Friday, April 24, 2009
Probably not. Thus far, Apatow has exhibited levels of taste and wit that run circles around practically everything Sandler's done in the last decade (okay, we'll give him a pass for "Punch-Drunk Love"). And yet, "Funny People" appears to be some sort of fan fiction by the writer/director in honor of Sandler's comparatively low-brow career. In it, Mr. Happy Madison stars as a famous standup comedian-turned movie star -- what a stretch -- who comes down with a deadly disease, gets mucho support from friends and colleagues and, apparently, survives. Might this be a metaphor for what's happening between Sandler and the Apatow camp? Having no doubt been inundated with movies like "Big Daddy" and -- choke -- "The Waterboy" during their ascent to fame, is "Funny People" Apatow and co.'s way of paying back Sandler for his comedic influences and thus reviving his street cred.? Sure smells like it, and it's not a funny smell.
I sure hope this flick doesn't tarnish the Apatow anthology. There are so many things I love about him and his posse, especially their shameless love of cinema (raise your hand if you thought of the "Munich" convo in "Knocked Up" when Eric Bana appeared).
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Pedro Almodovar - Broken Embraces
Andrea Arnold - Fish Tank
Jacques Audiard - Un Prophete
Marco Bellocchio – Vincere
Jane Campion - Bright Star
Xavier Giannoli – A L’Origine
Isabel Coixet – Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon
Ang Lee – Taking Woodstock
Ken Loach – Looking for Eric
Lou Ye - Spring Fever
Brillante Mendoza – Kinatay
Gaspar Noe – Enter The Void
Park Chan-Wook – Thirst
Alain Resnais – Les Herbes Folles
Elia Suleiman – The Time That Remains
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Johnnie To – Vengeance
Tsai Ming-liang – Face
Lars Von Trier – Antichrist
Sunday, April 12, 2009
By R. Kurt Osenlund
There's a little movie out there that's been gaining buzz for over a year, attracting coverage from media outlets and trickling out to wider audiences. Born of humble origin, it was backed by a very modest budget and saw nearly a decade in development. Putting a contemporary spin on a classic tale, it focuses on a struggling protagonist who has yet to discover his destiny. No, it's not the latest festival darling to sweep the nation, a la “Slumdog Millionaire.” It's “The Book of Caleb,” a locally shot and set quarter-life-crisis comedy directed and co-written by a Bucks County native. The hard-won fruit of years of labor and logistics, “Caleb” marks the feature debut of filmmaker Matthew Von Manahan, a 28-year-old Florida State University (FSU) film school grad who cut the movie in the basement of his parents' Holland home. It may not be on the march to Oscar but, thanks to ongoing theatrical engagements and exposure via an entire network of new media platforms, “Caleb” is tip-toeing its way onto the screens of viewers well beyond its home base.
“It really came together on dreams,” says unknown actor Jeremy Luno of the film. Also an FSU grad, Luno plays the lead role of introspective wanderer Caleb Callahan. “There were certain tangibilities to what was going on but, all in all, it was running on the fuel of dreams.”
Primarily, the dreams were those of Manahan, who developed “Caleb” from a series of shorts he directed before finishing college in 2003. The shorts and the feature they inspired follow, in chapter form, the suburban travails of Caleb, a character who'd get along great with Dustin Hoffman's Ben Braddock from “The Graduate.” Lost in the same fog of early 20s, “what-next?” uncertainty, Caleb is a kindred spirit to Braddock; however, he's no graduate. With less than a year remaining in his Bachelor's program in paleontology (an offbeat major that conjures digging-for-meaning metaphors), Caleb unexpectedly dropped out and returned to live with his parents in Bucks County. This is where and when the movie catches up with him, as he reconnects with the people, places and things of his past and begins a new chapter in his life, unsure of where the pages will lead. He re-teams with his childhood pal, the habitual prankster Montag (Michael Hampton), and his smart-yet-silent sidekick, Swank (Nikitas Manikatos). He faces down formidable villains in the form of Scar (Jeff Berg), an intentionally cartoonish cop with old scores to settle, and Paddington (late actor Paul Gleason of “The Breakfast Club”), a similarly animated, local politician with a soft spot for American history. Caleb also finds new love in Cole (Mackenzie Firgens of “Groove”), a level-headed brunette whose voice of reason challenges his loyalties but may just be precisely what he needs to hear. The romance is a healthy discovery but, as with any young man's journey, what Caleb seeks to find most is himself.
