Can insanity, normalcy and creativity co-exist in a successful artist? “Frank” offers a unique, funny, entertaining look at what proves to be an unanswerable question.
* 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.
A love letter to classic movie villains; Seth Rogen is not a victim of the Santa Barbara killings; Remembering Jeff Vice; Cliff Curtis on playing multiple ethnicities; Who is a feminist now?
Harold Ramis dies at 69; A look at the state of film criticism; Method acting destroying the profession; Meryl Streep and the Oscars; Sex and the City ten years later.
A remembrance of screenwriting guru Syd Field.
The legend of Harvey Scissorhands; the controversial twist of "Homeland"; a "Lucking Out" review; the sad misogyny of "Xanth"; the NSA galls the spy-crazy French.
1."Ann Blyth gets a TCM salute for her birthday" The actress is probably best remembered for her turn as the self-involved Veda in "Mildred Pierce." For her 85th birthday, she was honored by Turner Classic Movies. Susan King of the Los Angeles Times has a wonderful piece on Blyth and the TCM tribute."Blyth's performance is an astonishing mixture of ferocity and venom that belies the fact she was only 16 when she made the Michael Curtiz-directed thriller."2."Gen X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?" At salon.com, Sara Scribner muses on how Generation X is handling aging. We'll give you a hint: They're doing it differently than their parents."While the past midlife crisis model focused on breaking down confining bonds, chipping away at that adult façade to return to the fountain of youth, Xers are still in full construction mode. 'I've made a list – it's the 'do-better' list,' Leslie Mann's character tells her husband in Judd Apatow’s flawed but occasionally insightful 'This Is 40.'"3."12 Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms" At mentalfloss.com, Arika Okrent looks at words you only ever use in an idiom. Where would 'to' be without 'fro'? But where is 'fro' anyway?"The 'fro' in 'to and fro' is a fossilized remnant of a Northern English or Scottish way of pronouncing 'from.' It was also part of other expressions that didn't stick around, like 'fro and till,' 'to do fro' (to remove), and 'of or fro' (for or against)."4."Ladies, Comics Aren't for You"At i09, Mydearpeabody isn't just discussing some diffuse misogyny in the world of comics. Inspired by a piece in the New Republic on Mark Millar and a panel discussion featuring Todd MacFarlane and Gerry Conway, she is walking us through their offensive assumptions about women and comics."It's a circular argument to say that you're not going to create interesting female characters, and then whine that you don't do it because no one is interested in them. If you haven't been creating many of them, and the ones you have been creating are flat, or women in refrigerators, or narrative devices to further male characters' plotlines, then no, I imagine most people don't find them that interesting."5."Forget Kickstarter: How Obama's New Law Could Change Hollywood Crowd-funding" The Hollywood Reporter's Paul Bond looks at how a government initiative intended to allow start-ups raise money with fewer restrictions may change moviemaking."Here's how it works: Now, startups are required to pitch investment
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.
A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.
by Edward Copeland
"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is Part 2 of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here.
"Unethical? Jesus, Larry. Don't start pulling at that thread; our whole world will unravel." -- Artie (Rip Torn)
by Edward Copeland
Unravel those threads did -- and often -- in the world of fictional late night talk show host Larry Sanders. On "The Larry Sanders Show," the brilliant and groundbreaking HBO comedy that paid attention to the men and women behind the curtain of Sanders' fictional show, the ethics of showbiz were hilariously skewered.
Marie writes: At long last, after two years of mediocre weather compounded by bad timing, the planets managed to align themselves again in my favor and I was finally able to return to Pender Island and where my tale begins....
Marie writes: Behold a truly inspired idea...Age 8: Eileen's pink creature It started with a simple idea: to make a recognizable comfort toy for her 4 year-old son Dani, based on one of his drawing. His school had asked the children to bring in a toy from home; an emergency measure in the event of a tantrum or crying fit. Fearing he might lose his favorite, Wendy Tsao decided to make Dani a new one. Using a drawing he often made as her guide, she improvised a plush toy snowman. Five years later, Wendy Tsao has her own thriving home-based craft business - Child's Own Studio - in which she transforms the imaginative drawings of children into plush and cloth dolls; each one handcrafted and one-of-a-kind. She receives requests from parents all over the world; there's 500 people on waiting list. Note: kudos to club member Sandy Kahn for submitting the piece.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO THE EBERT CLUB!
