a prairie home companion
when i was reading reviews on rotten tomatoes for prairie home
i wasn't really sure what to expect. one of the reviewers cited said that the problem with the movie is that it exudes a sort of nostalgia for a time that never truly existed. i have been listening to "prairie home" on npr and reading garrison keillor almost as long as i can remember. i don't claim to be the biggest fan of the radio program, but it is definitely a piece of history to me. the program IS nostalgia in and of itself. so i take some issue with the above cited review. if the film doesn't elicit a feeling of nostalgia for this particular critic, perhaps it will in due time.
the movie is essentially a real time omniscient perspective on the making of the fictional last episode of "a prairie home companion," garrison keillor's famous live radio show. a conglomerate led by tommy lee jones has bought the radio station and has plans to end the reign of the show, which they deem to be from another era. i assumed going in that the movie would chronicle the efforts of the cast to change the conglomerate's decision. and that really isn't the point at all. it is really a film about the role of fate and the efforts of a higher power to make the world right.
that being said, this is the most hilarious movie about death ever made. the film is literally obsessed with death and dying: the death of the show, the deaths of the cast members, the death of an era. it is a distinctively dark comedy, but it is still funny nonetheless. at one point keillor says that he refuses to do eulogies because, at his age, if he starts he might never be able to stop. it seems like everything is dying at one time. the show is coming to an end. the cast is aging. and the world is becoming increasingly commercialized. the film is a sort of eulogy in and of itself, not for some idyllic past necessarily, but rather for a the past of a particular generation. and it leaves you with the message that there is no way to stop the progression of time; that is left up to fate. but that doesn't mean we need to forget what has passed.
i am sure it doesn't surprise anyone that the highlight of this movie is meryl streep and lily tomlin. they play two singing sisters, and their performances genuinely make this movie. both of them should be nominated for a single academy award for the overlapping dialogue they engage in. i don't know how much of it is scripted, but a lot of it seems really improvised. it is definitely an impressive effort (and lily tomlin makes me laugh no matter what movie she is in).
other high points include garrison keillor's long winded speech about duct tape (complete with sound effects), woody harrelson and john c. reilly's song of bad jokes, and kevin kline's silly turn as detective guy noir. all in all the movie is filled with very funny moments, speeches and songs interspersed with very dark observations about the inevitablity of time. but the entire film is composed of very well written dialogue performed by many of the greatest actors of the 21st Century. so you really cant go wrong with that.
watching movies on logo
in the past two years or so i have really seen "mainstream" (i.e. white middle class) gay media and political organizations struggling to make compromises on important issues in order to ensure survival in a fundamentalist christian state. watching psuedo-queer jackasses like patrick guerrero and rosie o'donnell on larry king makes me, in a sort of mystifying way, lament the fact that i wasn't around to be a part of larry kramer's new york or harry hay's san francisco during the early years of the aids crisis. of course i realize that i am lucky that i didn't have to experience that first hand, but, on the other hand, i worry that i and others of my generation are too able to betray the queer nation legacy. that is, what gay people fight for today-- gay marriage, adoption, employment equality-- is in some ways a construction of the christian right to distract us from the really important and really basic issues-- legal equality, the right to be healthy, the ability to pursue the construction of alternative communities, etc. we have given up the struggle to be accepted as unique in favor of struggling to be accepted as the same.
don't get me wrong. i am really the last person to accuse someone or something of 'not being gay enough.' that is, unless it is someone or something that is trying to represent gay people in this country. face it. it is is 2006 and gay people still do not have the voice that we deserve. i am sure you could easily count the number of prominent gay politicians, actors, journalists, etc. in a couple seconds. and there are very few televisions shows and movies that feature gay characters. therefore, when one does emerge, i sort of place higher expectations on him/her/it.
still, it is impossible for any gay media outlet or representative to purport to represent gay men and women in this country as a whole. and the effort to do so is something that has emerged as a real problem in the past couple years ago.
enter logo. logo is the new gay-ish cable channel that some people get now. you might get it too, so you should check around channel 180 or so. (i didn't realize we had it until recently). the good news about logo is that they show all of these movies that i have always wanted to see, but never got around to-- lots of hard to find british movies and stuff made in the 70s and 80s. they also show a lot of documentaries that are really interesting and that you would never find on any other cable channel. logo also provides a venue for gay filmmakers to show their own short films.
however, i quickly found that logo has just been dangling a carrot in front of my face. that is, i can't watch any of the movies they show. why? because they are edited to death. maybe i am wrong, but it seems to me that logo, more than any other cable network, should make a statement against censorship and shows movies as their director intended. but this isn't the case. in movies that i have watched on logo and seen in their entirety, whole scenes have been removed, camera angles changed to obscure harmless nudity, and, when all else apparently failed the network, lines and words bleeped out.
