I always like to say that no good movie really depresses me, no matter the subject matter, but that the happiest truly bad movie can really bring me down. Especially if it’s a hit. Still, when the topic is parents coping with the aftermath of the death of a child, even I might wonder if that’s pushing the sadness envelope, no matter how well handled. On the other hand, given strong material and a really good director anything is possible and this genuinely lovely trailer for “Rabbit Hole” starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, hints that the movie might be a small miracle. Take a look, you’ll be okay.
Talking about walking a fine line. I wasn’t wild about Mitchell’s hardcore non-porn, “Short Bus,” though it had its moments. On the other hand, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” was the best musical of its decade in my book and also showed that humor and the worst human pain could coexist. Could this do for the subgenre of quality “depressing” movies with Oscar-friendly actors what Mitchell did for rock and roll musicals? Possibly.
Yom Kippur is the holiday where one abstains from worldly pleasures of all kinds, including eating and drinking, and reflects on spiritual and moral values, atoning for one’s sins, and becoming a better person. In other words, just another day in Hollywood!
* The big news right now is the bombshell, but not unexpected, admission to the New York Times by Casey Affleck that “I’m Still Here” is a fictional film. Moreover, Affleck still may not have come completely clean because he stated that David Letterman wasn’t in on the truth during the notorious interview with star/co-conspirator Joaquin Phoenix. Via Company Town, we learn that Letterman writer Bill Scheft is comparing what went on to Andy Kaufman stunts and even took credit for one of the lines.
A lot of people apparently think that Affleck, perhaps more than Phoenix, has some atoning to do, including Anne Thompson. I guess I can understand her frustration at being manipulated and lied to, but ultimately, it’s only a movie and we in the show biz press have all the credibility of car salesmen. Also it is, after all, a movie. From everything I’ve heard about the film, the far greater sin would have been if it had actually been real.
* Orthodox Jewish-bred Israeli-Brit Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be well on his way to a Shana Tova (good year). He’ll be moving into the world of “serious” acting in a planned biopic about the late multitalented Queen singer/songwriter/pianist Freddie Mercury to be written by the exceedingly busy docu-drama specialist Peter Morgan. I’ve read some ethnic quibbles somewhere (sorry, lost the link) since Mercury’s family hailed from parts of Asia. It seems to me the physical resemblance tells the tale and is no more offensive than the multi-ethnic Asian-Caucasian-Native American Lou Diamond Phillips playing a Mexican-American teen in “Stand and Deliver,” despite having not a drop of Latino blood in his veins. All ethnicities are really ethnic mixes anyhow. I can’t count the number of times I assumed someone was Jewish only to find out they were actually a mix of other groups that just came out looking all Jewy or people who look Latino who are actually Eurasian, etc.
No one seems to know whether Cohen, who can sing a little, will sing his own part. Considering Mercury’s remarkable voice, I wouldn’t complain if they simply used the old recordings. If it was good enough for “The Jolson Story” it’s good enough for this.
More in my series of clips featuring fake bands from the movies inspired more or less by Aldous Snow and Infant Sorrow, the band in “Get Him to the Greek.”
As Roger Ebert notes in the DVD commentary to Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” it was kind of progressive to make a movie about an all-female rock band in 1970. They were certainly rare as hens-teeth in real life until several years later the Runaways, the Go-Gos, and finaly the Bangles broke the rock and roll gender barrier. I’m not sure how inspired any of them were were by the Carrie Nations, the fictional band in the film directed by Meyer and written by Roger Ebert, but this opening sure shows Meyer’s remarkable filmmaking approach and a hint of what kind of dialogue you can expect when you let a movie critic write a movie. (A later scene features the immortal words spoken by a Phil Spector-esque impressario: ‘This is my happening and it’s freaking me out.” That’s Ebert, baby.)
By 2001, of course, women in both real and cinematic rock bands were hardly unusual. On the other hand, there weren’t too many rock and roll band transsexuals, and there was just one victim of a botched sex change operation. Below, Hedwig and the Angry Inch explain the meaning of their name. It’s not necessarily an experience for the faint of heart, but it sure is rock and roll.
