MEETING CLIVE OWEN

April 29, 2008 at 1:35 am (pop culture) (, , )

So very hot.

Last Friday I had a nearly front row seat to the Tribeca Film Festival’s Filmmaker Talk with Clive Owen. One of my favorite directors, Mary Harron, led a truly craptastic interview (on her part). In person, Owen does not disappoint, he is tall, rugged, and dressed in an impeccably tailored suit. Not to mention gracious, funny and British – always a plus. While Harron weirdly neglected to ask him about Sin City or Inside Man, two of his biggest films, the din of the Apple Store below made it difficult to hear his responses. Nevertheless, the crowd actually asked some pretty good questions about his future plans and past regrets and he seemed happy to answer, if slightly restless probably because he is in the middle of filming Duplicity with Closer co-star Julia Roberts. If the attendees did not get as much of the inside track on Mr. Owen as we would have liked, we got to bask in his glow for an hour and a half which suits me just fine.

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Why Miley, why?

April 29, 2008 at 1:16 am (pop culture) (, , , )

I pretty much predicted Miley Cyrus’ slow descent into skankdom as soon as I noticed that her hemlines were going up and necklines drooping down with every awards show appearence. Although her parents claim to be Christians concerned first and foremost with their meal ticket’s kid’s well being, I think we all know what that really means having watched Beyonce’s Jehovah’s Witness dad, Jessica Simpson’s creepy pastor dadager (dad and manager all into one!) and Britney’s Baptist mom pimp their kids out worse than Terrence Howard in Hustle and Flow. But I’ve never been so unhappy to be right.

I’m sure we all know preschoolers and girls 6-13 that for some reason find Cyrus’ barely passable pop insanely entertaining and aesthetic snobbery aside, I was fine with that because she wasn’t flashing vag or trying to be Lolita redux. Now, with the internet pictures of her flashing neon bra and draped across her boyfriends lap, she comes out with this Annie Leibowitz shot which wouldn’t be scandalous at all if she wasn’t 15 frakkin years old. A high school sophomore and most certainly under the age of consent. So why do a topless, satin bedsheet draped, come hither over-the-shoulder pic in the first place? Was there no other age appropriate scenario that established photog Leibowitz could think of? I think it’s just as likely that Cyrus’ handlers orchestrated this in a savvy move to catch the attention of an older post-Disney audience similar to the recent oops nudie shots from Vanessa Hudgens – another mildly talented teen from the channel.  Although she has issued an apology for this shot, it seems as if it is more to do damage control for the angry soccer moms than genuine. I predict a full break out as the new pop tartlett for Miley in about another year and a half. Expect Maxim covers and a whole good girl gone bad PR campaign to go with it.

Tragically, this newest teen pop star scandal confirms two sad facts: 1) it proves to little girls that their worth and value is the sum total of their body parts and their desirability to drooling middle aged men. 2) that I was right in never, ever wanting to have a daughter.

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Best Actors on the Planet? I think so.

April 24, 2008 at 9:00 pm (pop culture) (, , , , , , , , , )

Normally I think that lists make for lazy blog posts. And they do. But recently I caught a glimpse of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s IMBD site while searching for Charlie Kaufman’s new film Synedoche, New York. Many of the message board posts were about whether he was indeed the “Best Actor on the Planet” or “annoying and overrated”. It got me thinking about who I thought were the best (male) actors in the world – people who have given consistently great, epic performances elevating even subpar films into art. Undoubtedly some deserving people will be left off this list but for what it’s worth these people, in no particular order, are truly badass and a testament to their craft.

1. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Obviously, this entire list was inspired by him. I’m always amazed at how Hoffman throws himself into each role with a complete lack of vanity and delivers searing, intense performances of troubled characters in the midst of often desperate circumstances. I’ve yet to see Capote (I know, I know) but his performances in Boogie Nights, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Happiness, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous and Twister — yup, that’s right, Twister — are more than enough to make his case. He’s got the chops and integrity of a character actor workhorse, but luckily for us, he has recently been able to step out as leading man (Capote) or as the main actor in an ensemble piece (Before the Devil.., Synedoche, NY).

