Friday, December 28, 2007

Reilly Rocks But The Movie Does Not Quite Roll


It’s hard not to like regular Joe John C. Reilly, whose goofball charm and aw-shucks persona have also been a welcome addition to any movie, whether it be a mainstream comedy, a hard-as-nails indie, or a Hollywood popcorn special. Reilly takes center stage in Walk Hard:The Dewey Cox Story, a full-scale parody of the pop star biopic, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spoof that plays it a bit straighter then expected, and even veers towards the surreal, although it never quite gets there. Reilly is a hoot, the pastiche of genre music numbers is spot on, and the movie boasts at least one outright hilarious sequence skewering the Beatles. Co-writer and comedy kingpin Judd (Knocked Up, Superbad) Apatow and director Jake (son of Lawrence) Kasdan accomplish what they set out to do, and that’s funny enough, which is a good thang, but the satirical situations and one-line cap-offs never truly zing or soar.

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's (Stephen) King Time


Well, filmmakers like Orson Welles and Lawrence Olivier had Shakespeare while Frank Darabont has got Stephen King, reteaming once again for The Mist. After finding success with the The Shawshank Redemption (’94) and The Green Mile (’99) (and bombing out with 2001’s non-King The Majestic) the director has gone back to his muse and filmed a 1980 King short story set in Maine (of course), with a wild-eyed mob of regular Joes and Janes (among them, Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, Frances Sternhagen, and Marcia Gay Harden) trapped in a supermarket as a mist (with, yup, supernatural forces) closes in. Darabont drops the big budget smoothness of his earlier adaptations in order to approximate a more in-yer-face guerilla style , but the move scores more as psychological thriller than a technical scare fest. It’s an unabashed B-movie, with an ending as cynical as all get out, a movie well worth staying with when it ends up on a cable on some late wintry evening.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cheadle Keeps it Real (Again)


In Talk to Me (Universal, $29.95,118 minutes) Don Cheadle brings his usual hustle and bounce to the small scale and real life tale of Washington, DC r&b DJ and activist Petey Greene. It’s an episodic film that doesn’t strain for higher meanings, easily mixing humor and poignancy into an engaging character study of a man so bad (in the sixties sense) he was good, an intriguing tale of yet another black entertainer trapped between keeping it real or pushing it into the (white) stratosphere. It’s an infectious little film, well-cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mike Epps, Martin Sheen, Taraji P. Henson) and well delivered, thoughtful and entertaining. Cheadle is one of those guys who doesn’t seem to make a bad choice when it comes to movie roles (we forgive him the big bucks payoffs for the Ocean’s 11 series), and director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) lets him have an obvious good time socking it to the Sixties here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Muscle Bound Effects


Anyone who’s admired Brit actor Ray Winstone’s authentically feral and quietly mesmerizing turns in movies like Nil By Mouth, Sexy Beast, The Proposition, or even The Departed, prepare yourself for his starring role in the- Robert Zemickis-goes-medieval Beowulf, a film that utilizes the directors same totally off putting technique of merging animation to actors facial movements as his The Polar Express. It’s the Land of the Dead Eye, with the actors resembling zombies after a method acting course, scary looking to some, stupid looking to most. I simply couldn’t get past the sight of the lumpen Winstone’s head magically welded onto a gleaming and shimmering he-man’s bod to even see if noted writers Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman had brought anything to the party. Yup, I committed the ultimate nitcrit sin--I walked.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's Right-Teen Neo-Noir


Attention all you molls and mugs, it's yer last chance to go to the noir side with me at Local 121 for the Wednesday Night Film Noir series, tomorrow (12/12)at 7:00 PM. Attendance has been spotty, but decent enough to make another go at it on the flip side of the holiday season, probably for a brief series called Paranoia in Film or The Films of Paranoia , or something much more pretentious and seri-ass sounding. (Suggestions?)Anyway, please, baby, please, c'mon down for the final film of the first series, have a drink or two, listen to my insightful spiel, and watch an intriguing movie:

Brick (2005) An outside choice to spice up this brief noir series, ostensibly a modern neo-noir, clearly a homage and genre reconsideration by smart guy and first time writer/director Rian Johnson. Image a Chandler/Hammett styled investigative jigsaw puzzle set in high school, with the hardboiled protagonist a teen (well played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) determined to unearth the truth despite the consequences. Neither a spoof, a textbook redo, or an exercise in irony, but a bold and cool mixture of style and setting, with the neat and effective affection of having the high school cats and kittens speaking in a gangster patois from decades earlier. Moody, intelligent, and unnerving enough to be included in the sublime cannon of film noir.

Monday, December 10, 2007

TV EYE: Through the Past, Darkly


Do I get drummed outta the TV Taste Club if I admit to actually liking a show produced by Uber producer Jerry Bruckheimer? Since it’s inception in 2003, the low key procedural Cold Case (NBC, Sunday, 10:00 PM) has cast a certain spell on me, and I find it’s formula, it’s doom and gloom atmospherics, and it’s wistful gazing-into-the-past structure, all rather addictive. The show centers around a group of Philadelphia coppers ( John Finn, Jeremy Ratchford, Thom Barry, Danny Pino, Tracie Thomas, underplayers all) forced to dig deep into the dusty files that contain, cold, or unsolved cases. Kathryn Morris plays Detective Lily Rush, the team’s centerpiece, a waif-like combo of moral conscientiousness, dissipated guilt, and avenging angel. The show swings back and forth from then to now, utilizing period songs and period film stock, while the actors either doing the age-make-up thang or simply going with two sets of young and old, with each episode occurring within an extremely specific milieu—typically quantified by class, ethnicity, or social issue-of-the-period. Cold Case also well utilizes a solid feel for Philadelphia, it's setting (despite the fact that they probably only go in one or twice a year to shoot exteriors), and the Philly depicted is a steel gray, downcast, chilly urban center, brimming over with dreamers, losers, and (most of all) those that are just going through the motions. The crime always gets solved, yet the general feel of the show is far from smug endings and satisfying turns of justice---the show gives off a weary vibe of lives lost and misspent, of paths not taken, of shared guilt (each and all get lined up as suspects), and it’s final slo-mo, cue-the-music series of shots often make me weirdly sad or downright depressed, while continually exerting a strange pull that brings me back for the next episode of time-bending crime-solving.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What's So Funny About a Hockey Puck?


I guess I’m in the same club as Chris Rock, Marty Scorsese, Penn Jillette, Sarah Silverman, and even Harry (hipper-than-thou) Dean Stanton in looking at old school comedian Don Rickles as part guilty pleasure, part hilarious bastard. Those are some of the talking heads assembled in John Landis’ brand new HBO portrait, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. Problem is a good subject does not necessarily make a good documentary. Landis film is part typical clip history, part oral history, a touch of the subject’s own reminiscences, with a large portion devoted to excerpts from a recent Vegas performance, something that really should have just been released separately. The talking heads provide very little insight; some even opting for shtick over substance, and Landis over relies on Tonight Show footage and neglects to show a bit more of the Rickles acting career, which he forged in TV( the doc quickly spins past a series of b&w publicity stills showing Rickles all over the sitcoms of the 60's-from The Munsters to Andy Griffith) and B films, until he hit it big as a stand-up under the protective glow of Frank Sinatra. Check this out (not in the doc) for truly gonzo television.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No Smooth Edges


The following column is reprinted from the December issue of Providence Monthly


EYES WIDE OPEN
By Scott Duhamel

It’s the time of the movie year that brings forth a whole batch of Oscar contenders, seri-ass movies that hinge upon lofty concepts, high level drama, showcase acting, and as many high-minded literary adaptations as possible. It’s also the time of the year that a lot of the grittier, hard-to-classify fare is released, much of it without any Oscar pretensions or a surefire marketplace direction. That’s means good, intriguing, well intentioned stuff, maybe not quite the stuff that dreams are made of, but much of it made smartly and without the smooth edges required by rigors of overt commercialism.

We Own the Night
Writer-director James Gray remains a filmmaker on the verge of greatness. His three films, Little Odessa, The Yards, and his latest, We Own the Night, are all uniquely somber, highly atmospheric, self-enclosed blue-gray fables, all outings that resist the typical budding director’s urge to pour on the style and ratchet up the melodrama. Also, each of Gray’ three efforts has been marked by strong casting and sturdy patches of acting, with the new one, a cop/family drama, featuring the faces and talents of Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg as Cain and Abel brothers, Robert Duvall as their police chief dad and Eva Mendes as one smoking girlfriend, all registering succinctly on the down low. (Although boy wonders Phoeniz and Wahlberg both deliver low key performances, it has to be noted they up the ante on the mumble fish scale, joining the ranks of some of the great practitioners like Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon, and Bencio Del Toro.)
The movie breaks no new ground, and it’s cops-and-robbers premise and internal familial struggles seem designed just to contain a series of furious and spunky set pieces, many of them vividly enacted, particularly a wham-bam car chase that absolutely has to be among the most captivating movie scenes this year.
Gray seems to be drawing from the same ground level urban playground as venerated New York director Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Prince of the City) where character is king and setting is character, but he doesn’t quite have Lumet’s ability to innervate the gritty proceedings. Instead Gray spends a lot of time fading away from the action, employing long shots to emphasize the players’ isolation, and more time bumping along a pensive and ominous slow boil, withholding all big (and little) pay-offs. Gray may still be finding himself, and he’s doing so with an admirable deftness, and in the long run We Own the Night is occasionally alluring and consistently watchable, which will have to do for now.

