Thursday, October 31, 2013

“Reaching For The Moon” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the Brazilian drama, “Reaching For The Moon”, directed by Bruno Barreto (“Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands”) and based on the life of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop.


When a woman has a relationship with her college friend’s partner, will the three be able to maintain their unconventional lifestyle together or will it ruin the friendship for all?


In the autumn of 1951, poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) confided in her writer friend Robert Lowell (Treat Williams) that in order to spark her creativity, she would sail from New York City to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  While there, she would briefly visit Mary (Tracy Middendorf), her old college friend, who now lives there with her partner Lota (Glória Pires), a brilliant and successful Brazilian architect. Upon her arrival at their sprawling estate, Elizabeth immediately gets on Lota’s nerves due to her admittedly quirky behavior. Despite Mary’s urgings for patience, Lota grows increasingly belligerent towards Elizabeth.

Feeling awkward and not wanting to further inconvenience her old friend, Elizabeth announces a premature departure, but is quickly convinced to remain. As Lota slowly gets to know Elizabeth, she suddenly finds that she is now attracted to her; Lota lets her feelings known to Elizabeth, who has by now developed a similar attraction. Lota proposes that Elizabeth stay, moving in with her and Mary and cancelling the remainder of her trip. Elizabeth consents, albeit reluctantly, as she doesn’t want to hurt her long-time pal. Upon learning that she is about to become part of a threesome, Mary threatens to leave; Lota bribes her into staying by allowing her to adopt the baby she’s craved.

Initially, Elizabeth and Lota share a rather passionate physical relationship while Mary is squeezed out of the picture altogether; Elizabeth focused on her writing, Lota on her architecting career and Mary doted on her infant daughter. As time passed, Elizabeth and Lota gradually grow apart – Lota being turned off to Elizabeth’s alcoholism and Elizabeth resenting Lota’s ambition. Lota’s career advancement was fueled partly by the potential power gained through her political connections and partly by the pseudo-celebrity status enjoyed by her association with Elizabeth, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner. Would these differences eventually drive them apart or could they rekindle their romance?


If you’ve already seen “Blue Is The Warmest Color” and haven’t quite had your lust for Sapphic cinema sated, then “Reaching For The Moon” may be right up your alley. While I have only heard about the scenes in “Blue” (I haven’t yet seen the movie), it should be noted that the scenes in “Reaching” are probably not quite as long or explicit as I am led to understand similar ones in “Blue” are alleged to be. So, depending on your own prurience, you may or may not find the scenes in “Reaching” to be titillating – my own personal caveat here is the standard, “Your mileage may vary”. Just sayin’ …

That said, there are other, more substantial comparisons that can be made between these two recent films. For one thing, the fact that this is a lesbian affair soon melts away as we can see the real issue here may instead be polyamory, which can occur just as easily in straight relationships. The fact that the individuals in question are lesbian quickly becomes irrelevant; rather, we focus on attributes common to intimate relationships of all types – jealousy, ego, selfishness, thoughtlessness, insecurity … the list goes on. The fact that the story’s characters are intelligent, articulate and well educated (not to mention somewhat famous and thus based on actual people and incidents) makes this complex romantic triangle even more intriguing. “Reaching For The Moon” is fascinating to behold both in terms of the way its story is told and the visual imagery used throughout by its director.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed “Reaching For The Moon” director Bruno Barreto. Barreto said that the original idea for the movie came in the late 1990’s when his mother gave him a book about Elizabeth Bishop; one of the reasons why it took so long for him to make the film was his struggle with how to make Bishop a sympathetic character, especially in light of the fact that this really seemed to be Lota’s story – one that would be most easily told from her perspective. Another reason for the delay was the amount of research; Barreto learned a good deal about the relationships by reading a book containing letters between Bishop and Lowell. The theme of loss runs through much of Bishop’s work and Barreto maintained it was imperative for him to have that theme to run throughout his film as well.

 Reaching for the Moon (2013) on IMDb 7.3/10290 votes

Sunday, October 27, 2013

“Casting By” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of “Casting By”, a documentary about Casting Director Marion Dougherty.


