Essay, Movies

At the Watercooler: Noah rains Franchises from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘LOTR’ to ‘Harry Potter’

No Comments 01 April 2014

This movie makes me crazy!

This movie makes me crazy!

While it rained cash – and bad puns – on the Russell Crowe biblical epic “Noah” over the weekend with $44 million, Darren Aronofsky’s box office winner boldly went where a lot of famous movies had been before. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, the references rose like the waters of an angry God.

1. “Star Wars:” Yoda, is that you? As Noah’s Grandpa Methuselah, Anthony Hopkins has a Yoda wizened wise man look with wispy hairs blowing over his age-spotted pate. Between his puckish glances and deep-thought pronouncements, Hopkins clearly watched Yoda’s appearance on James Lipton’s “Inside the Actors Studio.” Wasn’t Yoda as old as Methuselah, too?

2. “Harry Potter:” Oh, Hermione, how far you’ve come! “Harry Potter” heartthrob Emily Watson plays Ila, the squeeze of Noah’s eldest, Shem. Ila makes the scene as the damaged little orphan who grows up to mother a new generation of humanity. But with Watson’s toodle-pip English accent still in play, and the stylish way she wears those fiber arty rags, she’s still casting spells and telling grown men (like Noah) what to do and distinguishing right from wrong. She’s so Hermione!

[RELATED: 'Noah" rises on top of box office with $44M Debut"]

3. “Percy Jackson:” Logan Lerman, can you play another character shafted by the Gods? As the title character in the money-minting children’s mythology series “Percy Jackson,” the swoony actor was constantly forced to be heroic in the face of fickle gods. Here Lerman plays Ham, Noah’s second and shafted son, who becomes tempted by the dark side thanks to his OCD’s father’s obsession with pairing off animals – but not his sons.

4. “LOTR”: Wait – that green mountain, doesn’t it look like Bilbo Baggins could be coming around the bend at any moment, walking in the big footprints of uber wizard Gandalf? Yes, both movies were shot on location in scenic (and empty) New Zealand. Over at “The New Zealand Herald,” a clever boots wrote: “Even damning it with faint praise would have been fun – something about ‘Noah’ appealing to New Zealand audiences because it’s the best movie about boatbuilding and livestock export you are likely to see this year.”

5. “The Tree of Life:” Director Aronofsky has answered one of the mysteries of contemporary filmmaking: how does an art film make millions at the box office when even Brad Pitt doesn’t draw audiences? One answer is embedding your Terrence Malick moments – long, arty sequences of time-lapse photography depicting creation from the moment of the Big Bang – in a popcorn biblical epic that is so conventional in its storytelling it would make a Neanderthal nod off.

[RELATED: "Russell Crowe calls 'Noah' criticism 'irrational'"]

6. “The Chronicles of Narnia:” Remember that big First Battle of Beruna scene when the animals (including mythical beasts like centaurs, minotaurs and unicorns) just keep coming, and coming and, well, coming? It’s just as jaw-dropping here on the way to the Ark to get out of Dodge before the big flood as first the birds come calling two-by-two, and then the reptiles, and then a large assortment of mammals and meat on the hoof. And it’s just as obviously CGI. No animals were harmed in the making of this film because they were all corralled in a virtual plane.

7. Ray Harryhausen: Like Noah gave birth to Shem, Ray Harryhausen gave birth to The Watchers. While they are biblically fallen angels, with a nod to the Old Testament, Aronofsky’s rock monsters are dead ringers for the stop-motion, model Dynamation style of FX godfather Ray Harryhausen. These galumphing giants recall the skeletal swordsman, battling Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Cyclops of the Harryhausen classics.

8. Charlton Heston Bible Movies: And then there’s Crowe, brutish and brooding, channeling Heston as Moses and Ben Hur, the angry child of an angry God. Through hairstyles thick and thin, Crowe’s Noah scowls his way from prolog to coda, with one big bender in between, as he shoulders the burden of listening to his Creator on a radio frequency no one else seems to get. Oh, let my people go, already!

