Oh how many times shall we explore the difficulties of being a woman with a big  job in a big city who meets a handsome man to intended comedic effect?

I guess they were trying to make a comedy here. It isn’t funny. It isn’t clever. It’s paint by numbers with finger paints and two colors. Rachel McAdams is the lead. I’ve never thought of her as any great actress and her obnoxious overacting in this didn’t improve my impression. McAdams plays the earnest and hard-working (oh she knows how to blow up her bangs and shuffle through a news room!) Becky Fuller, hired to captain a sinking ship of a morning show on the IBS network. IBS? I’m sure the writers thought of Irritable Bowel Syndrome at some point in the process and then made the choice to stick with this for their fictional network. Interesting choice.

Harrison Ford the actor accepted millions to appear in an inane movie where he plays a veteran news anchor who assumes a position as a host of an inane morning show in order to receive millions of dollars. Talk about art imitating life. His performance is a one-note grumbling and if I had this script to work with I’d be grumbling too. His co-host is played by Diane Keaton. To call her character one-dimensional is too generous by half. The problem with the film really is two-fold; it lacks any sense of comedic timing and isn’t a bit honest. It doesn’t even try to be interesting. The “editor” of this pic must have been drunk, it drones on and on and on.

I went with my wife and mother-in-law, two women who usually eat up rom-com pablum by the shovelfuls. They too were bored to death.

It opened in 5th place at the box office, about a $15 million cumulative take so far. It cost $40 million plus. I hope this discourages future Morning Glories, but I’m afraid this brand of excrement will be around as long as the little light flickers in the back of a dark room.

The preview below  is dreadful, but not nearly as bad as the movie because it doesn’t kill two hours of your life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9lWUqraDoU

The Other Ol’ Blue Eyes

September 11, 2009

 paul_newman.jpg image by ghoflin

We’re coming up on a year since Paul Newman passed away. It occurred to me, as I’m sure it must have to him, that he’ll be better remembered for his food products than his acting. Pretty incredible considering what a great actor he was. From all outward appearances, he would have been just fine being more recognized for organic pretzels and salad dressing than his numerous roles. He raised hundreds of millions for charity from these products. Not bad, old man.

The last movie he was in that was a Newman vehicle was Nobody’s Fool. Directed by Robert Benton from a Richard Russo novel, it’s a simple story about a sixty-something handyman who’s life really hasn’t turned into a whole lot. Newman’s character, Sully, left his family when his son was a year old and spent the next 30 years going from odd job to odd job, playing poker in the back of the town bar and sucking down brewskies. His imperfect world gets rattled when his son returns after many years and he gets introduced to his grandkids and some demons of the past.

Although the film as a whole isn’t anywhere near as good as Hud or Cool Hand Luke or even The Verdict, what it has in common with those films is that it’s all about Newman. Everyone else in the film is swirling about the Newman, it’s his show. Jessica Tandy appears in her final film role, as does Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. Griffith shows her boobies to Sully and well, they’re real and they’re spectacular.   

It’s a bit schmaltzy and hokey in parts. Dylan Walsh of Nick/Tuck fame is in one of his early roles as Newman’s son and has some trouble keeping up with his old man in the acting chops department. This is a bit distracting. Newman’s got a few good one liners that, along with the Griffith boobie exposure makes me recommend the film. 

Newman made a handful of films after this, most notably in the beautiful looking Road to Perdition in 2002, but for me, the last glimmer of the same blue eyes as Cool Hand Luke shined in Nobody’s Fool.

 

Also, if you get a chance, catch Empire Falls, also written by Richard Russo. The HBO mini-series was Newman’s last time in front of the camera.

Dead Kennedy

August 26, 2009

I haven’t seen a movie since Julie and Julia, which is why this blog has been so silent. Ted Kennedy died today, and although this has nothing to do with movies, I figured the blog needed some attention lest I never see another film.

In 1995 I went to Washington D.C. as part of a high school program that sent a junior from each district to the Capitol. While getting a tour of the Senate, I walked to the bathroom and almost ran into Senator Ted Kennedy. As someone who grew up on Phil Hartman’s impression of Kennedy as a boozing poonhound, it was pretty surreal to see him in there. He was about 5’10”, portly, with a red face, huge round noggin, and a mop of thick white hair. I nodded at him and he nodded back. A few minutes later when I returned to our group tour, Senator Kennedy passed by and our group leader asked if he would say a few words.