Marie writes: It's official. I have died and gone to heaven. For here below, as part of an ongoing series exploring Britain's architectural wonders, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore, introduces a spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photograph of "The grand staircase in the St Pancras Renaissance hotel" - which I regard as one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen. I adore this building and always will; it's the stuff of dreams. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Go here to explore a 360 panoramic view of the grand staircase!
Ever since David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1975, browsers have said that they love to hate Thomson's contrarian arguments -- against John Ford or Frank Capra, Coppola or Kubrick, for example.¹ Fans and critics can cite favorite passages of resonant beauty, mystifyingly vague and dismissive summary judgements, and entire entries in which the man appears to have gone off his rocker. And that's the fun of it.
To be fair, Thomson broke faith with (or has been suffering a crisis of faith in) American movies at least far back as "Overexposures: The Crisis in American Filmmaking" (1981), and he's been writing about his crisis ever since. To put it in a sentence that could serve as the ending of one of his entries: I am willing to believe that he loves (or once loved) movies even if he doesn't like them very much. (Wait -- how does he conclude the Katharine Hepburn piece? "She loved movies, while disapproving of them.")
When I encountered the first edition of this book, the year I entered college, I immediately fell in love with it because it was not a standard reference. It was personal, cranky, eloquent, pretentious, pithy, petty, ambitious... It was, as I think Thomson himself suggested in the foreword to the first or second edition (this is the fifth), more accurately titled "An Autobiographical Dictionary of Film." Many times over the years I have implored my employers or partners to license digital rights to Thomson's book so that it could augment and be integrated with other movie databases and references (at Cinemania, FilmPix, Reel.com, RogerEbert.com)... but we've never done it. What, they would ask, is the "value-add"? (Really. Some people used to talk that way.) As a reference, its coverage is too spotty (Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia is much more comprehensive but also has loads of incomplete filmographies), as criticism it's wildly idiosyncratic (nothing wrong with that) and as biography it's whimsically selective and uneven, leaving as many holes as it fills.
On the day after the near-mystical cosmic alignment of Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day (did the Postal Service suspend delivery on the day Columbus came out in 1492?), and the very day that a US district judge issued a worldwide injunction ordering the Department of Defense to stop enforcement of its absurd, 17-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for kicking gays out of the military (best of all, the case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans!), I have found myself reading about a stupid gay joke that's been removed from trailers for the upcoming Ron Howard comedy "The Dilemma," starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.
I saw the trailer in front of "The Social Network," October 1. Vaughn's character is speaking to some automotive businessmen (is this a follow-up to Howard's "Gung-Ho"?) and says: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reportedly went on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and said he was "shocked" that Universal "thought that it was OK to put that in a preview for the movie to get people to go and see it." Universal responded by quickly pulling the scene from the trailer. No word on whether it will remain in the movie, which opens in January.
Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes. The creator of the modern American teenager film, who died Thursday in New York, made a group of films that are still watched and quoted today.
If there is a King of Comedy right now in Hollywood, that would be Judd Apatow. I have a list here of a dozen comedies he has produced and/or directed just in the last five years, and I left out the titles I didn't like. He has been writing since he was a kid, producing since he was 23, and then he directed "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007) himself. He is only 41. I think he's hitting his stride.
"If you thought Abu Ghraib was a laugh riot then you might love 'Observe and Report,' a potentially brilliant conceptual comedy that fizzles because its writer and director, Jody Hill, doesn't have the guts to go with his spleen. [...]
"What follows next should have been the shock of the movie: a cut to Ronnie [Seth Rogen] having vigorous sex with Brandi [Anna Faris] who, from her closed eyes, slack body and the vomit trailing from her mouth to her pillow, appears to have passed out. But before the words 'date rape' can form in your head, she rouses herself long enough to command Ronnie to keep going." -- Manohla Dargis, New York Times
"Because we laugh and gasp at what follows, does that mean we approve? Having seen Ronnie's actions in a movie, do we now believe that date rape should not be prosecuted -- that it is just harmless fun?
"Although I have never had such a dilemma in life, usually being the first to pass out, I hope I'd have the decency to walk away from a semi-conscious woman. I hope I also wouldn't harass a Muslim co-worker, use a Taser on a man who parks next to a loading dock, break into a mall and assault policemen, or triumphantly shoot an unarmed criminal. Although I adore 'Lolita,' I hope I am never tempted to lay a finger on a prepubescent girl....
