real sharks that came to call.
This film took Sundance and the Seattle Film Festival by storm. Kentis let our imagination do a lot of the work, like Spielberg did in the first third of JAWS. There were some stock shots of sharks to heighten tension, but when those fins surfaced very near the actors, and those gray-brown shapes passed below them, foam rubber did not come to mind.
The two principal actors were relative unknowns. Blanchard Ryan who played Susan had done some film work before, but for Daniel Travis, who played Daniel, this was his film debut. Ryan as Susan was fresh, sexy, and smart. She seemed comfortable in her one nude scene, and her character seemed a little more focused than Travis managed with Daniel. He was stuck somewhere between wooden and animated; his emotional shadings seemed a little pushed.
Our primal fears were explored in great depth. Fear of abandonment was first on the list. Followed by fear of death by exposure or drowning, and underscored with the most visceral fear of them all; fear of being eaten alive, or being torn to pieces. Kentis kept the dialogue realistic. The characters talked the way people would who have known each other for a long time;no histrionics, no poetry, and no philosophy.
Kentis cut the film brilliantly, and handled the passage of time interestingly. He opted to use natural light, even at night during a thunderstorm, letting the flashes of lightning give us a black light feel to the scene. A strong sense of hopelessness began to emerge after the characters failed to reach nearby boats, a buoy, and a passing freighter. And of course we became more and more aware of those dark dorsel fins slicing the waves, cruising around them in ever decreasing circles.
I liked this film. It had a lot of fresh perspective on familiar themes. When the search parties began to spread out once the couple were missed, one had the tingling sensation that we were going to experience the typical Hollywood upbeat ending. But when the final credits roll, one is in a state of shock, and there is nothing typical about the final scene. It happens quickly and quietly, and it stuns us. It is truly the stuff of nightmares.
Alexander Payne is the young wunderkind director of this terrific dramedy, He is the proud director of CITIZEN RUTH (1996), ELECTION (1999), and ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002). He is also a terrific writer, and he shared those honors with his often used collaborator Jim Taylor; who also has directed a couple of Indie films. It is based on the best-selling novel by Rex Pickett, who prior to this was considered a film script writer; and who also has directed a movie; HOLLYWOOD TO DEADWOOD (1989).
Rarely has a novel transferred so seamlessly to the screen. Roger Ebert wrote,"Payne finds plots that service his characters, instead of limiting them." Payne has a terrific eye for his casting as well. Ebert wrote further," He chooses actors who will prevent you from ever being able to imagine anyone else in the role."
One critic wrote," This is a film about wine and whine." Two old college buddies decide on a bachelor party adventure. Jack, a middle-aged actor clinging to the last of his looks, and delegated to voice overs on commercials, is getting married. His buddy, Miles, a dumpy depressed Junior High English teacher, still stunned after two years from his divorce, sets them off to northern California, near San Luis Obispo, to take a wine tour of some of his favorite vineyards. It is the story of faded youth and faded potential.
It is a comedy with dramatic moments. It is a drama with laughs in it. It is both tragic farce, mixing Commedia absurdity with John Steinbeck scenarios, and slapstick situational comedy, mixing belly laughs with geniune heart-touching moments. Miles has envisioned a halcyon week of wine tasting, stimulating conversations, and some winner hangovers. Jack has envisioned a series of hustles giving him a chance to score heatedly before the finality of his upcoming nuptials. Enter two incredible women, one a waitress going to night school, and one a counter pour-girl at a local winery who is a single mother. They are very well written characters, and these women appear real and fresh and sexy and complicated.
Paul Giamatti is Miles. He is a fine character actor with a theatre background who has been delegated to a score of lightweight comedies, punctuated by good work in DONNIE BRASCO (1997), MAN IN THE MOON (1999), and a star-turn as Harvey Pekar in AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003). SIDEWAYS is his best work to date. He did not receive a Golden Globe, though nominated. Perhaps Oscar will be kinder. Thomas Haden Church played Jack. This film was his breakthrough role. Most of his films, and TV work over the last twenty years has been less than classic in stature. The lovely Virginia Madsen played Maya, the fetching waitress. Payne coaxed her very best performance to date onto the screen. She is stunning, vulnurable, and beautiful to her core. A scene she has with Miles, where they sit quietly discussing wine, is one of the most heartwarming scenes in any film this year. Sandra Oh, Payne's real-life wife, played Stephanie, and she had a red hot passionate presence; like a cat in heat. She was sexy and intelligent and geniunely a free spirit; but when betrayed her wrath was astonishing.
One does not have to be an oenophile to appreciate the lovely and accurate education in wine tasting that was received along with all the other goodies in this movie. This film is easily the best American comedy of 2004. It deserves every accolade and award it can garner. I adored this film. It is just as good on a second viewing.
