February 28, 2007
Huh?

Does anyone understand the political publicity machine? So John McCain announced in an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman today that he's seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2008. But this Reuters piece adds, "McCain said he would make a formal announcement in April." Are there people waiting on pins and needles for that shocking "announcement"?

February 26, 2007
Meow

AMC has sunk to a new low. The letters stand -- or at least used to stand -- for "American Movie Classics." That's laughable to anyone who's flipped through the channel's offerings recently. But even showings of Three Men and a Little Lady didn't prepare me for this press release: 'CATWOMAN' MAKES NETWORK TELEVISION DEBUT ON AMC.

Never mind that it's far too soon to call a 2004 movie a "classic." It's Catwoman! I probably don't need to say more, but I'll just mention that this stinker got all of nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

February 23, 2007
Foreigners

Up against The Lives of Others and Pan's Labyrinth (the links take you to my reviews of what I thought were the best and second best films of 2006, respectively) in the Best Foreign Language Film category in Sunday's Oscars is Days of Glory. It opens in DC today. From my review in today's Washington Times:

It might be hard to believe now, but Muslims and Christians once fought side by side to defeat what both saw as a common enemy.

You'd be forgiven for not knowing this. While there have been many, many films about World War II, the story of the North Africans who fought for France has been little told...

Oscar picks

Today's Washington Times also contains my Oscars picks ahead of Sunday night's ceremony.

If you'd like to hear me talking about the awards, I'll be on DC radio station 630 WMAL tomorrow during Saturday Morning Update with Rick Fowler. The show runs from 6 to 8 a.m. -- I'm usually on around the mid-point.

A rare masterpiece

And speaking of The Lives of Others, which I named the best film of 2006, it opens in DC today. The front of the Show section of today's Washington Times has a nice spread with my interview with the director and my review of the film.

From my interview:

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck didn't set out to goad Germany to confront its past, but that's just what the 33-year-old writer-director's masterly debut, The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), has done...
From my review:
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is a deft exploration of a police state in the year 1984. This astonishingly accomplished debut is destined to become a classic, a masterpiece approaching the insight and pathos of George Orwell's fictional look at totalitarianism in the same year...
I simply can't say enough good things about this film. Do go see it.

Best films of the year

Just in time for the Oscars, the link to my list of the top ten films of the year is now working:

1. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) -- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's astonishingly accomplished debut is powerful but understated filmmaking. A Stasi officer in 1984 East Berlin gradually gains his humanity through spying on a playwright and his actress girlfriend.

Catching up

The good web folks at the Washington Times fixed some stories of mine whose links weren't working, mostly film reviews:

My interview with Edward Norton, star of the excellent Somerset Maugham adaptation The Painted Veil, and John Curran, the film's director.

Children of Men review, in which I wax rhapsodic about star Clive Owen.

Blood Diamond review. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is up for a Best Actor Oscar.

The History Boys review. The smash stage play is transferred to the big screen.

The Pursuit of Happyness review, with Will Smith and son.

February 22, 2007
Seen

Jeremy.jpg

I suppose one can't really fault Borders for putting porn star Ron Jeremy's autobiography on display in an "arts" section when the New York Times Book Review devotes a page to it.

Thought for the day

"In restaurants we argue
over which of us will pay for your funeral

though the real question is
whether or not I will make you immortal."

--Margaret Atwood

February 21, 2007
Happy 100th Birthday

"I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return."

--from "September 1, 1939" by W.H. Auden, born February 21, 1907

February 18, 2007
Film: in the air, in the museum, and on the small screen

As usual, I had a few pieces in Friday's edition of the Washington Times. The big one was a feature on controversy in in-flight entertainment:

After seeing The Queen, passengers on a number of U.S. airlines complained about edits made to the film, which stars Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in the days after Diana, Princess of Wales, died.

The film isn't violent. Neither is there nudity. In fact, The Queen, up for a best picture Oscar this month, is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

So what changes had viewers fuming in online discussion groups?

The word "God" was excised seven times...

Some airlines -- mainly outside the U.S. -- are pushing the envelope. Mr. Klein of Jaguar Distribution Corp. laughed heartily on learning that Virgin Atlantic and the Australian airline Qantas allow passengers to watch Snakes on a Plane.

JetBlue may be the bravest U.S. carrier. It carries live television, and one FlyerTalk.com poster reported watching the National Geographic Channel series Air Emergency on a flight.

This reporter recently watched a film about the 1999 EgyptAir crash on an airport television screen while waiting to board an EgyptAir flight in Cairo...

I also had half of the Beyond Hollywood column, with a report on a new exhibition at the Phillips Collection (it's the second item):
When you visit a museum, you're likely to encounter every sort of visual art but one -- the one that's taken over the public imagination.

