Thursday, May 28, 2009

May's Book of the Month

I love books: They're fun, educational, and good for killing flies on countertops.

A lot of folks may know film professor and historian Leonard Maltin (pictured) as the movie guy from Entertainment Tonight. That had to be a boost to his profile, but it had to damage his credibility rating. After all this is the same program that brought "Cojo" upon a nation.

Anyway, Maltin will always have a place in my heart. First, when I wrote to him years ago asking for advice/a job, he responded with a very nice note. Second, each year he and his team of writers put together the spectacular Movie Guide, a collecton of short DVD reviews filled with keen analysis and crisp writing. I buy one every couple of years.

The book is invaluable for two reasons. First, you have easy access to thousands of movies, complete with summaries, criticism, cast lists, and ratings. It's a nice book to have by the remote control. Second, anyone looking how to write concisely and effectively needs to procure a copy. I've spent hours reading one edition or another, mesmerized at how Maltin and his writers can cram so much info and insight into what amounts to a lengthy caption.

With that puzzling, frightening admission out in the open, get yourself a copy...Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Trip to Florida? How cliched! And necessary!

Sorry for the delay, folks. I'm still recovering from about 10 days on the road (a restful sojourn to Florida), three days crammed with work and errands, and then Memorial Day (otherwise known as the Meat Lovers' holiday).

I spent five days basically relaxing my brain. Then the girlfriend and I drove back from Florida, returning exhausted on late afternoon last Tuesday . On Wednesday, I had to get my ass back into gear, something I was not ready to do. It's like jumping right into an ice cold lake, only the shock takes like three days to wear off. Welcome to the world of taking a vacation as an adult.

Somehow, I'll summon my pioneer spirit and get back into the swing of things...Eventually.

So, why did we go to Florida? Well, first, it was cheap. My mother's side of the family has a condo in Melbourne, Florida. Second, I desperately needed some time off, but my girlfriend was going to start like popping and fizzing like a Fembot if she didn't recharge. Here's a look at her schedule since I met her, last July.

  • Pursue Ph.D. (readings, classes, etc.)
  • Teach full slate of classes at three colleges
  • Prepare and perform a recital
  • Work on dissertation, including presenting it
  • Teach private students
  • Perform an array of maid of honor duties for future sister-in-law
  • Eat and sleep (if time allowed)
Note: The funny part is at one point she actually was thinking about becoming a personal trainer, studying during the Christmas break...Me, I was trying to figure out if polishing off a tray of holiday cookies counted as a meal.

Anyway, it was a lovely time. And I managed to see a couple of movies, while I was there. (Of course, I did.) Big surprise: Star Trek is great. And I finally caught The Gambler on DVD. It's an old James Caan movie that sounded great, but was only ordinary. Honestly, Rounders was better--less pretentious, better written, etc.

So, what's in store for the next several weeks?

  • The Summer Blockbuster Film Round-Up (kick off edition)
  • An interview with David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
  • A review of Away We Go
  • A behind-the-scenes look at freelancing
  • Book of the Month(s)
  • More stupidity, hijinks, and tomfoolery
  • Good news as it comes in

Thanks for reading...Keep fighting the good fight, y'all.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

WPW, an Excruciating Year Later...

In April 2008, I started this little blog. A year later, it's still a little blog, but a healthy, growing one. Kind of like Benjamin Button when he was 8 or so. I guess WPW is a reflection of my freelancing career. Though there have been bumps in the road--for everyone-I think I'm doing OK.

Seriously, I want to thank everyone who's read or commented (Nick, especially) and the two folks (Javier, Mike S; by the way, Jav, I need to reach out to you...Badly) who have followed. It's great to see people are interested in what I have to say; it's a really nice feeling, actually. So, tell your friends and family about the blog, and please keep reading.

As long as I have a Regal Crown Card and a notepad and pencil, I'll keep doing this. Thank you, and now on with the show...Exits are at the back and the side.
P.S.--Isn't this a great shot? How'd that kid get on the table?

Hudson out, Chalke in.