a few years ago john and i were flipping through the channels and we came across stepmom
on tbs. it is one of those movies that is just good enough to watch when nothing else is on, but you wouldn't go out of your way to rent it or anything, you know? well we were watching it and i started to notice that something weird was going on. it seemed like there was something missing. and then the whole movie ended VERY abruptly, and i was shocked at what they had done: they took susan sarandon's cancer storyline out of the movie completely. the point of the movie is that she gets cancer and then has to admit julia roberts into her family so her children will have a stepmom when she dies. well they completely cut out cancer. they cut out sarandon's death. i couldn't believe that the filmmaker would have let them do that, but i guess he would do anything for a couple of dollars.
i just don't see the point in watching edited movies. it is sort of the equivalent of coming into a movie theater 15 minutes late and leaving 15 minutes early. you aren't seeing the real movie. it is just my suspicion, but i think that the execs at logo probably made a conscious decision to show pg versions of its movies instead of the real versions because they are trying to make their network accessible to everyone, not just queer adults. i understand that, but i think that the network has really made a misstep. the compromise they have made suits noone. i think they should make a choice: either make this a 'family' network and show children's programming and adult pg fare or make this a network for gay adults and stop censoring their films. as it is, i don't want to watch it, because it doesn't suit my interests.
the best of madonna on film
if you love madonna and you love movies here are your five best bets:
5. a league of their own
. . . i love this movie, and the best thing about it is madonna. this is probably the most mainstream of the material girl's flicks. it is about the beginnings of the all american professional girl's baseball league. madonna plays (surprise surprise) the slutty one on the team, mae. my favorite part in the movie is when the women go to this roadhouse called the suds bucket and madonna does this great swing dance with some of the guys at the bar. madonna also wrote a great song for the credits, "this used to be my playground." it's sort of ironic that in a movie where madge is only a supporting character, a movie starring oscar-winners tom hanks and geena davis, madonna still manages to steal the show.
4. at close range
. . . madonna isn't actually in this movie, but she wrote one of her best songs for the soundtrack, "live to tell." actually, a lot of her best songs were written for movie soundtracks. "who's that girl" was written for the titular film. "i'll remember" was written for with honors
. "hanky panky" was written for dick tracy
. i think "live to tell" is one of her best movie themesongs. she resurrected it recently for her confessions tour. it is the notorious ballad she sings while crucified on a disco-cross. at close range
is a decent movie starring her then husband sean penn as a member of a ny gang led by his father. but even if you don't like the movie it is worth sitting through to hear madonna's killer ballad.
3. die another day
. . . speaking of her work on movie soundtracks, one of my favorite madonna songs of all time was the titular track written for the latest installment of the james bond franchise. i think she did a great job combining her own musical stylings with the movie's theme itself. she made a great music video for the song also, playing a james bond-ish heroine being tortured by asian militants. the good thing about die another day is that madonna didn't just write the themesong to the film, but she also has a small cameo in the film as a fencing instructor to the evil diamond thief gustav graves. i think she is really good in this small role. never before has fencing ever looked so sexy on screen.
2. truth or dare
. . . absolutely my favorite documentary of all time. this movie is like the holy grail for any true fan of her madgesty. it was filmed during her blonde ambition tour, and is probably the only madonna film that has received pretty much unanimous critical praise. it includes two scenes that are as much a part of pop history as any other film scenes of the 90s. in one, a group of celebrities decends backstage after one of her concerts, including kevin costner who calls her show "neat." in the other, she is being treated by a doctor for a throat problem, when her then boyfriend warren beatty remarks, "she doesn't want to LIVE off camera." this line has sort of become a credo of her career. but my favorite part is in the end of the film when she and her dancers are playing truth or dare and she is dared to perform oral sex on a beer bottle. i love how candid she is in this movie. it is part of the reason why her fans feel like they know her so well.
. . . yes, the girl can act (and sing). anyone who has criticized madonna as without talent should be strapped down and made to watch this masterpiece. it is one of my favorite films of all time and, i think, the best movie ever made about politics. madge is in almost every scene in the entire film, sings almost the entire soundtrack and dances brilliantly throughout. as far as musicals go, the role of eva peron has to be one of the most taxing to perform. and she won the golden globe award for best actress doing so. i think my favorite song in the movie is maybe "you must love me." i love the tango she does with antonio banderas on the big tiled dancefloor as she is dying. this movie is one of the things that made me really fall in love with madge. i can watch it over and over again.
i'm going to tell you a secret
here's yesterday's headline: "disappointment ensues."
that's because for some reason i had it in my head that madonna's new documentary, i'm going to tell you a secret
was going to be released on dvd on tuesday. of course it wasn't. it actually comes out on the 20th according to amazon, so now i have to wait two more weeks. argh.