But the first filmmakers worked squarely within the tradition of painting and drawing. So the Phillips Collection reminds us with the opening of "Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film." The fascinating exhibition, organized by the Williams College Museum of Art, opens tomorrow and runs until May 20...

Curators sometimes make too much of the similarities. Many paintings are described as "cinematic," as if a panoramic view of the landscape couldn't be seen by the human eye before the invention of film. John Singer Sargent's wonderful, angular watercolor "Venice: Under the Rialto Bridge" is situated next to a film of the Grand Canal with the note that the great American painter saw many films. Yes, but he also saw Venice.

It's a quibble in an exhibition that shows not only the beginnings of a new art form but also its important documentary qualities. George Wesley Bellows' 1911 painting "New York," though teeming with life, is overshadowed by a myriad of film clips documenting life in the city when people like Edith Wharton and Upton Sinclair roamed its streets.

The first two items in the Tuning In television column are also mine. The first is a review of the British television drama Longford, now showing on HBO. The real-life tale stars Jim Broadbent as the earl who campaigned for the freedom of a murderess:
Peter Morgan may have been 2006's screenwriter of the year. He's up for an Oscar this month for The Queen, also a best picture nominee. His immensely intelligent script for The Last King of Scotland, which he co-wrote with Jeremy Brock, won a BAFTA Award earlier this month.

He's shown an uncanny ability to reimagine real events, and his latest project is no exception...

My other item is a preview of the third and final season of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, which premieres on the Sundance Channel tonight. It's a gently witty drama about the fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival, a Shakespeare-heavy company not unlike the Stratford Festival.

That was easy

It appears the CoshWatch below worked a lot better than the TorranceWatch.

February 16, 2007
Thought for the day

"As everyone knows, sex isn't always necessary to great love affairs--obstacles and barriers are."

--Michael Dirda

February 12, 2007
CoshWatch

Remember ColbyCosh.com's TorranceWatch feature? I do. Which is why I'm thinking of starting my own CoshWatch. (It has a nicer ring to it, don't you think?) The normally prolific Colby has been AWOL for a full fortnight now. Five posts on January 29, and nothing since. Where are you, Colby? You must at least have something to say about Anna Nicole!

American royalty

Tonight is the American premiere of the British television drama Wallis & Edward. I wrote a review of the film, which was published in my television column in today's Washington Times. But unfortunately, the most important part of the review was cut off. So here it is in its entirety:

Our Wallis

Many Americans, judging from the tabloids, relish gossip about the British monarchy. But only one royal scandal was created by an American. That's why Windsor watchers in this country should be glued to their seats for the U.S. premiere of "Wallis & Edward" on BBC America tonight at 9.

After reigning for 325 days, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. "Wallis & Edward" follows the star-crossed lovers from their first meeting to their eventual wedding. But don't expect a history lesson. The British television film takes a few liberties with the facts to create a mostly engrossing drama.

The story is told firmly from the perspective of Wallis (Joely Richardson, "Nip/Tuck"). Miss Richardson has more than a passing resemblance to the Baltimore-born socialite, and is completely believable in the role. What's less clear is why the Prince of Wales, the heir presumptive's title when the pair met, fell so head over heels in love with her.

Stephen Campbell Moore ("The History Boys") doesn't look much like the prince, but he's a fine actor. His role begins as Edward takes Wallis as his mistress while she is still married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson. Ernest doesn't seem to mind at first -- he enjoys the prestige that comes with being an intimate of the heir to the throne. Wallis obviously does as well. Her refusal to kowtow to the establishment clearly besots Edward.

"It's the kind of thrill that makes the rest of your life disappointing," her Aunt Bessie (Miriam Margolyes) warns. But Wallis doesn't expect the affair to last long. In fact, she's portrayed as rather reluctant to begin the liaison or to make it official. "Just because he's the king doesn't mean you have to hand over your wife," she tells her husband when Edward insists they divorce.

The personal side of things is well told, if at times it is a bit melodramatic (and steamy). It's not overly romanticized -- it's never clear whether Wallis truly loved the man who gave up a kingdom for her.

The politics, though, are simplified in this two-hour tale. There's virtually no reference to the Church of England, but in fact the main obstacle to the pair's marriage was that as king, Edward had become the supreme governor of the church, which prohibited remarriage after divorce. And Bertie, the king's brother who would become George VI, is portrayed as rather more sympathetic than he was in actual fact.

The most moving scene is truthful, however. Mr. Moore does an admirable job with that famous radio address in which the former king tells his people, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

Dave Moore (TV's "The Forsyte Saga") directs, while the script is the debut of Sarah Williams, who also wrote the upcoming feature film on Jane Austen, "Becoming Jane." The Americans here are played by Brits with sometimes imperfect accents.

