Grace of Monaco, Missing Reels, etc.

So Grace of Monaco is apparently a big loser. In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw’s takedown says it’s “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire risk.” Other reviews are more kind; in Variety, Scott Foundas calls it a “cornball melodrama,” and for Vanity Fair, Jordan Hoffman allows that it’s “entertaining and watchable,” if ridiculous, which sounds like a grudging endorsement to me even though the subhead calls it “bad.” A writer for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang,  describes a screening punctuated by guffaws from the assembled critics. In Time, Richard Corliss at least defends Nicole Kidman’s titular performance (if only David Thomson were at Cannes this year!), but the bottom line is there are seven reviews at at this writing, and none of them are “fresh.”

James Gray on his influences. Man, director James Gray is a terrific interview. Intelligent, respectful, and fairly candid. On the occasion of the release of his The Immigrant, Steve Erickson talked him up about all the different films he swipes ideas from, from Rocco and His Brothers to A Short Film About Love. Stephanie Zacharek reviews The Immigrant, which is getting a very limited release: “In today’s movie-marketing climate, The Immigrant probably has too much feeling for its own good. But anyone who cares about movies, and about what movies can be, should try to see it on the big screen.”

Classic film specialist Farran Smith Nehme, aka The Siren, is publishing her first novel. Do you work at a bookstore or are you somehow otherwise engaged in bookselling? If you can figure out a way into Book Expo America, the annual industry trade show that takes place  at Manhattan’s unlovable Javits Center, why not show up on Thursday morning and pick up a signed galley of Missing Reels? It’s by New York Post film critic Farran Smith Nehme, perhaps better known online as blogger Self-Styled Siren, and it’s coming from a real publisher, film-friendly The Overlook Press. It’s set against the backdrop of the New York repertory movie-theater scene in the late 1980s; the synopsis reminds me a little of the Theodore Roszak classic cult-film yarn Flicker, but maybe with a happier ending! She says she’ll be signing books around 11:30 a.m. at the Overlook booth; in my experience you may or may not be able to get your hands on a galley if you miss the event.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, and Jack Lemmon.
From Irma la Douce (Wilder, 1963).

[via chained and perfumed]



Visually this is so rich that it’s a shame I didn’t care much about the characters, especially once the obligatory revelatory flashbacks started unspooling. Park’s oddly cropped compositions and strangely timed edits have a discomfiting elegance that goes a long way, but he’s less in control of story — which is not as important in an exercise buoyed by flamboyance (cf. Oldboy) than it is in the kind of Hitchcockian suspense thriller Stoker occasionally emulates. Still, as female coming-of-age yarns go, this one is suitably creepy and appropriately nails a sensation of being turned on by the bad boys, though you know they’ll bite you once they get under your skirt.

DVD Traffic Report: January 22, 2008 – January 29, 2008



4 by Agnes Varda (Criterion)

Among the most important female directors* in film history, Agnes Varda may best be remembered for crashing the boys’ club that was the Nouvelle Vague with Cleo from 5 to 7, her 1962 study in real-time anxiousness — the title character hangs around in Paris, awaiting the results of a cancer biopsy. But she was already on the scene in 1956, when she made La Pointe Courte, a film-school standby and an important precursor to the French New Wave. This boxed set collects both of those high-water marks along with Le Bonheur (1965), the well-regarded Vagabond (1985) and a full load of extras. I haven’t seen it myself, but it’s on my list.

* No, there aren’t many of them. Another good reason to investigate the great ones.

Buy it from 4 by Agnès Varda (La Pointe Courte, Cléo from 5 to 7, Le bonheur, Vagabond) – Criterion Collection

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Sony)

How many times do you have to buy Life of Brian, anyway? If you already own a DVD version, this latest iteration — the “Immaculate Edition” — may be missable. But if you’re like me, you haven’t watched this since the Criterion laserdisc came out and need an upgrade. (You could also ask why you spent big money on a Criterion laserdisc that you would only play once, and why you would compound that fiscal error by sinking even more money into a DVD that you’re likely to only play once — but then you wouldn’t be like me.) My copy (Blu-ray) hasn’t arrived from yet, but it looks like this one contains the same five deleted scenes and the same twin commentary tracks as the Criterion version, which means I can thrill again to the sound of distinguished Python Terry Gilliam griping about how much better this film would have been if the group had let him direct. (He’s probably right, of course.) As Python goes, I honestly prefer the more madcap Holy Grail — but this one has the distinction of being perhaps the least offensive film ever to get a worldwide reputation for blasphemy. Here’s a recent interview with John Cleese on the subject.

Buy it from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – The Immaculate Edition or Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray] (Note: says the Blu-ray version is two discs, but apparently it’s just one.)

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Margot at the Wedding


Writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale)

goes Woody Allen one better with this dysfunctional-family dramedy that manages

to be psychologically astute as well as wickedly funny. Margot (Nicole Kidman)

and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are estranged sisters reunited on the

occasion of Pauline’s marriage at their childhood home somewhere in New England. (Jack Black plays the bridegroom as a rotund

little ball of insecurity.) The needy, scattered Pauline doesn’t have her life

together, but Margot is a real piece of work, lashing out at her sister, her

brother-in-law-to-be, and even Pauline’s redneck neighbors. The story

occasionally embraces cliché and stretches credulity, but Baumbach’s incisive writing

and direction tease out the character notes that underlie Margot’s cruelty,

adding depth to a woman who becomes less and less sympathetic, spinning her

wheels desperately in an effort to find traction in the failings of those

around her. You feel for the gawky but sweet son she keeps in tow (even as she

cuckolds his father), but not for Margot herself — it’s a rare American film

that revolves around such an unlikable character. Evocative cinematography — no

shadows, only shades of gray — by Harris Savides rounds out a unique and unsettling

package. B+

This review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.

Notes on an Invasion


Casting Nicole Kidman in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake is borderline brilliant. Once she turns on the ice water, who can tell whether she’s human or alien? Hope the story has been reworked to take advantage of this! *

Please turn down the scary music. You’re ruining the first act by telegraphing the next two.

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FUR: an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus

Nicole Kidman in FURThere’s something playful, or willfully perverse, about casting one of the world’s most spectacularly photogenic actresses in the role of a photographer — essentially recasting the object as subject even as the movie camera lingers on her good looks. Here’s FUR: an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus, as much a spiritual sequel to Secretary as an Alice in Wonderland twist on Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Here’s a dodgy biopic from filmmakers who worked up the gumption to take on the Diane Arbus story in order to explore a peculiar fascination with all the things that are suggested by the Arbus biography: a fascination with outsiders; a seething, well-hidden dissatisfaction with the role of a housewife in 1950s New York; and an indulgent, searching sensuality hidden just below those primly belted housewife dresses.

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“You must know by now: there’s a black floor, it takes three hours, nothing happens, the outcome is terrible. Nobody should say that they were not warned.”

— Lars Von Trier

For a filmmaker who thrives on confrontation, Dogville is some kind of crowning achievement. In just under three hours’ time, Lars Von Trier’s latest provocation expertly draws audiences into, drags them through and spits them out the other side of a sad yarn from Hell’s own storybook. The unctuous narration by John Hurt offers a comforting introduction to the sleepy Rocky Mountain mining town named in the title. But as the story is told, his sing-song vocal stylings are revealed as utterly cynical and more than a little sarcastic. For his voice is also the voice of the auteur behind the film, and Von Trier takes a pretty dim view of Dogville.


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