Change of Season

The winding down of the ’05 summer is fortunate in two respects: it’s getting a tiny bit cooler in the city (there was a transcendent breeze travelling southward down Broadway Monday night around 9:30 pm), and it gives me something to write about during a flat week.
It felt to me like an above-average summer. At the end of each year I always come up with a list of 40 or 45 films that were good, very good or excellent, and here we had a summer providing about 21 first-raters, or just over five per month. (I’m going by the perimeters of May 1st through August 30th.) Not bad for a season that’s thought to be mainly about flotsam and popcorn and yeehaw.

Ralph Fiennes in Fernando Mierelles’ The Constant Gardener (Focus Features, 8.31)

I’ve written enough about the good ones in past columns, so I’m going to have more to say about the problems and irritants. But starting at the top…
GOOD AS IT GOT (in the following order): Hustle & Flow, The Constant Gardener, Cinderella Man, Last Days, Crash, The Beautiful Country, Grizzly Man, Wedding Crashers, Batman Begins, Mad Hot Ballroom, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Aristocrats, Broken Flowers, Kingdom of Heaven, The White Diamond, Layer Cake, Cronicas, My Summer of Love, This Divided State, Tell Them Who You Are, War of the Worlds.
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That was the good news, although I’m presuming very few even had the option of seeing The White Diamond, a Werner Herzog doc I wrote about in the June 8 column, or Mark Wexler’s Tell Them Who You Are, a feisty portrait of the director’s relationship with his overbearing dad, the award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
The lesser films were tedious, grueling or worse. I am one who feels especially dispirited by cheesily commercial films made by directors and writers whom I know are capable of delivering much smarter and craftier stuff, and…well, I guess I should leave Judd Apatow and The 40 Year-Old Virgin alone. (I’ve been warned by readers.)
But this isn’t an obsession thing of mine. It’s a sum-up piece and Virgin has made a big splash, but it’s really not fit to lick the boots of The Wedding Crashers and deserves to be called the SUMMER’S MOST OVER-PRAISED SO-SO COMEDY.

Russell Crowe, Renee Zellwegger in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man

Just gonna zotz out the rest…
PUTRID, REPUGNANT, MALIGNANT…NOT TO MENTION ONE OF THE MOST BREATHTAKING CAPITULATIONS & SELL-OUTS IN HOLLYWOOD HISTORY BY A TALENTED DIRECTOR WHO KNEW BETTER: Doug Liman’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which way too many people gave a pass to with the rationale that it was harmless fluff.
MOST ATTENTION-GETTING WIPEOUT & ACROSS-THE-BOARD CAREER DAMAGER: The Island. The bitch-slapping of Michael Bay may not have been such a bad thing for the guy. The only way Bay is going to do better work (and I know he’s capable of it) is to be woken up from the narcotized pipe dream of being Michael Bay (muscle cars, bimbo girlfriends, parking in handicapped spaces, etc.), and it’s a safe bet that the staggering failure of The Island has made him reconsider his whole program. Producer Walter Parks got slapped around also when he said insufficient star wattage on the part of Island costar Scarlett Johansson was one of the reasons the film tanked; the take-no-guff Johansson fired right back and set him straight.
MOST LOATHSOME BIG-STUDIO RELEASES AFTER PREVIOUS TWO: The Dukes of Hazzard, Star Wars, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, Bewitched.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

NOTEWORTHY ON-SCREEN IMPROV: After Kieran O’Brien playfully blindfolds Margo Stilley in 9 Songs, she says, “I can’t see!”
A MOVIE THAT PERSUADED ME TO THINK NEGATIVELY ABOUT A BIRD SPECIES THAT I’VE HAD NOTHING AGAINST MY ENTIRE LIFE: March of the Penguins. You can sing the praises of this doc all you want, but those Emperor penguins spend way too much time trudging across Antarctic wastelands and sitting on unhatched eggs during blizzards. The success of this film was mainly driven by women and old people. Tell me one regular guy you know who went to this thing on his own (or with his regular-guy friends) and came back going, “Amazing!” I don’t want to see any animals suffer, but it would have enlivened things if a few more penguins had been eaten by predators.
NOT ENOUGH: Monster-in-Law, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Bad News Bears, Dark Water, Asylum, The Chumscrubber, Lila Says , Rize.