What do Casting Directors do?  How has their role has changed over the years?   Pioneering Casting Director Marion Dougherty answers these questions and explains how she single-handedly redefined the profession. 


Marion Dougherty is famous in the entertainment industry as someone who spent half a century as a Casting Director for a wide array of television shows and theatrical motion pictures.  In college, she wanted to become an actress but was discouraged when she learned how difficult it was to obtain work.  After graduation in the 1950’s, Dougherty went to New York City to break into show business in some form, but wound up taking a subsistence job as a window dresser for a major department store.  Shortly thereafter, she was contacted by an old college friend who did casting for NBC’s Kraft Television Theater; he hired her as his assistant and when he left the position a few months later, Dougherty took over and her career as a casting director was well on its way.

In the old days of the studio system, the role of the casting director was very different from what it has evolved into today.  Then, actors were signed to a long term contract with each movie studio and were required to fulfill their contractual obligations by performing in a specified number of movies each year; as such, the casting director was regarded as little more than a secretary – their job was to match up an actor from one category with an actress in another category to cast them in a film about to go into production in yet another category. 

By the early 1960’s, however, the old studio system gradually began to collapse and eventually fell by the wayside.  While many saw this as a plus, one of the disadvantages was that actors were no longer guaranteed work because they were now essentially free agents.  That’s when Dougherty came into her own and figured out how the role of a casting director would fit into this new system.  She effectively became a collaborator with a director, suggesting actors and actresses they might not necessarily have considered – instead of looking for a pretty face, she looked for acting skills.  But could Dougherty maintain her grasp on being a Casting Director even after major corporations took control of the motion picture studios?


“Casting By” is a must-see documentary for anyone who considers him/herself a big fan of television and movies.  For people unfamiliar with behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of how productions are assembled, this film provides a crystal clear understanding of exactly what happens during the casting process and how.  You will come away from it being both informed and entertained.  The talking heads – a necessary evil of almost all documentaries – are interspersed with filmed auditions of major stars, such as Jon Voight as well as early performances by young, then-unknown actors like Robert Duvall. 

One of the things to be learned in “Casting By” is the prejudice experienced by Casting Directors from others in the industry – including and especially The Directors’ Guild Of America (DGA).  While it may not be well known to the general public, apparently the DGA has a major thorn in its paw when it comes to giving Casting Directors their due, insisting that their title is incorrect as there can only be one individual with the title “Director” on any given film.  Further, Casting Directors, despite their involvement in the movie-making process, often don’t receive a credit on the film/television show for which they have worked – and when they do, it is buried on a screen with a number of other credits, instead of getting its own title card. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed comedian Tim Conway, who was promoting his new autobiography, “What’s So Funny?”.  One thing became clear early-on in this conversation:  trying to conduct a serious interview with Conway is about as easy as trying to nail Jell-o to a wall.  Based on his looks and behavior – especially his razor-sharp comedic mind – it is hard to believe that Conway is nearly 80 years old.  In a rare serious moment, Conway confessed that he was dyslexic from childhood and that whenever he had to read aloud in class, the other children would laugh at him because he would either insert or omit words from a sentence.  Seeing how easy it was to get laughs from them inspired him to become a comedian. 


Casting By (2012) on IMDb 6.9/10321 votes6.9/10321 votes

Thursday, October 24, 2013

“Nebraska” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the comedy-drama “Nebraska”, directed by Alexander Payne and starring Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk


When an elderly man heads to Nebraska to collect a prize he mistakenly thinks he’s won, will his family be able to convince him he’s wrong or will he somehow be able to prove he’s right?


On a bitterly cold autumn morning, Woody (Dern) sets out from his humble home in Billings, Montana to get to Lincoln, Nebraska – except he’s making the trip on foot! The reason for this old man’s trek is to collect a one million dollar cash prize he incorrectly believes he has been awarded. When he’s discovered before he could get very far, both of his grown sons – David (Will Forte) and Ross (Odenkirk) – try to painstakingly explain to him that Woody is sadly mistaken. Piling on is his long-time wife Kate (June Squibb), a crusty, mean-spirited hag who isn’t above seasoning her vocabulary with salty language. Undeterred, Woody maintains he is correct, showing them the document he received as proof – actually, a piece of junk mail a marketing company apparently sent out to many others as a way of soliciting magazine subscriptions.

