Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgabbing Day

Werth: Happy Thanksgiving, Wise!

Wise: Happy Thanksgiving, Werth! I take it you chowed down on platters and platters of edible delights.

Werth: Chowed and chowed. Did you create one of your infamous Wise Family spreads?

Wise: Did I ever: three kinds of pie, sweet potato gratin, roasted corn and red peppers, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and a turkey that almost made me weep with gluttonous joy. 

Werth: You know, in between the courses of white and red wine, I thought to myself how thankful I am.

Wise: Friends, family and food on our tables are good reasons for thanks.

Werth: I meant thankful for some of the movies I've seen this year.

Wise: But I thought Adam Sandler only made one film this year. 

Werth: There was a lot to be thankful for—Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011), Bette Davis in a black wig in Beyond the Forest (1949), Olivia de Haviland playing twins with name tag necklaces so you can tell them apart in Dark Mirror (1946)

Wise: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011), a finale that was thrilling, yet deeply tender; the salute to fashion photographer icon Bill Cunningham New York (2011); and Tangled (2010), Disney's return to making fairy tales that are both gorgeous and full of spunk. 

Werth: But the film I saw this year that I was most thankful for was Tim Burton's 2003 grown-up fantasy, Big Fish.

Wise: Fish for Thanksgiving. Interesting...  

Werth: Based on Daniel Wallace's 1998 novel of the same name, Big Fish basically tells the story of a storyteller. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) comes home to visit his ailing father Ed (Albert Finney) after years of estrangement. Ed is a habitual yarn-spinner of epic proportion who can't even tell the truth about what happened the day his son was born. 
He ignores the fact that he was in Wichita selling one of his Handi-matic gadgets, blows by exaggeration and heads straight for a tall-tale about wrestling with a legendary giant fish.  

 Wise: Wallace has written several well-received novels that playfully reconsider Southern traditions and storytelling.  

Werth: The film goes back and forth between the present and the imagined past of Ed's tales with Ewan McGregor filling in as the irresistibly charming younger Albert Finney. Burton has always been an expert at creating odd, macabre childhood visions, but what he does here is unique even for him. The delightful circus, neighborhood soothsaying witch and barefoot town trapped in a folk-sy past aren't viewed from the perspective of a child, but from that of an adult. 
In Big Fish, Burton takes a step away from his kiddie-flick roots and melds a touching father-son melodrama with a celebration of artists who create imaginative stories, larger-than-life characters and captivating places—in short, directors like himself.  

Wise: It certainly was a departure from his usual carnival funhouse and an embrace of a more mature, though no less wondrous, vision.  

Werth: Packed with gorgeous visuals, intimate un-Burton-like close-ups and a cast of greats including Finney, McGregor, Jessica Lange, Marion Cotillard, Helena Bonham Carter and Robert Guillaume, Big Fish did not make a splash with critics (only garnering one Oscar nom for Danny Elfman's soundtrack), but this Film Gabber was boo-hoo'ing like a baby by the end—and as far as I'm concerned, that makes Big Fish a must-see.  

Wise: Although I can't say I had the same reaction to Big Fish, I do agree that the films I'm most thankful for are the ones that affect us most personally.  For me, that film this year was Weekend (2011), written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh.  The film follows Russell (Tom Cullen), a shy, circumspect  man who exists at the fringes of his friends' lives.  Slipping away from a house party one night, he wends his way to a bar where he meets Glen (Chris New), and, after a few spectacularly awkward flirtations, they end up spending the night together.  

Werth: I have a couple stories that wind-up like that...  

Wise: I think almost everyone does, but the unusual thing about Russell and Glen is that they can't seem to allow their night of drunken fumbling to fade into the past. A few hours turns into an entire weekend as they battle preconceived ideas, pry open each others' deepest secrets, and eventually forge new selves.  

Werth: Sounds like a weekend-long love hangover.  

Wise: It's actually the exact opposite of a hangover.  At the start of the movie, neither man believes in love—Russell because he doesn't trust himself; Glen because he doesn't trust others—but by the end, each has surrendered himself to the other.  

Werth: Are you sure this isn't one of the Twilight movies? 

Wise: Weekend doesn't offer the glib melodramatics of adolescent infatuation.  Instead it addresses anxieties, loneliness, and the possibility of finding happiness with another person through work, vulnerability and luck.  

