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"When Sunset Boulevard was first unveiled at private screenings in Hollywood, I remember an executive's coming away from it talking as if he'd just been to a wife-swapping session with his father. It's this self-shocking insularity of show-business people - like kids at school giggling wildly as they talk dirty about the teacher - that probably accounts for how simpleminded much of The Producers, which was written and directed by Mel Brooks, seems, and why it is acted and directed as if each bit of horseplay were earthshaking."

- Pauline Kael in Going Steady: Film Writings 1968-1969




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06.03.02 - 06.09.02
06.09.02 - 06.24.02
06.25.02 - 07.02.02
07.02.02 - 07.10.02
07.11.02 - 07.17.02
07.17.02 - 07.22.02
07.22.02 - 07.27.02
07.28.02 - 08.01.02
08.04.02 - 08.09.02
08.12.02 - 08.16.02
08.27.02 - 09.11.02
09.13.02 - 09.26.02




1. Once Upon A Time in the West
2. Desk Set
3. If...
4. Portrait of Hell
5. Sons of the Desert


1. Once Upon a Time in the West (Ennio Morricone)
2. Superfly (Curtis Mayfield)
3. Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder)
4. American Grafitti (various)
5. Ascenceur pour L'echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) (Miles Davis)


1. Sweet Smell of Success (Chico Hamilton & Elmer Bernstein, out of print)
2. Mishima (Phillip Glass)
3. In A Savage Land (David Bride)
4. The Hot Spot (Jack Nitzsche, Miles Davis & John Lee Hooker)
5. O Lucky Man (Alan Price)


1. Myrna Loy in any Thin Man film
2. Bonnie Bedelia as Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney in Heart Like a Wheel
3. Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels
4. Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein
5. Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night


6. The Conformist
7. The Loveless
8. The Palm Beach Story
9. Topper
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith


1. Lillian Ross, Picture
2. Nasreen Muni Kabir, Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story
3. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
4. Otto Friedrich, City of Nets
5. George Hurrell, Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits


Got a moment?



#0089 - BUT IS IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS? - Hollywood, a town and an industry largely founded by Jews, has been strangely silent on Israel, suicide bombings, and the all-too-obvious rise in "acceptable" anti-semitism, according to this Chicago Reader piece. "There's been a puzzling silence," according to screenwriter Dan Gordon. "We're an industry that takes stands on everything. People can't shut us up! I'd love to see the indignation about homicide bombers that is reserved for smokers."

In apparent contradiction of the old trope that Jews control the media and push a Zionist agenda through it, prominent Hollywood Jews like Rob Reiner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Seinfeld, David Geffen, Harvey Weinstein and Adam Sandler have been publicly silent on the latest intifada and the vocifeous anti-Zionist rhetoric coming from both the right and left. Rumours have abounded, a prominent one being Seinfeld's imminent trip to Israel, which proved to be unfounded, as did a hoax about Spielberg making his next film about Palestinians. Sandler was planning a trip to visit children's hospitals in Israel but cancelled two days before leaving, apparently spooked by the bombing at Hebrew University.

The Tribune article cites "an industry with a history of ambivalence toward its heritage", as well as the overwhelming liberalism of the industry, which reflexively sides with underdogs. "The people who have had their cities turned into rubble look like the underdog," notes Michael Tolkin, screenwriter of The Player. "There's embarrassment about being a Jew and a feeling of alienation from the Jewish community, a fear that's been taken over by the right wing."

Privately, figures like Geffen, Katzenberg, Weinstein and Barbara Streisand donate money to pro-Israeli causes, but very few big names are as public in their support as someone like Steven Spielberg, whose Righteous Persons Foundation and Shoah Visual History Foundation are generously endowed by the director to battle anti-semitism. "I think it should be obvious to people where his heart is," said Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy. David Mamet recently visited Israel, taking a tour of suicide bombing sites with Jerusalem's mayor, and Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing has been a high-profile supporter, stating that "this is the first time in my life that I have feared for the existence of Israel."