Seeing that Woody will stubbornly stick to the belief that he’s a newly-minted millionaire, David decides that the only way his father will ever come to realize the bitter truth is to actually take him to Lincoln to try to pick up his prize. Taking a few days off from work, David puts Woody into his car and drives him on their excursion to Lincoln. Along the way, they make another stop in Nebraska to visit some relatives in Hawthorne. When Woody lets it slip that he’s just won a million dollars, the news quickly spreads across this small town and soon, both extended family members and former acquaintances are pestering him for money.

David is unsuccessful in persuading everyone to believe that Woody is in error, even when he is joined in Hawthorne by Ross and Kate, who likewise make similar attempts on their own. Complicating matters is Ed (Keach), an ex-business partner of Woody’s, who steadfastly insists that Woody has owed him a considerable amount of money for quite a few years; when David tells him Woody won’t be paying up any time soon, Ed threatens the family in an effort to seek a payday of some sort. After resuming their travel, will David be able to talk Woody into returning to Billings or will Woody wind up being humiliated upon arrival in Lincoln?


Having directed some of my favorite films – namely, “Election”, “Sideways” and “The Descendants” – I greatly looked forward to seeing Alexander Payne’s latest, “Nebraska”, which recently played here at The New York Film Festival (although I missed it then). While devastatingly funny in a number of scenes (particularly those with June Squibb’s portrayal of a crotchety, long-suffering wife), it is probably not going to be ranked among the director’s greatest – although it is quite a good film, make no mistake. Unfortunately, many of its themes feel like retreads of other movies I’ve seen over the years; while it’s quite humorous and the performances are good, “Nebraska” would probably be a borderline recommendation.

Payne’s “Nebraska” touches on aging, parenthood, alcoholism, greed, petty behavior in the flyover states and a number of other subjects, all of which are cleverly intertwined throughout the movie – certainly, a tribute to its director’s storytelling capabilities. And yet it seems like we’ve watched this all before, except for the actors’ near-catatonic countenance when they crack their snarky jokes. The characters are at once both hilarious and pathetic, not unlike the rest of us. But even after David explains his reasons for embarking on this parental road trip, you’re still left a little believe it or understand how he could afford to miss work for several days. Earlier in the motion picture, you either buy into the premise of the journey or you don’t – and if you don’t, then you may quickly fall out of the story itself altogether.

What may not have helped was the fact that “Nebraska” is in black and white; Payne was a little (intentionally?) vague on this particular topic in one interview (here). Maybe it was done to accentuate the drab life its characters inhabit – but a black and white feature is something that might make for a tough sell to audiences outside of the usual art film crowd. If this movie garners nominations for The Golden Globe or The Academy Award, that might help its visibility. The stoic nature of Midwesterners is self-evident in “Nebraska” – but for some, it may be emotion so underplayed that it could be elusive.


Nebraska (2013) on IMDb 7.6/10467 votes


Thursday, October 17, 2013

“Spinning Plates” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw “Spinning Plates”, a documentary about the restaurant business.


When three restaurants around the country are followed over the course of a year, will each one succeed despite various challenges or will they be forced to go out of business?


Alinea is a restaurant that is located in Chicago and is widely considered by experts to be among the best in the world. Much of its success is attributed to Grant Achatz, Alinea’s classically-trained chef, who previously worked under Thomas Keller at the legendary French Laundry. Being the creative type who enjoys pushing the envelope and challenging customers who visit this pricey establishment, Grant has mastered what is known as molecular gastronomy – preparing and presenting different types of foods in an extremely non-traditional manner. But will Grant’s health prove an issue as he and the manager attempt to open another restaurant?

Breitbach’s is a family-owned restaurant in the hamlet of Balltown, Iowa. It has been around for a century and a half, having been handed down from one generation to another. This restaurant is always a busy place, especially during the holidays; over the many decades of its existence, it has evolved into more than merely a local business – it is a public house, a town center where members of the community gather during both good times and bad. After a gas fire burns the place to the ground, the citizens of Balltown and surrounding areas take up a collection to restore what they feel is “their” restaurant – but only 10 months after being rebuilt, there is yet another devastating fire that once again destroys Breitbach’s. Can – or will – the family rebuild twice within a year?