2. Tommy Lee Jones – I adore how Tommy Lee Jones’ no nonsense, Texas straight-talkin is inextricable from his Ivy League intellect. His measured, weary performance in No Country for Old Men was overlooked as was his moving neo-western Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. This man’s man has been setting the screen on fire since TV’s Lonesome Dove and best of all as Doolitte, Loretta Lynn’s husband in Coal Miner’s Daughter, or what I like to call the best bio-pic ever, EVER. Consistently thoughtful and explosive with a wry sense of humor thrown in, he’s just about perfect.

3. Daniel Auteuil – Often called the French Robert De Niro (see below) because of their physical resemblance and sheer level of commitment to every role. Auteuil is equally adept in contemporary and costume dramas, thriller and comedies. His “everyman” bearing renders him immediately relatable if not always sympathetic or likeable – a choice which sets him apart from many actors who turn unsavory characters into (anti)heroes to win over the audience. Whereas Auteuil’s men are often conflicted, flawed and self-absorbed but honest until the final reel. A mega-star in France for Jean De Florette, Un Coeur en Hiver (one of the best films of all time IMHO),and Queen Margot, he’s best known in the U.S. for Michael Haneke’s film Caché.

4. Robert De Niro – What is there to say about the man who starred in Godfather 2, yowzaGoodfellas, Cape Fear, Wag the Dog, Awakenings, Raging Bull, Brazil, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver? His filmography spans the list of the best American films of all time. Recently he has been picking silly projects (Godsend, Rocky and Bullwinkle) that are slowly eroding his legacy through caricature. But even if De Niro were to make films with Hannah Montana or the Jones Brothers for the rest of his life, he is still an icon (and decent director) that disappears into every role and lets his work speak for itself. He should also be given credit for choosing to age gracefully unlike a certain Godfather 2 co-star who looks botoxed and orange. How unseemly.

5. Koji Yakusho – In the name of full disclosure, I must say that I am totally in love with this man. I became a Yakusho fan after viewing him as brooding cop in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s superior thriller/urban alienation nightmare, Cure. He’s starred in at least five other Kurosawa films of varying degrees of quality (Doppelganger, Pulse, Retribution, Charisma, Seance), worked with master Shohei Imamura in Cannes Palme d’or winner The Eel and his kooky tribute to female sexuality Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, not to mention crossover hit Shall we Dance? (which spawned an awful remake). Yakusho also co-starred in the classic Itami Juzo film, Tampopo as a kinky gangster epicure and Americans saw him in Memoirs of a Geisha and Babel. Considered to represent the average everyman type, Yakusho’s disarming personality leaves you unprepared for many of his character’s violent outbursts and haunted pasts. He is such a relaxed and natural actor that the lingering power of his performances will come as a shock.

6. Morgan Freeman- I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes that Morgan Freeman WAS actually some of the characters he has portrayed – God (Bruce Almighty), the President (Deep Impact), your best friend (Shawshank Redemption), the narrator of your life (March of the Penguins), or maybe just your grandfather. Brings incredible gravitas, depth and warmth to his roles. Too often relegated to playing the lead white actor’s sidekick, friend, martyr, driver etc…Freeman transcends his supporting roles with the reassuring wisdom and dignity in his voice and bearing.

7. Max Von Sydow – is still alive my friends! The lead from so many of Bergman’s iconic films like The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring and Winter Light was also in The Exorcist as the elderly priest and continues to make movies — unfortunately Rush Hour 3 is one of them but a man has to eat I suppose. There is something grand and regal yet achingly human about Von Sydow so when you look at him as a angst-ridden knight, grieving father and avenger, world-weary priest or the devil himself in Needful Things, he’s seems to encompass all of the pitfalls and potential of humanity at once.