Project Communicate was launched last year by a group of younger Hollywood executives to try to use their media skills to fight opposition to and, more particularly, ambivalence about Israel and Jewish causes, particularly among younger Jews. The group hired a Republican pollster to survey college students, and found that non-Jewish students were often openly and actively pro-Palestinian while "the Jews were utterly apathetic."

Project Communicate's program is still "in development", as they say, but the group knows that its biggest challenge will be rendering the issues involved in the Palestinian conflict into easily understood terms. It won't be easy. "Everybody in Hollywood is obsessed with story," says Michael Tolkin, "and used to thinking their way out of a plot. There's no obvious way out of this. I don't know anyone who can get three paragraphs through a discussion of the Middle East crisis without being struck mute."

(posted 10:19pm EST | 10.08.02)

#0088 - MOOKIE SEE, MOOKIE DO, or LIFE IMITATES ART (BA-DA-BING, BA-DA-BOOM DIVISION) - Another great story from The Conversations, Michael Ondaatje's book of interviews with editor Walter Murch. Murch, who worked on The Godfather films, recalls an interview he read in the NY Times with mobster Salvatore Gravano, where the interviewer asked Gravano if he thought Godfather author and screenwriter Mario Puzo had mafia connections. Gravano answered that he was certain the Puzo did, based on how the scene where Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo and McCluskey played out onscreen, with the screech of the elevated train overhead overwhelming any other sound as Michael steadies himself to pull the trigger. "Somebody who wrote that scene had to have a feeling for that," Gravano said. "I mean, I felt like I was pulling the trigger myself." In fact, the whole sequence was Murch's idea, "my attempt to fill a sound space that would normally be occupied by music".

Later, the interviewer asked Gravano if The Godfather influenced his career as a mob hit man:

"Well," he answers, "I killed nineteen people."

What did that have to do with The Godfather, the interviewer asked.

"I only did, like, one murder before I saw the movie."

Somehow, this gives The Sopranos an unusual, maybe even undeserved resonance, don't you think?

(posted 12:13pm EST | 10.07.02)

#0087 - IMITATION: THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY - I saw Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, the 1975 Bollywood classic, for the first time this weekend, and I couldn't help but be struck by the wholesale ripoff of the "McBain family massacre" sequence from Sergio Leone's 1968 Once Upon A Time in the West during Thakur Singh's second major flashback sequence. It's not just "shades" of Leone's masterful, horrible scene, as Dinesh Raheja suggests in this recent appreciation of Sholay, but an utter, shameless copycat. Granted, it didn't seem outrageous once you'd sat through the broad but hilarious take-off of Chaplin's Great Dictator during the prison scenes - but it was hardly a subtle homage.

Stealing plots is apparently a venerable tradition in Hindi cinema, and it continues to this day, as this Guardian article details. Two major Indian releases - Awara Paagal Deeweena and Raaz - apparently bear more than passing similarity to, respectively, The Whole Nine Yards and What Lies Beneath. An unreleased film, Kaante, apparently bears more than a passing resemblance to Reservoir Dogs. Actually, I'd love to see a Bollywood version of Tarantino, and from what I know about the director, I think Tarantino would be delighted and flattered.

While some Indian directors regard the practice of copycat filmmaking as shameful and ultimately destructive to Indian cinema, Raaz director Vikram Bhatt responded slyly to the accusations: "Once you understand and accept that an idea has existed before you did, then you look at the whole aspect of 'copying' in a different light." An amazingly witty comeback, and one that manages to combine postmodernism and reincarnation in one seamless, cynical sentence.