"All this might seem crashingly obvious, but at least in this culture it can't be restated too often that comedy is not safe." -- David Edelstein, The Projectionist
Last weekend I witnessed a sort-of argument over whether "Observer and Report" was funny or not. Or maybe it was really about whether the movie was even supposed to be funny. I don't know for sure because I haven't seen it yet. So to me the discussion sounded mostly like: "It's not funny!" / "Yes it is! I laughed!" / "No it's not! I didn't!" / "Yes it is!" / "It's only funny to people I hated in high school!" / "Humor is hard to analyze because it's personal!" / "No it's not!" / "Yes it is!"...
Ten contributors to MSN Movies cast their ballots for the best films of 2008, unaware of what anyone else would pick. A simple point scale was used to weight the choices. And the result is one of the more surprisingly satisfying year-end consensus-mixes I've seen so far. Yeah, I'm one of the participants, and six of my top choices wound up on the aggregate list, but still...
Best of all, each title is accompanied by a micro-mini-essay by one of the critics. It ain't easy compressing one's appreciation into nuggets of less than 250 words, but the effort can occasionally yield its own rewards...
MSN Movies Top 10 (bottom to top):(titles link to individual blurbs)
10. Slumdog Millionaire 9. Wendy and Lucy 8. WALL-E 7. Pineapple Express 6. The Dark Knight
One of the things film critics do for a living is to pay close attention to how people behave, and how that behavior is presented through visual media. This applies not only to actors playing characters, but to people who play themselves, in fictional or nonfictional settings, on and off the screen. It should come as no surprise to learn that some of our best movie critics have backgrounds in psychology.
When Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sex with that woman," it now seems impossible to believe that he fooled anyone at that particular moment. But if any movie critic misread Clinton's voice and body language, that critic should have been impeached. As opaque as the clumsy verbal gymnastics of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin may often be, behind the contortions it's hard to avoid seeing the painful truth, which is simply that they don't know what their own words mean, and even when they know what they've been told to say they don't know how to communicate it. As actors, they're thoroughly unconvincing: You can see the wheels turning inside their heads -- only the gears aren't even engaged. There's a lot of whirring and spinning, but nothing happens. That can be excruciating to watch, but it's also the stuff of modern comedy. Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the whole Judd Apatow crew come to mind.
Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argues that film critics like Roger Ebert, sophisticated in their knowledge of media presentation and human behavior, make more insightful political pundits than the usual beltway-bubble spin-docs employed by television, radio, print and online outlets. In a piece called "From film critic to political pundit," Goldstein writes:
To me, film critics, like TV and theater critics, are especially well equipped to analyze today's politics, which is why Frank Rich made such a seamless transition from theater to media and political commentator. In fact, in some ways film critics are probably better equipped to assess the political theater of today's presidential campaigns, since our campaigns are -- as has surely been obvious for some time -- far more about theater and image creation than politics.
I'm posting this not just because I'm (still) in love with Sarah Silverman (though I am), and not just because she's a genius (though, of course, she is), and not just because of the overt political humor in this short film (though The Great Schlep is an inspired idea), but because of how it relates to recent Scanners posts about comedy and understanding what the joke is. (See posts and discussions regarding "Tropic Thunder," "Juneau," and David Foster Wallace.)
So, please watch the above movie and then provide your interpretation of it, by considering my questions after the jump...
I will not give away any jokes here (though too many reviews will), just one small concept: In "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller plays a not-very-talented actor who has made a widely loathed movie called "Simple Jack" (explicitly a parody of Sean Penn's "I Am Sam") that flopped ignominiously, failing to earn him the Oscar nomination he so desperately, transparently (and cynically) expected. Both Penn and "I Am Sam" are mentioned by name -- as are the Oscar-winning performances by Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man" and Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump." They should have thrown in Robin Williams in "Patch Adams." (Look for the glimpse of Penn and some other well-known actors in award-seeking stunt-roles near the end.)
From start to finish, the target of the satire here is Hollywood. As Roger Ebert describes it: "The movie is a send-up of Hollywood, actors, acting, agents, directors, writers, rappers, trailers and egos..." There's even a funny moment with a key grip that's even funnier if you know what a key grip is.
And yet, according to an article in Monday's New York Times: "A coalition of disabilities groups is expected as early as Monday to call for a national boycott of the film 'Tropic Thunder' because of what the groups consider the movie's open ridicule of the intellectually disabled."
This has got to be a joke.
This ad in The New York Times makes me unreasonably, but not unaccountably, happy. Who would have thought, only a year or so ago, that a major studio summer picture could be promoted with those (half-) faces and last names?
Like: Pacino. De Niro. Or: DiCaprio. Crowe.
What more do you really need to say? The title will be a mystery to most people until they see the movie, but it should already be clear to everyone by now that "Pineapple Express" is the greatest movie ever made.