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Essay, Movies

Essay: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Comes Before the Fall (Part 1)

No Comments 20 October 2013

My first New York job made me want to marry a millionaire

My first New York job made me want to marry a millionaire

This is the next post in an essay collection tentatively titled “Ten Movies that Shook My World”

On one Friday the 13th, even the divine Miss Elizabeth Bennet as played by Greer Garson could not salvage a doomed first big job in New York City

New York City awoke bitterly cold on Friday, December 13th, rolled over and hit snooze. I was sprinting for the E train when the first leather button popped off my corduroy wrap skirt en route to the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. I didn’t see it as an omen. But by mid-afternoon, when I was wrestling with my panty hose in a freezing bathroom stall, first peeing and then hiding, I realized I should have been more superstitious.

“Pitiful,” I grumbled to myself, both because I hated having to wear panty hose and because it was gradually dawning on me that I was a complete failure at my first big-league job in New York City. It was my ‘Devil Wears Prada’ moment before the book or the movie even existed.

Interrupting my pity party was the sound that chilled me like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart: the determined progress of the director’s pumps in the hall. I prayed that the urgent cadence of Italian heels on concrete would pass the Women’s Room on the way to the Public Affairs Office. Continue Reading

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Essay, Movies

Making Lists Gives me ‘Vertigo’

No Comments 11 October 2013

This is the first in a series of original posts that combine memoir and movies, but land strongly on the personal essay end of the spectrum. These intimate, highly subjective pieces will appear under the heading “Ten Movies That Shook My World.” Or Should it be 8 1/2?

Making Lists Gives me Vertigo

Making Lists Gives me Vertigo

Vertigo was probably the last straw, a straw I would have set alight like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, a movie that means so much more to me, and that I’ve watched more than any other. When Sight & Sound’s “Top Fifty Greatest Films of All Time” – a Barnum & Bailey title if ever there was one — came out with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on top like an intellectual cherry it included one solitary movie directed by a woman: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman: 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Mel Brooks could have captured my spit take on camera. That would have been an overreaction shot because I’ve almost (almost) become accustomed to a world where movie list-making is a sport like fantasy baseball. Nearly all these superlative lists reflect a bias toward men, and men trying to impress other men with their taste and intelligence.

Even if we began our fifty-finest list with Hitchcock, who I adore, I would have opted for my favorite, North By Northwest, or Rear Window. Or even Psycho, which viewers tend to remember for the Bates Motel shower scene and the sexually aberrant reveal. I admire its matter-of-fact mature opening in a cheap downtown L.A. hotel room with the adulterous affair of Janet Leigh and John Gavin in the bland light of a midday lunch hour.

All of this is to say that, although I’ve been a film critic for twenty years, and drafted my share of top-ten lists, I’ve always thought it was a bit of a load – but a load that got attention. There is no objective top ten, or fifty, or one hundred films. From what country – what about all the films from Egypt or India or that brilliant censored film from Kazakhstan that never crossed its borders? And films from what decade? And, of course, my personal province: from which gender?

This continued irritant, reading the Top Fifty Greatest Films of All Time (what, no Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep?), or the year-end lists of my colleagues at “The New Yorker” or “New York Magazine,” launched my more intimate, subjective journey. Really, most of us write from this place, but the ability to know one’s own bias, and write from one’s heart, through the lens of a passion for, and knowledge of film, is the province of the great ones, like Andrew Sarris, or Molly Haskell, or B Ruby Rich or David Rooney or Stephen Holden. Continue Reading

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Celebrity, Essay, Movies

Weighty Issues on “Enough Said’ as we Begin our Long Goodbye to James Gandolfini

No Comments 18 September 2013

Was it good for you, too? Gandolfini, left, Louis-Dreyfus

Was it good for you, too? Gandolfini, left, Louis-Dreyfus

It’s hard enough launching into a relationship when you’re in your twenties and, despite whatever insecurities you have, you look great in a bathing suit and you’re not carrying emotional battle scars from anyone’s long-term relationship except, possibly, that of your parents.