(posted 09:52pm EST | 10.06.02)

#0086 - ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS - The BBC's Mark Cousins writes some of the neatest movie commentaries around these days, and his essay in Prospect magazine about rain in movies is a neat piece of work. Cousins starts off with the quintessential movie downpour - Gene Kelly's ecstatically soggy caper in the title song from Singin' In The Rain - and makes one of those statements about movies that deserves to be carved in stone and hung around the neck of every critic, reviewer, film school undergrad and film "theorist"; it's just about that incisive:

"It's absurd in a Hollywood way because getting drenched is seldom much fun, but classical cinema has always structured its feelings in a utopian way, stripping out the unpleasant parts of real life and building in safety and forgetfulness."

He goes on to Bollywood films, where the rain scene has been a staple for decades, in films like Dil and Betaab: "The rain song, as it came to be known in the biggest film industry in the world, has become a narrative structural device, like the action sequence in Hollywood." Cousins cites the rain machine - actually the rain structure, if you've ever seen one in action - as the mechanical genie that made all those rain sequences possible, drenching John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man so that "it made her hair look straggly and sexy and showed his physique beneath his shirt." Oddly enough, he doesn't mention the omnipresent "white sari" scene in Bollywood films, a much-used device meant to show off the female lead's figure in a cinema known for its horror of nude scenes.

Cousins inventories rain scenes in films like The Seven Samurai, Psycho, Black Nacissus, Don't Look Now and The African Queen, and anatomizes the way that rain can both drain a scene of colour and - literally and metaphorically - saturate everything the camera sees. He recalls the magnificent rain sequence Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives, a film I remember adoring when I saw it at the film fest years ago, and which still isn't on DVD. Rain-drenched streets were an elegant cheat in film noir, a cheap way of doubling the light sources in night scenes, and it's become a cliché, obliging film crews everywhere to hose down city streets for every night shoot, whether it's appropriate or not. At the same time, Cousins notices a paradox in the use of rain in Hollywood, another facet of the magnificent, yearning fakeness that defines and suffuses mainstream American cinema:

"...whereas the rain in Indian and British films is understandable because both those countries have so much of it, the preponderance of rain in Hollywood films is more surprising. The very reason for making films there was its lack of rain. The earliest directors used only natural light; the early moguls set up shop where light was everywhere. Nevertheless, rain machines became one of a film-maker's favourite toys. While rain in India and Britain is just a fact - as this summer has made clear - in California, it is a longing."

(posted 09:21pm EST | 10.06.02)

#0085 - EVERTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK - The Guardian has an amusing quiz - "Are you living in a Ken Loach film?" - and I have to admit I was grateful when I read my results. I can't imagine how awful it would be to live in a Ken Loach film; the housing projects in A Clockwork Orange look happier.

"Not quite. While your life bears some vague similarities to a Ken Loach production, it's altogether too noisy, extrovert, posturing and (dare we say it) American to qualify for the kitchen-sink treatment. Instead, your biopic will be directed by some New York indie director and set primarily in Brooklyn. Those currently auditioning to play you include Ben Stiller, John Cusack, Chloe Sevigny and Christine Keener."

I think they mean Catherine Keener, but she's not a blonde, and I'm nowhere near that flatchested, so no way could she play me.

Also on the Guardian site is a bitter little piece about the stifled promise of the "kitchen sink" or "British New Wave" school of cinema, which most of us know from directors like Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and John Schlesinger, and films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and This Sporting Life. It introduced us to actors like Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney, and intimated to the world that Britain was set to produce a new cinema on a par with the French New Wave. It wasn't to be.

"Impatience with middle-class Britain and its indifference to social change was, however, not enough to create a durable movement. . . The British film industry's refusal to finance Look Back In Anger was an early sign that newcomers were unwelcome. Anderson's If..., and O Lucky Man!, Richardson's Tom Jones and Schlesinger's Far From the Madding Crowd and Sunday Bloody Sunday were all funded by American companies."