Christian Bale in Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins

FLATLINERS: The Longest Yard, Madagascar, Kings and Queen, Lords of Dogtown, Must Love Dogs , Fantastic Four, Stealth, The Brothers Grimm, Heights.
WANTED TO SEE ‘EM, MISSED THE SCREENINGS, COULDN’T SEE FORKING OVER TEN BUCKS, ETC.: Howl’s Moving Castle, High Tension, The Devil’s Rejects, November, Mysterious Skin, Murderball, The Edukators .
WOULDN’T SEE ‘EM AT THE POINT OF A KNIFE: The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, The Honeymooners, Herbie: Fully Loaded .
NOT HALF BAD: Yes, Red Eye, Four Brothers, Reel Paradise, House of Wax, Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist, The Great Raid, The Last Mogul , Me and You and Everyone We Know, George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead.
BIGGEST ACTOR BREAKTHROUGHS: Rachel McAdams (The Wedding Crashers, Red Eye), who could wind up doing it all. Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow, Crash), who deserves a Best Actor nomination hands-down for his Memphis pimp. Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers…can’t wait for his tortured deejay movie for director David O. Russell). And Amy Adams (Junebug), although she needs to move beyond that sweet and trusting magnolia-blossom thing.
LEAST INTRIGUING NEW ACTOR (and a possible speed-bump for Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers): Jesse Bradford , the costar of Heights who, in that film, wore a fixed expression that said, “I’m not really getting what’s going on…I’m not sure what to say or do…maybe if I just stand here long enough looking like a stubble-faced bowling pin with legs, events will sort themselves out.”

Jesse Bradford at Sundance Film Festival, looking a lot less clueless and confused than he does in Heights…so maybe it’s not a terminal problem.

SUMMER’S BIGGEST STOCK-DROPPERS: Tom Cruise and Will Ferrell. Will Cruise ever get back the lustre he had in the wake of Jerry Maguire, or are emperors forever disempowered once the public has seen them without their aura of mystery and velvet robes? When Ferrell came out of the shadows of that bungalow to talk with Owen Wilson in that third-act scene in Wedding Crashers, you could almost hear the film’s energy collapse and an instant consensus form in the audience that he didn’t belong and was way overdoing it. Plus he was ickily unfunny in Bewitched . This sounds incredible for a guy who’s only been a marquee draw since Old School, but he may already be heading downhill.
COLD-SHOULDERED, UNDER-ATTENDED, INSUFFICIENTLY LOVED: Cinderella Man, Kingdom of Heaven, Tell Them Who You Are, My Date With Drew.

Toronto Jam

This year’s Toronto Film Festival (Sept. 8th through 17th) is a big problem in the best way imaginable: there are too many good films to see in only nine days. I gripe about this every time the schedule is announced, but this year is really a bitch.
I’ve come up with 69 films I’d like to see (or in some cases, see again). If I run around like an animal and the screening times mesh perfectly with my column-writing schedule (which never happens) and I don’t get shut out of any films (which happens a lot at this festival), I’ll be able to catch four per day or 36 films.

That means I’m going to have to forget about seeing 33 films that I’d definitely see under free-and-clear circumstances. This means I have to start crossing a lot of ’em off…a tough but necessary task.
Imagine a filmmaker having just finished a film into which he/she has invested every last drop of blood, sweat and tears, only to read some journalist talking about taking a few whiffs and calibrating the angle of the dangle and going, “Naah, I don’t think I’ll see that one.”
I’d like to hear anything from anyone out there because these lists are always changing, but at first glance here’s what’s doing. The films I’d like to see but have doubts about are italicized; keepers (i.e., films most likely to connect with paying audiences because they look commercial or will prove aesthetically exceptional) are boldfaced.
WORLD CINEMA (4): River Queen, director: Vincent Ward. (financing problems, Samantha Morton problems…a sturm und drang movie); Shooting Dogs, director: Michael Caton-Jones (always approach an MCJ film with caution); Le Temps qui reste, director: Francois Ozon (haven’t heard anything to quicken my pulse); Tsotsi, director: Gavin Hood (Athol Fugard source material…being schmoozed into seeing this by Donna Daniels and Emily Lowe.) Keeper total: 0.

Jason Statham in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver

DIALOGUES: TALKING WITH PICTURES (4): Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, director: Stuart Samuels (talked to Samuels in Cannes even though I hadn’t see it…love the subject but I may miss it again); My Dad Is 100 Years Old, director: Guy Maddin (maybe, but The Saddest Music in the World didn’t do it for me); Open City, director: Roberto Rossellini (never seen a decent print, I’d love to see it with a hip crowd, and I’ll probably blow it off); William Eggleston in the Real World director: Michael Almereyda (not feeling it). Keeper total: 0.
DISCOVERY (1): Stoned, director: Stephen Woolley (missed the market screenings in Cannes…I was told it wasn’t so hot…I’d like see it anyway because it’s about the death of Brian Jones). Keeper total: 0.