Werth: It sounds like it's a movie that made you very thankful. 

Wise: Almost as thankful as I am that I'll still be eating turkey leftovers during next week's Film Gab. 

Werth: Happy Thanksgiving Film Gabbers! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Very Gabby Birthday to Us!

Werth: Happy First Birthday, Wise!

Wise: Happy First Birthday to you, Werth!

Werth: Just think of it: last year at this time we were putting the finishing touches on our very first Film Gab, "Be Gentle. It's Our First Time."  We were stressing out over our movie choices, our punctuation, whether to use the papier mache head pic—

Wise: And if anyone would bother reading it.

Werth: But here we are one year and 22,000 page views later.

Wise: 22,000 views. Wow. I wonder how many people are just tuning in for the gratuitous sex and violence.

Werth: Funny you should say that because one of our most popular posts has been "Gab in the Buff."

Wise: The internet does seem to encourage nudity.

Werth: People looking for Porky's I get, but I was surprised by how many people were looking for the skinny dipping pics from A Room With a View. Never underestimate the power of nude British lads.

Wise: Or the power of one word. "Stressed-out Gab" has been very popular apparently because people like to search the internet for postings about stress.

Werth: Gaslight and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte are the perfect cures for someone who is stressed enough to have to look it up on the internet.

Wise: The "Stressed is Desserts spelled backward" pic seemed to calm some of them down. And speaking of desserts, no first birthday party would be complete without some cake, and audience favorite "Let Them Eat Gab" is full of sweet treats.

Werth: Like Jamie Dornan in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

Wise: A tricorne hat makes everything more delightful. 

Werth: Something not as edible is comic centenarian Estelle Winwood whose presence in Murder by Death in our "April Gab's Day" post certainly drew lots of attention.

Wise: Who knew she had such a rabid fan club? With all these popular postings, I feel like we should remind folks about some of the less popular posts.

Werth: The ones with Coke-bottle glasses, zits and braces?

Wise; Exactly. "12 Step Gab" points out how fun movies about boozehounds can be, especially when they're played by a cinema legend like Meryl Streep in Postcards from the Edge, or by a tiny, hairy British comic like Dudley Moore in Arthur

Werth: I have to say that one of my favorites of our less-loved children would be "Re-Maker's Mark." I really enjoyed comparing Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce with Kate Winslet to Michael Curtiz's with Joan Crawford.

Wise: We all know you want to stage a mudwrestling match between the two Mildreds.

Werth: And your piece about The Shop Around the Corner is a great reminder of how current Hollywood still mines classic Hollywood for material.

Wise: Well I'm very excited to continue mining Hollywood for more Film Gab.

Werth: And we hope all of you readers will continue to join us as we grow out of diapers and start walking. What's your favorite Film Gab from our first year?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Two Gabs in One

Wise: Hello, Werth!  

Werth: Don't say it!  

Wise: Hello? or your name?  

Werth: I know this week's blog is inspired by the release of a certain actor's new "comedy" where he plays opposite sex twins—  

Wise: Oh, Adam Sandler in Jack & Jill?  

Werth: But I was hoping we could do our blog about actors who play multiple characters without actually mentioning his name or the title of his movie.  

Wise: Now that I've mentioned he who shan't be named, can I ask what's your favorite movie with an actor playing dual roles?  

Werth: The movie I'd like to gab about doesn't have an actor playing just two roles—but eight!  

Wise: Take that, Lord Sandlermort!  

Werth: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) opens with Dennis Price as Duke Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini penning his memoirs from his cell the eve before his execution.  

Wise: A peppy start.  

Werth: If it weren't a dyed in the wool English comedy of manners, you'd be right. But Kind Hearts is a wonderfully dark kipper. The flashback shows Louis' mother driven out of the titled D'Ascoyne clan for having the effrontery to elope with an opera singer (played briefly by Price). 
The humiliation and the poverty of this disenfranchisement follows her and her son their entire lives until she dies of a broken spirit—even denied a burial in her own family crypt.  

Wise: Well, there's one less tale from the crypt.  

Werth: So Louis decides to get revenge (and inherit the dukedom) by knocking off the remaining members of the dastardly D'Ascoynes one at a time in ways that could only be viewed as accidental. The problem is one of scope, however. There are eight D'Ascoynes, and they are each played wonderfully by venerable British actor Alec Guinness.  

