Monthly Archives: July 2011

Page One: Inside The New York Times

David Carr

I’ve been dying to see Page One: Inside The New York Times since it hit the Minneapolis box office a few weeks ago and the documentary recently made it onto my short list blog. THEN I learned yesterday was the last day it had a full docket of showtimes over at the Lagoon theater and this weekend it would only be available at 9:40 p.m. What’s up with that? I expected the documentary would be playing longer given the legacy of the subject matter, but all good things must come to an end, I guess.
After making the deadline to see it last night, I find it unbelievable all the news they were able to fit into just under two hours of film. In reality, there is so much content to focus on about The Gray Lady that I could still be sitting in the theater right now. That would be fine by me. Andrew Rossi and his crew created a voyeuristic experience about The New York Times starting with its coverage of Wikileaks in 2010 and weaving through its history, including publication of the Pentagon Papers and more recent controversies caused by reporters Jayson Blair and Judith Miller.
Everyone on camera had nothing to hide as they gladly read aloud their nutgraphs and allowed interviews with top sources to be filmed. In a more humbling and heartbreaking moment, camera crews captured one day where the paper had to layoff 100 employees.
Then, the voyeurism increases with commentary from folks on the outside at journalism summits with the likes of Arianna Huffington, David Simon and Daily Kos blog creator Markos Moulitsas. All their views are enlightening, and a little bit scary, takes on mainstream media alongside the blog-o-sphere and online journalism. Newspaper moguls Carl Bernstein and Gay Talese, author of The Kingdom and the Power, also made appearances in candid interviews.

Most enjoyable to me was the focus on David Carr and his rise up from being addicted to crack and in jail to being a fixture at The New York Times as a reporter covering trends in media, including at the very paper he works at. Following Carr, the documentary includes scenes shot in Minneapolis as well as in New York as he spent weeks on a piece about the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company. He told his editor he was going to spend two weeks reporting on it and one week writing it. Now there’s a man after my own journalistic heart.
“If you write about the media long enough, eventually you’ll type your way to your own doorstep,” Carr said.
He also said in the documentary that most often when he finishes an interview for an article, the source will ask him, “What’s going to happen to The New York Times?”
As Carr put many people who challenged the institution in their place during the documentary, the answer appears to be nothing, and everything.
The documentary message rested on this: The public role of journalism and ground floor reporting of mainstream, historical media like The New York Times is everlasting.
Any journalist will certainly be fascinated with this glimpse into the fine print of one the most powerful news agencies in the world, but I strongly recommend everyone take a peek at it.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Allen movies often remind me of plays. From the music, ensemble cast — but with few people in each scene — to the sense there are no cameras separating the characters from the audience, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is no exception.
This time Allen chose Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin to lead his story about love, deception and failure all set against the backdrop of the fantasy of fortune telling.
All the characters essentially want what they can’t have in their marriage or career, or both, and those who go for the forbidden get burned a little bit. This isn’t a drama or a thriller, but the phrase You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is not as romantic as it sounds.
How Allen weaves these stories in a way that looks so effortless is beyond me, but all that matters is his films provide everything that an on screen escape should.
While in Allen films there typically are not “spoilers,” the ups and downs of the characters, from significant to subtle, are not to be known until you see this film. The unknown adds to the mystery and, as Naomi Watts’ character Sally says, “Sometimes the illusions are better than the medicine.”
I will say that line is one recited by the narrator near the end of the film, and I am still trying to tie in the William Shakespeare quote provided at the beginning: “Life was full of sound and fury and in the end signified nothing.”
There is a sense in the film that perhaps some of the characters’ wishes and wants and losses don’t mean anything, so perhaps that’s the connection. Regardless, what I like most about Allen’s films is they can be deep and thought-provoking as little or as much as you want.
With that, I turned off my DVD player as the credits rolled with a sense of whimsy and enjoyment. Perhaps most of all because of the opening and closing song and my favorite lyric in it: “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

Short list

When I saw the trailer for Gus Van Zant’s Restless this week, I rushed to add the title to the list of must-see movies I keep saved on my computer desktop. I added it and then browsed through the list to delete some movies I’ve seen recently, only to notice Restless was already sitting at No. 15

Uh oh. When I start doubling up on listing films I would rush to the cinema to see I think it’s time to narrow it down a bit. Starting with the aforementioned Gus Van Zant release, I am not sure what prompted its first addition to my list, but the trailer certainly sealed the deal. Restless focuses on the relationship between Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper). Annabel, diagnosed with a terminal illness, falls in love with Enoch who spends his time attending funerals and with the ghost of a Japanese WWII kamikaze pilot only he can see. Van Zant’s creative mind translates to complex, moving stories on screen and I hope he mixes in a silver lining to the plot of Restless.
Moving on to my next genre, Matt Damon (who was in Van Zant’s Good Will Hunting and Gerry), has a role in  the Steven Soderbergh thriller, Contagion, due in theaters in September. A disease outbreak and the destruction it causes are at the center of the plot, which doesn’t sound all that original. But the top-notch cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law in addition to Damon, should carry it through.

