Hidden Netflix Gems – Walking and Talking

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down. 

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has been compared to the legendary Woody Allen because of her strong command of character and dialogue, not to mention the fact that her films tend to revolve around brainy people having trouble with their relationships, both romantic and familial. The comparison is apt and certainly not without foundation – Holofcener is the stepdaughter of Allen’s late producer Charles H. Joffe, and she found her first film industry work on Allen films such as Hannah and Her Sisters, on which she was an apprentice editor. However, despite their shared propensity for talky comedic dramas about New Yorkers who are sometimes a bit too smart for their own good, Holofcener’s films display a sensibility that is uniquely hers, as channeled through her favorite actor, Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all four of her films thus far.

Holofcener’s debut feature, Walking and Talking, takes a warm and insightful look at the mixed feelings of Amelia (Keener), a woman in her mid-30s whose longtime best friend, Laura (Anne Heche), is getting married. The news sends Amelia into a sort of “biological clock” crisis in which she confronts her conflicting desires to settle down and find happiness the way other women her age seem to be doing, while still wanting the relative freedom and ease of a single life. As she attempts to navigate this difficulty, she receives advice and moral support from Laura, her fiancée, Frank (Todd Field), and Amelia’s former lover and good friend, Andrew (Liev Schreiber), as well as a therapist (Joseph Siravo). Though she has been ambivalent at best about the prospect up until now, she finally decides to begin dating Bill (Kevin Corrigan), a video store clerk who has been flirting with her for some time now.

Walking and Talking is at its best in its portrayal of this courtship, with Amelia gradually realizing that the man who she has previously considered to be beneath her (she calls him “The Ugly Guy” when speaking of him to Laura and others) just might be a much better match for her than she thought, and in its portrayal of the friendship between Amelia and Andrew. It’s so rare in life to maintain a close, caring friendship with a former lover, but it does happen and, in my experience, it happens very much the way it is shown here. Their scenes together are especially warm and funny, but above all it is the dynamic between Amelia and Bill that makes this film rise above the average comedy. Far from being simply a geek or loser, as Amelia originally sees him, Bill is much smarter, funnier and deeper than she (or we, the audience) first assume; in fact, Amelia comes to realize that he just might be too good for her. Like Bill, Walking and Talking is much more than the sum of its parts, and well worth a look.

  

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Interview with Please Give Writer-Director Nicole Holofcener

After studying film at Columbia University, writer-director Nicole Holofcener made her first feature, Walking and Talking, in 1996, and she has been going strong ever since, directing feature films such as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money and Please Give, as well as working in television, for acclaimed series such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Bored to Death and Parks and Recreation. I had a chance to speak briefly with Holofcener on the occasion of Columbia’s panel on women filmmakers.

Ezra Stead: There is a striking realism and intimacy to your films, going back to the first one, Walking and Talking, and I know a lot of material is taken from your own life or that of your friends. Is your apparent muse, Catherine Keener, generally playing the Nicole Holofcener alter-ego, or is your own personality spread out more among all your characters?

Nicole Holofcener: I guess I could say she has been my muse, but in a couple of movies she has not played the “me” character. She certainly does play me well, and all the characters, I suppose, are a part of me, and even if that character she’s playing is based on someone else, there’s still pieces of me. She has been a muse, definitely.

ES: I read somewhere, in another interview with you, where you said your friends say, “Don’t say that around Nicole, it’ll be in a movie.”

NH: I know, just one friend in particular; she’s very nervous [laughs]. If somebody has shame, I suppose they don’t want to be revealed. Most people’s shame is not very interesting or theatrical, so don’t worry I’m not gonna write about it. Whatever you’re doing that you’re embarrassed about, I don’t care [laughs].

ES: So in general, your films are fairly autobiographical, or was Walking and Talking more that way?

NH: No, they all are. I mean, none of them are real, none of them come from things that really happened; I suppose there are moments that really happened and lines that really happened, but most of it is made up but, I would say, based on me and my experiences, and my friends.

ES: What future projects are you working on now, if you can tell us?

NH: I’d love to tell you. I’m so glad I have that, thank god, it’s so hard when there isn’t one. Yeah, I’m in pre-pre-production for a movie that I wrote that Fox Searchlight has been making, and I start shooting in August, I think. I hope.

ES: Untitled, so far?

NH: It is. Not fun. I’m not good at titling things. The only title I really like, that seems correct, is Friends with Money, and that’s what I wrote when I first started writing it, you know, this is gonna be about “friends with money,” it was easy. This one has Julia Louis-Dreyfus in it, and James Gandolfini, so I’m happy to publicize my next movie.

ES: I also read that you were involved at one point in directing the Seth Rogen / Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. Is that you’re still interested in pursuing – directing features written by other people?

NH: I’m still gonna direct 50/50 [laughs]. It’s something I am very interested in, and I’m sad that I didn’t get to direct it, but it was family stuff, and that’s okay, it turned out well. I liked the movie.

ES: But you are interested in directing someone else’s script?

NH: Yes, if I fall in love with it. I really want to, have to, fall in love with it. Yes, please send me things. Send me good things [laughs].

ES: You’ve directed a lot of TV as well. What are some of the differences in TV vs. feature film directing?

NH: There’s not much difference. The television shows that I’ve worked on have all been single camera. It feels like I’m working on a little film. It differs from show to show. A show like Enlightened, I feel like I’m working on a movie; a show like Parks and Recreation, I’m at a party. I mean, it’s different. I guess, to some extent, working on a television show is easier because it’s not my problem, in the end – I didn’t write it, I didn’t create it – and for the same reason, it makes me more anxious because I have someone else that I wanna please, besides myself, and I really only work on shows that I respect and am proud to have my name on, so I really do wanna please the writer, and the creator. Other than that, they’re pretty similar.