He said, in part, “As my brother John once said, it’s important that when you visit Washington, to take the appreciation for our country back home and make a difference there.” He then excused himself to go into the Senate and we all looked at each other awestruck. There went a Kennedy, in the flesh, still in government thirty years after his brother was assassinated. Say what you will about term limits and the problems associated with someone being in power too long. To me there’s something reassuring about having a person in office who looks and speaks the part, who has presence, and Ted had that in spades.

Of course an examination of Kennedy’s life will always be marred by leaving a girl to drown in a water grave, and rightfully so. No one accused Ted of having the courage of his brothers.  I can’t say I agreed with him on most issues, but he was passionate about what he believed and this is worthy of respect.

For me, his eulogy for his brother Bobby will be his most lasting contribution to the annals of history and you can listen to it here:

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html

Bon Apetite!

I think I’ve said a time or two before that I’d pay six bucks to see Meryl Streep read the phone book, and today I almost did just that. Julia and Julietells the interesting story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) rather bloodlessly and flashes back and forth to 2002-03 with Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a frustrated writer who’s working in a cubicle. About to turn 30 and wrapped in malaise, Julie starts a blog endeavoring to cook every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.For my money, the hacky Nora Ephron could have left this paint-by-numbers story out and called the movie Julia.

Streep is a joy, somehow doing a Julia Child impression for two hours (or an hour as it were) without it being annoying. The scenes of her mistakes and successes at Le Courdon Bleu are mildly amusing, but there really isn’t enough conflict with either story to really set the hook. Sorry, but whether someone gets a book deal or not isn’t going to keep me on the edge of my seat for two hours.

Amy Adams on the other hand is a shrieking bitch. I’m pretty sure it’s not a good thing to wish a protagonist dead, but I would have liked nothing more than for one of the lobsters she was cooking in preparation for Lobster Thermidor to jump out of the pot and claw her throat.

The movie is ostensibly about self-actualization, about finding one’s passion-Julia Child through cooking and Julie Powell through glomming on to Julia Child. The story of Child’s transition from diplomat’s wife to the country’s preeminent voice on French cuisine is just short of inspiring, but at least it isn’t offensive. Writing a blog about cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a tiresome gimmick and so is the movie on which the blog is based. Stanley Tucci as Child’s husband Paul is good, but he’s always pretty solid.

If you really need a culinary film fix, check out:

Babette’s Feast http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092603/

Big Night (also with Tucci) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115678/

BigNight.jpg image by tuesdayweld

and

Mostly Martha http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0246772/

 

Oh, here’s a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon, the first dish Child made on her landmark television series, The French Chef.  I don’ t think even Nora Ephron could screw this up.

 

  • 1 whole head garlic
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 cups dry red wine

 

  • 4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch-wide strips
  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef cross-rib roast, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

 

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 large fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3 large fresh sage sprigs
  • 3 large fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups (or more) canned beef broth

 

  • 12 ounces pearl onions
  • 3 bunches baby carrots, trimmed, peeled

 

  • 12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, quartered

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place garlic on large piece of foil. Pour 2 tablespoons wine over garlic. Wrap foil around garlic to enclose. Roast garlic until soft, about 40 minutes. Cool. Press garlic between fingertips to release from skins; set aside.

Cook bacon in large pot over medium heat until brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Pour drippings into small bowl. Return 2 tablespoons to same pot; reserve remainder. Increase heat to high. Working in batches, add beef to pot and brown, about 7 minutes per batch. Using slotted spoon, transfer meat to large bowl.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add chopped onion and chopped carrot to pot; sauté 5 minutes. Mix in flour. Return beef and accumulated juices to pot. Stir in tomato paste. Add herb sprigs, bay leaves, roasted garlic and 2 cups wine; simmer 15 minutes. Add 3 cups broth. Cover; simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Uncover; simmer until meat is tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours longer. Discard herb sprigs and bay leaves.

Cook pearl onions in large saucepan of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Using 4- to 5-inch-diameter strainer, transfer onions to medium bowl; cool slightly, then peel. Return water to boil. Add carrots and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain. (Bacon, stew and vegetables can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.)

