Monday, November 29, 2010

Martin Scorsese's Fran Lebowitz Doc PUBLIC SPEAKING Now Airing On HBO

PUBLIC SPEAKING (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

"When I was a child it was called 'talking back' and now it's called public speaking, you know? But it's really the same. So, the thing I used to get punished for at home and in school...and get bad marks in school for it...then at a certain point in my life I got actually paid and rewarded for it. But it's the exact same thing." - Fran Lebowitz

This film is loosely a documentary really; it's mostly a sit-down conversation with noted author Fran Lebowitz at her favorite table at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC interrupted only occasionally with bio doc clippage.

Scorsese embraces Lebowitz at the beginning of the film and the back of his head can be seen as well as his laugh can be heard throughout the film, but this is a showcase for Lebowitz's gift for gab - and a damn good one.

We hear the outspoken woman, who comes across as the consumate New Yorker, as she offers views on race, gay rights, and the over abundance of bad writers in the marketplace and it's funny stuff. Intellectual insights galore from one of the few people to get their own Jeopardy category: "The Quotable Fran Lebowitz".

A highlight are Lebowitz's telling of the many meetings she had with Hollywood people over rights to her books which she never sold are as gold as anecdotes can get.

Among the clips of Lebowitz on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Charlie Rose, various speaking engagements, and most amusingly, as Judge Janice Goldbergon on Law And Order, there is illuminating archival footage of influences such as James Baldwin and Gore Vidal as well.

As "Jeopardy" attains there are many great quotes in this doc such as:

"Here's the problem with being ahead of your the time everyone gets around to it, you're bored."

Maybe, but I wasn't bored for a second watching PUBLIC SPEAKING.

PUBLIC SPEAKING is now airing on HBO. Check your local listings for show-times. No word yet about when it will be released on DVD.

More later...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CONVICTION: The Film Babble Blog Review

CONVICTION (Dir. Tony Goldwyn, 2010)

It's that time of year - time for a piece of Hilary Swank Oscar bait.

Last year Swank's performance as Amelia Earhart failed to get a nomination so she's back playing another real person - Betty Anne Waters - a working class mother fighting the legal system in this earnest yet fiercely mediocre melodrama.

Full of the kind of spunk that Lou Grant would definitely hate, Waters put herself through law school just so she could represent her brother, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Massacusetts.

Sam Rockwell plays the brother, spending the bulk of his role in prison scenes with Swank. The film flashes back to the early '80s when the crime was committed with Rockwell being arrested by Melissa Leo as an obviously corrupt cop.

In a courtroom sequence Rockwell's ex-wife (Clea DuVall) and ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) testify against the accused while Swank steams on the sidelines.

Over the next 16 years Swank struggles to earn her GED, a college diploma and a law degree while working as a bartender all the while investigating her brother's case.

Swank befriends a sassy Minnie Driver as a fellow student and spurned on by the prospect of new DNA evidence hooks up with the Innocence Project - an organization that overturns wrongful convictions led by Barry Scheck (a sauve but wooden Peter Galagher).

With a bad Boston accent and a strained expression for most of the movie, Swank sure doesn't deserve a nomination for this one. Rockwell fares better, but there's not really much to his character.

We see that he's a white trash ruffian always in trouble with the law - the kind who will start a barfight one minute then do a cheered-on semi-striptease to a redneck anthem on the jukebox the next.

We're supposed to be seduced by his wildness and in turn admire Swank's plucky determination to clear her brother's name, because, well, she's wild inside too.

Driver's accent isn't much better than Swank's, but as a Devil's advocate best friend she has a likable presence. Juliette Lewis makes the most of her short but sweet part - she's completely believable as tawdry trailer-trash with bad teeth.

As it was based on a true story this film is not without merit; it's competently constructed, but its bland TV movie mechanisms and treacly score kept it from getting anywhere near my heart.

Try as it might, CONVICTION isn't very convincing.

More later...

Saturday, November 27, 2010



(Dir. Michael Stephenson, 2009)

Meet George Hardy.

He's a dentist in Alexander City, Alabama who is much loved by the local community.

Hardy seems a normal nice guy except for one crucial piece of information: in 1990 he starred in a notoriously awful movie titled TROLL 2.