Comparisons between French and British cinema during the same period are telling. Lindsay Anderson, born in 1923 and died in 1994, made just seven films. Francois Truffaut, born in 1932 and died in 1984, made twenty-one. Richardson was the most prolific English director, with twenty films to his name; Claude Chabrol has made over forty. All of the leading lights of the French New Wave lived in France their whole lives. Only Anderson remained in England. The French have produced waves of filmmakers, while the heirs of the British New Wave - directors like Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears and Terence Davies - either go to Hollywood to make inferior films, or remain in Britain as "creative loners who reject the mainstream and survive on frugal budgets." It's a pretty damning piece, and the kind of thing that should be waved in front of Tony Blair the next time he makes a speech about the preeminence of British culture today. He isn't making that speech too much these days, though.

(posted 10:07pm EST | 10.03.02)

NEW REVIEWS! - 8 Women: Damn near every notable actress in France except Jeanne Moreau locked in a snowbound mansion with a dead body. As good as it sounds. Between Strangers: Edoardo Ponti, son of Sophia Loren, makes a movie with his mother and an all-star cast here in Toronto, a movie fully as bad as a hundred Canadian films. Do we blame the city? Just A Kiss: An all-star graduate year student film. That's not meant as praise. Invincible: Werner Herzog's fantasy of Jewish resistance to the Nazis. Kind of. It's Herzog, so you know it'll end badly.

#0084 - DUH - I'm reading The Conversations, Michael Ondaatje's book of interviews with film editor Walter Murch (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), and despite the somewhat self-congratulatory tone - the interviewer and his subject never miss an opportunity to appreciate each other's displays of erudition - I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Interspersed among the interviews are short "appreciations" of Murch, written by colleagues such as George Lucas, who co-wrote THX 1138 with Murch. Nestled in amongst the reminiscence is this very telling little anecdote:

"In school, I was very much an anti-story, anti-character kind of guy. I was of the San Francisco avant-garde school and cinema verite, that sort of thing. I got the chance from Francis (Ford Coppola) to do a feature, and he said, What are you going to do? I said, I can't write a script. He said, You'll have to learn to write if you're going to become a director. And I said, Oh, God! I went off and dutifully wrote a script and brought it back to Francis. He said, Well, you're right - you can't write a script!"

Well that certainly explains a lot.

(posted 09:02am EST | 10.02.02)

#0083 - BITING THE HAND - Jessica Lange received a lifetime achievement award from the San Sebastian Film Festival, and took the opportunity to excoriate her homeland at a press conference. "I hate Bush," Lange stated. "I despise him and his entire administration - not only because of its international policy, but also the national. Today, it makes me feel ashamed to come from the United States - it is humiliating." Lange also took the time to attack Hollywood, and expressed a preference for working in Europe: "The atmosphere in my country is poisonous, intolerable for those of us who are not right-wing, so thank you for inviting me to this festival and allowing me to get out for a few days."

Lange, a former model who debuted onscreen in Dino DeLaurentis' regrettable 1976 remake of King Kong, had a roaring career in the 80s, but seems, at 52, to have run afoul of Hollywood's age barrier for actresses. Her latest film, the unreleased Prozac Nation, comes three years after her last, Julie Taymor's Titus. Titus, a US/Italian co-production, is just about the only film I can find in her filmography that might be remotely considered "European", so it's to be assumed that her comments are an exercise in pointed, wishful thinking. One hopes that Ms. Lange's outburst will attract offers of work from sympathetic directors on the continent, if only to afford her the escape she so clearly craves.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar, Francis Ford Coppola is at the second annual Marrakesh International Film Festival, receiving his lifetime achievement award. "I apologise that I have no real purpose in being here," the director says to the assembled press. He hasn't released a film in four years, and even his fans would have a hard time remembering if that was The Rainmaker or Jack. (It was the former.) "I am happy to discuss any subject you like. We can speak about wine, we can speak about literature, we can speak about the world situation." In his white suit and sandals, Coppola is playing the erudite man of the world, and amicably encouraging the ladies and gentlemen of the press to do the same.