Many boxing films are reputed to be "based on the truth"-based on the lives and careers of real fighters. Fighters Jake La Mota, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Mohammad Ali, Rocky Graziano, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey-all have had films made about their exploits. Juxtaposed to these we have enjoyed divers stalwart champions of fiction-portrayed by Sly Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Kirk Douglas, Robert Ryan, John Garfield, Errol Flynn, Jack Palance, and Anthony Quinn-and more, many more. Boxing films can-when they are good-present great drama. CINDERELLA MAN meets that criterion.
It is based on the very true story of unheralded James J. Braddock-the actual heavyweight champion from 1935-1937. He held the title for just over a year. Joe Louis held his title for over 12 years-the longest of any heavyweight. The film gets most of the real history correct-with some exceptions. One plot device had promoter Jimmy Johnston (Bruce McGill) revoking Braddock's license secondary to his poor draw and record in 1930. Then he was given a special chance to have one fight only-with less than one week to train-to fight Corn Griffin in 1934. This led to beating John Henry Louis and Art Lasky-and a title bout with the champ-Max Baer. The truth was that Braddock continued to fight professionally from 1930-34, and he never had his license revoked. He did lose the majority of those fights-and his comeback was miraculous-but between working on the docks in Hoboken (Where ON THE WATERFRONT was filmed), and staying in training for his 30 pro fights-he was physically ready for Corn Griffin. He did go on the dole for a time-but I doubt that he ever went to his Boxing Social Club and begged for a handout to turn his electricity back on.
The film was originally to be directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Later Penny Marshall was slated to helm. It was our good fortune that Ron Howard stepped up and took the reins of command. Howard has always been interested in doing a film about the Depression-and he felt that Braddock's story was a paean to American toughness-despite adversity. It became a very personal and powerful statement in his hands. This might be his best film. Oscar will surely come calling.
Russell Crowe was incredibly good as Braddock-losing 50 pounds in training-sparring with pro fighters and getting injured several times. He found the sweetness and goodness in Braddock-as well as the renewed toughness and resolve. Roger Ebert compared his performance to those of James Stewart and Spencer Tracy. He wrote," Perhaps it takes a tough guy like Crowe to play the goodness of a guy like Jim Braddock."
The cinematography was stunning by new lenser Salvatore Totino. He created living post cards from the the 1930's-icons that smacked of the raw Warner's 1930 look. He had worked with Ron Howard on last years underappreciated THE MISSING (2003). One critic wrote," The film was lit with a poet's eye-".
Renee Zellweger played Mae Braddock-the compassionate, supportive, yet frightened wife. I thought she made some interesting choices-but overall-the role was underwritten. She was not given enough to do-nor enough time to do it. Even so-she probably will be nominated for an Oscar along with several others just for being in this powerhouse of a picture.
The terrifically versatile Paul Giamatti played manager Joe Gould-probably infusing more humanity into the character than actually existed in real life. His Gould knew how to create a buck, but he had a compassionate side too. The Academy is already perking up their ears. Giamatti pulls out all the stops and is flat wonderful in the role.
I really liked this film-perhaps Ron Howard's best directorial effort and Russell Crowe's finest performance. It resonates with truth and beats with a great and tender heart.
This film is based on a best-selling book by Mark Bittner--#32 on the New York Times best seller list. The book was subtitled," A Love Story--With Wings". It was considered a memoir, but soon it propelled Bittner into a shaft of international prominence as an "amateur" expert on Conures. Then it became a documentary film produced and directed by the activist environmentalist filmmaker-Judy Irving.
Irving wrote," At first glance, Mark didn't seem like a natural "movie star". Yes, the green and red parrots flying around him were exotic and feisty-but Mark, himself was-well, a quiet long-haired hippie recluse living in a shack. I also wondered how much of a story there was in a guy just feeding birds."
Bittner does have an interesting presence on film. His centered soul, his kindness, openness and unrestricted ability to love-all came through. A man who spent 25 years in San Francisco without a real job-never paying rent-he must have been very resourceful. After he started feeding the Conures-and had gained their trust-people started noticing him and the parrots. He became known as the St. Francis of Telegraph Hill. Studying Zen and looking for the big answers to existence-Bittner discovered that his relationship with the Conures provided him everything he needed-focus, meaning, love, tragedy, and total interest.
He gave all the parrots names-and Irving found a way to film them where their individual personalities shined through. The message of the picture-it seems to me-is that "love" is the common denominator for all things throbbing in the universe. Mark Bittner is a loving man-and Judy Irving herself became ensnared in that very real emotion simply by being in its proximity.
This film is an urban tale focusing on a special flock of tropical birds that have learned to thrive within the city. It is a gentle tale-told very compassionately, and I really loved it.