Gone Baby Gone
Somewhere, just outside the big budgeted Hollywoodized frameworks of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed lies Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone. Like those aforementioned films, Affleck’s directorial debut is built around a core that makes its distinctive setting-Boston- a certifiable plot device and an essential secondary character. Gone Baby Gone, like Eastwood’s movie, is adapted from a book by Dennis Lehane, the acknowledged successor to the great George V. Higgins, the late fiction writer laureate of Massachusetts. Affleck is neither an artist nor cinematic master like Eastwood or Scorsese, but he does know Boston and, in the movie’s actual case, Dorchester, a working class locale gone to seed. Affleck’s Massachusetts’s acumen probably outweighs his directorial prowess, but he totally succeeds in utilizing his knowledge of the place, the people, and the language, to form a seedy and compact thriller that possesses both savvy and smarts.
The basic story mixes together two local private eyes (Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan), two police detectives (Ed Harris, John Ashton), a police suit (Morgan Freeman), and a blue collar family (Titus Welliver, Amy Madigan, Amy Ryan) in the search for a missing child. Young Affleck is a surprisingly creditable lead, lean and youthful but with some real bite to his bark, while Ed Harris once again does a whole lot with very little, yet it is relative unknown Amy Ryan, as a flawed but unblenching Dorchester proletariat mom who runs away with film and also demonstrates Affleck’s obvious affinity with actors. The movie is rife with riffs of dialogue and unabashed speechifying, most of it popping and sizzling quite acutely, and the movie’s use of settings and locale is equally assured, as is the director’s trenchant use of locals cast as locals. The actions sequences are wanting, they feel a bit ponderous and forced, and a few sequences remain irritatingly unclear.
In the long run the detective tale and the movies overall moral inquiry dwell in the improbable and the slightly unconvincing, but Affleck has managed to realize a well-honed vision with his keen eye set on a movie Boston (from Quincy to Chelsea), spilling over with class, racial, and ethnic divisions but somehow still strung together with invisible and unspoken connective tissues. Both Eastwood and Scorsese crafted two fully realized films that appropriated a genuine feel for the city but headline maker-movie-star-turned-filmmaker Affleck has fashioned the truest “Boston” movie yet.

Into the Wild

I may be one of the only film nitcrits out there that truly found Sean Penn’s last shot at directing, 2001’s The Pledge,as richly textured and highly evocative (and as lovingly well made, with a full combo of balls, brains, and personal vision) as some of the more hallowed American films of the treasured 1970’s. The movie literally blew me away, stuck to my gut, it’s very images and tone staying with me for weeks after I viewed it. Needless to say, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Penn’s next time around in the director’s chair, which has finally arrived, albeit in a not-very-wide release.
Penn’s choice, Into the Wild, for which he serves as both writer (adapting from Jon Krakauer’s best seller) and director, seems highly appropriate for the notoriously free spirited actor/activist—a true life adventure downer wrapped around the antics of Christopher McCandless (remarkably played Emile Hirsch), who, during the early ‘90s, just out of college, chucked it all for a personal quest for something, anything outside of traditional society. McCandless left field odyssey final found him deep in the mountains of Alaska, eventually dying of starvation, a hero/fool to many, an unbinding idiot to native Alaskans.
What Penn winds up making is essentially a twisty road movie, one without the expected burst of wild exhilaration or heady meaningfulness that typically characterize the genre. The landscape, captured exquisitely by cinematographer Eric Gautier, provides the film with an occasional burst of raffishness, but Penn the filmmaker sticks tight to the young man’s genuinely heartfelt buy generally unfocused and ultimately absurd quest. The movie is part distress tale, part pilgrimage, part eulogy. It’s a profoundly sensual, physical film, unafraid of silence, and peopled with on-the-road eccentrics, sages, and losers (among them Vince Vaughn, Catherine Kenner, Kristin Stewart, Brian Dierker and Hal Holbrook), as Penn’s acute eye captures the conflicting vibe of magnificent risk, naïve indulgence, and inevitable doom and gloom. His take on the wanderer’s parents/adversaries (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) is sadly by rote, truly character-by-cliché, and this does knock the film down a notch or two.
All in all, unequivocally, Penn possesses an innate cinematic marrow (he’s got the goods, period) and Into the Wild easily confirms it. It remains to be seen if he is able (or even desires to) to smooth down a few of his filmmaking edges and make a film that may attract a more mainstream audience. For those of us out on the edge with him, Into the Wild is indeed the right stuff.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Transcendent Contempo Classic


Writing about the latest DVD releases provides your everyday popcult nitcrit with a proven path to pure cinematic nirvana, as it seems nearly every other week brings about a re-release, a reissue, or a director’s cut of a bonafide movie classic. 1974’s Chinatown (Paramount, 130 minutes,$14.99), a fine intertwining or art and commercialism (box office boffo, multiple Oscar nominations, and a transcendent exercise in genre), also managed to exquisitely combine the varied (but exemplary) talents of a superior screenwriter (Robert Towne), an actor who was climbing new heights (Jack Nicholson), an actress at the top of her game (Faye Dunaway, a heavy that was so much more than that (John Huston), a near perfect soundtrack (Jerry Goldsmith), absolutetly impeccable cinematography (John Alonzo), and a director who was channeling his sharp European sensibilities into the Hollywood dream machine to great effect (Roman Polanski). Chinatown may or may not be the last great noir picture, but its poetic depiction of a sun-drenched California just as corrosive and confined as any neon lit and dark shadowed mean street, it’s peppery nods and winks to the grand tradition of Hammet and Chandler, and it’s truly empyrean existential finale mark it as one of the most haunting and vivid hard boiled movies ever. Evuuuuuhhhhhh. The one-hour of extras included is valuable primarily for the sharp observations of Towne, a lynch pin who figuratively and literally held the film and it’s principles-Nicholson, Polanski, and producer Robert Evans, together.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TV EYE--Zen Detective


Life (NBC ,Wednesdays, 10:00 PM) may be the most bracing and uncontaminated new television show this year, and it’s certainly among the least showy and hyped new shows. Brit Damien Lewis goes American as Charlie Crews, an L.A. police detective who did a decade plus stretch for a crime he didn’t commit, gets exonerated and handed a tidy settlement but still chooses to get reinstated back to the force much to the consternation of those around him. Detective Crews is an invigorating creation-a Zen copper going through the usual crime scene paces with a whacked-out sense of calm, all the while peppering anyone nearby with a torrent of philosophical inquiries both large and small. He has a no-nonsense partner (the absolutely lovely Sarah Shahi), an ex-cellmate/financial advisor (Adam Arkin), and a crusty female captain (Deadwood’s Robin Weigert) to aid and abet him as he solves the crime of the week and secretly probes the many conspiracy theories surround his frame-up. It’s a smooth and easy procedural, smarter and hipper than it initially appears to be, and a cop show that’s witty and highly self-contained, a true breath of fresh air. I wouldn’t have put any money down on this, but against the odds the show has been picked up for further episodes by NBC.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lee Marvin Ain't Secondary to Me


Ahhh, another plea for sweet, transcendent companionship. A cry in the dark to join me in mutual cinematic exaltation as I show another film in in our Noir Series, Wednesday the 28th, 7:00PM, downstairs at Local 121.


The Big Heat (1953). A thoroughly nihilistic noir detective story well executed by German expatriate Fritz Lang, featuring the always underrated Glenn Ford a policeman who’s heart has turned black with vengeance. The world depicted here is a familiar noir universe—filled to the brim with suspicion, paranoia, and duality. The square-jawed and dogged Ford is both avenging angel and an impassive agent of destruction, infecting everything in his path in his lone-wolf pursuit of equity. Lang delves into the thin line between salvation and corruption, simultaneously toying with society’s notions of decency and innocence, which is to say, the treatment of women in this one is downright peculiar, even for a noir. Bonus points awarded for two great secondary players: Lee Marvin doing his young thug thang and Gloria Grahame as his dame with-a-heart.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Morning Quaterbacking


1)Jimmy Johnson laid out the obvious on the Fox pre-game show early in the day yesterday. In order to beat the Pats, you have to get to Brady, or at least get close to him. You have to bang Moss right off the line and double team him. You have to roll the dice and take some bold shots both offensively and defensively, and change up a variety of schemes. You have to play tough and smart with special teams. And you can’t make the overt mistakes (like tossing the long ball up instead of going for short punches to eat up end-of-game time). Well, the Eagles almost stuck to the plan, and almost pulled off a road upset that woulda be heard around the sports world. Hey, this blueprint isn’t exactly a plan of unequaled genius, and in football actual execution matters as much as the ol game plan, so I think it’s safe to say that Pittsburgh looms large as the only true potential spoilers to a historic season, that match a mere two weeks away.