Coppola wants everyone to know that he's happy to be in a Muslim country. His grandmother was born in Tunisia, once an Italian colony; his brother, he says, is a scholar, and as a boy Coppola himself was interested in Arabic poetry. "I know something of Arabic and Islamic culture and it really grieves me that in my country today, they know nothing of the fact that the Arabs were one of the major contributors to world civilization." In the wake of Sept. 11th, Coppola says that he would have instituted a program "so people could read more about this incredible culture. . . It's not just some fundamentalists like those Oklahoma City fundamentalists." Leaving aside the director's mistaken notion that Timothy McVeigh was a Talibanesque "fundamentalist" and not an anti-government paranoid, a "soldier in a war, not of his making" (in Gore Vidal's words), whose execution was actually applauded by American Christian fundamentalist groups, Coppola is also opposed to his government's ongoing war: "That is the so-called Bush America. There will be more violence in response to that violence. . . We live in a world where the strong always brutalise the weak."

Like all platitudes, this last statement doesn't bear too much lingering thought. It's become an article of faith among humanists that strength is inherently bad, and weakness a virtue, especially on the global stage. That strength can - and should - be the author of positive changes is seemingly unthinkable. The dynamic being evoked is little more than a schoolyard one, but for Coppola, like most artists, the world is best understood by the memories of adolescence and childhood. A year ago, the Taliban were to be ruefully condemned with a shake of the head and nothing more. Actually getting rid of a regime so intrinsically opposed to what someone like Jessica Lange or Mr. Coppola represent, though, is obviously too much of a violation of virtuous weakness.

The inference is clear enough. Sophisticated, urbane people like Lange and Coppola, citizens of the world intellectually, if technically still citizens of the United States, are taking great pains to distance themselves from the actions of their government, and from the terrorist attack that killed over 3000 of their fellow citizens, obliquely referred to by Coppola as "that violence", as if the victims and the perpetrators were distasteful details, best overlooked in some greater context. The director's response to "that violence", had he been "a person of influence", would have been an education program, attacking the ignorance of Americans before even attempting to punish the people behind "that violence". The actress' idea of a just response is, thankfully, unknown just at the moment.

While he's without a film to show, Coppola is happy to talk about his next project, a sci-fi epic called Megalopolis, which he's been working on for so long that actors originally cast, like Matt Dillon, have grown too old to play their parts. He admits now that the bulk of his career, roughly beginning after the financial debacle of One From the Heart, was spent making rubbish. "I was making a film a year to pay off this huge debt," a financial burden that he's been able to overcome largely thanks to a successful winery and investments in hotels, food and publishing, which he's now divesting in order to concentrate on writing and, eventually, making the films he wants to make. His film company, American Zoetrope, is being given to Sophia and Roman, his director offspring.

"I will never ask them (the studios) for money. That's all they have. That's their power." Coppola fans might remember similar statements made by the director twenty-five years ago, when he began transforming Zoetrope from a production company into a full-fledged studio, incurring his career-breaking debt in the process. Today, Coppola is a wealthy man, thanks as much to his winery and related tourist ventures as his films, the best of which were made long ago. A uniquely American director, whose body of work, good and bad, is obsessively about America, Coppola has done well from the country that he so offhandedly dismisses as a bully. "I am a free man. I am able just to write. . . but then the second problem comes - can I still deliver on this desire?" His fans - and I'm one of them - have been asking this question for years. It would be nice for Coppola to examine the roots and context of his freedom, but that's obviously not on the agenda in the grand salon of the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh, where acting out a Henry James-like fantasy of European sophistication and worldliness in a Mediterranean setting is the order of the day.

(posted 10:29pm EST | 09.30.02)

UPDATE: Reader Richard Blanchard writes: "Jessica Lange spent much of her 20s in Paris with her first Spanish-born husband. Even trained as a mime. Has been on the London stage in recent years. Has spent a lot of her life in Europe so probably not that fanciful about spending more time there."