TROLL 2 was a direct to video schlock horror flick that had no connection to TROLL (1986). The movie has inexplicably gained an audience over the years while maintaining its 0% rating on the Rotten Tomatometer.

Why? Well file this under case file: "it's so bad that it's good".

TROLL 2 is about a family taking a vacation in a small town named Nilbog (goblin spelled backwords) who are taunted and tortured by vegetarian goblins (not trolls, mind you).

As its reputation tells us, it contains some of the worst effects, the worst acting, worst writing, and worst direction of any film in history.

For the record though, I must say that I agree with Horror Movie Journalist M.J. Simpson who appears in this doc that there are far worse movies - but that's a whole other blog post.

This documentary, made by Michael Stephenson who was the child actor in TROLL 2, explores the minor fan phenomenon surrounding the supposed "Citizen Kane" of suck.

Stephenson follows Hardy as he attends sold-out revival screenings as well as interviews many fans and cast members including Margo Prey, Don Packard, Darren Ewing, Jason Wright, and Connie Young.

Ironic or not, the love for TROLL 2 is hilariously contagious as Hardy and the rest of the cast are treated like rock stars at these screenings, but the film goes from funny to fascinating to sad fairly swiftly.

Stephensen travels to Italy to interview director Claudio Fragasso (credited as Drake Floyd in TROLL 2) and his wife Rossella Drudi (who wrote the screenplay for TROLL 2 also credited to Drake Floyd). Fragasso talks pretentiously about the film:

"It's an important film which talks about the family, the union of the family resisting all of those things that want to destroy it and see it dead."

At a cast re-union/screening, Fragasso, who speaks very little English, has trouble answering a question from a fan about why there are no Trolls in the film. It had to be repeated a few times: "Why is it called 'Troll 2' when there are no trolls in the film?"

Fragasso only has this response: "You don't understand nothing."

After amusing scenes of cast members re-enacting scenes from TROLL 2, the doc starts to get sad as Hardy who's gung ho about enjoying his semi-celebrity status, visits a memorabilia convention in Britain manning a TROLL 2 table that hardly anybody visited.

Hardy to passerbys: "Have you seen 'Troll 2'? No? Aw, you're missing it - worst film ever made!"

Some cults only extend so far it seems.

Special Features: a slew of deleted scenes and extra interviews equaling over an hour of bonus BEST WORST MOVIE goodness.

If you want to see what the fuss is about - TROLL 2 is currently available on and streaming on Netflix Instant as its celebrating its 20th anniversary.

More later...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blu Ray Review: THE EXTRA MAN

Now out on Blu ray, DVD, and scheduled to be available streaming on Netflix Instant starting 12/16/2010:

THE EXTRA MAN (Dirs. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, 2010)

This film, which I initially thought was too quirky for its own good, grew on me quite a bit. Kevin Kline has been in so few movies lately that it's extremely pleasing to see him sink his teeth into a juicy role, and the role here is a beaut.

As seen through the eyes of Paul Dano as a young aspiring writer with delusions of "Great Gatsby"-ish grandeur, we meet Kline as Henry Harrison - an eccentric failed playwright who lives off of the splendor of rich old ladies as he describes: "A fine meal, vintage orchestra perhaps."

You see the scraggily gray haired mustached Kline considers himself an "extra man." He explains:

"You see women outlive men so there's always a need for an extra man at the table. It maintains a proper seating arrangement. Boy-girl, boy-girl."

Dano, who was kicked out of a teaching position at Princeton and came to New York to "find himself", rents a room from Kline and gets a job doing phone sales for an environmental magazine. Dano is fascinated by Kline's philosophies and tricks like how to get into the opera for free.

As a fellow flighty co-worker, Katie Holmes becomes the object of Dano's affection, but there's a little snag in his plans as she has an activist boyfriend and, uh, Dano has a bit of a cross dressing issue.

In one of the most off-kilter performances of his career, John C. Reilly appears in a small part as a grizzly wide-eyed neighbor of Kline's who speaks in falsetto. Reilly's part doesn't really fit in at first, but as the film goes on it becomes an inexactractable piece of the quirky quilt.