2)A reunion for the ever hallowed Leo’s, acknowledged by most of those-in-the-know as the quintessential Providence watering hole, took place at Jake’s this past Saturday, and, yep, a good time was had by all. It was fairly well attended by ex-employees and customers, although the participants skewered slightly towards Leo’s final years rather than the early-to-mid period. My pallies The Dino Club delivered a wonderfully recondite and ebulliently celebratory set, with Mark (“The Fountain of Youth”) Cutler digging deep into his own fine songbook while simultaneously doling out some particularly astute covers with his typical combo of passion, humor, and artistry-a mature dose of rocking for a largely over mature crowd. Leo’s was indeed the ultimate boho haunt, a place where you went to eat and wound up drinking, or you went to drink and wound up eating, also a watering hole and a scene that was bomb and strafed by the cocaine implosion of the 80’s/90’s. Leo’s ongoing collection of Rhode Island artists, rockers, politicos , scene-makers, hipster fashionistas, tofu-slurping hippies, temporary anarchists, art-for-arts-sakers, up-and-comers and down-and-outers, loud, fast, and snotty tawkers, deep-thinkers, and bar stool philosophers, and it’s scintillating mix of good food, superb service, and an intoxicating plethora of potential drinking partners will never , ever, evuuuuhhh, be matched again.

3) A magazine supplement entitled Movies Rock is included with a bunch of Conde Nast (Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ, et al) publications this month. Edited by the worthy Mitch Glazier, and featuring contributions from the likes of James Wolcott and Nick Tosches, it shows some potential, despite it’s ridiculous name. Of particular interest is a ring-a-ding piece by James Kaplan on Jimmy Van Heusen (“Sinatra’s Songwritin’ Wingman”), songwriting partner to Sammy Cahn and infamous Sinatra bud and confidante, it’s one of those highly infrequent must-read magazine pieces, a mutsa got lost mix of fact, oral history, hearsay and waggish writing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

So Much Younger Than Today


Richard Lester and The Beatles followed up their delightfully effervescent and vastly entertaining A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 with Help!(1965, Capitol, 2-discs,90 minutes, $29.95), a leap into color and full-blown absurdity, a mere year later. The times they were indeed a –changing, with the Beatles (and their fans and admirers) in the process of losing their collective innocence, and Lester’s untidy romp still delights, the songs and mini-videos as fresh (and simple) as ever, although viewing them through the harsh contemporary light prompts a decidedly wistful feeling, rather than the vibe of pure enthralling exuberance the movie originally elicited. It’s a sweet and sad stop on the Pop Time Machine, and it ought to be required viewing for the grandkids of the baby boomers, and for the boomers themselves searching for some pre-Vietnam treasured memories. The extra disc details the restoration of the film, includes a making of documentary, and an interview with the still spry Lester.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

John Garfield Kicks Ass


Our fall Film Noir series continues at Local 121, 7:00 Wednesday 11/21/07. I will be your host with the most, cranked up on coffee and tequila and and spreading the mighty word of the Church of Cinema. I expect to see you, both fervid worhshippers and non-believers, as I show and tell you where's it at-- noir style. (By the way, quite seriously, for those of you who have not had the chance to witness the one and only John Garfield high up on the big screen, he was indeed a unique and particularly riveting Hollywood actor.)

Force of Evil (1948). Before Abraham Polonsky found himself on the fatal Hollywood blacklist, he managed to write the screenplay for the social noir Body and Soul (1947) with star John Garfield and followed that up by writing and directing this Garfield vehicle in the same ilk. Garfield’s blue collar earnestness (he’s the missing link between Bogie and The Method) drives this bleak cautionary tale and indictment of capitalism as a prole-turned-overachieving-lawyer as seen through a noir lens. The location shooting throughout New York City is used to great effect as is Polonsky’s highly literate screenplay, a Cain and Abel storyline, and the overall curtain of existentialism that drapes over the proceedings.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grown Up Thriller


George Clooney seems to be one of those rare actors that seem to have a real life divining rod, rather than an agent, when it comes to picking projects. He’s done it again, teaming with writer/director Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, an old school thinking man’s thriller that is actually made for grown-ups, a movie about a low level fixer caught up in the heady world of evil corporations and corpulent lawyers that doesn’t shy away from compelling character development and purposefully avoids the overt telegraphing and obviously cued twists and turns that are part and parcel of most contempo thrillers. The movie’s one iota of predictability is that it sets itself up as a fable of redemption, but writer/director Gilroy’s stubborn refusal to follow a predictable generic path, compounded by his extremely measured (but effective) pacing even calls that into doubt.Gilroy’s prior credits include two less-than-dialogue heavy Bourne films and the pulpy knee-slapper Armageddon, and one can feel him stretching his writing skills here—much of the talk is piquant, lively and engaging, despite the dollops of lawyer speak. Clooney, once again, downplaying his matinee looks, holds down the center, and the always smashing Tom Wilkinson tears it up as a man-over-the edge, while Gilroy scripts and films it with unusual aplomb, making this something wholly unexpected, namely a well-made film crafted for an audience of adults.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas/November 2007


Ahhhhh, Las Vegas. Just returned from an annual business trip/ four day tour and I still can’t get that horrifying (and continual) sound of the ever-clanging slot machines out of my head. That and the ongoing sight of hookers, high-rollers, bottom-feeders, sandal and short donning grown men, weirdly tanned women, hyped-up Asian youth, fat-assed security guys, all exhaling that strange combo of desperation and hope. It ain’t Sinatra’s Vegas any more, although a brief excursion through so-called “Old Vegas” provided some temporary stale but outside breathing and a chance to walk among the more middle-class dreamers and beamers in a slightly upgraded version of the Atlantic City boardwalk. Just to make sure that I was fully aware that I could never walk in Frankie’s venerated footsteps, my colleagues decided that we should (for once) go to a show, rather than just eat, drink, and gamble till the wee wee hours. My boys, good guys all, are not exactly culturally discerning, and some how the choice was made to sit through a performance of Cirque du Soliel’s Mystere. (Yeah I know, not even the Beatle’s show!) The sight of us, nine grown men in various states of inebriation and head titling sleepiness, seat by seat next to each other awaiting this hocus-pocus mix of mime, acrobatics, and artificial meaningfulness had to be, without a doubt, the gayest image I’ve ever been part of. After nodding through most of it, recoiling at half of it, and, despite my struggles, fully inhaling the acid aroma of stale showbiz cheese, I burst out onto the streets and left my union brethren behind, desperate to find my inner manliness, to go John Wayne on someone, to plunge down the Vegas strip with the Zen toughness of Burt Lancaster, the brutish male soul of Robert Mitchum, and the hard and clear oh-so-masculine eyes of Lee Marvin. I immediately bent right down on the sidewalk and sniffed the first pretty girl’s ass that I saw, elbowed aside a couple of frat boy jokers and flashed ‘em the psycho stare, broke up the hand-clenching of two starry-eyed young lovers, got on my hand and knees and scooped up every grimy call girl playing card stuck to the curbsides, asked two silicone-injected west coast divorcee types to do the funky chicken with me, tore up the stairs to one the saddest McDonalds of all time and swallowed a Big Mac and left the goo right on my lips, threw a few fries at some Frenchy looking bastards with poofed-up hair walking below, then zigzagged across the street challenging any one of the Pakistani cabbies to run me over, demanded two Cuervo Gold shots and a Budweiser at the nearest bar and loudly asked anyone in the vicinity to tell me if there was a better sports town on earth than Boston, and by the way did they know that the 6-0 Celtics were marching directly towards the NBA crown, that Bill Belichick oughta just tap dance on the grave of Vince Lombardi, and that the Red Sox just might roll through the next coupla World Series. The bartender cast a weary eye on me, pointed a finger a the torn Cirque du Soliel stub sticking out of my top pocket, and told me in a quiet but stern voice that the next round was on him, nodding sagely all the while.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

TV EYE-D.O.A.