Heat 2 tablespoons reserved bacon drippings in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add pearl onions to mushrooms; sauté until onions are golden, about 4 minutes. Add carrots; cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring stew to simmer, thinning with more broth, if desired. Stir bacon and 2/3 of vegetables into stew. Transfer to large bowl. Top stew with remaining vegetables.

 

The Donkey Show

July 30, 2009

“Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished,” “because this film is really the world in an hour and a half.” Jean-Luc Godard made these comments in Cahiers du Cinema after Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar rocked French cinemas in 1966.

Godard is right. Balthazar is a simple, elegant, and at times difficult film to watch. The main character is Balthazar, a donkey. But this is no Pixar film, he doesn’t sing or dance and he’s not in 3-D.  We follow Balthazar’s life as he begins from the plaything of children to a beast of burden to a circus act to his death in a field.

Surrounding our equine friend is mainly Marie, a barely legal farmer’s daughter played by Anne Wiazemsky. She’s quite a dish, looking a bit like a less vivacious Jessica Alba. Balthazar is Marie’s best friend as a child and then gets forgotten as Marie rebels and starts hanging with some bad boys. Forgotten by Marie,  the saintly Balthazar gets passed around by different parties, whipped, beaten by Marie’s bad boys, abused by a drunk and ultimately shot.  If you are an animal lover like I am, it’s at times almost impossible to watch such a docile and harmless creature take such hatred without recourse.

Balthazar is perfect and blameless. Everything around him is corrupt, prideful, greedy and malicious. The religious allegories here are evident, but they always fall short of being cloying, a testament to Bresson’s skill.  It’s one of those movies that has an emotional impact on the viewer for days after seeing it. I look forward to seeing it again.

The Criterion Collection DVD has a very good interview with critic Donald Richie. He very eloquently relates why the film is one of his favorites and highlights some of the director’s techniques that make Bresson unique.

The DVD also features a French television show that has interviews with Jean-Luc Godard and Louis Malle. It’s a lovefest for Bresson to be sure, and after seeing Balthazar you’ll agree that their accolades are warranted.

Robert Bresson

 

Your Life is a Movie

July 29, 2009

I saw The Ugly Truth last weekend. Yes, I did it for my wife. It was truly awful. More about that in a second.  

Before the movie started I was graced with a preview for yet another Sandra Bullock movie,  All About Steve, where she plays the female protagonist “making funny” trying to get her man. I guess this is mildly amusing once, if the woman is 30. But Sandra, who turned 45 on Sunday has long worn out her welcome. Is it still amusing to see a woman a few years younger than my mother acting a fool to land a 30 year old man? Not to me, but then again, I’m not a sexually frustrated cat lady.

The Ugly Truth, the top romantic comedy at the box office this week, stars Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. Heigl is weird. She can look blazes hot one second and gangly and weird the next. She’s not a great actress, but she has the ability to look good and not threaten women in the theatre, much like Bullock, which is a ticket to making a lot of cash as an actress.

The “plot” follows Heigl as a producer of an inane local daytime talk show hosted by Cheryl Hines and Michael Higgins (the guy from the Christopher Guest movies).  With ratings slipping, Heigl’s boss decides to bring in the the host of an extremely vulgar call in show about relationships played by Gerard Butler. Guess what? She hates him for his dick jokes and therein lie the “sparks.” Heigl also can’t get a date to save her life in the movie, set seemingly in an alternate universe. Butler uses his knowledge of the male mind to help her land her neighbor, a doctor who looks like a Ken doll. But then Butler falls in love with her! Didn’t see that coming…

Butler is Scottish. He was the main dude in 300. As Hollywood always does, they make him change his accent in Truth, which gives him a very strange cadence indeed. He talks out of the side of his mouth, usually lewd one liners and his crassness always lands a little flat. The film was written by three women and seems contrived to put male and female asses in seats by intertwining the vulgar with the romantic. It doesn’t work at all. It makes someone like Judd Apatow’s writing seem poetic.

I hope I don’t ruin this for anyone, but Heigl and Butler spend half the movie hating each other, but they really like each other deep down and they end up together. You see, his crassness was him overcompensating for a broken heart and…I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Avoid at all costs…. 

 

Maybe try The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne instead?