Time magazine, in naming Wallis its woman of the year for 1936, said she helped lead Britain "into a more or less hectic and 'American' future." Now Americans can see dramatized the historic work of one countrywoman.

Thought for the day

"They've grown up believing in the orbiting eye, the subdermal microchip, the circling drone, and they're no more afraid of them than they are of moonlight. Perhaps that's because they're born onstage, these creatures, and the first thing they see is the snout of Daddy's Handycam. Their first steps, their first words, their first Little League at-bats are all directed toward the lens. In time, they have nothing inside them that hasn't been outside. No depths. No interiors."

--Walter Kirn, The Unbinding

February 09, 2007
Film stories

English Patient director Anthony Minghella's latest film, Breaking and Entering, opens in D.C. today. I've got two related pieces in today's Washington Times. I spoke with the director at the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall. And I have a review of the film, which stars Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, and Robin Wright Penn.

I also reviewed Le Petit Lieutenant, a French film in which the detectives are more mysterious than the crimes they're investigating.

Oh, and I'm also on the society page, with a short write-up of the Washington National Opera's Midwinter Gala.

February 08, 2007
The future, now

Wow. Either Mike Judge is a prophet or he's spent some time in Seattle recently. Those of you who have seen Idiocracy (whose mysterious marketing I wrote about here) will remember that in the future, Starbucks offers "Gentleman's Lattes." Now the Independent reports on a real-life trend:

At the Sweet Spot Cafe in the northern suburbs of Seattle, you get more than a foam topping on your cappucino...

Welcome to "sexpresso" - the latest coffee fad to hit America, in which the country's seemingly boundless fascination for Italian-style Java is combined with its equally boundless fascination for half-naked women.

February 05, 2007
On film

I had the Washington Times' "Film Snobs Only" page on Friday with two pieces. One is a review of Opal Dream, a charming family film set in an Australian mining town. The other is the Beyond Hollywood column. I take a look at the storied history of the Czech film industry in advance of a film series at the Avalon Theatre here in DC. I'm usually a contributor to this page, which was added to the Friday entertainment section a few months ago. I've also been the most frequent writer of the Beyond Hollywood column, which often features interviews with independent directors.

February 01, 2007
Catch up

Gosh. I'm kind of surprised at how little of my work I posted on here over the last couple of months. I will blame illness, work, and a fair amount of travel. Here's a bit of a catch-up. There is more, and more than a few notable pieces whose URLs don't seem to work anymore, including my top ten movies of the year. If I can't get the powers that be to fix the pages, I'll post at least that one manually.

Feature:

My piece on Notes on a Scandal:

A film unsparingly details the breakdown of an older, unfulfilled lesbian. Facing problems at work and the prospect of growing old alone, the vindictive hag preys on attractive younger women.

No, I'm not talking about the 1968 cult classic "The Killing of Sister George." This is the recently released critical hit "Notes on a Scandal."

Some stereotypes die hard, of course, but how was this one sneaked by the sentinels of political correctness?

Film reviews:

Notes on a Scandal: Few moviegoing experiences this year were as pleasurable as watching Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett go at each other.

Miss Potter, a bland biopic about children's book author Beatrix Potter.

The Good Shepherd, Robert De Niro's Godfather II-like CIA tale.

The Good German, Steven Soderbergh's homage to the golden age of film.

The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's auteur genre(s) film.

Stranger than Fiction: Will Farrell and Emma Thompson star in this surprisingly good unconventional story about life's narrative conventions.

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, with Nicole Kidman playing the photographer.

10 Items or Less, Morgan Freeman's foray into indie.

Beyond Hollywood columns:

A very special triple Beyond Hollywood, with my interviews with Fast Food Nation director Richard Linklater, The Fountain director Darren Aronofsky, and Fur director Steven Shainberg.

An interview with Ed Harris, who plays the title character of Copying Beethoven, and with the director of Shut Up and Sing, the Dixie Chicks documentary: "It's easy to see how Barbara Kopple became one of America's most acclaimed documentary filmmakers. Within minutes of our meeting, she had somehow wheedled a confidence out of this reporter..."

An interview with Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children of Men.

An interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, a co-star of Stranger than Fiction.

Other interviews:

An interview with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, when the composer received a Kennedy Center Honor.

For my television column, an interview with Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and documentarian.

An interview with William H. Macy, part of the ensemble cast of Bobby, from the Toronto Film Festival.

An interview with the cast of the Christopher Guest film For Your Consideration, from the Toronto Film Fest.