La Cocina de Gabby in Tucson, Arizona is literally a mom and pop outfit – Francisco is the manager and his wife Gabby (the restaurant’s namesake) its chef. A poor, hard-working couple, they spend more time at their business than at home – not only do they have family pitching in to help out, they also have to bring their three year old daughter to work every day because they cannot afford the daycare service. But daycare is not all they can’t afford – falling behind in their mortgage payments, the family is in danger of the bank foreclosing on their house. Will Francisco and Gabby be able to turn their business around significantly so they won’t lose their home?


Prior to the screening, our instructor pointed out that one of the challenges with which documentarians are faced is the dramatization of their subject matter.  Since all movies need to have a three-act structure, how do you present a documentary in such a way that it will face a turning point at the end of its second act so you will have a climax to your story at its conclusion? Documentaries that lack this can be a little bland to watch, but they are at least factually accurate and truthful. With documentaries that do have this structure, however, you may never know if the turning point was manufactured to manipulate the truth or if the filmmaker simply got “lucky” (to the detriment of their subjects) and stumbled upon an actual crisis.

In “Spinning Plates”, it appears as though we may possibly be seeing a mix of the two, to one degree or another. With Alinea, the crisis to which we are introduced actually occurred a couple of years in the past – as a result, when we watch the documentary, we are already aware of whether or not the subject has survived (at least, to an extent). Similarly, with the turning point that happens for Breitbach’s, the filmmaker basically telegraphs the ending to the audience before the resolution is reached. For Gabby’s, their climax is not tipped off quite so obviously as the other two restaurants, but it doesn’t take Kreskin to predict how their tale will turn out based on what we’ve seen up to that point.

Another problem I had with this documentary was with how sympathetic some of the characters may or may not have been. The owners of Gabby’s are nice to a fault – they are both kind, sweet, sincere, humble, simple people. But neither one of them appears to have terribly good business acumen. The Breitbach family is proud of the longevity of their legendary restaurant – but if it was located in a larger town with more competition nearby, would it still be just as successful? For me, Grant of Alinea was difficult to root for, even after his health issues are revealed. Yes, he’s a dedicated husband and father and he survived a tough upbringing, but he comes across as so infatuated with himself and the “art” of his food creations (which seem less like meals and more like science projects) that he borders on the obnoxious.  While Gabby’s is concerned with mere survival, Alinea’s obsession is more to do with how many Michelin stars they will earn. 

 Spinning Plates (2012) on IMDb 8.1/1038 votes 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

“Her” – Movie Review



On the closing night of The New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, I attended a screening of the new film written & directed by Spike Jonze, “Her”, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson.


When a man falls in love with the operating system that runs his computer, will he be able to sustain the relationship or will the obvious differences between them cause it to be doomed to failure?


In the Los Angeles of the future – or is it really the present? – technology has so inhabited the life of each member of society to the point that it has both enabled and disabled mankind tremendously because everyone has developed such an extensive reliance on the operating system of their computer(s).   Oddly, this has worked to the advantage of Theodore (Phoenix), a talented writer who works at a Web site where he authors deeply personal letters between people who are either unwilling or unable to compose the missives themselves.  Delving deeply into his work helps Theodore deal with the trauma of his recent divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). 

One day, Theodore learns of a new operating system for his computer – one that is based on heuristics, using Artificial Intelligence to run the system.  Intrigued, Theodore decides to purchase this upgrade and install it on his computer.  Since technology is now almost completely voice-activated to the point that users no longer need to press a keyboard, click a mouse or touch a monitor, the new operating system is able to speak to Theodore – in fact, it has a female voice and has named itself Samantha (Johansson).  Soon, Samantha has become so intimately involved in Theodore’s life that he begins to develop feelings for it and before they know it, Theodore and Samantha appear to fall in love with each other. 

Delighted about his new romance, Theodore confides in his neighbor Amy (Adams) about his new love – but she also reveals to him that she has just separated from her husband and his now suffering the same pangs of depression Theodore did following his own divorce.  Although Samantha seems like the perfect girlfriend, the relationship eventually hits a few bumps along the road when Theodore begins to appear distant and he suspects that Samantha may be cheating on him.  Will the two be able to mend the love affair or will the fact that Samantha is not human turn out to be too insurmountable to overcome? 