Ironically enough, what could have been one of the better (or at least more adventurous) TV shows of the year, Viva Laughlin, was among the downright worst. CBS's attempt at innovation was just that, a feeble attempt, a warmed over, watered down Americanized version of BBC’s Viva, Blackpool, a family drama juiced up with a murder mystery subplot and semi-musical set in Laughlin, Nevada. Even having Hugh Jackman serve as executive producer and reoccurring character didn’t lift this out it’s creative sandpit. The show looked forced, felt used, and rolled out meekly. Leading man Lloyd Owen had all the charisma of a used car salesman clicking his teeth together on some dusty Nevada car lot, and it was he who had to do the bulk of the show’s strange and strangled karaoke-like singing and dancing. (Can anyone tell me what at least four new shows-This one, Journeyman, Life, and Bionic Women, have Brits masquerading as Americans? What hath Hugh Laurie wrought?) The show also featured a potential camp-classic-in-waiting with Melanie Griffith pursing her worked-on lips and scrunching up her plasticized features in attempt to go full tilt sexy as a rich guy’s widow, but alas, it’s been canceled after a mere two episodes. D.O.A. and gone, baby, gone.

Perfection, Thy Name is Malick


There are well-made movies, there are good and great movies, and once in a long while there are perfect movies-1978'sDays Of Heaven (Criterion, 95 minutes, $40.00) is one. Magically shot, wonderfully acted, hypnotically paced, this turn of the century dram moves easily from hardscrabble Chicago to Texas wheat country, a road film that transforms into a love triangle, set in one-of-a-kind landscape, filmmaker Terrence Malick poetically externalizes the internal struggles of his characters with an astonishing parade of transcendent images (mostly shot by the great cinematographer Nestor Almendros, helped out by cameraman legends Haskell Wexler and John Bailey). The movie’s hypnotic flow feels more like a book reading than a film, and young Linda Manz’s free flowing voiceover narration will stick with you long after the film is done, as will the faces and demeanors of all four principles-Manz, Brooke Adams, Richard Gere and Sam Shepard, the latter two arguably never better before or after. The very fact that this left field, out-of-the-mainstream, European-styled film was made, supported and released by a Hollywood studio just proves once again that the Hollywood of the ‘70’s was (and remains) an amazingly fertile workplace, a land of Oz that will probably never be revisited. The extras include a succinct audio interview with a smart Gere, crew commentary, interviews with Bailey, Wexler and Shepard, but alas, nothing from the notoriously elusive Malick.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mr. Jones Gets All Turned Around


In the Valley of Elah writer turned director Paul Haggis sticks with the same contemporary mode of realistic grimness with his follow-up to the award-winning Crash, in this taut exploration of the cost of war. Ostensibly a military mystery tale, the movie centers around the unlikely hook-up of female detective Charlize Theron and former Army man Tommy Lee Jones as they search for answers surrounding Jones’ AWOL son (Jonathan Tucker), one week returned from action in Iraq. Writer/director Haggis avoids the flashbacks route by utilizing the device of periodically retrieving footage from a scrambled phone camera while the film continually hones in on the faces of the secondary characters like the heartbroken mom (Susan Sarandon), the police boss man (Josh Brolin), the Army brass (Jason Patric) and the missing boys fellow dog soldiers (Wes Chatham, Victor Wolf, Mehcad Brooks, and Jake McLaughlin). Of course, the face the dominates all is that of Jones, turning in a momentous performance, etching the character of a silent, American man of action, torn up inside with conflicting concepts of patriotism, character, and duty, a man borne of a military culture of a certain time and place forced to examine what that has mutated into. The final result is decidedly uneven, but Jones’ acting turn alone demands a viewing—if Haggis was bold enough to fuse the camera to Jones throughout this one might have been a masterwork.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Money Talks (Sometimes)


The money side of sports gets harder and harder to deal with all the time, with continued offers tendered that push through the limits of absurdity, with players released and signed for all the (+money, -money) wrong reasons, with having to listen to every other father-in-law, cousin Dickie, and bar stool neighbor bemoaning the oh-so-inequitable state of sports salaries. What a pleasant, and unexpected surprise, then, to see the Red Sox and Curt Schilling reach a seemingly a smart conclusion in their negotiations, and wind up with a fitting compromise utilizing the sorely underused hometown discount concept. (Which, of course, bodes extremely well for the reacquisition of Mr. Professional, Mike Lowell.) Leave it to the Boston Globe’s resident smart aleck Dan Shaughnessy to sum it up: “In addition to being a 216-game winner, a latter-day Bob Gibson of October, a tireless fundraiser, a father of four, a blogger extraordinaire, an online fantasy role-playing gamer, a GOP warrior, a part-time pitching coach, a badge-carrying member of the Medfield auxiliary police department (how did Al Gore beat him out for the Nobel?), Schill is his own agent. And this means Schill acted in the best interest of himself and his family. And he knows they belong here and nowhere else, not while he is still pitching in the big leagues. …It’s your basic win-win-win situation. The Sox win. Schilling wins. And those of us who get to write and talk about it…we win, to.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

DVD Buddy


Buddy: The Rise and fall of America’s Most Notorious Mayor (Laurel Hill, $24.95, 90 minutes) Cherry Arnold’ s well-drawn and highly insightful look at the life and times of our own Vincent “Buddy” Cianci is deceptively sharp, and the welcome documentary that unfolds without any noticeable directorial agenda. It’s also a surprisingly wistful look into the captivatingly contradictory public servant, showing a plethora of characteristics that defined his double-ended Mayoral run—part dreamer, part bully, part overachiever, part con man, part used car salesman, part urban pioneer, part old school pol—and the film (which never gets truly inside Cianci) nevertheless demonstrates that Cianci’s striking combo of guile, arrogance and instinct is something the public and private man was consciously complicit to. Arnold’s choices of talking heads are all on the money, and the doc gets to the heart of much of what is specific to both Providence and Rhode Island, while drawing a singularly effecting portrait of the man who could and would be King.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Viggo A-Go-Go


The following column is reprinted from the Novevember issue of Providence Monthly

Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel

Slowly and surely Viggo Mortensen is transforming into the kind of Hollywood acting firmament that we see far too little of in contemporary movies. His persona shifts easily from a square-jawed Midwesterner to a California biker boy to the first born of American immigrants, and he can carry a film with just his looks and his eyes, maybe a few gestures and meaningful glances. If you can excuse the time-machine hyperbole, one can effortlessly paint his cinematic antecedents—an Eastwood-gone-hippie, a less boozy Mitchum, the dark side of Kirk Douglas, you pick the smoldering macho man. Mortensen’s been at a while (he made his film debut in Witness in 1985) and has slowly ascended, most notably as the bad boy brother in The Indian Runner (’91), the lover boy in A Perfect Murder (’98), the counter culture lover boy in A Walk on the Moon (’98), the drying-out lover boy in 28 Days (’00), the middle-earth rock star Aragon in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (‘01-‘03), old-fashioned hero in Hidalgo (‘04), and, most recently, as the everyman-with-a-past in David Cronenberg’s The History of Violence (’05). Mortensen, again teamed with the venerated Cronenberg in their new intense and veracious thriller, Eastern Promises, fully emerges as both actor and unmistakable cinematic shooting star.
Eastern Promises is set in and among the Russian émigré community in contempo London. Mortensen is Nikolia, the stone-faced, upwardly mobile driver for the elegant old world Russian mob boss and restauranter Seymon (Armen Mueller-Stahl), all manners and rectitude concealing an utter malevolence, and his dissolute, insolent, and given-to-drink son Kirill (Vincent Cassel, dripping with odiousness). When mid-wife Anna Khitrova (Namoi Watts), a Brit born but Russian descendant, finds a diary scrawled in Russian left behind by a just dead 14-year-old mother covered in track marks, it leads her right into the belly of the beast.
Eastern Promises is an unadorned genre film-a gangland thriller, and the seasoned Cronenberg cuts through the genre’s expectations with a seductive confidence. Cronenberg’s longtime predilection for the exploration of the flesh (as continually evidenced in films as disparate as Videodrome, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Crash, Naked Lunch, Spider) is put to good effect, very much in the subtle-but-shocking manner it was A History of Violence. The violence and sex on display is clinically explicit, all of it unfolding as just another element in a brutal, gray world, rife with corruption and slithering with old world inhumanity.
The film’s deus ex machina is an astonishingly punishing fight that occurs in the quietude of a Russian steam bath. The chiseled Nikolai, his face and body as angular and hardened as the tiles he walks upon, is set upon by two Chechens from the hinterlands, puffy villagers clad in leather jackets and clutching small, sharp tile knifes, in daunting sequence that is grimly outrageous, highly exploitative, and a pure adrenaline rush.Oh, and Viggo-as- Nikolia does his mano a mano thang naked, too.
Cronenberg delivers Eastern Promises with a compact and fully realized arc, although the finale (again, much like A History of Violence) is somewhat disaffecting-a muted whimper rather than a snap,crackle, pop bang. Despite the structure of straightforward, uncontrived propulsion that Cronenberg utilizes, Eastern Promises is an exercise in genre that is really about peeling away the edges, stripping away the layers until one is left naked and instinctual. The movie glides along while hinting and probing at secrets and deceptions, and Mortensen’s central figure stands firmly astride it all, mostly silent, occasionally tart, and weirdly civil. It’s a wondrous performance, made all the better but the sheer effortlessness the actor displays.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Prankster Kings Go Back to Well (Again)