So, earlier tonight I went off on a bit of rant inspired by a really strange sounding remark made by show-biz reporter-pundit Nikki Finke to the effect that she thinks “Nine” failed at the box office not because it’s a fairly poorly received film with a vague premise, but because it wasn’t gay friendly enough. No need to repeat my snark-laden commentary, but I thought I’d present the piece below as a bit of food for movie thought.
I debated whether or not to include this sequence in my recent look at musical films of the 2000s, but opted to include another scene from John Cameron Mitchell’s amazing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” easily my choice for one of the two or three best musicals made over the last decade or so. Now it seems apt.
Given the storyline, this movie — and this scene — certainly does not lack for the LGBT awarness Finke seems to demand of a modern musical. However, the reason I’m including it here is that, despite my personal opinion that Kate Hudson is way cuter than anyone you’re about to look at (sorry, Kwahng-Yi, et al), I think Mitchell’s approach to filming a musical sequence is pretty vastly superior to Marshall’s — though they are both disciples of Bob Fosse.
Sometimes all you need to do is to keep things simple. So far, I’ve never seen Marshall try that approach. Maybe he’ll give it a shot sometime.
A funny thing happened this decade — the once dying genre of live-action movie musicals seems to have returned to the movie repertoire. As the decade closes, I can think of exactly two major westerns, but I keep remembering musicals that I should consider for this piece (including the mostly well-regarded French musical “Love Songs,” which I forgot to see before writing this, je suis désolé).
As a lifelong fan and a nearly lifelong tough critic of musicals, I love most of these films. However, this list is not so much a traditional “best of” and I’ve included one choice I definitely don’t like. (It won’t be hard to guess which.) These are musicals that I think contributed to the development of this polarizing and hard to pull off genre. They don’t hark back to times gone by or try to recapture a past glory that will never return, but actually take us into the future. That’s important now that musicals seem to have a future.
“Dancer in the Dark” (2000)
Earlier this year, the brilliant but often irritating Danish director Lars von Trier shocked hard-to-shock European festival audiences with graphic sexual violence in “Antichrist.” Back in 2000, all he needed to divide audiences was some really intense melodrama and an approach to making dark musicals partially borrowed from TV creator Dennis Potter (“Pennies from Heaven,” “The Singing Detective”).
Featuring a literally once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by singer-songwriter Björk as a young mother ready to sacrifice everything to save her son’s failing eyesight, “Dancer in the Dark” is maybe the most emotionally potent story of parental love I’ve ever seen. As a musical, it’s strange and arresting.
Like the Potter television shows and movies and “Chicago,” further down the list, the musical numbers take place in the mind of the lead character. In this case, however, it is particularly poignant as our heroine is a fan of musicals who, though she is gradually going blind, is attempting to appear in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” Below, she musically confesses her situation to a smitten Peter Stormare (yes, the guy from “Fargo”). Lumberjacks or not, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” sure seems like a long time ago.
Moulin Rouge” (2001)
As the non-musical Pixar films became the dominant template for animation and the musical form lost its last apparent movie bastion, big studios began to experiment with musicals starring humans. Unfortunately for me, the first and still one of the most popular of this decade’s high profile film musicals was Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully shot, amazingly designed, dull-witted, and over-edited “Moulin Rouge.”
Yes, this musical fan is not a fan of the musical that’s been credited with resurrecting the genre. Why? A couple of sequences work, but on the whole I expect the funny parts of a movie to make me laugh and, even more important, I like to see the movies I’m seeing. As far as I can tell, Luhrmann simply doesn’t have the confidence in this film to allow us time to view the arresting images he’s worked so hard to craft, nor does he permit time to actually see the hard work his dancers and actors put in. Editor Jil Bilcock is expected to do all the performing instead.
As for what Luhrmann and his arrangers did with the various classic songs they threw into a musical Cuisinart, the less I say about it the better. At the risk of sounding like a fogey (or a member of an 18th century Austrian court), too many notes. Way, way, way, too many notes. See if you disagree.