After eight years, Scrubs bid adieu last night. If you're looking for a recap, this ain't the place. I was out catching a screening of Away We Go, which was prefaced by a trip to see Wolverine. I enjoyed both, though I wish Away We Go had more explosions and high-octane car chases. I really expected more from Dave Eggers. For shame.

Anyway, I mention Scrubs because I am curious about what Sarah Chalke is going to do now. I always thought she was a woefully underpublicized. She's sexy, very funny, and just, I don't know, personable. Even when Scrubs got increasingly zany, she never seemed to be exerting herself, a la Jenny McCarthy back in the day.

I always thought that she should be a bigger star, but her highlights so far have been few--guesting on some episodes of How I Met Your Mother and headlining a commercial for Hanes underpants (see slightly embarassing photo)...Um, yeah, that's not too great.

So, here's what I'm proposing. The next time some studio exec proposes a romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan--who've had their opportunities and blown them--just give Chalke a chance. She won't cost much, she has a legion of fans from TV, and she's a proven talent...Plus, she won't have to shell wedgie-free undies. Hudson can take that gig.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Limits of Control


The review was published in the May issue of ICON and is republished with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Next month's featured review: Away We Go.

The Limits of Control, the new film from independent director deity Jim Jarmusch, is the worst kind of movie: It keeps you bristling in anticipation for two hours, as you wait for anything to happen. This is the kind of movie I loathe, where a germ of a funky idea (sprinkled with a touch of artiness and a dash of pretension) get stretched into an intolerable, lifeless affair that some misguided folks will deem intelligent and bold.

A movie like this has to have a stony protagonist, and we get one in Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé), a well-dressed anti-hero who travels throughout Spain performing a number of secretive trades with an array of mysterious folks, all of whom talk like drunken philosophy majors. One time he listens to a mysterious blonde (Tilda Swinton) who loves old movies and how they illuminate the past. Another time he meets with a guitar-carrying fellow (John Hurt) who talks about bohemians. And so on. He's trailed by a lovely young woman (Paz de la Huerta)--the only consistent presence aside from the stylish matchboxes he exchanges with his contacts--who usually wears nothing more than a pair of glasses and a sheer raincoat. Sometimes Lone Man wanders the town where he's staying, watching a flamenco performance or visiting a museum, where bigger truths are revealed.

Jarmusch, of course, doesn't clue us into these truths, a huge part as to why the movie goes nowhere. You know that maxim about how with great musicians it's all about the notes they don't play? Well, Jarmusch spends two hours with his guitar unplugged in his lap. I like a director who appreciates pauses, who allows the viewers to settle into their onscreen world, but Jarmusch never engages us. He gives us some kind of existential goose chase, where the hero rises above the outside world, leading to a final, fatal confrontation with a well-dressed powerful American (Bill Murray), who represents commercialism, the lowest common denominator, and (just a guess) the reasons that make going to the movies fun.

God forbid the director/writer tries to entertain us--Jarmusch's idea of a joke is to have the Lone Man's various contacts inquire if he speaks Spanish. And he favors lots of wide, striking shots, so there's a feeling that Lone Man is on a quest for something, which may be a metaphor on man's search for truth and fulfillment. But this doesn't work if you make no connection to your viewers. The audience's job here is to applaud the ideas being expressed, bask in the presence of art house stars like Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal and Swinton, and enjoy how the movie does something by doing nothing. Really, it's a depressing waste of our time as Jarmusch wallows in independent cinema artifice while showing us not a trace of vulnerability. The only thing worse than a maudlin, weepy movie, is one sporting a permanent poker face.

Watching The Limits of Control I felt like a rube. It's not like I'm looking for explosions or dick jokes. That's what the multiplex's summer movie season is for, and I'm sure not expecting all that from the guy who directed Stranger than Paradise and Broken Flowers. Just don't make me feel like I'm being talked at in riddles. I can't put my head around The Limits of Control. It's clearly about something, but it's too boring, too cool, and too self-important to interpret. That's fine by me. The movie offers us nothing except a heaping portion of contempt. [R]

Film Round-Up for May

In this edition of The Film Round-Up, we go mostly independent on your ass with Michael Caine, a breakthrough performance from Nicole Beharie, and an early candidate for the year's best documentary. Oh, and how about something new from one of Apatow's minions?