ES: So you think that, when and if you end up directing someone else’s script, it’ll be similar to that?

NH: I hope so, yeah. I hope that I have that relationship where I turn to the writer and say, “You happy with that? Is that how you saw it?” That’s a real collaboration.

  

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No box office surprises: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” tops the charts; “Furry Vengeance” bites it

A Nightmare on Elm StreetI’m going to keep in short and snappy, especially since things have worked pretty much they way they looked to way back on Thursday night. So, yes, as expected, the critically dissed remake/reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” did scarily well for Warners, earning an estimated $32.2 million or so as detailed by Box Office Mojo. At the #2 and #3 spot are the leggy successes of the moment, Paramount/Dreamworks “How to Train Your Dragon” and Fox’s “Date Night.” They earned estimates of $10.8 and $7.6 million respectively.

In other news…Oh, for a universe where someone not named Frank Miller made “The Spirit” and cast Brendan Fraser in the part he was born to play as Will Eisner’s affable-but-tough Denny Colt.  In that universe the accomplished actor wouldn’t have to take parts in apparently horrid comedies like Summit Entertainment’s “Furry Vengeance,” which climbed all the way up form 0% on Rotten Tomatoes earlier to a rocking 02% here on Sunday nigh because of a positive review from voice-in-the-wilderness Chris Hewitt. Still, the other 48 RT critics apparently spoke for the majority of filmgoers. The comedy earned a fairly pitiful estimated $6.5 million on its opening weekend to hit the #5 spot, despite plenty of publicity and screens for a wide release family film.

In the world of limited releases, the top per-screen earner was the extremely well-reviewed comedy-drama from critical favorite Nicole Holofcener and star Catherine Keener, “Please Give,” which earned a rocking estimated $25,600 or so for Sony Classics on five art-house screens over the weekend. Among other indie films doing notable business was the offbeat comic documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” which earned an estimated $182,000 on 20 screens. “Harry Brown” starring Michael Caine also debuted strongly, earning an estimate $180,000 on 19 screens for Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing very well for a mogul whose been dead since 1974.

Michael Caine is

  

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Weekend box office preview: It’s a “Nightmare” all around

So, we have just two major releases this week and while one is hard-edged remake of a franchise-spawning eighties horror hit and the other is a purported family film, to me all signs this weekend in terms of major new releases (and one tiny release) scream: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” For the most part, the critics aren’t disagreeing.

For starters, we have “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which brings us Jackie Earle Haley in the role made famous by Robert Englund — the child-murderer of everyone’s dreams with the specially augmented fingers, Freddy Kruger. Now, as someone who is such a wuss that he was unable to get past the first twenty minutes or so of the original on VHS — that Wes Craven guy really knows how to scare people — I’m not really one to judge. However, the critics are thoroughly unimpressed with the new version directed by another music video alum, Samuel Bayer, granting it a dismal 11% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.

nightmare_on_elm_street01

Still, even if the original version is regarded as something of a classic today by critics, this movie has “critic proof” written all over it. Indeed, jolly Carl DiOrio, assures us that it’s “tracking” very well and will top the box office with “as much as” $30 million for Warner Brothers. He also gets a bit less jolly in his video this week and actually complains about the use of the word “reboot” to describe films like “Nightmare.” Well, considering that you’re starting over an existing franchise as if the original had never happened, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call it. It’s not only a remake.

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Wild paranormal law-abiding stepdads to rule box office, almost for sure

Where the Wild Things Are

If you’re craving variety and unpredictability in your movie weekend, then this weekend is for you. Still, most of the smart money seems to agree that the week’s likely fiscal winner is Spike Jonze’s new PG-rated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s multi-layered picture book classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.”  The family film boasts an outstanding cast, both onscreen and as voice talent, including Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Forest Whitaker. It’s also got a director synonymous with high-quality and not-quite-mainstream fare and its hep cred is further bolstered by the name of bestselling author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers on the screenplay. Best of all, commercially speaking, it’s based on a book that’s been read and loved by practically everyone. All told, it seems like a canny blending of mainstream recognition, family appeal, and more than a dash of arthouse appeal, but therein may lie the difficulty.

This is a film that really should bit a big hit with critics, and its advertising certainly sells the film’s visual beauty — always a plus with cinephile critics. However, it turns out our David Medskar’s very mild 3/5 star review is pretty typical of the critical reaction. Rating a good-but-not-great 68% Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scoreboard, critics are expressing sentiments similar to Dave, who found it “lacking in terms of emotional weight.” Since emotional weight — laughter and tears, etc. — not arresting filmmaking technique — is what most people are looking for at the movies, you have to wonder about whether the film will show any legs over the long term. Still, jolly Carl DiOrio’s prediction of a $25-30 million dollar weekend seems more than reasonable given the audience’s voracious appetite for strong family films with cross-generational appeal. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to extend the run of the 3-D double bill of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” could cut into the “Wild” numbers just a bit with a terrific package of tried-and-true family fair bolstered by the appeal of 3-D.

Gerard Butler and Jamey Foxx in
For some decidedly non-kid-friendly fair, Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer’s “Law Abiding Citizen” boasts two more or less A-list leads as Jamie Foxx portrays as a careerist D.A. pitted against against tragedy stricken family man turned imprisoned vigilante serial killer played by Gerard Butler. I think Butler has starred in like 200 million mainstream movies this year. None of those movies has been a hit with the critics so far, and “Citizen” is no exception.

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