Monthly Archives: December 2010

Clint, Diane, Dustin, Jack, Meryl and Robert.

My mom and I recently had a discussion about actors who are past their prime (or at least perceived to be) and still have successful careers. Actors who are baby boomers and above are every bit as talented as they were as a 20-something, if not more. Unfortunately, it seems that writers have stopped crafting roles for them anymore. Our talk all started with a recent appearance of Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro on the Late Show with David Letterman. They were together to promote their franchise piece out this season: Little Fockers. Hoffman as a Letterman guest is funny and tells good stories about his early acting days and classic films such as Tootsie and The Graduate. According to Letterman, De Niro has never been on his show, so he should have something to talk about. Nope. He was Mr. Sour Grapes the whole time. Letterman took the opportunity of having both actors on his set to discuss their lengthy film retrospectives. In addition to Hoffman’s above films, he tops the charts in Kramer vs. Kramer and All the President’s Men. De Niro has Taxi Driver, Casino, and Goodfellas, to name a few. Letterman’s list didn’t spur any conversation at all. Hoffman seemed to try but maybe he was as off put by De Niro’s behavior as Letterman was. Did De Niro REALLY want to talk about Little Fockers more than all the classic films he has had the opportunity to be in and is known for? Does he want Little Fockers to be his legacy? I checked his in production queue on http://www.imdb.com/ and he’s got five or six projects in the works ranging from rom-coms to action films.
What I am looking for is actors in De Niro’s generation who consistently choose “good” projects without mixing in the unnecessary fluff. I can’t imagine it’s about filling up their pocketbook more, but who knows.
Maybe if they don’t keep their name out there on a regular basis it gets harder to have more scripts to choose from.
Jack Nicholson is another example. He went from Something’s Gotta Give to The Departed (amazing) to The Bucket List. To me there is no point to any of those but The Departed. Nicholson followed The Bucket List with How Do You Know, which I do plan to see. The preview looks like his father-figure character may be a step down from more complex roles like Melvin in As Good As It Gets but a step up from Anger Management. Looking at his film list, there are just a few blips on the radar. Nicholson is also rumored to be the lead in Americana with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Keep it up Jack.
Nicholson, De Niro, and Hoffman have the same talent they did 20 to 30 years ago so Hollywood screenwriters should keep writing roles for their generation. Maybe they prefer the slightly younger Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, which is not a bad thing, but let the people who laid the path keep it up. There is still an audience for their work, trust me.
As my mom and I talked, she named one actor who has kept a consistent route both in front of and behind the camera: Clint Eastwood. Through his transition from acting to directing with Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, he’s got the best of both worlds.
As far as female actors of the same generation go, I’ve heard it’s even more difficult for them to find roles worthy of their time in competition with young starlets.
Meryl Streep has kept it going somehow. Diane Keaton is still acting, but fell into the typecast pool, unfortunately. She starred with Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give and hasn’t really stepped above that mark yet. Are she and others are just taking what they can get at this point? Is Diane Keaton turning down other roles for Morning Glory and the upcoming Darling Companion, about a woman who loves her dog more than her husband? If it weren’t for the cast of Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard I’d stay that is definitely the case.
As I researched each of these actors’ upcoming projects they all have some in the works. It’s promising that at least a few gems will come out of their careers just yet.
Coming up, Dustin Hoffman has a voice in Kung Fu Panda 2 and acts in The Song of Names with Anthony Hopkins. There is one other franchise that could keep his options for scripts open, according to my mom.
He was in Star Wars, right? I’ll bet you a dinner on that one.

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Sunny Christmas

Nothing says Happy Holidays like Danny DeVito, as Frank Reynolds, popping out of a couch naked at a Christmas party. To see it, just buy the A Very Sunny Christmas on DVD. It came out last year and aired on FX as part of this season. I have it saved on my DVR to watch again, but for now I’ll have to go off my memory from my first viewings a year ago. (SPOILER ALERT!!!!)
The characters, Frank, Dee, Dennis, Mac and Charlie each relive their warped memories from Christmas past.
If you know the twisted humor of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, none of the characters on the show would have what is perceived to be a “normal” Christmas.
For example, whose parents would teach their son how to break into other people’s houses and steal their presents on Christmas morning? Who would sew themselves into a couch to eavesdrop on an office party of a former business partner? In that case, it would be Frank.
His own children even set him up to get in that scenario in the first place after years of Frank only buying presents for himself on Christmas.
Charlie learns that the Santa Claus who visited Christmas morning is just a suitor for his single, and pretty messed up, mother.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint any favorite episode from the series because each one just keeps topping the other. Dennis and Dee go on Welfare is a family favorite, Kittens Mittens is up there for me and when Mac and Charlie die, I can’t say anything bad about it (as long as it doesn’t happen in real life.) This season I thoroughly enjoyed Mac and Charlie trying to assimilate their mothers in the same house when Mac’s burns her house down.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am more than obsessed with this show. My favorite character is Mac, another fact anyone who knows me would be able to recite. And, OK, I have a bit of a crush on him. Mac is played by Rob McElhenney, who is also the creator of the show. It’s just plain brilliant if you ask me and “the gang” makes it all come together.
I saw Charlie Day in an interview on Conan and he said Danny DeVito would do just about anything as Frank on the show, going back to the couch scene. Just to test DeVito’s tolerance, the writers compiled an April Fool’s Day script where Frank gets arrested and ” taken advantage of” by the inmates once he goes to jail. According to Day, DeVito called his lawyer on that one and wouldn’t have done it.
This current season just keeps getting better and better and the comedic actors and writers can work serious topics from their own lives into the show with the traditional Sunny humor. I won’t spoil any more of the season, but all in all It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Christmas episode or not, is the gift that keeps on giving.