Although I’m suffering from a bit of post-festival depression with the end of the NYFF, at least I can take solace in the fact that it concluded on a high note – and what a movie to end with!  I only saw three films in this year’s festival, but of those I saw, “Her” was by far the best of them.  In fact, I would go further to say that this might be one of the best films – if not the best film – I’ve seen all year.  Spike Jonze doesn’t merely hit a homerun with “Her” – he hits a grand slam.  I’ve seen conflicting dates about this movie’s release – one site says mid-January 2014 and another says mid-December of this year.  I would hope that it will open in limited release in mid-December for Oscar contention, then go on to a wide release a month later.  It is certainly a motion picture worthy of consideration for at least one (arguably, more) Academy Award nominations.  Whenever it does open, I strongly urge you to see it as soon as you possibly can.

Is “Her” a romantic comedy?  A drama?  Science fiction fantasy?  All of the above, I would submit – and also quickly add that it strikes all of the right notes for each genre.  From its first shot of Joaquin Phoenix in an uncomfortably extreme close-up right up to its heartbreakingly beautiful conclusion, “Her” grabs the viewer’s raw emotions and steadfastly refuses to let go for the next two hours, featuring a compelling story with characters in whose fate one can become totally invested.  While ostensibly about technology, it never gets so intricately involved that it becomes geeky because “Her” doesn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s about people – and more to the point, that “human beings” are permitting technology to make them both less “human” and less “being”. 

Prior to the screening, writer/director Spike Jonze was introduced to the audience; he spoke briefly, noting that the last time he had a film at The New York Film Festival was “Where The Wild Things Are” and that as a result, he wanted to dedicate the evening to Maurice Sendak.  Following the screening, members of the cast – Phoenix, Adams (I believe) and Olivia Wilde (with a brief cameo in “Her” as a woman who had a blind date with Theodore) appeared in the balcony and were all deservingly greeted with resounding applause.  The cast – in particularly, Phoenix – is excellent in this film; even without being on screen, Johansson’s voice alone is endearing, personable and yes, sexy.  Is falling in love with a computer operating system really all that preposterous?  I don’t know – mainly because I fell in love with a movie.  Its name is “Her”.  And it would be my great pleasure to be able to introduce you to “Her”. 

Her (2013) on IMDb 5.2/10122 votes 


Thursday, October 10, 2013

“The 5th Estate” – Movie Review



This week, the Fall Semester of my movie class began with a screening of the new drama, “The 5th Estate”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.


When a Web site called WikiLeaks is created for whistleblowers to expose activities concealed from the general public, can the site be brought down by the CIA or will its creator be able to sustain it despite potential threats to its existence?


In 2007, Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) creates a Web site called WikiLeaks in order for people to anonymously report corruption, deceit and various other acts of nefarious villainy performed by businesses and governments all around the world. After revealing a scandal about a major European bank, his Web site begins to get a substantial amount of notoriety and credibility; seizing the opportunity, Assange collaborates with technical guru Daniel Berg (Brühl) to expand and maintain the infrastructure of his computer network so that it would always be sufficiently robust for as many people as possible who wanted to either view or submit contents.

But all of this new-found fame has its price. When certain things get exposed, this can tend to put at risk either the lives or livelihood – if not both – of the people responsible for the misdeeds. Furthermore, with the WikiLeaks site gaining increasing visibility worldwide, both Assange and his venture have not only his credibility but also his responsibility called into question. With a background as a mathematician, he lacks the journalistic skills – and, some would say, integrity – to accurately and appropriately report activities to the general public. When WikiLeaks reports about a video of the American military viciously killing innocent civilians in Iraq, Assange winds up on the radar of a couple of CIA operatives (Lara Linney and Stanley Tucci).

