The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
"Paul Williams Still Alive" (87 minutes) will be available on VOD October 16th via (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House, among other cable providers), iTunes, VUDU, YouTube, Amazon, Sony (Playstation), Microsoft (Zune, Xbox), Blockbuster, AT&T, DirecTV, DISH.
by Donald Liebenson
In begrudgingly recommending "Paul Williams Still Alive" to his legion of fans, I am reminded of a Rolling Stone magazine review of Janis Joplin's first solo album, "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" Janis never sounded better, the reviewer said, but to enjoy her, you had to be able to tune out her backup band. A similar caveat is necessary here. Enjoyment of "Still Alive" will depend on your tolerance of writer-director Stephen Kessler, who takes Williams' joke at one point that the documentary could become the "Paulie and Steve Show" as a carte blanche invitation to intrude on the proceedings.
For Francois Truffaut, it was James Bond. In a 1979 interview with Don Allen in Sight & Sound, Truffaut said he felt "the film that marks the beginning of the period of decadence in the cinema is the first James Bond -- 'Dr. No.' Until then the role of the cinema had been by and large to tell a story in the hope the audience would believe it... For the first time throughout the world mass audiences were exposed to what amounts as a degradation of the art of cinema, a type of cinema which relates neither to life nor the romantic tradition but only to other films and always by sending them up."
As Ronald Bergan points out in his book "Francois Truffaut: Interviews), the Cahiers du Cinema critic turned nouvelle vague auteur was "recognizing postmodernism before the concept became current in the 1980s." Truffaut (himself known as "The Gravedigger of French Cinema" for his scathing reviews in Cahiers during the 1950s) died in 1984. Surely there were those for whom the French New Wave itself indicated the End of Cinema -- a decline in professional production values and, well, what Truffaut himself attacked as the tradition "the well-made film."
"Breaking Away" is a movie about four working class friends from a college town who are better know as "The Cutters" a term for the stone quarry workers from town who never got to go to college, and how cycling becomes their unexpected ticket into bigger and better things.
It is populated with original characters who feel completely real, they all have their ambitions, their fears and their regrets which are hardly unlike ours. Each of their numerous idiosyncrasies only serve to make them all the more endearing.
TORONTO, Canada -- One week after the gross-out comedy "There's Something About Mary" reached No. 1 at the box office, here's Cameron Diaz back again in an even grosser movie - one that makes "Mary" look positively tasteful by comparison."Very Bad Things," which had its world premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, tests the limits of what a general-audience picture can contain. Although my review will wait until the movie opens, word will be quickly spreading from a capacity crowd that was urged by writer-director Peter Berg to shout at the screen: "Hit it back! It can take it!"Diaz has a supporting role, as a 27-year-old who is focusing obsessively on her upcoming marriage. Most of the movie involves a Las Vegas bachelor party and its aftermath, as her fiancee (Jon Favreau) is joined by his buddies (Christian Slater, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern and Leland Orser) in a wild booze-and-drugs orgy that ends with them burying bodies in the desert. And that's only the start of the very bad things.It's not the story that's startling, really, but the gruesome, violent tone. The events in "Very Bad Things" could occur in lots of different kinds of movies, but Berg seems intent not only on pushing the envelope but slashing and burning it.The question occurs: Is Hollywood going to get involved in a race to outgross itself? There were those who were offended by "There's Something About Mary," but at heart it was a romantic screwball comedy, and it got away with murder because it was really, truly funny. A movie doesn't climb to the top of the box-office charts in its eighth week unless the word of mouth is extraordinary: Moviegoers are obviously telling their friends about it, and taking them to see it at theaters that shake with laughter.If laughter can redeem borderline subject matter, one wonders how much laughter it will take to redeem "Very Bad Things," which involves mayhem so gruesome it upstages the previous record-holder, "Shallow Grave," especially in the vivisection and burial department. There are racial themes sure to make audiences uncomfortable (two of the victims are black and Asian; several of the heroes talk much of their Jewishness). And although the later stages of the movie relax into somewhat more conventional slapstick, the Vegas scenes seem inspired by gore and slasher movies more than by comedy.Will this mixture work at the box office? I heard a lot of laughter and some applause at theToronto premiere. But, less obviously to be sure, I sensed that many audience members were watching in thoughtful silence.What a contrast was "After Life," the new film by Japan's Hirokazu Kore-Eda, whose "Maborosi" was one of the best films of last year. The new film has a premise that sounds simplistic, but the film reaches surprising emotional insights.It's about a way-station between this world and the next, where the newly deceased are asked to choose one memory that they wish to preserve. The memory is then re-enacted and filmed by the way-station staff, and after viewing it the visitors move on to the next level of the afterlife, with only that one memory left to them.What will the newcomers choose? What will it mean? How will their choices affect the staff members? The movie takes its seemingly sentimental premise and uses it to examine how memory works selectively to interpret our loves to ourselves."I expect the total transformation of their lives the moment they get on the bus," declares a Manhattan tour bus guide named Timothy (Speed) Levitch, in a weirdly infectious new documentary by Bennett Miller named "The Cruise." Levitch clears about $200 a week improvising into the microphone as he conducts tours, or "cruises," informing and amazing his Gray Line passengers with such information as, "You are five blocks from where Dorothy Parker died of alcoholism and despair."Levitch is a cast-iron original, with his adenoidal voice, blinding sports coats, unruly mane of curly hair and flat-footed gait. He seems utterly confident about who he is and what he does, but an oddness creeps in, and we suspect there's more to the story. He seems to be projecting his entire psyche onto the city and the tour.Here he is on architecture: "I identify with the anger and inferiority that some of the smaller buildings feel." Louis Sullivan's terra cotta Manhattan skyscraper is, he feels, orgasmic, and he describes its sex life in detail. Of the Brooklyn Bridge, he says, "Eleven people have jumped off this bridge and survived. One of my cruising dreams would be to get those people together on a cruise."He became a tour guide, he explains, "to meet and seduce women." That's why he rebels at the requirement that he wear the Gray Line's official uniform, a red shirt: "You are not ever gonna get lucky in a red shirt."