Wise: Sir Alec if you're nasty.  

Werth: Guinness is an acting whirlwind as he plays the haughty Duke, ancient Parson D'Ascoyne, flighty and drunk young Ascoyne, and even Lady Agatha—a vigilante suffragette. It's more than just a parade of wigs and makeup. Guinness gives each character, no matter how brief their appearance, a vivid send-up before Louis finishes them off in clever fashion. 
This was the first movie Guinness made for quirky Ealing Studios and he would continue working with them making sly, imaginative comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Ladykillers (1955) and All at Sea (1957). For an actor who was most known for his dramatic roles—  

Wise: And for Obi wan Kenobi—  

Werth: Kind Hearts is a wonderful reminder of how versatile Guinness' film work was.  

Wise: I can't compete with eight characters, so I'm going to dial it back down to two. Vertigo (1958) has been hailed by many critics as Hitchcock's best film.  

Werth: Far be it from me to disagree with critics, but I think Psycho, Rebecca, Lifeboat even The Birds are all tighter Hitchcock films.  

Wise: That may be true, but I think the rabid response has a lot to do with Vertigo's richness, both in cinematic design and in theme: a man deathly afraid of heights suddenly finds himself falling inexorably in love.  

Werth: I fall in love with Judith Anderson every time I watch Rebecca.  

Wise: James Stewart plays John "Scottie" Ferguson, a San Francisco police detective who is forced to retire from the force when a sudden attack of acrophobia paralyzes him while pursuing a suspect and causes his partner to tumble to his death.  

Werth: Which would make for an awkward retirement party.  

Wise: Bored and still suffering the aftereffects of the trauma, Scottie reluctantly agrees to tail Madeleine (Kim Novak), the icy blond wife of an old acquaintance.  The husband believes that Madeleine has been possessed by one of her ancestors, and after a series of increasingly bizarre events, Scottie witnesses Madeleine plunge to her death.  

Werth: That would be even more awkward.  

Wise: Obsessed with Madeleine's death, Scottie prowls the streets, haunted by her image until he spots redheaded Judy Barton (also Kim Novak) whom he transforms into the image of his deceased love.  

Werth: Which is where the movie falls apart for me because Novak is unrecognizable as Judy and it's impossible to see how anyone would recognize her as Madeleine's doppelganger.  

Wise: I have to agree with you.  It's a big stumbling block to the success of the picture because it somehow violates the point of actors doubling roles: the audience has to immediately recognize the similarities for it to make sense.  

Werth: And don't get me started on the ending... 

Wise: I won't, so why don't we just start ending this week's multiple personality Film Gab?

Werth: Tune in next week faithful Film Gab Readers, when we won't mention the Dark Lord of dufus comedy.
Photo of movie poster in the NYC Subway.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy 50th West Side Story!

Film Gab would like to wish the cinematic West Side Story a happy 50th birthday! And we can all join the celebration— because today at select theaters across the country, Turner Classic Movies is sponsoring special screenings of this legendary Hollywood musical. So find a theater in your neighborhood and spend some time with Tony, Maria, the Jets and the Sharks and experience this classic as it was meant to be seen. Pow!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is She or Ain't She?

Werth here—I'm probably too biased to chime in on the whole, "Will Michelle Williams be able to pull off playing Monroe? in the upcoming film My Week with Marilyn" debate, but they have just released a clip of Williams as Monroe singing "Heat Wave"- so you be the judge!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Spreading the Cult Jam

Werth: Wise.  

Wise: What's up, Werth?  Do I sense a classic Werth conniption coming on?  

Werth: No... but maybe some traditional Werth righteous indignation.  That list I posted earlier this week— 

Wise: Nerve's 50 Greatest Cult Movies of All Time?  I remember.  

Werth: Well, I've been thinking about it all week, and as much fun as their compilation is, there are some extraordinarily weird, great, compelling cult movies that did not make their list— 

Wise: And it's up to us to redress the situation?  

Werth: Exactly. They neglected wonderfully awful movies like Trog (1970), Querelle (1982), The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), Hardcore (1979)—

Wise: The Land of Oz from The Shirley Temple Theatre TV series—

Werth: —and not a peep was made about one of my favorite cult movies, the 1991 television documentary Dancing Outlaw.  