“When you're growing up, you have a very defined world that's basically no farther from your home than the distance to school,” Manahan says. “When you go to college, all those things that you thought were reality start getting slowly eroded. It's really easy for people to feel lost by that. (Caleb) is trying to sift through all these different ideas, and all these different people are telling him what he should do when the only thing he should be doing is thinking for himself.”
A child of suburbia and a 20-something himself, Manahan has created a film that's at least partially autobiographical, containing the kind of small-scale stressors that fairly privileged college grads on the cusp of adulthood can find monumental. In this sense, “Caleb,” penned by Manahan with buddies Michael English and Joseph Valenti, is quite accurate, amplifying those stressors to a decibel that will ring true to many a confused quarter-lifer. Its absurd humor, however, though innocent and purposefully over-the-top, is pretentiously quirky even for an indie, often feeling like the inside joke collection of a very exclusive fraternity. The themes and intentions remain intact, but little oddities like Montag's pranks that are meant to establish conflict register as foreign and frivolous and they limit the appeal of “Caleb” to the college-age demographic.
That said, any objections to the movie's narrative are promptly quieted by its picturesque, anything-but-low-budget look, which captures the natural beauty of Bucks in ways that native pros like M. Night Shyamalan might only dream about. Manahan jokes that his production process, with its basement headquarters and high school interns, lacked traditional professionalism, but his finished product – which he calls a “suburban epic” – emits it scene after scene. Shot with a borrowed camera on 35mm film scraps by D.P. Michael Gioulakis, “Caleb” is imbued with the essence of the area, from its colonial history to its striking autumn landscape. Locals will notice settings like Washington Crossing Park and Holland Elementary School, as well as neighborhoods and streets that may very well be their own. The familiarity of such places in such a great-looking feature film is thrilling, to say the least.
Though “Caleb” wrapped production nearly three years ago, it never saw an official theatrical run. Instead, Manahan and his independent production company, Guns & Butter Entertainment, have taken a sort of reverse approach, releasing the film online, then on DVD, then through individual screenings. The backwards method has allowed this small movie to gain big-time exposure, spreading from Bucks to God-knows-where via Hulu.com, IMDb.com, iTunes, Joost.com, NetFlix, YouTube, Amazon.com and eBay. It's screened for audiences in New York City, Boston and, just last month, at Doylestown's County Theater, right in the heart of Manahan's stomping grounds.
“It was great to have a hometown screening,” says Manahan, who's now pursuing his passion in Hollywood but flew back east for the County event. “It was a really great experience. I got to reconnect with friends, family and even the people who helped out on the movie.” People, he says, who were “amazingly efficient and passionate. The whole community was very helpful and the film couldn't have been made without that support.” Manahan is currently developing his sophomore project through the talent agency that employs him. His original claim to fame can be found by logging on to http://www.bookofcaleb.com/ and following the links to mini-theaters all across the Web.
This article was also published in Inter-County News Group's The Good Life magazine and has been reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
This year, he offers "Bruno," a "Borat"-like "Borat" follow-up that sets its sights on homosexual stigmas and stereotypes instead of racial ones. Since controversial content of a gay nature is even more taboo than that of an ethnic nature (and probably because Cohen pushed the envelope as far as possible), the MPAA has reportedly slapped "Bruno," which incorporates "Borat"'s same cross-country interview format, with an NC-17 rating. The trailer below also got the red-band treatment, so, hide the children. Then take a look and see what all the fuss is about. What do I think? The same thing I thought about "Borat": Bleh.