Though it's largely Dano's movie, Kline is who keeps it rolling with his witty line readings and chutzpah - a scene in which he teaches Dano how to take a leak while standing between parked cars on the street has more cheeky charm than one could imagine with that description.

What's less successful is the handling of Dano's sexual deviance. Scenes of the droopy sad eyed actor fondling brassieres and trying on women's clothes are cringe-worthy and don't add much to the more interesting material involving the wealthy women Kline is trying to woo.

A subplot involving Celia Weston as a wannabe socialite and somewhat rival of Kline's isn't explored fully, likewise Patti D'Arbanville's skimpy part as a dominatrix that Dano hires.

These flaws aside, THE EXTRA MAN is just amusing enough to be recommended. It's not as essential a film as director Berman and Pulcini's AMERICAN SPLENDOR, but it's fairly agreeable entertainment nonetheless.

Special Features: a commentary with Kevin Kline and author Jonathan Ames ("Bored To Death") who wrote the original novel, a second commentary with the co-directors + crew, a deleted scene, a clip of the voice recording for a cartoon clip, a behind the scene featerette of the musical score, and HDNet: A look at THE EXTRA MAN.

More later...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FASTER: The Film Babble Blog Review

FASTER (Dir. George Tillman, Jr., 2010)

Apparently after a slew of kid's movies and commercial comedies, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has decided to put his goofy grin up on the shelf and get back to basics in a big dumb action shoot 'em up.

On the day of his release from a 10 year prison sentence "The Rock", who a title tells us is "Driver", sits down in front of a sympathetic Warden (Tom Berenger). Berenger in a one scene cameo goes on about rehabilitation and offers a helping hand. "Any questions?" the Warden asks.

The Rock: "Where's the exit?"

This is our protagonist's first and only line for a bit into FASTER, which follows the extremely stoical ex con as he follows a list of those involved in the bank robbery that landed him in jail and who murdered his brother.

One informant after another is treated to a bullet to the brain.
Meanwhile, a sleazy Billy Bob Thornton, only identified as "Cop", is trailing "Driver" and there's Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a slick high tech assassin labeled only as "Killer" who is also caught up in the chase.

Working from the inside loop with a strong willed police detective (Carla Gugino), Thornton is a divorced druggie - unfortunately a scene devised to enforce his character's messed up mindset is set to the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" which can't help but recall THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dude! Don't steal from "The Dude"!)

Admiring The Rock's confidence and skills, Jackson-Cohen tells his girlfriend (Maggie Grace from "Lost") that his new worthy adversary is "faster" than he is, in case you were wondering about the film's title.

FASTER is ultra-formulaic and it takes itself way too seriously with only a few feeble attempts at humor to give us much relief.

The Rock puts in a refined and solid performance, but it's not a very interesting character. We don't learn anything about him except his single minded mission and the heavily implied love for his brother.

And because he's as unbeatable as always - there's no edge of danger present.

Thornton steals the scenes he's in - he and the brash Jackson-Cohen appear to be having fun with their roles which is good because The Rock sure isn't.

As for the mechanics of the plot there is a bit of a mystery about who pulled the strings in the botched bank job set-up with flashbacks and images on a videotape, but I seriously doubt the target audience for this film will care or be very shocked when the reveal comes. They'll probably just be waiting for the next kill like the preview crowd at the advance screening I saw this at who ate every bit of it up.

I will give credit to the fact that there were no explosions in this movie. For an action movie of this ilk that certainly can be seen as major restraint.

This is a movie for The Rock fans plain and simple. Those who want brains instead of blockbuster bloodlust may want to sit this one out.

More later...

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Review Of The Dreadful TAMARA DREWE

TAMARA DREWE (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2010)

I was surprised to see the credit “Based on the graphic novel” on the screen at the beginning of this British comedy clunker.

It seems every other movie this year was based on a graphic novel!

Nothing wrong with that I suppose, just unexpected with this type of Thomas Hardy-ish material which concerns a writer’s retreat setting in a quaint English village captured in the ever lasting golden hour.

In a tale told in seasons, aspiring authors congregate at the home of a bestselling writer (Roger Allam) and his hosting wife (Tamsin Greig) who has long learned to look the other way to deal with her husband’s affairs.