8. Gary Oldman– Cool yet with the latent malevolence of a coiled snake. This dynamic actor is known best for his portrayal of characters on the fringe of society and morality. His most memorable scenes are the craziest — the screaming, pill-popping cop in The Professional, as Sirius Black in Harry Potter, raving Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, dreadlocked, white rasta in True Romance and the self-destructive Sid Vicious. Oldman is underused recently and hopefully he has a few lead roles lined up for the future.

9. Jeffrey Wright – Oldman’s costar in Basquiat, Wright is a genius at playing haunted, troubled characters. He is without a doubt the most underrated actor on this list and is unfortunately effected by the lack of roles for black actors. Otherwise, there is no doubt that he would be up for the same roles as Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his ilk. Wright’s subtlety and uncanny way of showing a character’s inner life through gestures and voice inflections are profoundly affecting. In a change of pace from his usually heavy roles, Wright recently played the upbeat supporting character Winston in Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers and nearly stole the film from Bill Murray. Stunning performances also in Angels in America, The Manchurian Candidate, and Lackawanna Blues.

10. Daniel Day Lewis – Bill the Butcher, Daniel Planiview, Hawkeye, John Proctor, Christy Brown, Gerry Conlon… just like the titans he plays, Day-Lewis is not even an actor anymore, he is: a force of nature, a weapon of mass destruction, a bad mutha-shut-yo-mouth, and he will drink your MILKSHAKE! Nuff said.

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Why I support the writer’s strike

November 7, 2007 at 4:13 am (news, politics, pop culture) (, , )

_1304774_strike2_300.jpgI intern at a talent management agency so I get to look at the big project books of all the films in production over the next year. The William Morris Agency sends them out so that the guys I work for can scramble to get their best talent in meetings with the casting directors for those films. For the past couple of months while scanning the upcoming flix I noticed that most production companies were busting ass to get as many finished scripts into production “pre-strike”. It seemed a given that this writer’s strike was gonna happen – not to worry though, most of those scripts were formulaic crap starring Channing Tatum or Gerard Butler types or more bloody remakes anyway (Straw Dogs and The Magnificent Seven, for Chrissakes? Is anything holy to those bloodsuckers in LA????!) .

People in New York can be surprisingly whiny about strikes. When the MTA workers striked for a few days people grumbled copiously about everything and the union head was thrown into jail. This should scare the shit out of all of us because were it not for unions and the influence of socialist politics on the workforce in general, we wouldn’t have stuff like overtime, child protection laws, minimum wage, sick leave, etc… Sure, unions can be corrupt, racist and exclusive, however without their collective bargaining power the indifferent market and greedy fat cat capitalists would steamroll all over workers’ rights. Check out the minimum wages and benefits in states that have anti-union policies (Texas, for instance) and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

We might not be talking about blue-collar workers here, when we talk about the writers strike, however writers have been the underdogs of the Hollywood machine since cinema began. Unless they are a hyphanate writer-director-actor or exceptionally successful like Charlie Kaufman and Paddy Chayefsky from a while back, writers are woefully underappreciated and considered unglamourous. Now, they are trying to secure a bigger piece of the digital pie for themselves as films, TV and other scripted entertainment segues into non-traditional screening venues like your iPod or more DVDs. And why shouldn’t they? Directors, producers and talent make the big bucks filming the stuff that these guys and gals pen. If Hollywood is a big shiny mansion then writers are the beams and 2 by 4s that keep it from sinking into the tar pits.

Let the writers have their extra 4 cents in DVD revenue and if I have to watch reality shows for the next year due to the lack of produced material from the strike I’ll gladly tune in to I Love New York 2 or American Idol season 82 in the meantime. Honestly, that’s what I’d probably be watching in the first place.