First, I visited a poster store in search of a smaller-sized print of the original "Brokeback Mountain" one-sheet (you know, the one that takes its cue from "Titanic"'s layout). You see, I'm decorating the office of my new apartment -- one of many projects that have kept me from putting up new Movie Buddy posts -- and only a select few images will do. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find a virtual Audrey shrine -- big posters, small posters, postR cards, books and more, all bearing iconic photos like the one above.
Aside: Though Audrey's likeness surely took top-billing in the small shop, the icon was surrounded by all the usual, wall-mounted suspects: Elvis, Marilyn, Frank, James Dean, Bob Marley, Tony Montana, Tyler Durden, Andy Warhol and Andy Warhol's work. Have you ever noticed that about poster-sellers? Of course you have. Tough toodles if you're looking for something even moderately unique, because every graphic print purveyor in America has programmed the masses to be obsessed with a limited list of about ten pop culture personalities. If you feel like deviating from those ten, there's the college dorm room subset of "Donnie Darko," "Requiem for a Dream (admittedly an amazing poster)," "The Boondock Saints," "Dazed and Confused," "The Godfather," "Animal House," "Batman," "Star Wars," and, of course, "Twilight," Twilight," Twilight." In the mood for a rare indie's cover art or a signed headshot of Meryl Streep? Sick to death of seeing Al Pacino on a dollar bill with a cigar in his mouth? Too bad, kids. That's what the internet is for. I know, it sucks. (End Aside.)
Anyway, when I got home (empty-handed), I found an envelope that had come in the mail. It was from my mother, who apparently will be sending me something every week now that I've moved out of her house. I opened it, pulled the card out slowly, and who was staring back at me? Audrey Hepburn. With her hair done up perfectly, her pearl necklace gleaming, her dainty cigarette darting out of frame and her devious smile, she seemed to whisper: "you can't escape me." I gave a loud chuckle, went into the office, and placed the card on a book shelf. It'll look great next to that "Brokeback" poster, which I still need to order online.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
By R. Kurt Osenlund
Philadelphia's 2009 film festival had local cinephiles on the edges of their seats long before any movies were screened. At one point, word on the street was that there might be no festival screenings at all. Earlier this year, creative differences caused longtime Philadelphia Film Festival co-producers, the Philadelphia Film Society (PFS) and TLA Entertainment Group, to part ways, leaving each entity with a desire to organize its own spring fling of cinema. Competition ensued, tensions rose, and when the political circus went public, festival cancellation rumors began to fly. It wasn't until just weeks before the fest's scheduled opening date of March 26 that flustered film buffs could breathe a collective sigh of relief. After numerous reconfigurations and a mini-slew of mudslinging, PFS and TLA announced that they'd resolved their differences and would again be co-presenting the event, dubbing it “Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest '09” – a combination title that itself is indicative of a compromise.
Having interned with PFS a few years back, I know first-hand the kind of behind-the-scenes madness that's par for the course with film festival production. Dozens of dedicated pros run around like decapitated chickens, working tirelessly to put on a good show. This year (their 18th), the folks behind the fest were faced with some hefty additional challenges, and they still managed to deliver a fine lineup of about 220 films from from over 40 countries, thanks to the dependable insight and good taste of their programmers and curators. And, speaking of taste, here's a morsel of what was offered.