So that’s what makes Nicole Holofcener’s midlife love and loss dramedy set in Los Angeles so touching: here are these two single parents — Albert (James Gandolfini) and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) circling around dating each other and then testing the waters of sexual and emotional intimacy as their only daughters slink through the summer before they head East to college.

From the minute Eva meets Albert at a party, they are a study in contrast. She’s slim and petite and he’s massive. Can he pull the charm card and win her into his bed? Is it worth the effort on either of their parts?

When they give sex a try, we see a lot of Gandolfini. He’s hefty — and it’s no prosthetic. If he were a woman, they would call it “a brave performance.”

One thing Holofcener’s characters do is discuss their weight and its management in sharp, funny, revealing contemporary dialog in a way that echoes how we speak now. In a later sexual encounter, when Eva flinches, Albert asks her if he crushes her when he’s on top. (Well, yeah, but she doesn’t yet know him well enough to say anything).

When the pair takes a test run outside of the bedroom and goes for dinner at the house of Eva’s best friends, she drunkenly jokes that she’s going to get him a calorie-counting book as a gift. Not only is it a buzzkill topping off the end of a less-than-wonderful evening, but he drops her off at her own house that night. It’s the beginning of the end of a chapter in their relationship.

In vino veritas

In vino veritas

Eva has her own weight issues, too, although to look at her you would never know. At a send-off dinner for her daughter with her ex-husband and his current younger, skinny wife, Eva chastises him for ordering another bread basket. Her issue is that he will order more carbs, and she will overeat them. He does. And she does. He sees her lack of willpower in the face of bread (or cookies or cake) as a self-control issue and, besides, they’re no longer married. Her issues are no longer his responsibility.

When I saw Albert and Eva in bed for the first time on screen, still talking, teasing and trying for a natural rhythm beyond their inhibitions, I had one of those moments where real life overlaps with fiction. I saw Jim as an accident waiting to happen on the far side of fifty. He wasn’t pleasantly plump, he was sweatpants fat, on his way to Honey Boo Boo’s Mom Season One.

Gandolfini died of a heart attack at age 51 in Rome last June. We all have our times (my favorite uncle died of a heart attack at 50 in Van Nuys) but that seems way too soon for anybody, and so way too soon for Gandolfini.

Sitting across from Louis-Dreyfus at her suite in The Fairmont Royal York on Front Street in Toronto, I circled around a question that had pushed itself forward while watching the movie: “It felt hard to me,” I said, “to see Jim’s character talking about weight. I mean you and I — we all talk about weight, as women. But that kind of weight, that then contributed, possibly to his unhealthy premature end, it’s scary. It reminds you how short life is.”

“It does,” said Louis-Dreyfus cautiously. “And it’s –yeah, I don’t even know how to comment on that.”

It wasn’t the Gentle Giant answer that Louis-Dreyfus had been giving but, perhaps, it was closer to the truth. A dead silence where a joke or a reminiscence once fit.

I’ve lost so many people recently to cancer, and old age, and stubborn bad habits in the past eighteen months that what I really wanted to do, watching Gandolfini’s joy in comedy and romance in “Enough Said,” is nag and say: would it kill you to eat a salad?

Too little, too late. Would it kill me?

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Essay, Movies

Adams on Reel Women: ‘Prometheus’ pregnant with horror

No Comments 17 July 2013

Speaking of scary — here’s an “Adams on Reel Women” post from last summer:

Over the years, there have been some truly scary pregnancy horror movies — Mia Farrow awakening to the fact that she’s pregnant with the devil’s spawn in Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” Samantha Eggar’s mother of mutants in David Cronenberg’s grossly disturbing “The Brood,” and, of course, “Aliens 3,” when Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley discovers that, yes, sir, that’s an alien baby in her tummy. Pregnancy horror is the ultimate in haunted house frights: Evil lurks within the walls of the womb, and there really is no safe exit. Continue Reading

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