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I met my friggin idol – David Cronenberg…

November 6, 2007 at 9:51 pm (news, pop culture) (, , , )

cronenberg.jpg…Like a month ago, but I’ve been busy with PhD apps OK? One of the great things about living in New York is that you have access to all sorts of random screenings and appearences that often materialize at a moment’s notice. If I hadn’t been at my internship where we get the daily Variety I would have never known about the Museum of Moving Images screening of Eastern Promises followed by a Q&A with director, the illustrious Cronenberg, and the screenwriter Steve Kloves (Dirty Pretty Things). After missing a panel interview with other idol, Wes Craven, due to a bizarre food poisoning incident and getting the date wrong for an interview with Eli Roth, I had resigned myself to never meeting any more of the directors that I admired (except for Tarantino and Spike Lee ages ago). So, when this glittering opportunity presented itself I jumped and bought a ticket the same day.

Of course, my admiration for Craven and Roth is based on nostalgia and my indiscriminate love for all slasher cinema instead of a deep intellectual connection to their work (except for the Elm Street series which is brilliant). Cronenberg’s films on the other hand have inflamed parts of my brain with their bizarre bodily transformation, gender relations, and existentialist themes. Videodrome and ExistenZ alone ushered me into film school, mind ablaze with questions about the nature of reality, representation and how media changes our subjectivity. Needless to say, I was SO EXCITED.

Eastern Promises didn’t disappoint (see www.cinemattraction.com for a review)- its a grave tale of organized crime, violence and rebirth with fantastic performances by all of the actors. But as the credits rolled my heart pounded. He was coming out on the stage. I expected a somewhat pompousand creepy intellectual droning on about theory and philosophy.. I never expected him to be so funny! Cronenberg spent the next 30 minutes poking fun at his pretentions, answering even the most boring questions earnestly and with enthusiasm, and amusing us with anecdotes about the production. Everyone else brought DVDs and pictures to sign but the only thing I had on me was my new volume of Tales from the Crypt reprints. Cronenberg remarked on how cool the book was and how those comics used to scare the shit out of him when he was a kid. I muttered something about Videodrome being the reason that I study film in school and thanked him. He signed it and I left more enamored than I had been coming in. If you ever need a personal assistant Mr. Cronenberg, I’m your woman!

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Will Bigham wins “On the Lot” million $ prize

August 22, 2007 at 1:10 am (pop culture)

will_bigham.jpgYay, Will!  So after gems like “Lucky Penny” and  “The Yes Men” America actually voted for the best (arguably) contestant.  The finale was predictably padded but the judges seemed to be relatively lucid and for once, Adrianna Costa had the twins firmly tucked away.  I felt like Jason was a Brett Ratner in training so I’m definitely happy for Will and his family and can’t wait to see what see what he comes up with next.

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With friends like these, Ms. Spears doesn’t need enemies.

August 9, 2007 at 5:57 pm (pop culture, snark)

Ok, I’ve certainly indulged in my share of Britney bashing glee over the past two years. Who hasn’t? There’s nothing better than watching an overhyped commercial product take a  swandive into scandalous oblivion. For one, I personally blame her and her handlers for making the sexualization of pre-tweens mainstream and acceptable. And 60% of her music is crap (with the other 40% being bubblegum goodness). This we all know.

But post-hair shaving, car-attacking, bad weave having, photo-shoot drama queen 3847-bs13t.jpg Britney is actually kind of sad.  Now US Weekly comes out with a story and photos from a dancer who hooked up with Britney in a hot tub after a video shoot.   I agree that her behavior and dress as of late have been tramp-tacular but at least a little criticism needs to be directed at the vultures around Britney that are literally circling her, waiting for every little fuck-up so that they can sell their stories to gossipmongers and make a name for themselves. What kind of un-gentlemanly douchebag is this guy to hook up with someone and blab about it to the press the next day?  Who hasn’t at that age had an ill-advised hook up with someone that they met at a party or bar or at work (and probably in a hot tub as well)?

