Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

(This 2005 film is on Netflix streaming again. For now.)

If there’s one film that I feel has been unnecessarily trashed (or, rather, just tossed aside like a day-old biscuit), it’s Elizabethtown.

(INSERT DIGRESSION ABOUT BISCUITS HERE:

First of all: who tosses out day-old biscuits? Yeah, they’re not as great the next day. I know everyone wants a FRESH biscuit. But day old biscuits are still edible, right? Just heat them up in the oven, slap some jelly on them. You’re set. This does not apply to whomp biscuits (you know…Pillsbury) because those are NOT real biscuits. And this was not a metaphor for aging at all.

/DIGRESSION)

Elizabethtown is the perfect movie to watch on Father’s Day (even though it’s not Father’s Day: I realize this), especially if you’re not around to celebrate the holiday with your dad. It will make you appreciate him even more. If your father has passed, it may make you a little sad. I mean, it’s a Cameron Crowe movie. You will FEEL SOMETHING, DAMMIT.

In Elizabethtown, Drew Baylor (played by a perfectly understated Orlando Bloom–for once he is not surrounded by pirates or evil wizards) is a shoe designer for a Nike-esque company, who has succeeded in designing a shoe who loses $1 billion for the company. We suspend reality here for a bit, as Drew is singularly blamed for an incident that (I feel) would not normally be blamed solely on the designer; or rather, if it was a bad design, why wasn’t it caught before ten gazillion shoes were manufactured? At any rate, Drew is instantly suicidal and goes back to his apartment to do himself in (with a contraption that ultimately fails! this guy is NOT the world’s greatest designer).

His effort fails when his sister (played by Judy Greer, who I just love. Have you read her book, I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From? you should at least buy the audiobook, if you are taking an eight hour trip through the mountains with no one around except the lonely, sad bears and crazy mountain men playing banjos and…oh, right, I forgot about the insane maniacs from Ohio who just HAVE to skid around you to make the exit for the next Cracker Barrel) calls to tell him that his father has died while visiting relatives in Kentucky, and he must go retrieve his father’s remains from the clutches of his evil Southern family.

The next part is the most reviled by the Manic Pixie Dream Girl critics–Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a flight attendant on Drew’s flight to Louisville, slides into the picture, all sparkles and fairy dust. But I must protest, Manic Pixie Dream Girl critics! I think it is utterly unfair of you to reduce this character to a certain type. It is very clear that you were just trying to be clever and that you were NOT paying attention to the movie after a certain point, because you thought up the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and were so excited that you had to leave the theater and not watch the rest of the movie. (Okay, I’m overreacting. I’m sure the critic stayed for the whole thing.) Claire is a supporting character, yes; she is a romantic interest, yes; she does have certain quirky qualities and characteristics, yes. But she is a central part of the film! True to her flight attendant, “substitute people” ways, she directs the traffic of Drew’s crazy, unpredictable family around him. She is there to remind him that there is life after failure–I mean, someone has to be the voice of reason, a megaphone of hope.  This is how people support each other (well, in movies at least). If the roles were gender reversed, would anyone call Drew a Manic Pixie Dream Boy? Nope! They would call him a thoughtfully considered, tenderly drawn, Lloyd Dobler-ish type hero.

At any point, the movie then focuses on the funeral and all of the accompanying family dynamics. Drew’s immediate family eventually agrees to travel to the Dirty South, and Drew eventually asserts himself with the Kentucky members of the family, who want him to be buried in Kentucky and are basically pushing Drew and his poor family around. There is an elaborate memorial service, which is one of the funniest funeral scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and Drew eventually faces his own grief, as he returns home and prepares to live a life in the shadow of failure.

Or does he? (ha.)

Let me admit, I love Cameron Crowe’s films, especially Say Anything, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky (and this one, too). Of all of the big budget, commercial directors out there, I feel he is one of the filmmakers with the most soul. Elizabethtown is easy to sit through, even through multiple screenings, and although it occasionally misses the mark here and there, it is a worthwhile watch. It will definitely make you consider your relationship with your own father, and realize that even through gaps in time, communication, and understanding, it is time to think about who your father is, as a person–and what he has meant to your life.