Question: What do you get when you add a stylish music video director to a pair of savvy young screenwriters and multiply the sum by the star power of the reigning prince and princess of independent film? Answer: “(500) Days of Summer,” the festival's immeasurably charming, artful, almost-perfect opening night selection. Written with tender wit and insight by pals Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, this irresistible debut feature from director Marc Webb stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as Tom and Summer, two young lovers in modern-day L.A. who belong together but wind up apart. Billed as an “anti-romantic” comedy, “(500)” charts Tom and Summer's brief but memorable relationship via leapfrogging chronology, a discerning pop soundtrack and fetching creative visuals. Using the quirky yet universal script as their runway, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel take flight as one of the most adorable movie couples I've ever seen, creating magical, must-smile moments that are both true and hilarious. That their on-screen romance ends is a rather devastating drawback, but what precious little of it was captured should still be seen by all when this film hits theaters on July 17.
Fans of the festival's 2009 Artistic Achievement Award recipient, Jeff Daniels, will revel in “The Answer Man,” a Philadelphia-set dramedy that sees the frequent second-fiddle player in a rare and range-defining leading role. Everyone else, however, will suffer the inescapable, sinking feeling that they're waist-deep in a stagnant pool of sitcom-quality conventions. Daniels stars as grumpy Arlen Faber, the world-famous author of an enormously successful self-help book whose own soul is in dire need of some chicken soup. The veteran actor's work is sincere and multi-layered, and newbie writer/director John Hindman has some profound philosophical ideas, but they're submerged in a movie that uses a consumer-friendly gimmick to drive an overused premise: with a little help from his friends, the cantankerous recluse crawls back into the human race. Even the handsome photography of a familiar metropolis and an intense supporting turn from rising-star-to-watch Lou Taylor Pucci can't save this one from being dead in the water. Skip it when it goes nationwide on July 24.
It's no coincidence that the open-road murder mystery “Surveillance” has a distinctly Lynchian aura. Starring the unlikely duo of Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond as two FBI agents tracking a serial killer in an unnamed stretch of America's heartland, this stirring little thriller was directed and co-written by Jennifer Lynch (“Boxing Helena”), David's daughter who exhibits the same waking-nightmare interests as her demented-old dad. While “Surveillance” never comes close to the brilliance of, say, “Blue Velvet,” it possesses enough unusual characters, unexpected twists and unnerving scenes to suggest that the apple, thankfully, hasn't fallen far from the tree. Lynch lovers in particular should catch this perverse retooling of a tired genre when it opens in limited release on June 26.
With its central, woman-versus-the-system issue and preachy, after-school-special dialogue, director (and Walt's great nephew) Tim Disney's topical crowd-pleaser “American Violet” is more fit for Lifetime than the big screen. Still, this begging-to-be-told, true story of racial biases among Texas task force agents has weighty, national relevance, and the film boasts a prime cast of black actors led beautifully by breakout star Nicole Beharie (“The Express”). A former student at Juilliard, Beharie gives a truly tremendous performance as Dee Roberts, a real-life single mother of four who, in 2000, was wrongfully accused of dealing crack, refused to accept a plea bargain and teamed up with the ACLU to combat and change corrupt legal practices. “Violet” features solid supporting work from Charles Dutton, Anthony Mackie and the festival's Fade to Black Quest Award recipient, Alfre Woodard, but its rock is Beharie, whose furious talent is light years beyond the pedestrian screenplay by writer/producer Bill Haney. Had it been part of a stronger picture, her Norma Rae/Erin Brockovich-esque portrayal would make her a surefire Oscar contender. See her in action when “Violet” opens in select theaters on April 17.
The festival wrapped things up with “Lymelife,” an angsty tale of Suburbia's underbelly from director and co-writer Derick Martini. Set in 1970s Long Island, this sardonic son of “American Beauty” features detailed period production design, a tack-sharp script and standout performances from Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon and Emma Roberts. It deserves your attention when it arrives in art-house venues this Friday, and its theme of domestic unrest was a fitting way to cap off an event that was nearly derailed by in-house struggles.
*See which festival titles won awards from jurors and audiences at http://www.phillycinefest.com/
(This article was featured in Inter-County NewsGroup's The Good Life magazine and has been republished with permission.)