The only thing that Britney is guilty of is being incredibly stupid by believing that anything that she does is private at her level of fame.  On a woman to woman level I’m wondering why her parents or friends aren’t helping her out. I know if I was going hogwild on the front pages of InTouch every week, my parents would snatch me back to Texas so fast my head would spin- even though I’m 27 years old and that’s not to mention my friends who’d be calling me saying “Why are you acting like a vapid skank? Get it together!”

Ellen Pompeo gave an interview in a magazine blasting the media for speculating about her weight and concentrating on “Young girls who are famous for nothing but being rich and famous”. Which is funny because I feel that way about Ellen Pompeo considering that she sucks on Grey’s Anatomy and I don’t know anyone who watches the show that likes her. But she’s right.  There are plenty of young actresses that conduct themselves with dignity – Keira Knightly, Rosario Dawson, Natalie Portman, even teenyboppers like Amanda Bynes aren’t ho-ing it up in every bar and club in L.A. and N.Y. More about them, less about trash, and in the meantime can someone give this girl a break and a hand?

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Best TV show you’ve never heard of – “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares”

August 8, 2007 at 8:31 pm (pop culture)

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Happy happy joy joy for BBC – America! I’ve had a bit of a crush on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey since the first season of “Hell’s Kitchen”, there’s just something about cranky British men that I dig. He has a rugged Daniel Craig-ish vibe about him and he can cook – together these are the two most important qualities I look for in a man. I discovered “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” while flipping around one Sunday during a marathon airing of the show leading up to the next season. Now, they are making an American version this show called simply “Kitchen Nightmares”, but it can’t possibly be as entertaining as the BBC original.

The set up is that Ramsey goes to failing restaurants all over the UK and revamps their menu and business practices within a week. Hilarity ensues when Ramsey starts in on the often clueless and inexperienced chefs and owners blasting them for their stupid financial decisions or pretentious menus. Of course, there is always a bit of resistance on the restaurant to change, even though they were the ones to request the help. Ramsey can seem abrasive and harsh but its more like tough love to rouse the workers into doing something drastic. His food philosophy is solid – use local, simple and fresh ingredients and don’t overwhelm your customers with elaborate presentations and garnishes or too many flavors. One newbie chef was pairing sausage with apricot mashed potatoes! Another owner was buying her food from a local grocery store instead of buying wholesale from a local farm, costing her twice the amount.

I’ve been a waitress or barista on and off for about 8 or 9 years and anyone who’s ever worked in the food business will immediately recognize the signs of a dying restaurant. I think the statistic is that 90% of new restaurants fail within the first year. Those aren’t great odds. It makes you wonder why anyone would want to start such a risky business venture in the first place. In most of the episodes its clear that the owners have a real passion for food, but no head for details, which is where Ramsey comes in.

The thing is that even though the chefs and owners get defensive and angry at Ramsey it’s in this particulary British way where they either repress it or manage to sound polite while they are cursing back at him. I wonder what’s going to happen when he comes to New York and tries to bully some of the chefs we have in our local establishments. He may be tall and imposing in the UK but in Brooklyn he is  liable to get stabbed getting up in the face of a surly line cook.

In general, you can’t go wrong watching just about any food show on TV – “No Reservations”, “Top Chef”, or “Next Food Network Star”. My second favorite show, “No Reservations” follows deliciously sinewy chef Anthony Bourdain as he jet sets around the globe sampling local cuisine from Iceland to Vietnam. Sometimes this includes eating rotten fermented shark meat or slurping down the still-beating heart of a snake which of course is supposed to make you more virile and “strong”. He is the Hunter S. Thompson/Lou Reed of traveling chefs but funnier and more sober, sometimes. Bourdain wrote the bestselling Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, two compulsively readable books which offer a testosterone soaked glimpses into the life of chefs and line cooks. I used to buy extra copies of Kitchen Confidential and hand them out to waiters and chefs I worked with, everybody loved it.