If Only

I’ve been thinking about the film The Baxter since I caught the end the other day on IFC. I’ve actually seen it several times and own the DVD because I love, love, love the story. It’s an original craft of the story done over and over again in every rom-com. A guy meets a girl, they fall in love, and then it falls apart. Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) is the writer and director of The Baxter.
What makes the film different is that it is about the other guy. Showalter also stars in the film as Elliot Sherman, the said Baxter. As Showalter describes, a Baxter is a man left at the altar, the nice guy who falls for the wrong girl and is plagued with ailments like allergies, strange fears and devoted interest in numbers or reading the dictionary.
All he needs is a girl who reads the dictionary too. Enter Cecil Mills, played by Michelle Williams. Cecil and Elliot navigate through the story together while each figuring out their own lives. Early on Elliot becomes engaged to Caroline Swan (Elizabeth Banks). But he and Cecil, who is a temp in his accounting office, are still drawn to each other as Caroline realizes perhaps her high school sweetheart Bradley is her dream guy.

Showalter presents this story through witty dialogue, intelligent comedy sequences, and most of all a lot of heart. It takes place in Brooklyn and New York City and the film seems to be not only a homage to the idea of romance but the filming location as well.
If you watch The Baxter, and I highly recommend you do, you’ll learn what a gromwell is, the benefit of taking risks, and see that just about anybody can find romance. Even Elliot Wilbur Sherman. Yes, there’s hope.

Where have you been all my Lymelife?

My friend Alicia and I have been meeting weekly for movie night and the latest installment was a film I had never heard of, Lymelife. I think there is potential in all independent films. They make me think and it is almost more satisfying to find out what I enjoyed about the film as time goes on. Lymelife is no exception. It’s a family and coming-of-age tale set in the 1970s in suburban New York. Rory Culkin as Scott Bartlett is navigating through his teenage years and trying to woo the girl of his dreams Adrianna, played by Emma Roberts. He doesn’t have much inspiration from his parents’ relationship. Alec Baldwin and Jill Hennessy play Mickey and Brenda Bartlett. Scott’s brother Jimmy, back on leave from the military, may be the best role model he has. He is a strong fighter when it comes to his family but is ashamed the military only has him working on administrative duties rather than out on the battle lines.
Scott’s parents individually I think are not happy with their life choices that brought them together somehow. His mom would rather be back in Queens and his father takes it too far with a coworker at his real estate business, who happens to be Adrianna’s mother, Melissa Bragg.
My favorite role and actor is Timothy Hutton as Charlie Bragg, Adrianna’s father. He is apparently suffering from Lyme’s disease and some associated hallucinations, but seems to have the most perspective compared to the other characters. 
While the characters fight their respective battles, Mickey Bartlett has a dream house built in a new development. The idea of it seems perfect for a family like theirs, living in a modest middle class house then finally moving up and having a new start.

But, life doesn’t go as planned and the new house is really a sign of everyone in the family coming into their own and going their separate ways.

Charlie Bragg has the last word and the screen goes blank before showing the viewer visually what happens. It’s effective and a appropriate ending to a film of simple meaning that is an appreciated effort at looking into the dynamics of family.

Now I’m scared

I am mostly over the fear I experienced by subjecting myself to see Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2. Looking back I am glad I saw the films, because the writers and directors really are brilliant at what they set out to do … scare the crap out of people. It especially works for people like me who let their imagination get the better of them.
Recently, the light in my kitchen has this fun problem where it randomly turns off while I am doing the dishes or cooking even though the switch is on. I am almost always in the room when it happens. So I climb up on a chair and move the fixture around until it comes back on. My landlord, ahem, was supposed to fix it last week and says it’s something in the switch, NOT a demon. Or, maybe he did fix it the day I saw him and my soul and apartment are possessed. Soon enough I will be making dinner after work, the light will go off and then all the cupboards will fly open at once and their contents will follow. OK, there goes my imagination, although that did happen in one scene of the Paranormal Activity duo.
When I saw the first one I actually did not know how realistic the frightful plot would be. I didn’t even know it had the home video effect or anything. I saw it at my friend Alicia’s house where they have a home theater system. The seats they have come with speakers, putting the demon a little too close for comfort. And, with these films you never really know when something scary is going to happen.
It took at least a week to get a good night’s sleep after round one.
I prepared myself a little more before seeing the second installment … which I decided to see on the big big screen. Yikes. I did some research beforehand and read some reviews, which actually gave away some plot points I wish I hadn’t known. I won’t divulge them because Paranormal Activity has a relatively simple idea and the less you know about the characters, the better.
Even thought it was a different director for Paranormal Activity 2, I thought he did a good job weaving in the plot from the first one while coming up with some original scare tactics. He also used a minimal budget. While the plot is simple, when you’re done with both films, you’ll start to see a pattern.
I’ve had discussions with friends about whether someone will churn out another one, and I am guessing someone will. I don’t know if I could take it, but I also don’t think I could skip the chance to see what they come up with. Better start preparing now.

