Saturday, August 19, 2006


Ciao Wisconsin! ‘The Last Kiss’ travels well to Mid-America

Kiss Last

Love Italian style is not something that translates well to American storytelling. Roman machismo and its constant companion, an insatiable libido, remain misunderstood. The Italian women who forgive their philandering partners are often seen as weak and co-dependent. The 2002 Italian film “l’Ultimo Bacio” (“The Last Kiss”) portrayed the Latin man with his complexity intact courtesy of its tale of an Italian thirty-something who cheats on his pregnant girlfriend only to see the error of his ways. With believable heartache and well-placed laughs, “l’Ultimo Bacio” was another foreign-language film deserving of crowds ten times larger than what trickled through art house doors.
Filmmaker Tony Goldwyn and screenwriter Paul Haggis adapt “l’Ultimo Bacio” and transplant it to Madison, Wisconsin. What’s surprising about Hollywood’s “The Last Kiss” is how well Italian machismo transforms into typical American selfishness and upper Middle Class angst.
The core story is the same. A young man, Michael (Zach Braff) grows nervous about becoming a father with his live-in lover (Jacinda Barrett). His release from anxiety comes in the form of a pretty University of Wisconsin student, Kim (Rachel Bilson). In the original movie, the fling was an 18-year-old but that’s too much of an age gap for American audiences.
Michael’s gang of goofball buddies, all unlucky in love to some extant, provides much of the humor. But the heart of the story lies in whether Michael can get back what once scared him.
The laundry list of foreign-language classics butchered by Hollywood filmmakers is long. “The Last Kiss” is a warm, fizzy exception; the perfect fall film for wiping away summer blockbusters. Its opening is still weeks away; so there’s plenty of time to say more about this likable film.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Let Us Now Praise: ‘Brothers of the Head’ filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe

Original is a rare film description but it perfectly sums up filmmaker duo Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s edgy Rock-and-Roll drama “Brothers of the Head.” As much a faux documentary as a straight-on adaptation of Brian Aldiss’ novel about Siamese twins leading a ’70s Glam Rock band, Fulton and Pepe accomplish the near impossible. With their new movie, they capture the rebellious spirit of Rock-and-Roll.
Conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (Luke and Harry Treadway) turn the challenges of their lives into artistic fuel for their Punk songs. Fame is within reach, if that’s what they want.
Fulton and Pepe’s debut feature, “Lost in La Mancha,” an in-depth expose of Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt at adapting Cervantes’ classic story of Don Quixote, introduced them to the public in a glorious manner.
For their follow-up, the creative duo step into outlandish territory with a film both distinct, risky and a brave twist on the non-non-fiction movie.

“Brothers of the Head” made its North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. IFC Films will release it in theaters across America throughout August and September.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


A well-deserved hit, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

Comedy is hard work but the perseverance of husband and wife filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris has paid off with “Little Miss Sunshine,” a fast growing hit deserving of every ticket buy. One part road tale and two parts dysfunctional family comedy, “Little Miss Sunshine” is as credibly bleak as it is funny. Sure, screenwriter Michael Arndt has created a gang of low-achieving nuts but their frequent setbacks make them completely approachable and a little bit lovable. Greg Kinnear’s smarmy personality is put to perfect use as Richard Hoover, a motivational speaker who preaches success but can’t get his own career in order. Toni Collette settles nicely into the role of Sheryl, the disheveled mom trying to keep her family together. Steve Carell is deadpan hilarious as Sheryl’s brother Frank, a depressed college professor unlucky at love and suicide. Alan Arkin adds extra sass as a grumpy grandpa and Paul Dano brings life to his role as a detached teen. But the film’s plot and spark revolves around young Abigail Breslin as Olive, the Hoover’s seven-year-old daughter intent on winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. The Hoover family's attempt to help Olive win her beloved contest is a nerd triumph.
No film taps into America’s celebrity-obsessed culture with the razor-sharp precision of “Little Miss Sunshine.” It’s as if there’s a little Hoover in all of us, no matter how much we may deny the comparisons.
For Dayton and Faris, who first showed their flair for comedy by directing numerous episodes of the hip Cable TV series “Mr. Show,” the gushing reaction to “Little Miss Sunshine” confirms that their instincts for what’s funny is on target.

