Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
I saw Edward Burns' “Sidewalks of New York” at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 8, and enjoyed its lighthearted story of seven lovers who readjust their romantic priorities. It was scheduled to open in a week or two, and I was baffled by Paramount's decision to put it back on the shelf for a couple of months, as if after Sept. 11, no one could possibly contemplate attending a movie named “Sidewalks of New York.” Now the movie has arrived, the story of lovers, would-be lovers, former lovers and adulterers from each of the city's boroughs, who seem totally preoccupied with themselves. This is as it should be. When you're in love, you think of no one but yourself. Even your thoughts of your loved one are about your love, because the idealized other person exists in your imagination. John Donne got this right.
The movie lives at the intersection between Woody Allen and “Sex and the City.” Like "The Brothers McMullen" Burns' first film, it is about people who spend a lot of time analyzing their motives and measuring their happiness. The film is framed by interviews in which the lovers address the camera directly, talking about themselves and about love, and from their comments, we learn one thing for sure: Lovers recycle ancient truisms that have little to do with how they will behave tomorrow or later tonight.
Like Jacques Rivette's “Va Savoir,” another recent release, the film begins with three couples, and then readjusts the pairings. It actually begins with 3.5 couples, because Griffin (Stanley Tucci) is married to Annie (Heather Graham) and is having an affair with Ashley (Brittany Murphy). He is a dentist, Annie is a real estate agent and Ashley is a student at NYU. Judging by recent Manhattan comedies, these are the three most popular occupations in town, after police work and prostitution.
Griffin fancies himself a seducer. “I think you have the look of the new millennium,” he tells Ashley the first time he sees her. Anyone who considers this a compliment deserves Griffin. Burns himself plays Tommy, who works for a show not unlike “Entertainment Tonight” (where Burns himself once worked). A love affair has ended, and he has moved out of his apartment and is living temporarily with his boss Carpo (Dennis Farina), who plays the field and advises Tommy to do likewise. Carpo is the kind of man who believes seduction is all in the cologne. His advice: “A wife and children will drive you to an early grave.” Tommy meets Maria (Rosario Dawson), who teaches rich kids in a private school. She is divorced from Benjamin (David Krumholtz), who supports himself as a doorman while dreaming of a career in music. He cannot believe she left him. We cannot believe she married him. He is a needy whiner who spends way too much energy believing it is only a matter of time until they get back together again. First he seems obnoxious, then you feel a little sorry for him, then he wears down your pity, and you figure he got what was coming to him.
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