Monday, September 19, 2011


"Contagion," the new metathriller gorgeously shot and rather playfully directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the filmmaker's Altmanesque take on a deadly disease that takes down a good part of the world's population in record time and, disturbingly, without any promise of surcease.

As the challenged professionals who work in disease control and prevention scramble to find clues and a cure, both the disease and the film itself breathlessly crisscross among locations and among an A-list cast.

The ever-reliable Matt Damon, who has slowly become this generation's Jimmy Stewart, anchors the film as a confused, frightened Everyman, but the acting honors here go to Jude Law who really rips into his entertaining role as an unctious San Francisco blogger named Alan Krumwiede (pronounced "crumb-weedy"), a creep replete with crooked teeth, and Jennifer Ehle (that's her above), who brings a Meryl Streep calm and professionalism to the role a committed scientist.

Topping it off is Cliff Martinez's jangly electric score which, like "Contagion" itself, is discordant, unnerving and yet perfectly right.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

getting bucked

The base "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" never stood a chance, not even with Adam Sandler's imprematur stamped on it.

Sandler may be able to get a movie made, via his Happy Madison company, natch, but he can't get a studio to respect it.

In a year of dubious comedies that pushed buttons and envelopes - namely, "Bridesmaids," "Hall Pass," "Bad Teacher," "Horrible Bosses," "The Hangover 2" and, worst of all, "A Good, Old-Fashioned Orgy" - "Bucky Larson" was the only one to be treated as if it had cooties.

Jeez, even the soiled, god-awful "A Good, Old-Fashioned Orgy" was screened for critics. But "Bucky" was hidden from the press, with all its pans running in Saturday papers. If Columbia felt so embarrassed by the film, why greenlight it in the first place? Oh, yeah, right - Adam Sandler.

This is not to indicate that "Bucky Larson" is a good or even not-bad film. But it says something about an industry that finds something harmlessly hilarious about women vomiting and defecating uncontrollably (as they did in the big setpiece in "Bridesmaids") but gets all judgmental about a film about a bucktoothed nerd with a tiny penis who has pretensions of becoming a huge porn star (that would be "Bucky Larson").

And he does become a porn star because of that small member. See, it doesn't intimiate the guys who download his films and it makes the women more admiring of their boyfriends/husbands, regardless of size.

Tom Brady, who directed, is no auteur (far from it, his two previous accomplishments were "The Hot Chicks" and "The Comebacks"), but he is smart enough to stand back and let his rather estimable cast members(Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Edward Hermann, Miriam Flynn, Kevin Nealon and Stephen Dorff, among them) take a bat at the low material without exactly embarrassing themselves except when they want to.

Nick Swardson, who limns the role of Bucky, is a reliable Sandler house player ("Just Go With It" and "Don't Mess with the Zohan") and funny character man ("The House Bunny" and "Grandma's Boy") who has been sitting on the sidelines too long and deserves a breakthrough.

"Bucky Larson" is not exactly the film that will put him on the map and, hopefully, it won't completely derail his career. As he has in other films, Swardson makes the most of theoretically unplayable material, working beyond the call of duty as his film's star who is also its best team player.

Adam Sandler obviously likes and has nurtured him, but at this point, Nick Swardson needs a Judd Apatow in his life. Like right now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

cinema obscura: Dore Schary's "Act One" (1963)

The playwright-director Moss Hart co-wrote both ''You Can't Take It With You'' and ''The Man Who Came to Dinner'' with George S. Kaufman and won his Tony as director for Lerner and Loewe's ''My Fair Lady.''

He also wrote the autobiography, “Act One,” which was filmed for Jack Warner and Warner Bros. by the legendary Dore Schary in 1963.

The little-seen, now-forgotten film, which stars George Hamilton as Hart, dwells on the early part of Hart's career, before he met and married Kitty Carlisle, and boasts an impressive supporting cast – Jason Robards as George S. Kaufman, Jack Klugman as Joe Hyman, Eli Wallach as Warren Stone, Sam Levine as Richard Maxwell, George Segal as Lester Sweyd, Bert Convy as Archie Leach (who would, of course, become Cary Grant) and the great stage actress Ruth Ford as Beatrice Kaufman.

It’s not a particularly good movie, but it does capture the atmospheric New York theater milieu with impressive accuracy – the glittering New York life that Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle represented. Ambience.

You know - when life was all about the opening night on Broadway of “Auntie Mame,” a cocktail party on Beekman Place, a charity soirée at the Museum of Modern Art and a late-night supper at the Stork Club.

"Act One," like the golden era it depicts, was gone until Turner Classic Movies somehow unearthed it; it airs on TCM at 6 p.m. (est) on 13 September. That's your ticket for front row center.

Friday, September 09, 2011

façade: Margo Martindale

Now is the time to praise Margo Martindale, an actress who goes down easy, akin to a soft, soothing bourbon.

One of the more reassuring presences in modern film, Martindale first took my attention with an early role - her supporting turn as Birdy in Robert Benton's "Nobody's Fool" (1994) - and perhaps was most memorable ten years later as Hilary Swank's crude, cruel "white trash" momma, perfectly named Earline, in Clint Eastwood's wrenching "Million Dollar Baby" (2004).

Most recently, she's shined as John C. Reilly's mother in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"; in  brief bits in Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages" and Tom McCarthy's "Win Win," and as Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard's strange, game neighbor on the FX series, "The Riches."

But Martindale's long-coming breakthrough role, also on television, is as the irrepressible Mags Bennett on Timothy Olyphant's "Justified," for which she's been Emmy-nominated. And this season, she shows up, opposite Patrick Wilson, on ABC's "A Gifted Man." That said, her most satisfying turn to date (arguably) came as Carol, an American tourist, in "14ème Arrondissement," Alexander Payne's wry segment for the omnibus French film, "Paris, je t'aime" (2006), speaking fractured French with her familiar drawl.

About that drawl: Martindale was born in Jacksonville, Texas.

Other roles include "Days of Thunder," "Practical Magic," "The Hours" and "The Human Stain," all with Nicole Kidman; "Lorenzo's Oil," "The Firm," "Twlight," "Earthly Possessions" and "Dead Man Walking," all with Susan Sarandon; and the recent trio,"Feast of Love," "Rails and Ties," and "Stop-Loss" (in which she simply contributes her mellow intonations in a voiceover).

On stage, Martindale orginated the part of Turvy (aka, "the Dolly Parton role") in "Steel Magnolias," was showcased in the remarkable one-woman show, "Always ... Patsy Cline" (playing a diehard Cline fane) and soared as Big Momma opposite Ned Beatty's Big Daddy in the recent revival of "Cat on the Hot Tin Roof," for which she was nominated for a Tony. Incredible.

~top: Margo Martindale in a scene from the Alexander Payne segment of "Paris, je t'aime"
~photography: First Look International and Canal+ 2006 ©

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~bottom: Margo