I’ll go with solitary

By the end of Solitary Man, there is a decision for the main character. Does he want to lead his life on what some may perceive as a lonely, hopeless path that can’t go anywhere, or stick with one of more certainty surrounded by his family?
Michael Douglas is the lead as Ben Kalmen, who is going through some self discovery after learning some not-so-good news about his health.
As Ben appears to be alone in his life, the people he can’t ignore and their importance work their way in. His daughter Susan, ex-wife Nancy and long-lost college buddy Jimmy are fixtures in Ben’s life. But, maybe he wants something new?
He certainly doesn’t treat his family well, especially his daughter. It’s one relationship he seems to try at but just can’t succeed. When this movie was playing in the theaters, my mom, sister and I were trying to choose between it and Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give. Both are tales of families and relationships and how life changes like death or losing a job can prove who is closest and who is not and the paths people take. They have different plots that get the characters to that point and whichever you choose, I like both films very much and recommend them for their realistic style.
Back to Michael Douglas, in the ending scene he sits on a bench with Nancy where they met in college. While they are not married, she certainly presents the option of being in each other’s lives and helping him, especially since she knows about his health. She leaves to go to her car and he gets up and walks, seemingly, the other direction. If that’s the case it fits with the film’s title. It really is a story of a Solitary Man.

Sidelined

I’ll admit, I wanted to see The Blind Side and find out why there was so much hype about Sandra Bullock. For the most part, her acting was ho-hum and while it may have been a reach for her, it was not an Oscar-worthy performance. The plot of The Blind Side was not of particular interest to me, but now that I have seen the film, I think the story would be better served by a documentary. If someone wanted to make a feature film about Michael Oher’s rise from a bad family life and homelessness to one of potential and a career in the NFL, this is not how it should have been done. And, there is a book of the same title the movie is based on. Why not leave it at that?
The scenes where Bullock, portraying the mom who adopts “Big Mike,” meddles on the football field and shouts at other parents on the sidelines are over the top and a little obnoxious. They ruin the scenes when she does make her character and motherly instinct seem real, such as when they are at home and she first realizes how little Big Mike has had in his life, from family relationships to material possessions.
When Bullock’s character visits Mike’s birth mother, it’s one of the most or only humbling scenes that shows what both of the real women portrayed in that scene could have been feeling and going through.
The credits at the end of the film show footage and pictures of Michael Oher and his adopted family. They are a glimpse of the story that show it had the potential to be a documentary. If the real people The Blind Side is based off of agreed to have their story told by actors and to be a part of the end of the film, the director should have taken it a step further and put the more deserving characters in the limelight.
I guess I’ll read the book.

B is for Black Swan

I figured I would start my entrance into blogging with the most recent movie I’ve seen, Black Swan. I completely agree with the radio interview I heard with The Current’s “Movie Maven,” who said the film was intense and the effect grew on her more and more after the screening. Natalie Portman stars as ballerina Nina, who has her mind set on getting the lead role in Swan Lake. But, it’s evident pretty early on that she is only competing with herself. Aronofsky portrays this through focusing the camera on Nina’s face in mirrors and through visions she thinks are other people but then finds herself looking back. Any interaction she has with other characters are twisted in her mind and further show the damage Nina has done to her psyche by striving to be the Swan Queen. She struggles more to reach the depths of the enemy Black Swan in the ballet. When I left the theater I thought seeing Black Swan again would not be necessary to further understand the plot and plight of Nina. But, since it is more in the vein of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, which I have seen many times, I may be wrong. I enjoyed my first viewing and appreciate the director’s vision and Portman’s portrayal of a difficult, complex character. She’ll get some nominations for the role, I hope. Maybe seeing it again will keep the bizarre scenes and images of Black Swan in my mind, but I’ll take that risk. (I did have to look away during some involving the painful preparation a ballerina does to get into toe shoes and when Nina or her mother take a scissors to her fingernails). But those are topped by a scene when Nina’s legs buckle at the knees and she hits her head on a bedpost, which for a ballerina could ruin her career. But it turns out to be all in her head. Hmmmmm. I had the chance to share why I ventured out to see Black Swan and my rating of the film on a ballot handed out at the theater. My rating is a B. Whether you’re a fan of Darren Aronofsky or not I recommend opening your eyes to this one, maybe twice.