Sure, I root bigtime for the Farrelly Brothers, and I also truly think that they are very funny fellows. Same goes for Ben Stiller, a comic actor of the first degree, truly the epitome of the movie comedy everyman, and a man with a persona that’s hard to dislike. All of that is to say that the new Farrelly/Stiller concoction, The Heartbreak Kid, doesn’t quite meet, or more importantly, exceed my predisposed expectations. The 1972 movie that this is based on was directed by Elaine May from a Neil Simon adaptation of a Bruce Jay Friedman short story, and it starred Charles Grodin as the title character, a me-guy who dumps a brand new bride during his honeymoon and chases another woman. It was a broad but brittle little gem with an obvious subtext about Jewish self-loathing. The Farrelly’s know from broad of course, and the typical gags abound—bodily functions, sexual provocations, and physical peculiarities, hardy-har-har. The Farrelly Boys continually position themselves as the prankster kings of fraternity row. It’s time to graduate finally, and to hone their satire into something more incisive, utilizing vulgarity as an occasional punch line instead of the prime source of humor. Their last effort, Fever Pitch, may have been a touch soft around the edges, but it allowed for some genuineness, and it seemed a step into an adventurous direction.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ectasy (kinda, sorta)


Sweeeeeeeeeeet sweeeeeeeeep! What is there too say besides that, mark this somewhat sad and all too frightful moment, we’ve made the odd transition from a team propelled by the frayed nerves of all of dour, doom-and-gloom, puritanically suppressed New England (and under the sway of a nearly 100-year-old Curse) to a team, that’s (gulp) expected to actually win rather than just compete, a team followed by fresh-faced fans who’s sense of history circles back to the Cowboy Up Idiots of 2004; greedy, cocky, sure-of-themselves frontrunners who have no concept of Pesky holding the ball, Teddy Ballgame’s perpetual disdain, Bob Gibson’s killer glare, Tony C’s unfulfilled promise, Calvin Schraldi’s before-the-firing-squad-look, Bucky Motherfuckin’ Dent’s banjo swing, the Oil Can Film Fest, Stan Papi, Dave Stapleton looking on from the bench in horror, Wade Boggs astride a goddamned horse, Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle, Bill Lee’s ephus pitch, Grady Little’s eight inning brain freeze. Yes, we are The Champs, but something’s inexplicably changed. For some of us, it will always be “wait until next year” spoken with a dreamy mix of anticipation and dread, for the rest it’s now “wait until next year” pronounced with a Yankee-like trill and accompanied by a worrisome, all-too-happy, frighteningly blank, gleam in the eyes.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Macho Mythology (with Banjos)

When Deliverance (Deluxe Edition,Warner, $19.97, 107 minutes) first appeared in 1972 it was somewhat disparaged by the film nitcrits of the day, who found it pretentious, overreaching, and tarted up with macho posturing that was supposed to convey something deep about the psyche of the American Male and the basic survival of the fittest, a movie not up to the inspired level of director John Boorman’s similarly themed 1967 Point Blank. Yet it struck a chord with audiences, and it’s strange oil and water mix of natural born ham Burt Reynolds and method man Jon Voight still clicks today, and their backwoods odyssey (alongside the cardboard cutout characters well played by Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty), the great Vilmos Zsigmond’s awe inspiring cinematography, and the unforgettable sound of those good ole dueling banjos, make Deliverance an intriguing sample of 70’s zeitgeist. The DVD’s extras aren’t all that special: a making-of, recent interviews with the principles, and a Boorman commentary that’s recycles some familiar tales

Thursday, October 25, 2007

TV EYE--Vanilla Sitcom, Revenge of the Dorks, Alias Without Smarts


A large portion of the TV nitcrit posse has showered the new Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton sitcom, Back to You, (Fox, Wednesdays, 8:00 PM) with critical bouquets, and, after sitting through the first few episodes; I’m forced to wonder exactly why? It’s an old school, workplace comedy shot in front of an audience, created by two vets Christopher Lloyd (Taxi) and Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) that, while never delving into inanity or obviousness, seems both pre-packaged and trite. Grammar and Heaton are nicely cast as two local news anchors (alongside the crackerjack Fred Willard as the sports reporter) and the duo deliver their back-and-forth repartee effortlessly, yet none of it really registers, seemingly more like a time warped throwaway before Heaton discovered Raymond and Grammar reigned on Frazier. The talents involved may all deserve a wait and see, and it is more than possible that Back To You may need some time to hit its stride, but at this point its pure sitcom vanilla-you’ve had it before you’ll pass it by again.

Dorks, nerds, and geeks are all over the TV fall line-up, serving as a possible antidote to the grim-faced tough guys and sad-eyed avengers holding down the fort in the CSI’s and The Shields or 24’s or any other rough and ready procedural. NBC’s Chuck (Mondays, 8:00 PM) and CW’s Reaper (Tuesdays, 9:00 PM), share enough that it’s scary, down to likable slacker heroes (Zachary Levi and Bret Harrison), fetching love interests (Yvonne Strahovsky. Missy Peregrym), and comedy relief sidekicks (Joshua Gomes, Tyler Labine), big box workplace settings (one modeled after Best Buy, the other Home Depot) and an overall goofy suspense structure. Chuck’s premise is that the title character gets zapped by a computer downloading top-secret information forcing him to become a reluctant spy while the Reaper allows its reluctant slacker hero to discover that upon his 21st birthday his coddling parents had signed his soul over to the devil, and Satan (Ray Wise, stealing every scene he’s in) wants him to become a bounty hunter for escaped souls. Both shows traffic in a steady stream of wry one-liners, cartoonish close encounters, and an arch sensibility derived right from the pages of Mad Magazine parody. In a way it’s a relief to sit down in front of an hour-long comedy adventure and simply enjoy the flakiness on display, rather then being drenched in ennui and overwrought inner drama. Chuck and Reaper are fairly charming nerd fantasies, simultaneously bright and trite.

The new Bionic Woman (NBC, Wednesdays, 9:00 PM) is not so much a remake as a total rethink, a sleek and cliché-ridden TV actioneer that substitutes the dark shadows of paranoia and conspiracy bebop for the crayon glow of the original 70’s camp classic. It’s Alias without the in-yer-face costumes (and the mighty Jennifer garner), with Brit actress Michelle Ryan pouting and glowering as Jamie Sommers, the girl with the replaceable parts, an All-American hard luck bartender who, despite her wondrous IQ hadda drop out of college, keeps house with her bratty teen sister (Mae Whitman), and dates and is impregnated by a professor/scientist/government tool guy who looks like a male model(Chris Bowers), engages in disdainful dialogue with her officious handler (Miquel Ferrer), gets some old fashioned lethal training from the Asian expert guy (Will Yun Lee), and gets guided by the Bionic Whisperer (Isaiah Washington, slumming bigtime) all the while dodging the steely stare and deadly mambo of the bionic women before her (Katee Sackhoff, bound to be an immediate fanboy fave). It’s Alias without the smarts, the Bionic Woman without the dumbo charm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rocky Colavito, meet Orson Welles


Who among you dared not believe in The Curse of the Colavito? That was some sad, bad, shit-a major choke job from the Tribe, although I have no problem with the end result- a World Series trip for the Sox. Gotta tip for you dear, nervous Red Sox fan and reader--come on down to Local 121 (121 Washington Street in Providence) this Wednsday the 24th at 7:00PM and temporarily assuage yer pre-game hysteria by watching my second showing in the Film Noir Series (see below)and then off to witness a victorious Game 1.