Then: immediately watch Daddy Daycare.

The Thing Called Love

Posted: March 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

This 1993 film is a relatively new release on Netflix.

Ah, 1993. I was a freshman in college. The world was exciting, the wide road of possibilities lay before me, and most importantly (of course, of course!), River Phoenix was still alive. He would unfortunately succumb to a drug overdose in front of the Viper Room before I finished my first semester, but while he was here, oh! What a glorious world it was! And when he died, we were all very sad and had the requisite all-night River movie marathons. One friend was particularly sad because she envisioned a future in which she and River Phoenix were married and had a child named Acorn.

But I digress.

Twenty years have come and gone, and River Phoenix is a teenage hormone-fueled memory. I don’t think I’ve watched a River Phoenix movie in at least ten years (I think the last one I saw was Dogfight), and for me, it’s easy to forget how magnetic he was. I think I saw The Thing Called Love once, many years ago, and liked it but wasn’t blown away by it. Here’s the problem with this movie: it’s more uneven than Lindsay Lohan on a three-day bender. And yet, as with Lindsay, even though you can poke a hole through its flaws and laugh at its shortcomings, part of you is nostalgic because you remember how cute River Phoenix (or Lindsay Lohan, especially in The Parent Trap) was, and it makes you long for the past and wish for a different future. (Like one where River Phoenix was alive and Lindsay didn’t turn out to be a train wreck.)

The Thing Called Love is mainly just a story about four singers (Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Sandra Bullock, and Dermot Mulroney) trying to make it in Nashville. Peter Bogdanovich’s direction gives the film a little more credibility than it probably would have had otherwise. And it’s a strange reflection of the only time in history when Samantha Mathis would be billed over Sandra Bullock. But other than that, the movie is nothing special. Except for one thing.

River Phoenix’s character.

River Phoenix’s James Wright is magic. He is magic. Complicated magic, but magic nonetheless. He is the moody, sexy, enigmatic romantic hero that every woman secretly dreams of. Okay, so the on-screen kissing leaves a little to be desired (I think River could have done with a little coaching; he was a little over the top in the kissing department. And I was just the girl to teach him! ha) and it’s kind of hard to believe that anyone would get all moony-eyed over dumb old Samantha Mathis, an actress who at best was ever just supporting actress material. (Also, she is not a great singer.) But still. James Wright is complicated and sexy and smart and has longish hair and is perfect imaginary boyfriend material. In the movie, he is also kind of a pain in the ass, but I think that just comes along with the territory.

So here’s how I break it down.

Reasons to watch The Thing Called Love:

1) River Phoenix.

2) River Phoenix.

3) Did I mention River Phoenix?

4) Some of the music is okay, too. I’m not a country music fan, but many of the songs are pretty catchy.

5) As early 1990s comedy dramas go, you could do worse. I was actually able to sit and watch the whole thing, which is an accomplishment in itself, these days. Mostly I get bored around thirty minutes in, and start fast-forwarding until the movie gets good. (If it ever does.) So there’s that.

 

Reasons to avoid The Thing Called Love:

1) It’s about country music. If you cannot abide country music, just skip it–River Phoenix or no. If your hatred of country music conflicts with your love of River Phoenix, you may need to consult a professional.

2) Samantha Mathis is just awful in this.

3) Dermot Mulroney gives a good performance…but his character is annoying. (Sandra Bullock actually gives a decent performance, too.)

4) Did I mention that Samantha Mathis is awful?

 

Okay, I’m starting to sound like a teenage girl. So I’ll stop now. If you need something decent to watch on Netflix, give this one a shot. But I warned you about Samantha Mathis. And the movie’s unevenness.

_____________________________

THE PART WHEREIN I FURTHER POSTULATE ON RIVER PHOENIX

When I was in high school, River Phoenix’s band Aleka’s Attic played in a club in a nearby city. I had to leave before Aleka’s Attic started playing, but I did manage to take a photo of him at the bar. The photo was a little blurry, but it was definitely a photo of him drinking a beer.

Then I lost the photo.

Cue sad trombone. 😦

 

 

 

Image

(This is a weird post to start my blog with, since it involves obscure character actors from the 1970s, but humor me.)