View image SJP sports her power flower.
"The weekend opening [of 'Sex and the City'] also ranked as the strongest ever for a movie carried by a female lead (at least if ticket-price inflation is not taken into account). Paramount’s 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' was the previous record-holder, with $47.7 million in ticket sales for Paramount during its opener in 2001.
“'I am so excited about the possibilities for movies about women,' Ms. Parker said."
-- "Gal Pals of 'Sex and the City' Knock Indiana Jones From Top Spot," New York Times, June 2, 2008
Summer's here and the time is right for fart, diarrhea and masturbation jokes in the theaters. Not just in raunchy male-oriented comedies, but in so-called "chick flicks" -- the kind groups of pals attend together after a few cocktails. I'm speaking, of course, about "Sex and the City." Could it, perhaps, be the long-awaited Judd Apatow(ish) movie for gals? You know, the one about a group of friends who hang out and get drunk or stoned, complain about their relationships (or lack thereof), make dirty scatalogical jokes, and generally prefer one another's company to that of the opposite sex?
You tell me. Because, sadly, nobody has enough money to pay me to go see "Sex and the City." I am not the target audience and I know that. I have no objection to it, either. As Roger Ebert succinctly stated at the top of his review "I am not the person to review this movie." Me, too. I am also not that person.
View image Those plucky, sympathetic teens of yesteryear.
You know what? "Sex and the City" was for girls! Yes, it's true. First it was for (and about) gay boys, but eventually it revolved around a certain brand of perfume-insert, fashion-magazine womankind: rich, white, co-dependent, status-obsessed, desperate for a man to complete her.
Know what else? Judd Apatow makes movies about guys -- and heterosexual relationships with women, but mainly about what used to be known as "male bonding." (The fashionable term now is "bro-mance," which is cuter and invoked largely by what used to be called "metrosexuals.") The Apatow guy tends to be underemployed, white, Jewish (or Canadian), slobby, geeky, smelly, childish (not just "childlike") and more or less happy, unaware that he's desperate for a woman to complete him. Then, once he becomes aware, he's not entirely sure that's possible, or desirable.
This, I submit, is a minor breakthrough in romantic comedy. OK, perhaps I am single and bitter, but I'm also right.
In the New York Sun (also known as "the conservative New York Sun"), Steve Dollar mentions that Catherine Keener's character in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" "pretty much takes the blame for making the poor guy sell all his collectible model toys (but whose side is Apatow on?), and spends much of her screen time mothering her infantile boyfriend."
Is that what happens? Even if so, whose side is Mr. Dollar on? (And who said it was necessary to divine and choose "sides"?)
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall": Kristen Bell and Russell Brand. P to the V.
Excerpt from an Apatowian appreciation I wrote for MSN Movies, covering "Freaks & Geeks" to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" to "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (with the inconspicuous omission of "Drillbit Taylor"): Writer/director/producer Judd Apatow, the man Entertainment Weekly recently crowned the 'Smartest Person in Hollywood,' has made a solemn promise to put a penis -- at least one penis -- into every movie he makes from now on. He's slipped penises into his pictures before, of course: all those obsessive-compulsive drawings in "Superbad," his own on comically disconcerting display in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," and Jason Segel's for a humiliating breakup in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Sometimes, too, his films include breasts and vaginas. And there are perfectly good reasons for that. Not the least of which is that all genitalia and externally visible glands are funny.
View image Mila Kunis and Jason Segel in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall," starring and written by Jason Segel ("Freaks and Geeks," "Undelcared," "Knocked Up") opens April 18. Last month, after an early screening, Jeffrey Wells at Hollwyood Elsewhere revealed that the idea of "marginally unattractive guys -- witty stoners, clever fatties, doughy-bodied dorks, thoughtful-sensitive dweebs and bearish oversize guys in their 20s and 30s" playing "romantic leads" just doesn't wash with him ("Eclipse of the Hunk?").
"Question is, what if this starts to manifest in realms outside Apatow World?" he frets. God forbid. Upon seeing Segel's upper torso at the beginning of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (this is before all the rest of him is bared to the world in a painfully funny break-up scene), Wells says: I immediately went, "Oh, sh-t...I'm stuck with this dude for the whole film." Segel is an obviously bright guy with moderately appealing features, but he also has a chunky, blemished ass and little white man-boobs, and he could definitely use a little treadmill and stairmaster time and a serious cutback program regarding pasta, Frito scoop chips, Ben & Jerry's and Fatburger takeout. I don't relate to this sh-t at all, I was muttering to myself.