The Lady from Shanghai (1948). What happens when exceptional talent and undeniable artistry hit noir head on? This movie, a cult classic offering from writer/director/star Orson Welles, a noir outing that is overflowing with sheer filmmaking ingenuity and directorial audaciousness. Adapted from a pulp novel, Welles turns this low budget, small scale narrative into something special, utilizing his prodigious skills to elevate a genre piece into something quite complex and dreamlike, creating a film more baroque than most noir films, with a shimmering juxtaposition of locale, character, and imagery adding up to a stunningly ellipitical movie; an 86 minute ticking time bomb of fate, with Rita Hayworth (Welles’ wife at the time) incandescent as one of the most memorable femme fatales evuuuuh.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rock and Roll Writing Hoochie Koo


When’s the last time you read any sorta rock nitcriticism that mattered? Or provoked or inspired you? Much of what passes for rock writing these days is so generic and devoid of spirit, spark and ingenuity that it might as well be on the back of a cereal box. The rock noodlin’ practiced on the pages of Spin, Rolling Stone, or Entertainment Weekly largely bleeds into every other piece, short takes and brief summations delivered in standard Journalism 101 style, stale and trite summations offered up without imagination or humor, deserving of the cursory glance that the majority of readers render any of it. Well, well, well, this week presents us with not one, but two, cool daddy exceptions. Old pal and Rhode Island Rock and Roll guru Lou Papineau briefly steps away from his editing duties to bang out a heartfelt paean to smart aleck rockers The Hold Steady in this week’s Providence Phoenix, while Sasha Frere-Jones hits one out of the park in the current issue of The New Yorker, with an examination of indie rock’s drive away from it’s once inherent connection to black musical traditions in a piece entitled “A Paler Shade of White”, two exquisite example of rock writing that lives, breathes, thinks, and matters.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joey Bye-Bye


Don’t fault me, don’t blame me, and don’t worry about me, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time looking at showbiz photos, pop cult paraphernalia, movie stills, album covers, and the like. As I’ve teetered towards 50 and beyond I’ve become particularly fascinated with all things Rat Packian, and I can’t help myself from gazing deep into any group photo of the Clan, the Boys, the Hotshots, the Showbiz Devils, and losing myself, contemplating their lives, their times, their pleasures their sins, their regrets; simultaneously examining each photo like an ancient artifact, delving beyond the surface in a fervent attempt to discern what lies beyond, drawing interpretations from gesture, posture, spatial positioning, and visually perceivable interaction. Check out any random Rat Pack photo and what do you see—Frank, angular and jaunty, self-anointed royalty, a Kingpin with one fancy foot dipping into the back alleys of New Jersey. Dino, self-satisfied and smug, a glorified con man who could conjure up a pinch of his prodigious talent whenever needed for the next skin game, and a strangely empty man holding council with only himself in a self-created inner universe. Sammy, all out all the time, blazing with gumption, artistic abilities, a deep need for acceptance and approval, a black man atop a white persons world, a proverbial stranger in a strange land. Peter, a chappie with an adolescent lust for success, women and the good life, a none-too-bright overachiever with matinee looks and a dick that did his thinking, a glorified errand boy with a B-movie resume, caught between the buddy-buddy machinations of the Kennedy brethren and the showbiz blood brothers. Finally, Joey, the Bishop, the Jester, the well-heeled regular shmoe, the shorty, the sidekick, the Jewish Tonto, the guy with a quip in place of an act, the schlemiel as straight man. Yet Joey (born Joseph Gottlieb in the Bronx) managed to be way more than a certified member of the Rat Pack—he had a talk show on ABC from 1987-69, a sitcom from 1961-65, starred in nightclubs, had movie roles, guested on dozen off TV shows, made the most of whatever indeterminate talent he had. The biggest, longest, and indisputably final joke? He outlasted them all-Big Time Frankie, Inscrutable Dino, Sweet Sweet Sammy, and Sad Sack Peter. Joey went the distance, baby. RIP Joey Bishop, 1918-2007.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Prayer for the Day


Oh yea Baseball Gods, hear my plea. Please don’t allow those ridiculous home run hankie/diapers to burn their image into my eyes for all of winter. Please don’t allow the rest of America to be forced to watch a battle of the great unknowns-Colorado and Cleveland. Please heed the call whispering softly from the vaunted heights above, issued by the likes of Jimmy Fox, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Tony C and Joe Foy, the clarion call emanating from proud warriors such as Dom D, Bobby Doerr, and Gentlemen Jim Lonborg, the call of the wild transmuted by Bill Lee and Bernie Carbo, and the sturdy, calming, hypnotic call of the eternal and everlasting Saint Yastremski. Please, oh please, let Manny be Manny without being Manny, allow Papi to strike a few more thunderous blows, allow Schill and Dice-K to follow up Becket’s wondrous outing, permit young Dusty to roam the bases free and easy for another week or two, the Mighty Lowell to come through once again, the stolid Youlk to firm up his backbone, the ever wise Tech to call a good one and deliver in the clutch, make it possible for Julio and Coco a base theft or two by getting on base in the first place, and, most of all, to wipe of the sins of Terry and the stain of Wake so that they might both live onto another crisp, clear, no-snow-yet, fall Baseball day.(Also, Mofo-It's my Dad's 82nd today. Just think-wotta present!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Indie Classic


Twenty plus years ago, 1984 to be exact, budding young filmmaker Jim Jarmush delivered Stranger Than Paradise (Criterion, 89 minutes, $39.95) to an unsuspecting indie-film public, and immediately carved a spot out for himself as the most effortlessly hip American director since Cassavetes with this downbeat, nonchalant exercise in laconicism, a deep American dish served up on a European platter. A story of three drifting misfits (John Lurie, Eszter Balint, and Richard Edson, the ultimate hipster doofus) that barely starts and doesn’t really end, a film made up of 67 single takes broken up by the occasional black screen, yet sublimely modulated and strangely amusing, it’s a captivating paean to nothingness, also the most ironic road movie evuh up until the director’s own 2005 Broken Flowers. As much as Jarmusch’s singular vision may be a formal construct, mere arty minimalism, his ability to draw deeply from his enigmatic and distinctly un-Hollywood characters helps breathes life into his find-me-a-pulse cinematic rhythms, and Stranger may still stand as his finest effort. The new two-disc set includes his first little-scene feature Permanent Vacation, and includes no actual commentary by the filmmaker himself, which might arguably be for the better.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Eyes of Tommy Lee Jones

From CultureVultureTime pal and trenchant observer Jimmy Celenza:

Go see Tommy lee Jones in the Haggis’s defective film, In the Valley of Elam,

It’s not so much the film but his eyes they are the eyes of those countless hard rock heart stoned workers of mills and mines and military rectitude

Who labor against the odds…

The films itself has a strong current but gets upset when it hits the rapids

Some witless implausibility about small town police and military bases

But that’s okay

When I saw it there were ten people in the theatre, and yes

It’s a hard tussle to swallow

But growing up I did know some

Who for whom the military was a way out

They would lie about a felony

Isn’t it is odd that, for many, there are things worse than war.



So jug eared, straining to embrace to the intimacy and electronics

Of a weaker congenitally privileged generation

T L J rests on a plastic chair waiting to assemble the remnants of a story

And the story is the same. Just the same.

When he cocks his head, listening to the diesel soaked

whispers of the insane and the

interminable pleas for help.

Of those stranded and wounded and lost in the undefeatable struggle to survive in a zone of human experience so extreme so ruthless so relentless,

Even in defeat his bones bending like a willow, his eyes remain beacons, perhaps not of hope but of accommodation. For we are a culture of privilege and excess,

IN the day they used to sing on patrol if I die in a combat zone, zip me up, and send me home.

But as anyone who has been in combat (and combat happens even on the streets of LA and Detroit, Bed Sty and Baltimore, Miami and Milwaukee; and sometimes even on the couch in yr living room) accommodation is the only way to remain sweetly sane and survive.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Politics + Action=Disorientation


The Kingdom is a strange conglomeration of flag-waving, things blowing up, first rank actors, political intrigue, and a stretch towards profundity. Think Rambo meets Syrannia, with the crowd-pleasing (and jingoistic) action shoulder-to-burly-shoulder against the humanism of the main characters. A debate is already underway among movie nitcrits, some convinced that actor-turned –director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) has purposefully shaped the movie as a fire powered adrenalin actioneer in order to subvert it with political disorientation, while others see it as pure and simple box office bloodlust. One way or the other, Berg handles the chaotic action with filmmaking gusto, and it also must be noted that amidst the heavyweight American main faces (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman) and side ones (Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Piven) the most riveting performance is that of Israeli actor Ashraf Barhom, as a grounded Saudi police Colonel.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's High Noon Again


Reprinted from the October issue of Providence Monthly.

Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel

Most cineastes’ desire for the return of the western is so much more than a sugary wish to revisit the simple past, to kick it old school, to bask in the Remington-like burnished glow of unaffected times, elementary genres, and unfussy cinematic rituals. No--the western, at it’s best—is as essential an American mythology as we have, encompassing and including the age old debate concerning man-made laws and intrinsic morality and the continual pull between self-reliance and the tug of community, all the while utilizing a stage that features both the pure splendors of open land versus the muscle and sweat fueled swelled pride of towns in their infancy. James Mangold, a filmmaker on-the-rise (Heavy,Cop Land, Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line) seems to understand all this, even acknowledge it, in his newly remade 3:10 to Yuma, a 1957 western helmed by Delmer Davies, both movies as lean and austere as their shared title.
The original film, adapted from a short story by then pulp writer Elmore Leonard, featured Glenn Ford as Ben Wade, a sociopath with charm and Van Heflin as a rancher at the end of his tether, was part of a batch of 50’s western movies that smartly and subtly grafted psychological intonations onto the inherent physical actions and basic formulas of the genre. These films, of which the most popular was High Noon (1952), but include the sublime Anthony Mann-Jimmy Stewart films (The Naked Spur ’52, and The Man From Laramie ’55) and the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott collaborations;(Seven Men from Now ’56, Ride Lonesome ’57), were mostly compact, unglossy, dirt-strewn examinations of cowboy outsiders forced into conflict by the constrictions of the land, the law, or encroaching civility.
Mangold and his writers, Halstead Welles and Michael Brandt, have pried open the new version just a bit, although the dramatic focus remains on the tug and weave of character and ideology between the down on his luck rancher Evans (Christian Bale), who finds himself escorting (for cash) the notorious outlaw Wade (Russell Crowe), to the soon-to-arrive train of the title, which will deliver the baddie to prison. While Mangold manufactures more action in the contemporary version (the majority filmed with taut expressiveness) the gist of the film is the inner struggle and physical interaction between the two disparate men, one losing a slow battle to the unpredictability and the wildness of the west, the other self-sufficiently exploiting the wide-openness of the far country to do exactly as he sees fit. The new film’s success depends on the combustible chemistry sparked betwixt Bale and Crowe, as did the earlier one with Ford and van Heflin. In both cases the actors deliver, and deliver without telegraphing anything, particularly Crowe, sporting a beguiling manner along with a lethal dose of magnetic viciousness. (Although one has to question the fact that the central cast of the current film is filled out by an Englishman (Bale) and an Aussie (Crowe). It’s hard to believe that they weren’t more than a few American actors-Penn, Clooney, Gosling, Eckhart, Mortenson, Wahlberg, Damon, come immediately to mind- who could have filled these roles.)
Mangold ‘s version of 3:10 to Yuma also adds two new characters to the mix, one a grizzled and mean-spirited bounty hunter (Peter Fonda, ex-hippie avatar, doing his best John Wayne-gone-foul), and the rancher’s son (Logan Lerman), a 14-year-old filled with teenaged contempt towards his father’s ongoing futilities. The icing on the cake is the expansion of the role of the outlaw’s chief gunsel, Charley Prince, a slight figure in the original portrayed by a young Richard Jaeckel as a bright-eyed punk with a bantam rooster’s gait. Here, Ben Foster, virtually stealing every scene he’s in, does it up as a lethal dandy, giving us a right-hand man exalting in his own ruthlessness, and also exuding some weird sort of sexual ambiguousness, unabashedly worshipping Crowe’s smart guy killer. It’s a showy and vastly entertaining performance, made all the while more lustrous by the downplaying of Bale and Crowe.
While 3:10 to Yuma doesn’t achieve classic western status (the original was also a minor gem), and it’s extended finale strains the tenants of plausibility, it’s a fine character-driven actioneer and a skillfully enacted western, lithe and acute, a genre remake that manages to be both faithful and astute.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Drinking (and eating) at the Movies


I hope to see a few of you at my new venture, a bi-weekly Wednesday movie series at good pallie Senator Josh (The Kingpin) Miller's new joint, Local 121. The first series is all about the noir, and you know you can't go wrong with that.



Great Food & Great Film Nights
in the Speakeasy
Begin October 10th, 7 PM
We're tremendously excited to roll out our very own film festival! Join host Scott Duhamel (Providence Monthly Film Columnist, CultureVultureTime Blogspot) for our film noir nights in the Speakeasy.

Come early and enjoy dinner and a show!!
Stay late and have some dessert with your discourse!!

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Director Robert Aldrich kicks this 1950's noir classic into total vroom-vroom overdrive in this brutally streamlined version of a Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer book, with deadpan hunk-of-beef Ralph Meeker as the ultimated Hammer, a callous and sadistic not-so-white knight. A hipster fave for many reasons, including a picture perfect supporting cast (Albert Dekker, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Wesley Addy), an outre literarty subplot/clue, the provocative private eye meets-cold-war search for "The great whatsit", and Aldrich's richly textured but ultimately simplistic narrative-driven direction. A true one-of-kind noir offering.

see the entire schedule at www.local121.com

Don't forget parking is taken care of at Local 121!
You have your choice of Complimentary Valet Parking or 2 hrs Validated at Civic Center Garage

Thursday, October 4, 2007

TV EYE-Captivating Period Piece


When the chaos and hurly-burly of the 2007 television season finally dies down, Mad Men (Thursdays, 10:00 PM), AMC’s first original series, may indeed take the prize as the sharpest, smartest, best executed series of the year. Created by Sopranos writer/producer Matthew Weiner, the show delves into a captivating period in recent American history (the brief, false idyll when Eisenhower reigned), and depicts, more specifically, the day-to-day orbits of the square-jawed men and well-rounded woman (wonder bread white and middle-class uppity)—all drinking deeply from the artificial fountains of newly minted suburbia-- who peopled the Madison Ave, New York advertising world. Mad Men’s impeccable set design deserves a love song to itself, but the look, the tone, the toe-dipping bits of understated drama, all contribute to a project that is as well conceived, as it is unerringly delivered and unimpeachably penetrative. The central figure, Don Draper (Jon Hamm, in a simultaneously subtle but breakout performance), is a Gregory Peck/William Holden-type, straddling the cusp of the 50’s-into-60’s with an air of existential distance, a no nonsense seducer brimming with a just under-the-surface combination of anger and disdain, a man in a gray flannel suit heading towards either a mid-drift bulge and a drinking problem, a break out and head turning first novel, or a leap into the whirling void of the oncoming sixties. (Both John Slattery as the unctuous boss man and Vincent Kartheiser as the agency’s high strung lost soul register highly, and the supporting cast of women, especially Elisabeth Moss, Maggie Siff, Rosemarie DeWitt and January Jones are amazingly lovely to look at while turning in fetchingly unmannered performances.) Weiner has hit upon something special here—a look at the filtered past with a gaze from the present that is in turns disapproving and envious, a gut shot and a blow to the head, a scintillating TV cocktail that’s part-Martini and part-mother’s little helper, with a drop of acid sure to come.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Trippin' to the Mall


Hats off to Michael Townsend. Four years of living, building, and interacting in a forgotten space in the Providence Place Mall, a grandly subversive bit of art from this so-called “public artist” in a room without a view, it was undeniably the kind of local news story guaranteed to make your day, maybe even your week. I can say without a trace of sarcasm or irony that this was indeed the kind of art (whether classified as public, performance, temporary, an installation, etc.) that was keen, provocative, and yup, humorous. When caught, Townsend went down for the count appropriately, offering up a possibly sincere mea culpa, resisting the predictable prank-in-yer-face antics or MIT-styled faux revolutionary crapola. Give the man credit for a sublimely conceived and consummately executed vision, and give him a nod for the all too infrequent ability of conveying a sense of aesthetics to those of us out here sweating our way through our daily middle class machinations.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

the very best of mick jagger?

the gents and i were talking about the stampede of musical buffalo releasing stuff in time for christmas and i said i truly hope you don't miss this one: the very best of mick jagger. forget knopfler, springsteen, mitchell, fogarty, anka (oh, it's true), plant and krause, and the rest. you must have this collection of songs nobody ever heard, except maybe for the duets. there's the one with david bowie on martha and vandellas' "dancin in the streets." you've seen the video for sure. talk about a pair of pixies. where is sheldon leonard when you need him? and the thing with peter tosh__a message to you rudy (may you rest in peace), just 'cuz michael lays the blow on the table doesn't mean you have to sign the contract. sometimes it really is better to walk and not look back, mahn.
anyway, the kicker for me is memo from turner. can the jag really lay claim to this one? more of a group effort, methinks, since a swell version of it wound up on metamorphosis years ago. maybe he's never fully gotten over the failed movie career that left him stuck in a pallid indie trying to hump angelica huston, a woman who in her middle age is, how does one say this delicately, pretty gruesome.
well, that's enough for now
ha aha ahaha!
hapnik the nit crit (aka barely sentient)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou, Travis?


No one will ever forget Jodie Foster’s turn as a child prostitute in Marty Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver. The then 13-year-old was immediately afforded the transition to actress rather than a child performer, and the subsequent bad business with Reagan shooter John Hinckley and his movie-like obsession with Foster forever seared her as one of the earmarks of the Me Decades’ zeitgeist. Foster’s long career has been a worthy one particularly when she’s hooked up with directors who share her talent, and Irish/Hollywood filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) is certainly one. How strange it is then to see he and Foster collaborate on The Brave One, a New York vigilante picture, a movie that seems to riff on Death Wish (1974), but is strangely, eerily, nods it’s weary head to the seminal Taxi Driver. While set up as an urban thriller and revenge film, both director and actress purport the film to be a critique of those genres. It doesn’t work that way in actuality, and despite a sharp acting passé between Foster and the always solid Terrence Howard the movie, accented by the shadow of 9/11, panders more than it circumvents, and Foster’s wronged Erika Bain winds up more like a modernized and feminized version of Charlie Bronson’s Paul Kersey (a regular Joe-gone-avenger) than Robert DeNiro’s multi-layered and fascinatingly complex Travis Bickle.