The White Masai

MASTERS (11): Breakfast on Pluto, director: Neil Jordan (seeing it here Friday); Brokeback Mountain, director: Ang Lee (will someone please arrange an impromptu screening of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Lonesome Cowboys during the festival?); Bubble, director: Steven Soderbergh (for the last few years Soderbergh has been like Mickey Mantle during one of his slumps…the fans in the stands going, “Hit one out of the park, Mick!” with their fingers crossed); Cache, director: Michael Haneke (missed it in Cannes where it almost won the Palme d’Or…have to see it); L’ Enfant, directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne (the Palme d’Or winner at last May’s Cannes Film Festival); Free Zone, director: Amos Gitai (saw it in Cannes, wouldn’t mind catching it again… fascinating road movie that takes you through Israel and Jordan…fine Natalie Portman performance…satisfying in a minor key); Iberia, director: Carlos Saura (waiting to hear something); No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, director: Martin Scorsese (how can I miss this?…then again, one wonders what fresh new aspect of Dylan-the-sourpuss can Scorsese be expected to uncover?); Tideland , director: Terry Gilliam (there’s no missing a Gilliam); The Best of Our Times, director: Hsiao-hsien Hou (maybe); and Takeshis, Takeshi Kitano‘s latest about a celebrity confronting a double. Keeper total: 7.

Cameron Diaz in an alleged still from Curtis Hanson’s In her Shoes

MIDNIGHT MADNESS (2): The Great Yokai War, director: Takashi Miike (maybe); Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, director: Liam Lynch (liked her in The Aristocrats…she played the nagging-bitch girlfriend in School of Rock). Keeper total: 0.
REAL TO REEL (6): a/k/a Tommy Chong, director: Josh Gilbert (definite interest so far); A Conversation with Basquiat, director: Tamra Davis (ditto); The Devil and Daniel Johnston, director: Jeff Feuerzig (heard good things when it played Sundance); Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, director: Lian Lunson (gotta catch this one); Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela, director: Thomas Allen Harris (definitely intrigued); and Why We Fight, director: Eugene Jarecki. Keeper total: 3.

Dame Judi Dench in Stephen Frears’ Mrs. Henderson Presents

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS (18): Art Project: Ghosts of Woodrow, director: Graeme Patterson (waiting to hear something); Bee Season, director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel (Tom Luddy having chosen it to play Telluride Film Festival ought to mean something); Capote, director: Bennett Miller (seeing it in NYC this week); Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, director: Michel Gondry (Chappelle’s flake-out/disappearing act a while back…does that make this film more or less intriguing?); Everything Is Illuminated, director: Liev Schreiber (might see it here); The Notorious Bettie Page, director: Mary Harron (essential for the period trimmings and sexy-photo stuff alone…Harron did an excellent job with American Psycho); Oliver Twist, director: Roman Polanski (can’t blow off Polanski, although I suspect he probably shot his last meaningful wad with The Pianist); Romance & Cigarettes, director: John Turturro (can’t bypass a singing James Gandolfini); Shopgirl, director: Anand Tucker (I’m hearing not great but fairly decent); Sketches of Frank Gehry, director: Sydney Pollack (gotta show respect to Pollack and Gehry); Slow Burn, director: Wayne Beach (waiting); Thank You For Smoking, director: Jason Reitman (sounds a bit obvious, but maybe): Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, directors: Mike Johnson, Tim Burton (Burton is better with puppets than people, but it looks like The Nightmare before Xmas again); Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, director: Michael Winterbottom (9 Songs didn’t do anything for Winterbottom’s rep, but this is supposed to be fairly good); Trust the Man, director: Bart Freundlich (always approach a Freundlich film with caution); Vers le Sud, director: Laurent Cantet (waiting to hear something); Wah-Wah, director: Richard E. Grant (ditto), The World’s Fastest Indian, director: Roger Donaldson (good buzz from Oz exhbitors about this one during their recent Australian Gold Coast convention, but Donaldson being from New Zealand suggests it should probably be taken with a grain). Keeper total: 10.