(oh where oh where will i be getting my madonna fix until then???)secret
debuted a couple months ago on mtv. of course it is madge's second tour documentary. she made truth or dare
during the blonde ambition tour. probably more than any of her other films, tod
has been best received. many critics have placed it among the best documentaries of the 90s. it is one of my all time favorite movies, and, honestly, when i heard she was making secret
, my expectations weren't very high. tod was a one of a kind film, and there is no way she could recreate that. and of course she didn't.secret
is nothing like its predecessor. it is a completely different film, made under completely different circumstances, with a completely different goal. and the two really shouldn't be compared. they are both really good movies in their own right.
(i'm sure to noone's surprise) secret
has a decidedly spiritual aspect to it. it opens with this beautiful sort of dance sequence of the beast within mix of "justify my love." she is dressed in sort of indian garb modeling while she recites a passage from revelations. this is also how she opened the reinvention tour and it is absolutely gorgeous. right from the beginning it is pretty obvious this is going to be different than the rollicking tone of tod
obvious difference #2 is the appearance of her husband guy ritchie and children lourdes and rocco. her first documentary was basically just a chronicling of time spent on tour with her dancers, playing games and dealing with daily drama. this new documentary barely touches any of that stuff. it is more about juggling family and career and, at the same time, coming to terms with her own spirituality. the result is that secret
is really a much more serious product.
not that there aren't lighter moments too. i think the best part of secret
is the fact that she finally lets her fans get to know her kids a little bit. her son rocco is pretty hilarious. he is a total jokester and i definitely see him being a performer like his mom someday. her daughter lourdes is obviously really intelligent. she seems to be super-mature and even teaches her mom some french in the film.
my least favorite part of the film was her husband guy. i am increasingly disliking him. in the movie he just seems pretty self-obsessed and distant. while she goes to one tour performance, expecting him to be in the audience, he is actually driving off to a pub, which seems to be something he does pretty often. anyways, it is pretty difficult for me to understand this relationship, and, at the very least, the movie does nothing to dispell rumors that the marriage is on the rocks.
if you liked tod
, you should definitely rent secret
when it comes out in two weeks. it is a good film in its own rite, but also a "neat" supplement to the earlier work. the two documentaries sort of mirror her greatest hits albums, the immaculate collection
. in both cases the second work is a sort of more mature, more spiritual, more family-oriented product.
rumor has it that guy ritchie is himself directing a third tour documentary of the current confessions tour. i am sort of skeptical as to whether this will ever materialize, but it is definitely an interesting idea. but then again, madonna could make her own sunday comic strip and i would be on board:)
p.s. here's the trailer
so this is a pretty big week for madonna for a couple of reasons. first of all her new documentary i'm going to tell you a secret
is coming out on dvd tomorrow. and secondly she is finally performing live. . . for me!
after the many debacles leading to my non-attendance of her reinvention tour two years ago, i am definitely keeping my fingers crossed regarding this one. but if everything goes as planned it will be me and her madgesty in phoenix this thursday night when the confessions tour comes to town. *hurrah*
as most everyone knows there aren't too many people in the world that i love more than the material girl. i think the list would include my mom, rachael ray and maybe john (maybe). i am extra excited that the year i finally get to see her perform live is the year she is promoting her confessions album, which is probably the best cd to come out in a decade as far as i am concerned.
i love madonna for a lot of reasons. i think what makes her special for me is that she is talented in so many different media. she is a great singer, songwriter, dancer and-- despite her bad reputation-- actress. honestly, i really challenge anyone to argue that her reputation as an untalented on-screen performer isn't the product of overzealous, biased critics. in fact i count her among my favorite actresses. i think she has given lots of great performances.
there are tons of actors that have gotten bad reputations only to surprise the critics with an out of the blue great performance. cher won an oscar for moonstruck
after being reviled as a variety show costar. jamie foxx just won a couple years ago for playing ray charles, somehow convincing academy members to forget in living color
. and everyone is predicting beyonce knowles (yes beyonce knowles) will win best actress this year for the upcoming musical dreamgirls
. but when madonna outperforms herself (especially like she did in evita
) everyone continues to denegrate her. over and over again, people continue to want madonna to fail. this is why her constant successes are so satisfying to her fans.