For films in theaters now, I am going to try to get out to see Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times or Beginners next and I am intrigued about whether Crazy, Stupid, Love will deliver when it drops in theaters July 29. It looks to be a rom-com but the ensemble cast, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei, is a step above most so I hope it doesn’t fall into the standard formula of most love stories. Ok, so this list isn’t so short anymore, but I think it’s manageable. In the indie film realm, I’m of course anxiously awaiting Miranda July’s The Future. And, The Muppets is my pick for animated fare mixed with real-life actors, Amy Adams and Jason Segel, who wrote the screenplay.
Finally, when it comes to action/adventure/comic books The Dark Knight Rises isn’t due until next year but I’ve enjoyed all of Christopher Nolan’s films in the series AND this installment has Joseph Gordon Levitt in it. I heard a sneak peak of the trailer is shown before the Harry Potter movie out now. I haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter series, but could stand to watch it to get a glimpse of what Batman will be up to. Too many movies, too little time!

The Witches of Eastwick

If there is anything I know for sure about Hollyweird, if you need  an actor to play a strange, sadistic, criminal, crazy or downright evil character, Jack Nicholson is the man.
Certainly if I were making a movie that required such acting props, he’d be in it.
Then there’s the other side to Nicholson, shown in roles he’s pulled off flawlessly like Melvin in As Good as it Gets. He can sign on to box office blunders like The Bucket List and Something’s Gotta Give and still keep his strong reputation among film fanatics, at least me anyway.
Nicholson can do no wrong in my book. Even as a devilish character with a greasy ponytail and off-kilter costumes, the professional accolades start rolling in.

Nicholson received best actor nods from the New York Circle Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films USA for playing the wild Daryl Van Horne in the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick.

I’m guilty of owning the DVD for some time and never pulling it off the shelf, but it made for a perfect movie night selection when my friend Alicia and I resumed our weekly tradition on Monday.
Nicholson is joined by Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the kooky tale of three women wishing for the perfect man. They concoct a spell based on their criteria and poof, Daryl Van Horne storms into Eastwick.
It certainly shakes things up a bit when the other residents suffer the wrath of Van Horne sweeping through town in his bathrobe and high tops with his faithful servant, Fidel.

I am glad I chose this title out of the others in my collection I still need to see. Witches of Eastwick has something for everyone and I was initially drawn in by the chick flick mantra when Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Sarandon) and Sukie (Pfeiffer) create the vision for Van Horne over pitchers of martinis while complaining about the men in their lives.
From there the tale expands into comedy and science fiction. It did get just plain weird at times, but, I liked it.
Nicholson seduces each of the women individually and then to have them all live happily ever after at his mansion. But is that what these 1980s “witches” really want? Did they wish for the
wrong man and being ousted from town and their jobs forever? If they wanted to escape from ho-hum Eastwick, possibly.
But it’s not that serious, rather a chance to see spells, voodoo and scenes akin to The Exorcist without the fright factor.
I haven’t read the John Updike book where the film originated from, but I imagine the narrative of Witches of Eastwick is even more intriguing than the on screen version.
Like I said, Witches of Eastwick is very weird, but when Nicholson completely lets loose to capture Van Horne’s mesmerizing and strange character and woo the audience, I was spellbound.

Animal Kingdom

Going into watching Animal Kingdom, I knew there would be some similarities between it and The Town. I saw The Town, written and directed by Ben Affleck, with my sister Carla and brother-in-law Jack and they saw Animal Kingdom when it came out on DVD. Carla compared the Australian drama to Affleck’s American bank-robber tale so I was interested to see how so when I watched Animal Kingdom this weekend. Although it had been some time since I had seen The Town, I did notice a tie between the family dynamic in each of the two pictures.

In The Town, the “family” isn’t all related by blood, but the relationship is similar to a brotherhood and that of the characters in Animal Kingdom.
Both “families” have a tie to crime they can’t escape, even if they want to, and there is a leader everyone tends to be a bit scared of.

The title of Animal Kingdom is synonymous with the relationship between the members of the Cody family in the sense that they need to survive on their own as much as they need to survive together.
What I can say about the plot, without spoiling the movie, is J’s mom dies and at age 17 he is forced into the care of his grandma, Janine “Smurf” Cody.
She has three sons, Darren, Craig and Andrew, nicknamed “Pope.” J’s mom shielded him from this side of their family, but when she died they took him into their home and the criminal lifestyle they see as normal.
In Animal Kingdom the life of crime is balanced on screen with the emotion and aftermath of the Cody’s actions. There is just enough of how they orchestrate their crimes to get a taste of who is bad and who appears willing to do anything to remain loyal to their family, even if they know it’s not right.
“Smurf” Cody is seen as the matriarch, but as the family starts to unravel she doesn’t always know what to do or, as she says, how to find a bright side to their problems.
As J begins to understand the family dynamic he’s been sheltered from and police become increasingly involved, he needs to decide whether he needs to be protected from his own family or if he can overcome their control, primarily Uncle Pope.
There, J is similar to Ben Affleck’s character, Doug MacRay, in The Town. They are faced with survival or family loyalty and in the end both films center on the weight of those decisions.
I wouldn’t say you’d appreciate Animal Kingdom or The Town more if you see them both and see The Town first like I did, but having that comparison did help me understand the purpose of the stories: Survival of the fittest.