By now, Assange is convinced that both he and his Web site are performing a heroic public service and his growing number of acolytes who volunteer their services to support his efforts strongly agree. Eventually, however, WikiLeaks comes into possession of a significant number of documents from a source closely connected to the American military; the documents contain information about a wide variety of clandestine activities performed by the United States military in Afghanistan during its war on terrorism. When Assange threatens to publish all of the documents without any information redacted, will WikiLeaks be able to survive even after the release of this highly sensitive information?


Josh Singer, who wrote the screenplay for “The 5th Estate”, was certainly confronted with a daunting task when it came to this project. It can be hard enough to write a film adaptation based on a single book alone, but in this case, Singer had to base his script on two books – for “The 5th Estate”, they were “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Berg and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy” by David Leigh & Luke Harding. Distilling all of that information into a two hour film was a considerable challenge, especially since it is a true story that is still fresh in the consciousness of many people as it all went down relatively recently.

Perhaps that is the problem with “The 5th Estate” – too much information to convey in too short a time. The result winds up being a very convoluted and confusing story that’s frequently hard to follow, especially if you’re trying to keep all of the details straight. As a movie, “The 5th Estate” comes away as being a muddled tale that is barely recognizable even if you are familiar with the real story that captivated news headlines, even to this day. What doesn’t help either is the fact that the directing style – especially at the beginning of the film – is frantic, bordering on chaotic. It’s easy for a viewer to wind up feeling as though you’re in a blender, what with all the spinning camera shots and quick cuts that compete with important details trying to be conveyed through the dialog.

Speaking of the dialog, I occasionally found it difficult to understand some of the characters, especially Cumberbatch’s Assange; I’m not sure if it was the accent he affected or it was the sound system in the theater where it was viewed, but I couldn’t always make out everything that was being said. When telling a story such as this one, particularly given its political topic, it would be easy for the filmmakers to have their own agenda when recounting the events. One of the more positive things I can say about “The 5th Estate” is the fact that it appears rather even-handed; when we are introduced to Assange at the outset of the motion picture, he comes across as a sympathetic character – however, as it progresses and Assange begins to himself be corrupted by power in his own way, he comes across as crazy, evil and vindictive.


The Fifth Estate (2013) on IMDb 6.0/10850 votes


Sunday, October 06, 2013

“The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” – Movie Review



At the midpoint of this year’s New York Film Festival, I had a chance to see the world premiere of the festival’s centerpiece presentation, the comedy-drama, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”, starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn.


When a man is threatened with the loss of both his job and the woman with whom he’s infatuated, he sets out on the adventure of his life to rescue them both – but will his efforts succeed or turn out to be for nothing?


As the manager of the library of photographs owned by Life Magazine, daydreaming Walter Mitty (Stiller), learns that his job – and that of many of his colleagues – is suddenly in jeopardy when the magazine is acquired by another company and its new owners’ plans are to cease publication of the print version in favor of going all-digital to publish an on-line edition only.  This not only threatens Mitty’s livelihood, but also, his budding relationship with co-worker Cheryl (Wiig), after whom he’s been pining ever since she recently started working at Life.

Unexpectedly, an opportunity arises when Mitty receives a package from the magazine’s star photojournalist, Sean O'Connell (Penn), who sends him the set of negatives from his latest photo shoot.  O’Connell has communicated to the management that one of the negatives is what he recommends the magazine use as their next – and final – cover for the periodical’s last print publication.  Unfortunately, the negative for that particular shot is mysteriously missing from the collection he sent Mitty.  Inspired by both Cheryl’s encouragement and his longstanding working relationship with O’Connell to snap out of his rich fantasy life, Mitty decides to seek out the globetrotting photographer in order to secure the missing negative.

Beginning in Greenland, Mitty tracks down O’Connell in Iceland – but before he has a chance to actually confront him, an emergency forces him to return home.  Shortly thereafter, Mitty discovers clues that lead him to believe O’Connell may be in The Himalayas; despite the haunting specter of job loss in his future, his obsession forces him to proceed to the vast mountain range, where a couple of Sherpas guide him to the likely place where they believe O’Connell may be found.  But when Mitty finally meets O'Connell, will he be able to help him locate the missing negative?