These reviews appeared in the May edition of ICON, and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

No interview with David Grann this month; it got pushed to June. That's perfect actually--the book is ideal summer reading. Plus, fellas, the beach bunnies love guys who read. I think.

American Violet (Dir: Tim Disney). Starring: Nicole Beharie, Tim Blake Nelson, Will Patton, Michael O'Keefe, Xzibit, Malcolm Barrett, Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard.
Based on true events from early in the decade, a struggling African-American single mom of four (Beharie) gets arrested on trumped up drug charges, just another target of a power mad, racist district attorney (O'Keefe) seeking convictions to get more federal funding into his sleepy Texas county. Refusing to accept a plea bargain, she joins forces with two ACLU lawyers (Nelson, Barrett) and a lawyer/ex-cop (Patton) to take on the D.A. and the corrupt criminal system. American Violet certainly has its flaws, namely that there's too little insight given into the district attorney's madness and no attempt is made to downplay Beharie's beauty. (Even in jail she looks ready for a premiere.) But its big heart and us vs. them storyline hook you from the start and make up for the glossy packaging and oversights. Excellent performances by pretty much everyone, especially Beharie (The Express) and the undervalued Patton (A Mighty Heart), also help. *** PG-13

Is Anybody There? (Dir: John Crowley). Starring: Michael Caine, Bill Milner, Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey, Rosemary Harris, Linzey Cocker. A lad obsessed with the afterlife (Milner), lonely and stuck living in a makeshift old-age home in 1987 coastal England, befriends the newest resident, a gruff retired magician (Caine) who has seen better days both professionally and personally. Young Milner (so good in Son of Rambow) and legendary Caine (now safely out of the Jaws: The Revenge phase of his career) are fine in the leads. But there are two significant issues. First, director Crowley and writer Peter Harness vaguely define the duo's friendship, so we never feel like they need each other, giving their activities an oddly indifferent air. Second, the plot starts slow and thoughtful before accelerating almost comically to its conclusion. Is Anybody There? is quaint and charming, like spending an hour or two in an antiques store or a tea shop, but it leaves almost no impression. Tidbit that may be more interesting than the movie itself: Harness actually grew up in a retirement home. ** PG-13

In a Dream (Dir: Jeremiah Zagar). This intense documentary profiles Zagar's father, Isaiah, a mosaic artist who has devoted years to covering buildings and alleyways throughout Philadelphia with his dazzling, highly personal mosaics. This artistic pursuit has come at a cost, namely a strained relationship with his family, whom he relates to more as muses than as people. Young Zagar's film captures his father's past and artistic motivations, which are equally troubling and illuminating, as well as showing a tired man who has reached the breaking point. His marriage is crumbling, the walls of his insular world are closing in, and his son Zeke has a drug problem that is an unwelcome interference with his creativity. Director Zagar, who seems compelled to reveal the truth, smartly keeps himself off screen and lets his camera roll, showing what happens when the balance between creativity and domesticity falls out of whack. The result onscreen is absolutely compelling. **** NR

Adventureland (Dir: Greg Mottola). Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig. James Brennan's post-collegiate future is bleak, starting with returning to his parents' home in suburban Pittsburgh. Their economic downturn also means he can't travel to Europe nor can they foot the bill for grad school at Columbia. The job market in 1987 is bleak for a literature major, so James grabs a crummy job at a second-rate amusement park, which turns out to have unexpected benefits. Among them: a sexy, Lou Reed-listening co-worker (Stewart), who helps James open his eyes to reality while threatening to break his heart. Writer/director Mottola (Superbad) has crafted a touching, straight-up tale of transitioning into adulthood, while refusing to give into kitschy nostalgia or non-stop gags. You have to have a heart of stone not to fall for the movie's charms. Terrific cast is headed by the always great Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) as the rudderless grad and Stewart (Twilight), who somehow pulls off being desirable and entirely relatable. Starr, however, nearly steals the movie as Eisenberg's friend and sarcastic co-worker. **** R