It’ll be interesting to see how Ramsey fares outside of “Hell’s Kitchen” with his Americanized TV show. He’s already being sued by one of the first restaurant owners who claims that tales of his chef’s incompetence was exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Perhaps this remake will prove to be a more risky venture than the rest of Ramsay’s three star restaurants constantly opening around the world.

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“On the Lot’s” nutty judges

August 8, 2007 at 5:54 pm (pop culture)

Admittedly, I haven’t been watching every episode of Fox’s “On the Lot”, but the six or so times I have tuned in I’ve been pretty impressed by the short films the directors churn out every week. My pick to win is Will, the adorable balding wee man, who consistently delivers fun and well-made stories. However, considering this country’s movie-going habits (can anyone explain how I Now Pronounce Chuck & Larry is still in the top ten?) the immature but slick Jason will probably walk home with the grand prize. Either way, while one may not be my cup of tea, both men are talented and deserve a chance to pursue their dream.

gm.jpg I wish I could say the same thing for the show’s loopy ass judges Carrie Fisher and Garry Marshall. The first time I watched the show I remember being utterly repulsed by Marshall’s repeated references to the attractiveness of the female directors and the host, Adrianna Costa.
Granted, each show Costa makes a point to dress in an overly formal evening gown that fisher_carrie.jpgprovides full visual access to the “girls” in all their glory. Every time I change the channel I have to remember that she isn’t a “Deal or no Deal” model but actually is the host, although for all the insight she provides into the show’s proceedings she may as well be just there holding an empty suitcase. Nonetheless, Marshall’s comments were lecherous and his obvious distaste for the female directors who ventured into gross out humor was predicated by his outdated suggestion that they weren’t dealing with “women’s issues” or making use of their “female voice”. As if women can only talk about bearing children or crying over a man in their films. If I made a film about my period and played it in graphic detail for laughs, then arguably that would be a “woman’s issue” made with my “female voice” (indeed, my female part itself) , yet I don’t think he’d be amused. Not only that, but when was the last time Garry Marshall directed a good movie –Georgia Rule anyone? People keep bringing up Pretty Woman, which was 17 frakkin years ago. He mostly directs sappy chick flicks like Beaches (which I LOVE) and Raising Helen (which I HATE) and last time I checked, he was a man. By his gender role theory he should be tackling Michael Bay material.

As for Carrie Fisher, normally a fabulously funny and generally awesome gal, comes off like a combination of Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Incoherently rambling the same 4 or 5 phrases about everyone’s work and often just not getting where the director is going with tone or theme. Occasionally, the gears will start working and she’ll pop off a couple of amazingly clever zingers – but overall it’s a pretty dismal performance from a woman who is often PAID to be a script doctor and punch up flat dialogue.

Therefore, it falls to the guest judges to provide constructive criticism and assessments of the directors’ works. Last night a surprisingly serious F. Gary Gray had incisive but friendly critiques of the flaws and highlights of each film. Gary Ross and D.J. Caruso also stand out in my mind as good judges.

On the Lot is a fabulous idea for a series and I hope it sticks around for a while so that aspiring filmmakers get a shot at the big time, but the show has to have a serious sit-down with Garry and Carrie and get them to start making sense!

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Film legend Ingmar Bergman passes away

July 30, 2007 at 7:02 pm (news, pop culture)

The brilliant Swedish director who gave us the indelible image of a shrouded grim reaper playing chess with a forlorn knight, has quietly met his own fate at the age 89. Ingmar Bergman, the winner of four Oscars and director of over 50 films, reportedly passed away in his sleep of natural causes. Although I hear the iconic Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries are often cited as fan favorites, I have always been particularly moved by Through A Glass Darkly, and The Virgin Spring. I have yet to see his later works such as Persona and Fanny and Alexander, but now they shoot to the top of my Netflix. First Vonnegut and now Bergman…the world can’t afford to lose any more great artists.

For an in depth obituary on Bergman http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070730/people_nm/sweden_bergman_dc_5

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