For some strange reason I’ve been on a Meryl Streep kick lately. It started with Kramer vs. Kramer and devolved to The Devil Wears Prada (not that Prada is a bad movie by any means; God knows I’ve worked for Miranda Priestly types so I identified deeeeeeply with it, and Anne Hathaway is just absolutely adorable. But it doesn’t scream classic like, say, Sophie’s Choice or Manhattan. But I digress.)

This prompted me to do some research on Meryl on IMDB. Who she’s married to (a sculptor, Don Gummer), number of children (four, including three girls who look EXACTLY like her), where she studied (Vassar and Yale Drama)–all of which I knew. Then I saw this interesting piece of trivia on her bio page:

“Was romantically involved with actor John Cazale for a total of 7 years, culminating with his death at age 42 in 1978 from bone cancer. She is very reluctant to discuss the relationship with anyone.”

I’m a sucker for a good tragic love story, so I was intrigued. I was also born in the mid-70s, so I had no idea who John Cazale was until I started reading more. Do you know why I had no idea who John Cazale was? Because I’m an idiot who has never seen the following:

  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • The Deer Hunter
  • The Godfather, Parts I, II, and III (I know. I know! The whole fucking Godfather trilogy! I’ve never seen it. Well, I watched The Godfather this weekend. Did I enjoy it?…well, that’s another entry. But still! Unforgivable!)

I guess I could defend myself by saying that I wasn’t even born when most of these movies came out. (But I managed to see Annie Hall by the time I was eleven, so…not really an excuse.)

At any rate: for easy reference, John Cazale was Fredo Corleone in The Godfather. (He wasn’t actually in The Godfather III, because, well. John Cazale and Fredo were both dead by then.) On the surface, one could describe him as a character actor who specialized in playing vulnerable, slightly dim-witted characters. For me, it was hard to reconcile the idea that this middle-aged, weird-looking character actor hooked up  with Meryl Streep, who on the surface was almost every his opposite: incredibly young, fairly white-bread, poised on the brink of commercial success. But the more I learned about John Cazale, the more that I realized that these seemingly unlikely lovers were definitely not mismatched. Life is life, and people die when they’re supposed to, I guess. But it’s pretty tragic that things ended the way they did, with him dying of cancer at 42 and Meryl left behind, haunted by his ghost. It’s almost Shakespearean, and would make an excellent film itself.

My research led me to this short documentary about John Cazale, I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (you can catch parts of it on YouTube). It’s by no means an exhaustive bio of Cazale; I found it a little amateurish and lacking substance. Meryl Streep does appear, although she mostly talks about Cazale’s impact on her professionally rather than personally. Apparently a lot of actors were very influenced by Cazale, according to this documentary: Pacino, DeNiro, Sam Rockwell, Steve Buscemi. I have no doubt that had he lived, he would have continued to be influential and well-respected (and probably would have taken a lot of Steve Buscemi’s parts. He was definitely not the neurotypical romantic hero type).

But back to the love story—and what a love story! A young, brilliant, classically trained actress, fresh out of school, meets an older and unconventional, but equally brilliant actor while doing Shakespeare in the Park–magical. Their love affair continues for years, through illness and heartbreak and hard times…even more magical. Then he dies tragically of cancer, and she’s left to think about the legacy and impact he left on her life. That is a fucking fantastic story (sad, but fantastic). It’s not unlike John Keats and Fanny Brawne (if you haven’t seen Bright Star, I recommend it highly.)

If there’s anything I want to leave you with, it’s this: in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the sex lives of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, where magazines are consistently splashed with stupid stories about Bethenny Frankel getting a divorce and Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson (Kristen, if you think you’re going to do better than Rob, you’re nuts), it’s nice to know that once upon a time, not so many years ago, there was a real Hollywood love story that was worth writing about. A story about two people (okay, actors, but, you know, they’re still people) who didn’t seem to be a match on the surface, but who are deeply in love anyway, willing to learn from each other and commit to each other during hard times and illness and just the basic rhythm of life.

I think I respect Meryl Streep even more now. I’m glad that my travels lead me to this story, so that I could learn more about John Cazale. Although his career was short, he was an important part of some of greatest cinematic works ever. He deserves to be remembered.