Friday, September 28, 2007

South Korean Monster Mash


Check it—The Host (Magnolia, $27.00, 119 minutes), an astute an ingenious (and absolutely hilarious) monster movie from South Korean director Joon-ha Bong. A young girl (the films’ most together character, an 11-year-old) is whiffed away from the shores of Seoul’s Han River by a primordial lizard/fish/mutant, which prompts the missing girl’s highly dysfunctional family (prole granddad, slacker father, arrogant college boy uncle, psychologically-off Olympic athlete auntie) into a slapdash search and destroy party. Add to the mix bad scientists, clueless doctors, scheming South Korean officials, officious American military figures, youthful protesters, and a whole passel of everyday South Korean peeps serving as monster bait and you’ve got a whale of a good time. The movie, hugely popular at home, and an art house hit here, is a kitchen sink juxtaposition of family comedy, digital monster movie, paranoid big-brother-is-screwing-up fable, and a pulpy action banger. The movie flows artfully from somberness to farcical (think Larry Cohen or George Romero meet David Cronenberg), and it fares equally well as a social satire, slapstick comedy, and monster mash. Highly entertaining.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Get Back


Great intentions (far too) often come with excess baggage, and Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, an oh-so-serious interpolation of Beatles tunes and cinematic pomposity, is almost god awful and excessive enough to come back a decade or two from now as a camp classic. (Zanadu, anyone?) Bathed in sincerity and enveloped with arty conceptualizing, this shortcut to the sixties uses a wide (and unrelated) variety of Beatle numbers to tell a laugh inducing throwback fable that, while never as cheesy, tinny, or as obviously idiotic as the 1979 Robert Stigwood wetdream/fiasco Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is an equal mishap, crammed full of wooly-bully visual theatre-into-film vignettes that are just gag-inducing. Of all rock artists, the Beatles elevated the pop art of a song-as-story, and no by-rote highbrow visualization is gonna equal that achievement.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TV EYE


Contempo television, with all of its cable niches and non-network possibilities has become more of a big (re: movie) name acting repository than ever, particularly for actresses. Many of those who’ve worked fairly steadily on the big screen (Sally Field, Ann Heche, Lili Taylor, Gina Gershon), most particularly Kyra Sedgwick, whose The Closer is a huge cable ratings hit, have found solid homes on the small screen, and every other Tom, Dick and Turner Broadcast network went looking for the same. Holly Hunter is detective Grace Hanadarko on TNT’s Saving Grace (Mondays, 10:00 PM), an unrepentant middle-aged crazy who devotes equal time and energy to both solving crimes and to boozing, smoking, and sexing it up. Into Grace’s chaotic life comes Earl (Leon Rippy) an angel with actual wings and a thing for dipping tobacco, who claims he’s there to provide Grace with an opportunity to gain some faith and avoid a road trip to Hell. Hunter, she of the chipmunk voice, the pre-teen body, and the disposition of a rabbit bunny rabbit makes the most of this showy role, pushing Grace around from fetching to annoying to downright dislikable, but much of the show’s religiosity on display is an unpalatable mix of whimsy and heavy-handedness. The show is sharp and crackling enough to stick with, with Hunter’s central performance well worth watching, but hopefully the writers will learn to better intermingle it’s heavenly aspirations with it’s earthbound pleasures.

Glenn Close has entered the TV diva fray, as a regal and lethal omnipotent lawyer named Patty Hewes, in the FX potboiler Damages(Tuesdays, 10:00 PM). The basic plot, Patty vs. a big bad CEO (Ted Danson, wonderfully reptilian), with young and naive start-up lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) caught up in their web of intimidation, manipulation, pet killing, and, yep, good old fashioned murder, is a twisty soap opera. The show comes across sleek and well oiled, a small screen Grisham-like thriller, but its insertion of a knife turning plot device every twenty minutes or so, along with the employment of a huge spate of chameleon-like secondary actors is more over calculated than mood inducing. Close, angular, cold and self-satisfied is obviously enjoying the chance to extend a role through an episodic structure (she was a top notch guest star in The Shield season of two years ago), and her lawyer/goddess almost makes the pour-it-on plot conventions worth hanging in there for, although the smug sheen thrown off by all of the paranoia thickening ingredients has been decidedly off-putting as the season has worn on. If Damages manages to hunker down to even a slightly satisfying conclusion, I'll hop on again next time around, figuring the creators may get around to substituting credible suspense for high-falutin' shenanigans,and for the chance to watch Gal Glenn do her TV thang again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

God's Lonely Man


Well before Harrison Ford was jumping into waterfalls and trying to stay one step ahead of Tommy Lee Jones terrifying lockjaw there was The Fugitive as televison series. What a strangely downbeat and moody bit of television this inexplicably popular series was. It ran for 120 episodes from 1963-67, was created by Roy Huggins (The Rockford Files), starred Richard Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the falsely accused title figure, and the last episode remains one of the highest rated in TV history. The newly released first season (Paramount, 4 discs, $38.99) depicts a monumentally grim world, with the truly laconic Janssen sleepwalking from one location to the next, all the while pursued by his equally tortured nemesis, the visually drained and dogged Barry Morse’s Lieutenant Phillip Gerard. The show allows for no reoccurring characters outside of the intertwined duo (a twosome that were decidedly weird for primetime—-both twitchingly neurotic, hollow and haunted), as Kimble stays on the road and on the run, backing himself into the deep shadows of America’s backwaters, stumbling into the briefest friendships and quickly doomed romances. Janssen’s performance is almost perverse, considering the tenure of the times, the weight of the world on his sagging shoulders, eyes blinkered with inner pain, and a gravelly monotone that oft times barely rose above a mumbled whisper. What kept people watching back in those pre-Vietnam days of eternal optimism? The odds are loaded every which way against Janssen’s Kimble—if he finds his elusive one-armed man and proves his innocence the series is over. Did the 1963 audience tune in because of some internal desire for capitulation? Did they harbor secret wishes to watch a dream deferred, as when three-quarters of the way through each and every episode Janssen’s hardcore sad sack would watch his brief idyll poisoned and his temporary hopes deflated, heading off to the lonely, decidedly non-Kerouac-ian highway, an ex-bigtimey Doctor (one of the epitomes of the American dream during that era) shrinking and tucking himself into another obscure dark corner, a TV protagonist half broken by the continual twists of fate?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bloody Yet Bloodless

The redolent tabloid saga of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, a pair of 40’s grifters who first bilked then killed well-to-widows has already inspired two film retellings, 1970’s The Honeymoon Killers (a cult fave) and the 1996 mexican remake Deep Crimson, making Lonely Hearts (a box office failure just resurfacing on DVD, Sony, $24.96,108 minutes) the not so-lucky third time around. A stale period piece with Jared Leto and the sumptuous Salma Hayek as the con/killer duo and John Travolta and James Gandolfini( potentially intriguing pairing that goes nowhere) as two lumpen Long Island coppers on their trail, the film never jumpstarts itself, although the 40’s production design is quite effective, the film stages it’s inherent luridness (emphasized in the other films) with a drab mood and tone, and it’s somewhat stellar cast seems unable to breathe life into the bloody but bloodless proceedings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Halloween All Over Again


John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween was essentially a horror film in Hitchockian clothing, a lip-biting, fist-clenching amusement park ride that was devoid of blood, guts, and back story, a small-scale spine-tingler that hit it big at the box office through mood, pacing, and directorial acumen. Rob Zombie, erstwhile rocker-turned-filmmaker, has been handed the reins for a remake (the ninth Halloween movie overall, and titled, uh-huh, Halloween)), ostensibly to fill in pop cult boogieman Mike Myers’ fictional history, and to bring on the blood and guts. Zombie’s prior two features (House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) were both eye-winking gore fests, amusing enough as stylish pulp, with Zombie’s own brand of weirdness infecting the proceedings in a decidedly unnerving way. The first half of this remake is similarly infused, making the boy-into-psycho part of the tale quite effective, but the second half merely recycles the bumps and runs so familiar to the genre, and runs a potential intriguing Zombie-take right into the usual shallow ground.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Belicheater


All across the football landscape they are piling on--The Patriots are cheaters, turns out Belichick was more fraud than genius, both Brady and Kraft are undeniably tainted too, no wonder they won multiple Super Bowls. I hate to be a homer or an apologist, but, while the videotaping of signs was certainly wrong, and punishable, the hue and cry in the sports pages, on the internet, and heard on sports radio (one can only imagine the time that will be devoted to Videogate on the Sunday pre and post game TV shows), sounds more like the high pitch of a bunch of whiners and also-rans that the high-minded protest of the moral football majority. Stealing signs, in both baseball and football, has long been part of each sports’ gamesmanship, thus the age-old camera shots of the pitcher covering his mouth with the glove as he talks to his catcher and or sideline coach hiding his lips with a curled up game plan as he makes the decision for the next big surprise handoff up the middle. Sure Belechick’s Nixonian side is equally hilarious, scary, and pitiful, but you’ll never convince me that the Pat’s recent run of continued success stems from the ability to swipe a few play calls.