“Little Miss Sunshine” premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight will release it in theaters across America this summer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


'Viva Pedro' series celebrates Pedro Almodóvar

The idea of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar asking anyone for style advice is comical, since, well, a flair for fashion surrounds him like a rainbow-colored halo. It’s been a few years, but I still have crystal clear memories of watching Almodóvar try on clothes for an upcoming party. He asked what I thought and of course, he looked fantastic with every costume change.
Almodóvar’s sense of film style, his undeniable art and bold thumbprint on world cinema is being celebrated with “Viva Pedro,” an eight-film tour from Sony Pictures Classics celebrating the director’s body of work.
The series is underway at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas with a restored print of his 1988 comic melodrama “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown.” Upcoming are newly restored prints of “Bad Education” (2004), “Matador” (1988), “Law of Desire” (1987), “Live Flesh”(1997), “Flower of My Secret”(1996), “Talk to Her” (2002) and “All About My Mother” (1999) (pictured above with Cecilia Roth, left and Marisa Peredes).
The series opens in Los Angeles later in August and travels cross-country in the fall, playing choice cinemas from Portland, Ore. to Boston, Mass. and numerous points in-between.
Foreign-language films continue to scramble for a shot in theaters and the list of world masters unable to gain recognition in the United States keeps growing. The one exception to this dismal trend is Almodóvar, who deserves every bit of name recognition he’s built through the years.
“Viva Pedro” is arguably the film event of the fall; a bold reminder of why people continue to fall in love with movies. Better yet, it is the perfect warm up to the November release of Almodóvar’s latest drama, “Volver.”
Retrospectives on the scale of “Viva Pedro” usually honor deceased artists. It's as if their death is required for such recognition. But Almodóvar is alive, vibrant and kicking out the best films in his career. His retrospective is perfectly timed. It celebrates his glorious past and reminds his fans that the best is yet to come.

“Viva Pedro” is underway in New York City and expands throughout the United States in late August. “Volver” screens as the Centerpiece film at the 2006 New York Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival before Sony Pictures Classics opens the film in November.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


America’s Next Top Moviemaker: Project Greenlight winner ‘Feast’ hits theaters Sept. 22

The movie bookend to reality TV series like “The Amazing Race” and “America’s Next Top Model” is “Project Greenlight,” the television show and contest created by actors Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and producer Chris Moore. Slightly tweaked for its third installment, Project Greenlight Series 3 (PGL 3) offered two concurrent contests, one for selecting screenwriters, the other for filmmakers.
Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton are the scribes left standing who won the right to team up with filmmaker finalist John Gulager. Their collaboration is “Feast,” a gory horror tale about strangers at an isolated tavern who band together to fight flesh-hungry monsters. (At first glance, the beasts resemble the monsters from “The Descent,” which is not a bad coincidence).
Actors Henry Rollins, Balthazar Getty, and Judah Friedlander bring “Feast” some unexpected independent film credibility. But the spotlight regarding any Greenlight feature belongs to the fresh talent behind the camera. Boosting the prize value this time is news that “Feast” will play theaters for special late-night shows on Sept. 22 and 23. Soon afterwards, on Oct. 17, the film will street on DVD. This means that “Feast” will receive a release plan for theaters and home video similar to the strategy earlier this year for Steven Soderbergh’s small-town drama “Bubble.”
Gulager can now tell people his low-budget horror movie is getting the Soderbergh treatment and he’ll be telling the truth.

Dimension Films, the genre division of The Weinstein Company, will release “Feast” Sept 22 after a world premiere at Las Vegas’ Palms Casino Resort.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Let Us Now Praise: Ryan Gosling in ‘Half Nelson’

Often, my favorite moments at film festivals come at the end when a random film wows me. Earlier this year, just before the 2006 Sundance Film Festival wrapped, I caught “Half Nelson,” the gripping high school drama by director/co-writer Ryan Fleck and his longstanding creative partner, co-writer Anna Boden. It’s a film I think about often; can’t wait to watch again and imagine it headlining many top ten lists this year.
In a rich and complex lead performance, Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, an idealistic junior high history teacher at a rough inner-city neighborhood. Dunne will do anything to help his students, especially a bright young woman named Drey (Shareeka Epps, pitched above with Gosling), but he first has to help himself. Dunne has his own battle with drug addiction to face and it’s unclear whether he has the strength to make the right choices.
Like another independent spirit, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gosling also jogs between studio films and smaller fare and he’s always good. But “Half Nelson” is a standout performance, the kind that leaves one dazed and bedazzled by the film’s end.
With Fleck and Bowden, who based “Half Nelson” on their 2004 short film “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” Gosling has found kindred spirits. They’ll continue to do great work separately, there’s no doubt about that. Imagine what they’ll accomplish if they team up again.

“Half Nelson” made its premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. THINK Films will release “Half Nelson” in major U.S. cities throughout August 2006.

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