#0082 - BANNED FROM THE USA - Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has been denied a visa to enter the United States to attend the New York Film Festival. Not surprisingly, that part of the world that actually cares about who appears at film festivals is outraged. NY Film Festival director calls it "a terrible sign of what's happening in my country today", and Jack Lang, France's former culture and education minister, calls the decision "an intellectual isolationism ... and contempt for other cultures."

The situation isn't a tragedy, but it is unfortunate. Kiarostami has apparently been to the U.S. seven times in the last decade so the embassy statement that it would take three months to investigate the director's case is a bit disingenuous; Kiarostami's history is well known, and his films are patently unsympathetic to the fundamentalist mindset, a notable cultural indicator of at least one part of the Iranian population's stoic antipathy to the mullah's regime. It's a bit absurd, though, to imagine that Kiarostami's rejection is particularly outrageous, considering the political tenor of the moment. The director himself showed an appreciation of the wider context when he replied to the visa rejection by saying that "I certainly do not deserve an entry visa any more than the aging mother hoping to visit her children in the U.S. perhaps for the last time in her life. . . For my part, I feel this decision is somehow what I deserve."

A showcase of Kiarostami's short educational films, made before he imagined himself as any kind of "film artist", was recently shown at the National Film Theatre in London, an evening curated by writer Jonathan Rosenbaum. In the Guardian, Rosenbaum talks about Kiarostami's early career, an article that also serves as a kind of polemic against anyone who pretends "that anyone can know the state of world cinema - unless, that is, we reduce 'world cinema' to the films that get promoted, most of them idiotic." Kiarostami, who's been compared to Bergman, Kurosawa, Bresson and Kieslowski, is the kind of austere director that a certain breed of cinephile adores. Rosenbaum considers him part "of that tribe of film-makers for whom a shot is often closer to being a question than providing an answer. That tribe includes John Cassavetes, Chris Marker, Otto Preminger, Jacques Rivette, Andrei Tarkovsky and Jacques Tati (in his last three features)." A decidedly eclectic group of directors, and one that gives you some idea of just how subjective cinephiles can be about their pantheons.

In his review of Kiarostami's new film, Ten, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw is effusive, though terms of praise like "strenuous technical simplicity" are hardly going to draw in the ticketbuyer looking for a back-up when the 9:15 show of Sweet Home Alabama sells out. The film sounds fascinating, though; a two-camera ride in a car with a woman whose interaction with ten different passengers illuminates her life at a crucial point. Rosenbaum also praises the film strangely, noting that Kiarostami is "avowedly trying to make a film without any direction at all, comparing his own function to that of a football coach, and ringing a bell between sequences as if they were separate innings." To me, there's an ironic, even faintly fundamentalist tone to critics who praise Kiarostami for his terse, unadorned style, a weird tendency to approvingly describe his work as somewhere between auteur and autistic.

The new film sounds brave, and hardly the kind of thing that sells out screenings for weeks in Tehran, never mind New York or Toronto. A stylishly-dressed woman goes about her errands, picking up random passengers, some of them friends and relatives, some strangers. She argues with her son from a first marriage, one that she ended by lying about her ex-husband having a drug addiction. He won't forgive her; she tries to explain that a woman sometimes has to do things in a society where she has little power. Kiarostami apparently gives equal weight to both sides, but not by arguing for any kind of moral equivalence. According to Bradshaw's review, "her boy isn't having any part of it and it's crystal clear that, in the battle of the sexes, he is emphatically in training for the man's part - partly armed with what is, after all, a miscarriage of justice."

I remember watching Kiarostami's Palme D'Or-winning A Taste of Cherries a few years ago, another austere "driving film", and spending the first half marvelling at how the director was utterly devastating my former picture of Iran as a bleak, fear-haunted place, rendered almost alien by two decades under its theocratic dictatorship - the default western view. The film was no kind of madcap adventure - the protagonist is a man driving around the hilly outskirts of Tehran, picking up hitchhikers and trying to persuade them to help him commit suicide - but no character seemed markedly different from anyone I'd meet in Toronto. (Which says too much about the people I know.) He managed to fill out my view of Iran more profoundly than any sum of the books and articles I'd read on the country.