Allam is always pompously pontificating about his supposed literary talent mostly to a struggling neurotic writer played by a buffoonish Bill Camp.

Returning to the town for the first time since her nose-job, Gemma Arterton, as the title character, appears in skimpy cut-offs and red tank top and every man in sight swoons.

This includes Luke Evans as the gardener/handyman who had a fling with Artenton when they were teens we’re told in a racy flashback.

Artenton is a journalist covering a punk pop band named Swipe who break up after a row on stage in which the drummer (Dominic Cooper) is outraged over the coupling of 2 his band-mates particularly since one had been his girlfriend.

To Evan’s chagrin Cooper and Artenton quickly couple up themselves, all the while a couple of hiding chatty schoolgirls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) watch it all smitten themselves with Cooper.

Allam gets into the game by bedding Arterton, Camp secretly pines for Grieg who he uses as a muse, and the schoolgirls cause trouble with a naughty email so there’s endless foolish shenanigans at every turn.

The film builds to a tragic last third, hints of which are dropped here and there throughout, but once it’s upon us its effect is mind-numbingly banal.

For all its energy and colorful imagery, “Tamara Drewe” never gels. It’s a completely charmless and painfully unfunny farce. Every attempt at wit falls flat and I could never deduce what the point of it all was.

No insights into restless writer’s mindsets or hearts – it’s all just misplaced vanity.

It also doesn’t help that the characters are all unlikable especially Allam’s who is just a transparent caricature of a womanizing cad.

The film doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s side so there’s nobody to care about. Despite the richness of the countryside and Frear’s ace sense of staging, its ultra-smarmy tone sabotages the entire production.

I can only hope that the graphic novel (and still going comic strip in the Guardian) by Posy Simmonds is more worthwhile than this dreadful tripe.

More later...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

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Friday, November 19, 2010

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

FAIR GAME: The Film Babble Blog Review

FAIR GAME (Dir. Doug Liman, 2010)

The true story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband retired diplomat Joesph C. Wilson is told in this thriller/melodrama based on Plame's book "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House".

As portrayed by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (in their third film together) we follow them through the dense details of how their reputations were besmirched by the Bush administration in the early aughts when Wilson reported that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

Plame's CIA identity was exposed in the press and Wilson's work for the government is threatened, but the film seems to stress that what was more important is that their marriage was being torn apart.

It begins with Plame recruiting her husband to travel to Africa to investigate reports that Niger has sold 50 tons of "yellowcake" uranium ore to Saddam Hussein. Of course, he finds no trace of yellowcake and files a report to that effect as well as writes an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled "What I Didn't Find In Africa".

The controversy surrounding the couple, stupidly dubbed "Plamegate", becomes extremely messy as does the movie.
Many scenes are too strained and too choppy for the appropriate mood and there's an annoying inconsistent shaki-cam framing which detracts from its possible emotional power.

It's the stateside companion to Paul Greengrass's just as forced film GREEN ZONE in which army officer Matt Damon complains to an excruciating degree about not being able to find Weapons of Mass Destruction anywhere.

Penn and Watts make a convincing couple - their arguments over Plame's reluctance to go public with the facts are initially involving, but their attempts at intensity grow more and more tiresome as the film progresses to its predictable conclusion.

There is a wasted, and fictional, subplot involving an Iraqi doctor (Israeli actress Liraz Charhi) who works with Plame to find out the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. This also concerns the doctor's physicist brother in Baghdad, played by Khaled Nabawy, who Plame promises will be safely re-located if he helps out.

We also get Chief of Staff Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Senior Advisor Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) basically just being evil as they plot to discredit the heroic couple.
Then there's a cameo by Sam Shepherd as Plame's wise father that's so badly shot that we can barely see it's him until halfway through the scene.

With it's speechifying and constantly interspersed ominous shots of Washington locations (the White House, the Capital, the Pentagon, etc.) FAIR GAME has noble intentions, but its the cinematic equivalent of listening to hours of the liberal radio network Air America.

Hearing the hosts bitching non-stop about how we were lied to in order to justify the Iraq war - even if you agreed with them - was painful and a large part of why that network failed.

And it's the main reason this film fails too.

More later...

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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Monday, November 15, 2010

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

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