note this: madonna's blonde ambition, girlie show, drowned world, reinvention and confessions tours have NOT ONLY sold out pretty much in every venue, but have been critically lauded as theatrical events, rather than simple musical performances. her music videos are almost always judged among the best ever made, and she is the only singer i know who has been able to successfully market dvd/vhs copies of her music videos as films in and of themselves. so if, in the musical world, she is constantly lauded not for her voice and not for her songs but rather for her performance capabilities, why is it so out of the question that she could perform well on the big screen as well?
the point is that she has performed well and her movies provide the best argument for why film viewers should judge movies for themselves and not always listen to the critics who undoubtably have their own agenda.
jfk versus the code
for obvious reasons a lot of people have been comparing howard's da vinci code
to stone's jfk
. they are both semi-fiction- alized stories about vast historical conspir- acies that (unin- tentionally?) sparked wide debates in society about the government/church's role in covering up dangerous secrets. i think it is kind of ironic that both of these works were created by people who never tried to hide the fact that they were fiction. but people still find truth in them nonetheless. that group includes me i guess, because i came away from both of these movies swayed to the potential veracity of each conspiracy theory. i think there is a lot to be said of a comparison of these two movies, since they elicit such similar reactions from the viewer, namely indignation.
if you can watch jfk
and afterwards still think that jack ruby singlehandedly killed the president, then i am shocked. i was reading on imdb that after the stone opus was released even congress was swayed by the director's admitted fiction to reevaluate government policies related to the classification of documents and videos related to the assassination. i know that stone's theory is just one possible explanation for a series of extraordinary events, but what it shows, at least, is that there were larger forces at work in the assassination of jfk. were these forces the u.s. government itself? and was there any correlation between the murder and the vietnam war? i don't think i am necessarily convinced of that, but i am convinced that jack ruby couldn't have done it (alone).
my evaluation of jfk echoes almost precisely my evaluation of the code
. i think that brown and howard's arguments are very persuasive even though they are admittedly just one possible reasoning behind millenia of extraordinary historical events. am i convinced that there is a secret christian organization out there guarding centuries of church secrets related to the creation of catholic doctrine as it exists today? it is a romantic possibility, but an unlikely one. however, i am positive that secrets do exist, whether they have been lost or not. that is, brown has convinced me that doctrine was not divinely created but was rather mechanically created by those with various interests, and these interests probably benefited from the denegration of women. like jfk
, the story is a romantic fictionalization, but the underlying message is a true one.
what would have been done differently had stone been commissioned to make the film version of the da vinci code
. it would have been a darker film for sure, focusing more on the intricacies of the story than on dramatic action. but i still think that howard's slightly blacker, more nuanced, more respectable product here is somehow influenced by jfk
and the master/creator of the conspiracy film genre. they haven't said on imdb yet who is directing the next brown film, the code
prequel angels and demons
, but i think stone should be considered because i would like to see what he manages to do in the milieu. and i would like to see if he can convince me even further of the veracity of brown's fiction.
make your own e-cryptex!
so john is all obsessed with cryptexes now (or is it crypteces?). i made him a little one for easter, but apparently that has not satisfied his lust for da vinci-inspired code breaking receptacles. there is a website
where you can buy handmade cryptexes, but they cost 600+ dollars. i don't get it. i mean they are kind of pretty maybe but do you think anybody has ACTUALLY ever paid this dude 600 bucks for what really amounts to a metal combination lock tube in a cherry wood box? john, i wouldn't hold your breath come christmas time. . .
but it doesn't even matter anymore, because john's cryptex lust has finally been satisfied by this amazing site. if you go to webcryptex.com
, you can create your own electronic crytex and send it to a friend. effing sweet! so now we don't have to worry about google or the cia interrupting our email correspondence. i am going to encode all my internet messages in crytex form so that noone can read them except those for whom they are intended.Click here
for a message i have hidden inside a cryptex for anyone savvy enough to break the code.
ron howard is sort of growing on me and it is starting to scare me. don't get me wrong his movies are cheesy and contrived and always end in some predict- able fairy tale ending, but if that is what you are looking for noone does it better than him. in general i am not a huge fan of really commercial directors. but whereas spielberg's films always seem to reek of profit avarice (or awards avarice) i see more real vision in his protege howard's. i mean, i realize that howard plays to his audience, which is sort of his achilles' heel, but in his case i still see that he has a sort of passion for the work that he is doing. it isn't so mechanical or prescribed like the work spielberg does.