Which is why it's unfortunate, but not outrageous, that Kiarostami has been considered unremarkable among the hundreds, perhaps thousands of visa applicants with a reason to come here for Iran. There may be more than the usual, cinephilic interest in a film about Iranian women just right now, and while it might have been nice to have the director here to explain his work, his enforced absence might draw some attention to the peculiarities and misconceptions of our shared take on Islamic countries and the people that live in them. The director himself seems to understand that better than Jack Lang or the director of the New York Film Festival. I somehow doubt that Kiarostami will ever be more than an acquired, minority taste, even among avid filmgoers, but every little bit counts, especially these days.

(posted 10:34pm EST | 09.29.02)

#0081 - WARM DIRT FROM THE POOP SHOOT - Kevin Smith's online diary from the set of Jersey Girl isn't quite as scatological, or as irreverent, as I would have hoped, considering the source. But for anyone looking for an insider confirmation of the Affleck/J. Lo romance, or just someone who likes to hear nice words about the diva herself, or her swain, should probably give it a look. I like Smith, and I hope to God he can do something interesting with the RomCom genre, which is as played out as UN resolutions these days. It sounds kinda sucky, though, but it might be the best-looking film on Smith's filmography, since he's using cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.

(posted 09:17pm EST | 09.26.02)

#0080 - STATE OF THE INGENUE - Just at the moment, Anthony Lane at the New Yorker is my favorite film critic, if only because he can toss off beatdowns like this, which deserve a place in history much more prominent than the film that inspired it:

"If Sweet Home Alabama was intended as easy viewing, it falls short. Some of the lighting, particularly when the object is to mimic the sunshine of the South, may actually cause temporary damage to the retina, and the whole project treads a delicate line between something that will fill a gulf in your afternoon and something that your local sanitation department will refuse to cart away."

Lane manages to rubbish the film in question while making a case for the pricelessness of its star, Reese Witherspoon. He correctly compares her to "sweet-and-sour experts like Irene Dunne and Mary Astor", and predicts that the film in question is a mere rest stop in a promising career: "She may want to forget it by Christmas, yet its cushioned slackness allows her to sharpen her grasp of a steely American type: the girl next door who will kill to get out of town."

I like Witherspoon, which is something I can't say for the vast field of interchangeable ingénues ripely sewn by Hollywood over the last decade or so. I almost long for the days of Marisa Tomei and Winona Ryder, especially when I try to remember just who Mena Suvari is, and why she's not to be confused with Katie Holmes or Tara Reid. Overexposure, and an irredeemable filmography, has finally enabled me to differentiate Jennifer Love Hewitt from other triple-monickered actresses like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rachel Leigh Cook. Erika Christensen and Julia Stiles: same girl, as far as I can tell.

Witherspoon seems like something altogether different. She's appealing, but far from conventionally pretty; her face, in Lane's words, "may boast the roundness of the ingénue, but she could lock chins with any of the Douglas clan." There aren't a lot of actresses in her league as a comedienne: of the current crop, perhaps only Maggie Gyllenhaal poses a looming threat, and only Lisa Kudrow might best her one-on-one. She's not a small girl, thank God. Only Kate Winslet - another young mother - seems as comfortable with her curves, and that's a sad statement on the cruel state of the ingénue today; in a talent pool so brimming with nubile young flesh, there's precious little sex appeal around. I can name a dozen older actresses - Susan Sarandon, Jane Kaczmarek, Rachel Griffiths, Geena Davis, please stop me - whose physicality would swamp any of today's Hollywood wan, interchangeable nubiles; it's no wonder they so rarely share screentime. It's as if a cordon sanitaire has been erected between actresses over and under 28.

(posted 10:42pm EST | 09.25.02)