Wise: That could have also been the title for the Shirley Temple show...  

Werth: Dancing Outlaw is a documentary about tap-dancing, multiple personalit-ied criminal Jesco White. And if you think that sounds made-up, it should be—but it isn't. Director Jacob Young went into the hills of Boone County, West Virginia and ferreted out Jesco and his family for a public broadcasting program. The result is a jaw-dropping look at white poverty in the backhills of America.  

Wise: Made you homesick?  

Werth: Jesco is the son of locally famous folk-tapper D. Ray White (Mother White says with a straight face, "He knowed 52 steps more than any other tap dancer in the world") and longs to reclaim the dancing heritage he squandered from years of gas huffing, spousal abuse and jailtime. Jesco's problems stem from his multiple personalities: Jessie—the sweet, loving one; Jesco- "the devil in hisself"; and Elvis—... Elvis. 
Jesco and his wife Norma Jean's trailer is the site of death threats over fried eggs, Elvis karaoke in the "Elvis Room" and pleadings for some lovin' for Priscilla. And at the White Family Compound (they call it a "holler") amidst the rusted out cars and household appliances every couple of days the larger family gets together to drink beer and drive their trucks around in circles in the muddy, grass-less front yard.  

Wise: Sounds like a typical afternoon with the Vanderbilts and Astors, too.  

Werth: What makes this documentary so strange is that amidst this haystack of insanity lies a needle of pathos. Jesco legitimately longs to honor his murdered father and to capture that golden moment in the spotlight that so many people professional or otherwise long for. The cult success of this film actually nabbed the attention of Rosanne Barr and Jesco was brought to Hollywood to tap dance on her television show. 
That kind of notoriety eventually led to a theatrical documentary, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia released in 2009. But in Dancing Outlaw, it's apparent that Jesco is a unique creature of Appalachia, a rare, airplane glue-sniffing orchid that would die outside of his double-wide greenhouse. His hilariously performative mannerisms when telling a candid story are more relaxed than when Young tries to elicit a comic performance from his subject. Jesco is at his best tap dancing on a cardoor in his backyard, vowing that he's going to blow his wife's brains out if she doesn't get out of his head. It's a simple existence that would be ruined by the complications of fame and fortune.  

Wise: One of my favorite cult movies is Spanking the Monkey

Werth: Is that a movie or something from a deleted scene in The Wizard of Oz?  

Wise: Hi-larious.  Spanking the Monkey is David O. Russell's first feature film about college student Ray Aibelli (Jeremy Davies) who hopes to spend the summer between his freshman and sophomore years as an intern in the Surgeon General's office in Washington, D.C.  That plan is scuttled when his traveling salesman father insists that Ray stay home to nurse his mother (Alberta Watson) back to health while she recuperates from torn ligaments in her leg.  
Left alone with his mother, Ray begins to realize how miserable his parents' marriage really is.  That knowledge, plus the intimate care with which he tends to her, brings the two of them uncomfortably close.  

Werth: Is this where the spankings come in?  

Wise: I don't want to spoil the ending.  Instead I'll say how well this movie dramatizes the conflict between Baby Boomer parents and their Gen X kids.  Ray's father is desperate for adventure while his mother hungers for emotional fulfillment.  The combination forces Ray to assume adult responsibilities that he's not prepared to take.  

Werth: Which means he totally did his mom.  

Wise: The film itself is messy and energetic, full of ideas and conflict, contending forces and squirm-inducing desires— 

Werth: This posting is inducing some squirming.  

Wise: But Spanking the Monkey is definitely worth a second look... if you have the stomach for it.  It's not everyone's taste, but for a small film with a particular vision, it really packs a punch.  

Werth: So, readers, what do you think about Nerve's list?  Anything you'd like to add or subtract?  Join us in the comments below and tell us your favorite cult hits.  

Wise: Just don't forget to join us next week for the cult of Film Gab!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Bit of Burton

Video artist Kees van Dijkhuizen has created a lovely video montage of the films of Tim Burton. Sure there are lots of people who make favorite director videos on the internets, but Dijkhuizen takes particular pleasure in artistically linking a director's work instead of just showing everyone's favorite one-liners. It's a fun way to look at a director's career- so much fun that Dijikhuizen has also given the montage treatment to Baz Luhrman, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher and Wes Anderson.