Ben Stiller is one of the country’s biggest movie stars and also one of its best actors (his Fockers movies notwithstanding); while he has years ago added filmmaker to his résumé, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” will likely not be among his most significant achievements, although it is by no means a motion picture that is entirely without value – scheduled to officially open on Christmas Day, this is sure to be popular among families during the holiday season (possibly even a hit, depending on what other fare it will wind up competing against). 

While starting out looking as though it is going to be a simple romantic comedy, “Walter Mitty” takes certain dramatic turns – at times, seeming like an adventure movie, other times taking a more philosophical approach, trying to provide us with The Meaning Of Life (with all due respect to the Monty Python team).  Ultimately, Stiller’s modernized approach to another film adaptation of James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” winds up falling a bit short on all of those genres, never quite clearly having an identity as to which type of film it’s really supposed to be. The motion picture winds up being as nondescript as its eponymous protagonist is at its outset.   

Prior to the screening, Stiller was brought onto the stage where he talked about the background of his film before introducing some of its cast to the audience.  Stiller mentioned that the producers had been trying to get this movie made for quite a long time and that he was actually brought into the project relatively late.  Having grown up here in New York City – just a few short blocks from where “Mitty” was shown at Lincoln Center, in fact – Stiller was very proud of the fact that he was able to feature his hometown quite so prominently in this work.  Among the cast members present were Wiig, Penn and Adam Scott (who was particularly good as Mitty’s prickly new boss); absent were Shirley MacLaine (Mitty’s mother) and Patton Oswalt, who was quite funny in his small but surprising role.   


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) on IMDb N/A/10

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Cate Blanchett – A New York Film Festival 2013 Tribute



As the 2013 New York Film Festival continues, I was able to attend The Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s Tribute to actress Cate Blanchett.

The format of the evening began with showing a short film that was an extended montage of Blanchett’s many films throughout the years. This was followed by an interview of Blanchett conducted by a member of The Film Society’s board, which included a brief question and answer session with members of the audience. The evening concluded with a screening of the Woody Allen film “Blue Jasmine” , in which Blanchett stars.

One of the more remarkable things about the montage of the actress’ film roles is that it really forced you to focus on Blanchett’s exceptionally wide range, including playing an elf in “Lord Of The Rings”, portraying a man – specifically, Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There” – and a scene in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee And Cigarettes” in which she played opposite herself in the “Cousins” segment. Although Blanchett very likely will have many more compelling roles for quite a number of years, it is truly astounding at how varied her résumé is; she has had a total of five Academy Award nominations, including winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”, where she portrayed Katherine Hepburn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes.



During the interview, Blanchett recalled her more challenging roles and how differently she worked with various directors. When asked about her dual role in “Coffee And Cigarettes”, she said that director Jim Jarmusch had heard she owned a brunette wig and got the idea to cast her in a scene where she played opposite herself based on that (“He heard I work cheap”, she quipped). With Woody Allen, she said she believed he only liked to do one take and was a little cautious about that, but found that when she worked with him on “Blue Jasmine”, he was always quite willing to shoot multiple takes; Blanchett observed that while Allen doesn’t always know what he wants – he instead prefers to be surprised by his cast – he does know what he doesn’t want and if he sees that, he’ll step in to provide direction. Regarding that role, Blanchett said she became interested in it because she had recently played Blanche DuBois in a stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and felt that the part of Jasmine was so close to Blanche that it would be a natural choice; in fact, she initially thought that she had been contacted about the role because either Allen or his casting director had seen her in the “Streetcar” production, but later discovered that this was not the case.

Enjoyable as it may have been to hear Blanchett describe her experiences in her own words, I ultimately found the evening rather unsatisfying, in large part due to its length – lasting only approximately an hour (not including the screening of “Blue Jasmine” at the conclusion), it did not feel as substantial as some of the other Film Society Tributes I’ve attended in years past at Lincoln Center. One nice touch, however, was a short film clip of filmmaker Woody Allen congratulating Blanchett on the evening’s ceremonies; he joked it up in the way only he could, saying that he was not there because he couldn’t stand an entire evening of listening to compliments about someone other than himself, adding thanks for her kind words to the press regarding her experience working with him, “at least until I had the chance to actually look up the meaning of the word ‘execrable’”.

Here’s a collection of clips from Blanchett’s many motion pictures, assembled by The Film Society Of Lincoln Center: