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Wednesday
Sep242014

A Year With Kate: A Delicate Balance (1973)

Episode 39 of 52In which Katharine Hepburn stars in an Edward Albee play that's not Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and does her first television interview.

When you hear “Pulitzer Prize winning drama by Edward Albee,” you probably don’t imagine a play as self-conscious as A Delicate Balance. In Tony Richardson’s chilly movie adaptation, Agnes (our own Kate) and Tobias (Paul Scofield) try desperately to keep pretenses of civility intact. Early on, Agnes debates the possibility of losing her mind - a fall into chaos she worries that she’s tipping precariously towards. Her issue is not how it will feel, but how it will look. What will her husband do? Order, or the semblance of it, must be kept. Civilization is built on such shaky foundations.

A Delicate Balance appears, for its first hour at least, impenetrable, impersonal, and pretty dull.  The supposedly welcoming home is bathed in cold overhead light, which gives everyone a corpse-like pallor and unreadable eyes. The house’s occupants are equally dispassionate. Agnes and Tobias maintain a polite-if-precarious balancing act with each other while living with Claire (Kate Reid), Agnes’s alcoholic sister. Their daughter Julia (Lee Remick) is an empty nester’s nightmare, a grown woman-child on the eve of her fourth divorce.

Slowly then suddenly, the truly bizarre occurs and the film picks up. Two family friends, Harry and Edna (Joseph Cotton and Betsy Blair), have been scared out of their house by a nameless terror, and they refuse to leave Julia’s room, a fact over which Julia quickly flies into hysterics. What starts as a breach of etiquette becomes an existential quandary. Can fear infect like a disease? What rights can friends and family claim from you? What does it say about you if you throw your friends out?

Katharine Hepburn's last Albee play and first television interview after the jump...

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Wednesday
Sep242014

Triple the Patrick

Manuel here to check in with “The Prom King” himself whose latest passion project films have been making news lately:

First up and still looking for distribution is Stretch, the Joe Carnahan film he shot in just under twenty-three days with Chris Pine, which is drumming up interest by releasing new images and new clips. Carnahan, who shot the film for Universal, has found himself needing to find alternate distribution for it, and from the plot description (and the weirdly fascinating pics released) one can see why: “The under-$5 million pic follows a chauffeur who’s deep in debt to a bookie. In the hope of scoring a big tip, he picks up a risky job ferrying around a mysterious billionaire (Pine) who wants to sell his book of criminal contacts. The driver tries his best to fulfill all of his client’s requests, but the night takes ever stranger turns, he starts to wonder if his life is in danger.” Sounds like a bonkers Collateral, no? 

On a brighter note, his movie Space Station 76 (featuring him and Matt Bomer in delightfully 70s garb) which premiered at South-by-Southwest earlier this year is now out on VOD and digital platforms. I particularly love the quick and dry synopsis offered by IMDB: “A 1970s version of the future, where personalities and asteroids collide,” as well as the Star Wars inspired poster art. Any of you out there seen this yet? 

Wilson in Carnahan's Stretch

Wilson talking to an R2 (?) in Space Station 76

If those two films don’t satisfy your Patrick Wilson-in-an-offbeat-film needs, you may want to wait until December this year when Tribeca Film and Well Go USA Entertainment will release Let's Kill Ward’s Wife. The just-acquired dark comedy was helmed by none other than Scott “Felicity” Foley and features, among others, Amy Acker (!), Donald Faison and Nicolette Sheridan, and centers on… well precisely what the title suggests. 

The cast of Foley's Let's Kill Ward's Wife

You gotta hand it to Wilson, while Hollywood was unsure what to make of him, he's been slowly building an eclectic resume, surely helped by the success he's found with Insidious and The Conjuring. Those two franchises have allowed him to indulge these smaller, odder projects. Any Wilson fans here anticipating any or all these titles? What genre should the beautifully sculpted Wilson tackle next? (Hint: I'm still waiting for him to return to his musical roots in something other than The Phantom of the Opera)

Tuesday
Sep232014

NYFF: Ethan Hawke Introduces 'Seymour'

The New York Film Festival begins this Friday and Glenn continues our pre-fest coverage by looking at 'Seymour: An Introduction'.

It’s curious that Ethan Hawke has appeared on screen this year with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and now returns behind the camera (after Chelsea Walls and The Hottest State) to direct Seymour: An Introduction. Curious because both films get their life-source from demographics at opposite ends of the age spectrum that are both treated somewhat like lepers of cinema. Teenage boys in Boyhood and kindly old senior citizens aren’t usually treated with such respect and humility as these two Hawke projects. I have not seen Hawke's two previous directorial efforts, but this first foray into documentary is a nice step for this Hollywood stay who has clearly wrestled with being an artist in an industry that doesn't necessary encourage it.

Having said that, this “introduction” to the 86-year-old (I hope I am remembering the age correctly as information about it appears non-existent online) suffers from, perhaps, too much of a need to be charming, rarely digging deep enough into this man’s life to eke out a portrait of lasting relevance. Seymour: An Introduction is nice and lovely and 80 minutes spent with delightful company, but while Hawke flirts with finding something deeper within the renowned pianist’s history to delve into – a brief snipped mentions he has lived alone in the same apartment for 57 years; he begins to tear up at recalling his days performing for troops in Korea – they are shortlived.

Hawke instead prefers to keep his film predominantly observational to his life as it stands today. He tutors students of various ages, performs open-to-the-public masterclasses (which are the film’s highlights), goes for tea at Tipsy Parson café on 9th Avenue, and extols wisdom with bonmots such as “without craft there is no artistry” and “if you feel inadequate as a musician, then you’ll feel inadequate as a person" that frequently verge on the wise old crackpot scale. His observations about classical music, particularly as it pertains to one’s own personality including the masculinity of Pollock, Brando and Beethoven, are enlightening. So, too, are the occasional memory lane throwbacks to other famed pianists like Glenn Gould and Sir Clifford Curzon.

Bernstein and Hawke after the screening

Hawke does appear on screen, briefly early on and then again towards the end where he introduces Bernstein’s return to public performance (he had given it up many decades ago after a well-reviewed performance at Alice Tully Hall nearly crippled him with nerves and doubt about the industry’s integrity) to a small group of pupils and recognizable faces (Mark Ruffalo can be seen in the crowd, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it). In another way that it plays as an opposite of Boyhood, Seymour: An Introduction settles for telling the story of one man rather than hoping to tell a story of more wider-reaching grasp. I think the film certainly could have benefited perhaps from more exploration of the Upper West Side's role in the forming of these prodigal talents as well more insight into Bernstein's place amongst modern musicians from people who aren't his friends or students. I just wish the film had a bit more meat on its bones to make it a more memorable introduction. B-

--

Seymour: An Introduction screens on Saturday Sep 27 (12pm) and Monday Sep 29 (9pm). NYFF will also host "An Evening with Ethan Hawke" on Tuesday Sep 30 (6pm).

Tuesday
Sep232014

Retro Quickie: Cinderella Liberty (1973)

File Under: I have had this Netflix disc out for so long and it really has to be returned to unclog my queue. -Nathaniel

You got a terrific knack for being nice and a prick all at the same time.

Have any of you ever seen Cinderella Liberty? Back when we were doing our 1973 celebration, I rented it since it was the sole Best Actress nomination I hadn't seen from that year. Marsha Mason plays a prostitute with a heart of... well, not gold exactly. But she's got one. She's raising Doug, her biracial teenager (Kirk Calloway nominated for Best Newcomer at the Golden Globes) on her own but she's doing a pretty shit job of it. Enter: James Caan, fresh off the double whammy star-making years of Brian's Song (1971) and The Godfather (1972), as a sailor named John Baggs Jr. who hooks up with her. In actuality it's Baggs' story and Maggie is missing for good stretches of the movie. Seemingly on a whim, this goodhearted sailor decides to stick around and decides to fall in love with her. That's the one thing that's most clear and most enigmatic about the movie. 

I found it a fascinating watch primarily because, though Mason is just fine as a moody blowsy hooker who can't manage her life towards something better, it was Caan's masculine reserve and softly shaded performance that drew me in...

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Tuesday
Sep232014

Deadpool Solo Film is a Go


Margaret here, with the latest in superhero news. Twentieth Century Fox and Marvel Comics have firmed their long-rumored plans to produce a Deadpool movie. A popular Marvel character, Deadpool (alias Wade Wilson) is a motormouthed mercenary with powers including regenerative healing and expert swordsmanship. He appeared in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as played by Ryan Reynolds, to much fan favor. Though Reynolds is not yet attached to the upcoming film, in the grand tradition of superhero tentpoles a release has already been fixed for February 12 of 2016. 

When Reynolds appeared as Deadpool five years ago, his star was quickly on the rise. The warm reception to his performance in Wolverine helped him land the lead in DC Comics' mega-budget Green Lantern movie, which (remember? We were so young back then) was expected to become a major franchise. The film ended up tanking spectacularly, and Reynolds' next several major-studio projects fared little better. Like many floundering movie stars before him, he retreated to the indie-movie scene, but Marjane Satrapi's The Voices (which played Sundance) is divisive and Atom Egoyan's The Captive (Cannes) was critically panned. 

Can this Deadpool project reverse his trajectory? Does Ryan Reynolds even have any chances left?


Tuesday
Sep232014

NYFF: Growing Up, Italian Style in 'The Wonders' and 'Misunderstood'

The New York Film Festival begins this Friday. But our screenings have already begun. Here is Glenn on two Italian films, "The Wonders" and "Misunderstood"

If Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty (2013) was an ode to the fantastical visions of Federico Fellini's Italy, then Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders is an appropriate return to the world of the country’s famed neorealist movement of the 1940s and ‘50s, concerning itself with the economic and moral quandries of so-called everyday Italians. Coming in second place at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it follows a family in rural Italy who scrape by due their honey farming, but an encounter with a television production in their hometown spearheads the eldest daughter’s desire to lift herself and her family out of the poverty line that they barely manage to survive above.

Perhaps Rohrwacher’s greatest achievement with The Wonders is the way she is able to authentically represent the  rural life of this Italian family without reducing their countryside suffering to lazy miserabilist bleakness. Their world of naturalistic overcast greys and damp browns is countered by the beauty of a region. Rohrwacher lets these moments of beauty linger, too, punctuated by occasional fleeting figments of fantasy at the hands of the wonderful Monica Bellucci. Her appearance as the host of a (rather perplexing) TV show, adorned in billowing costume and pitch-white wig, brings to the film an extra element of surprise that shows the director as a keenly smart filmmaker who knows when to highlight the plight of her characters and when to allow them a reprieve. [More...] 

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Tuesday
Sep232014

"Beauty, Brains, Breeding, and Bounty"

I'm such a square and Cry Baby don't like squares! I missed the entire John Waters festival here in New York (Blame Canada!) and also this past weekend the news that Polly Bergen had died. Goodbye to a lovely lady that had it all: beauty, brains, breeding, and bounty (of talent).