i am actually really glad he made the da vinci code
, which surprises me more than anything else regarding the film. i think howard did about the best job he could have making this story into a movie. i mean, i read on the oscar igloo and stuff people predicting this film would be competitive come awards season and stuff, and i was actually pretty incredulous. this is an interesting story, but i always felt it would make a better thriller/horror, summer blockbuster than a dramatic awards contender. howard did a great job of taking the most filmic parts out of the story and emphasizing them on screen and deemphasizing the more literary parts. some of the most entertaining parts in the movie are sophie's auto getaway from the embassy and the part when andre vernet holds up langdon and neveu in the armored bank car. meanwhile howard practically ignores major issues in the text regarding codes hidden in da vinci's work, etc. i think this was a great choice by howard as director, because these are parts that are best read, but not very viewable on screen. he made this movie exactly what it should be, a fun summer flick, the best to come out since twister
unfortunately this is the second ron howard film in a row i have really enjoyed, the previous being last year's cinderella man
. after vomiting in my mouth a little after watching his earlier studio hits Apollo 13 and EdTV, i definitely never thought i would start being a ron howard fan. but then i watched the missing
, and i was really surprised at what a legitimately good movie it was. the missing
is a western starring cate blanchett as this white woman whose child is stolen by indians. it is surprisingly dark by howard and doesn't stray away from some really serious issues like race, class and colonialism. even though this movie is imperfect, the fact that he was willing to make it (and the fact that he got cate blanchett to be in one of his movies) made me respect him a little more.
then there is cinderella man
. i LOVE this movie. it is one of those chick flick type films you can watch over and over again and you never stop crying. i really couldn't believe how much i liked this movie last summer when i saw it at the catalina. it is a (semi?-) true story this depression era boxer named jimmy braddock who overcomes tremendous obstacles to take care of his family during a difficult time. i think it is really uncomfortable watching boxers. it is so silly watching grown men hit eachother for sport. but i find myself cheering on russell crowe as braddock in cinderella man
. this movie is a rare hollywood product: a fun eminently watchable flick that is at the same time a great, respectable work of art, well written, acted, directed, etc. and it will probably go down as the most underrated film of last year.
so i guess now i gotta go out and rent a beautiful mind
. i have avoided this movie for three years now on the grounds that it was howard's boring pretentious oscar vehicle. but since i have decided to forgive howard for apollo 13 and since bettany, connelly and crowe are pretty much three of my favorite actors, i can't stay away from this movie any longer. i will go rent it this weekend, and let y'all know if it is as bad as i expect it will be.
i [heart] paul bettany.
and always have. the code
just made me love him a little more. and even though his skin is sort of falling off, he is sweaty and dirty, blood is covering most of his body, and he's a murderous albino monk, i still loved watching his naked ass. and if i were into s&m. . . well, nevermind.
bettany is not the best thing in the da vinci code
. that would be ian mckellan. but he is still the sexiest thing in it. i don't know what it is about him, but he is just fun to watch. and it's not just because he's british. i love really great movie villains, like gina gershon in showgirls
, sharon stone in basic instinct
and tilda swinton in tltw&tw
. i think i am twisted because i almost always cheer on the bad guys. and i definitely cheered on bettany as the diabolic silas in the code
. he is just so damned evil. in the scene on the plane where he keeps reciting "i am a messenger of God" to audrey tatou a part of me wants to slap the hell out of him. but a much larger part of me wants to rip off his robe and share my own personal message with him.
i think i first discovered paul bettany in my favorite lars von trier movie dogville
. he plays this creepy pseudo-writer living in the mountains in colorado. nicole kidman stumbles into the city and paul bettany makes it his personal goal to take care of her. he is so immensely scary in this movie that you can't help but wonder who is this man
? i mean it is really really hard to take my attention away from kidman in any movie that she is in, and he managed to do it. very unlikely. if you like paul bettany you have to watch this movie, because it is probably the best work he has ever done.
but i also really enjoy him in his much different role in master and commander
. he plays this british naval doctor on a ship piloted by russell crowe, but he is also really into scientific exploration. when the ship lands in the galapagos islands there is this heartbreaking moment when bettany doesn't have any time to collect species for his collection. but his best scene in the movie has to be him performing surgery on himself after he gets shot. he has more intensity than just about any other actor working today. and it is weird how he can play basically any age between late 20s and early 40s and get away with it. how many actors can pass for either a brilliant scientest or dopey romantic sidekick with no problems?
paul bettany definitely hasn't gotten the respect he deserves as an actor yet. it is kinda sad that the code got such bad reviews, cause many (including me) were expecting this to be his year come oscar season. but i can't wait to see what other movies he is working on. i think it is just a matter of time til he has his breakout year like jude law did in 04.
and p.s. am i a ridiculous person for not knowing that he is married to jennifer connelly until reading his imdb profile last week? i don't know which one of them is luckier.