Charlize Theron in Niki Caro’s North Country

VIACOM GALAS (15): Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, dierctor: John Gatins (any movie with the word “dreamer”…holding off for now); Edison, director: David J. Burke (waiting to hear something); Elizabethtown, director: Cameron Crowe (essential); L’ Enfer, director: Danis Tanovic (don’t know anything); A History of Violence, director: David Cronenberg (missed about 20 minutes worth in Cannes when I nodded off…want to see it again anyway); In Her Shoes, director: Curtis Hanson (exhib calls it an above-average chick flick and a little on the “commercial” side…Hanson-as-director means this has to be seen, but a serious film maven must always approach any film starring Cameron Diaz with a certain caution); The Matador, director: Richard Shepard (Sundance buzz was fairly good but nothing spectacular); Mrs. Harris, director: Phyllis Nagy (Bening and Kingsley…essential viewing for these two alone); Mrs. Henderson Presents, director: Stephen Frears (there’s no blowing off a Frears film); The Myth, director: Stanley Tong (skeptical); North Country, director: Niki Caro (return of Whale Rider director is an exciting prospect, but true-life story about a sexually harassed mine-worker sounds like a snooze, even with Charlize Theron in the role); Pride and Prejudice, director: Joe Wright (seeing it in NYC this week); Proof, director: John Madden (seen it, wrote about it); Revolver, director: Guy Ritchie (guarded optimism…post-Swept Away Ritchie requires extreme caution); The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, director: Tommy Lee Jones (fell for it in Cannes, looking to see it again); Walk the Line, director: James Mangold (saw it a few weeks ago, looking to go again just for the enjoyment); Water, director: Deepa Mehta (heard nothing); The White Masai, director: Hermine Huntgeburth (based on autobiographical book by Corinne Hofmann about a European white woman who falls head over heels for a Masai tribesman, blows off her boyfriend, uproots her life, etc.) Keeper total: 9.

Actual Bettie Page (i.e., receiving discipline) and not Gretchen Mol portraying the famous ’50s pin-up girl in Mary Harron’s The Notorious Bettie Page

VISIONS (6): 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, director: Stewart Main (no hints); L’ Annulaire, director: Diane Bertrand (ditto); Brothers of the Head, directors: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe (return of the Lost in La Mancha guys); Mary, director: Abel Ferrara (respect must be paid to Abel Ferrara, despite all the crap); The Piano-tuner of Earthquakes, directors: Timothy Quay, Stephen Quay (no hints); Wassup Rockers, director: Larry Clark (no clues). Keeper total: 2.
Add ’em up and at this early stage we’re looking at a grand keeper total of 31. Truth be told, I rarely seem to get to more than 25 or so films during a typical festival, although I’d love to crack 30 this time.


Through windows of Dean & Deluca, SE corner of Broadway and Prince — Sunday, 8.21, 8:20 pm.

Only in New York City do you get this kind of stark aesthetic juxtaposition…one of the most beautiful dining-room decoration stores on the planet on the inside, and all kinds of heavy scaffolding and splattered paint and cheap-ass graffiti on the mailboxes outside.

Martin Scorsese, Matt Damon on set of the upcoming The Departed

James Mangold’s Walk the Line won’t be out until 11.18, but the 20th Century Fox marketing team is plugging it like a sonuvabitch. The Johnny Cash biopic has tribute pieces running in this week’s Time and Newsweek (particularly about Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon’s performances) and now Fox has wild-posting all over Manhattan construction sites…which is fairly unusual for a film that won’t be opening for another three months.

Journos and industry types know Eamonn Bowles as the president of Magnolia Pictures, but he’s also the head of a kick-butt Iggy Pop-ish bar band called The Martinets. I saw them play last night at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar on Leonard Street (between B’way and Church), and was blown away — they’re really fast, tight and rock-sharp. The sound is raw and catchy and they all play like pros. Bowles sings like a mad banshee and plays electric guitar like a ringin’ a bell. It’s not just the usual bar-band “noise” but crafty, well-shaped material with intellectually pointed lyrics. I asked Bowles if Mark Cuban, the part-owner of Magnolia and a guy who reportedly gets around, has dropped by to catch the act. Bowles said nope.

All the milk that’s about to go bad and turn into cottage cheese, they send it to grocery stores in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I bought this last Sunday. The guarantee said it would be good until 8.25, and the next day all these gross little white globs poured out while I was trying to put milk in my coffee.

Playground at Spring and Mulberry — Sunday, 8.21, 5:45 pm.

Rice to Riches, located on Spring near Mulberry, is a stand-alone store that sells flavored rice puddings. Fantastic tasting, very filling, etc.

Facing south on La Guardia (I think…memory’s a bit hazy) — Sunday, 8.21, 7:15 pm.