Saturday, February 24, 2007


- Thanks to all who congratulated me on the Screengrab gig. It's actually my first paying job writing about cinema, so it should be a learning experience at least. The good news is that Bilge Ebiri has been pretty cool to work for thusfar, and unless I start fucking up there should be no reason why that should change. I'm even going to have a weekly column every Thursday, entitled "The Movie Moment" (sort of a last-minute compromise title), about scenes I love. My first Moment was from Frank Tashlin's THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (1956), which everyone really ought to see. I'm also "live"-blogging the Oscars™- the quotation marks are due to the fact that Screengrab only posts Monday through Friday. All the same, I'll write as I watch and then send in more or less everything I've written afterwards. It's like watching the Oscars™ with me... only, y'know, not.

- And speaking of Oscars™, I also posted a partial list of prediction on Screengrab Wednesday as my introductory post. But in case you missed it, here's the full list:

Picture- Babel (ugh)
Director- Scorsese
Actor- O'Toole
Actress- Mirren
Supporting Actress- Hudson
Supporting Actor- Arkin
Original Screenplay- Babel
Adapted Screenplay- The Departed
Animated Feature- Cars
Art Direction- Pan's Labyrinth
Cinematography- Children of Men
Costume Design- Marie-Antoinette
Documentary Feature- An Inconvenient Truth
Documentary Short Subject- Rehearsing a Dream (I have no idea what this is about, but winners in this category always have titles like this)
Editing- Babel
Foreign-Language Film- Pan's Labyrinth
Makeup- Pan's Labyrinth
Score- The Queen
Song- "Our Town," Cars
Animated Short Subject- Lifted
Live-Action Short Subject- Binta and the Great Idea
Sound Effects Editing- Flags of Our Fathers
Sound Mixing- Dreamgirls
Visual Effects- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

- Aside from the Rivette retrospective in April, the Wexner Film/Video event I'm most looking forward to this spring is the Jim Henson series next month. All the biggies are here, of course- The Muppet Movie, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth- but they also have a bunch of rarities and behind the scenes stuff scheduled, plus Henson's one stab at Oscar, TIME PIECE, of which I believe this guy is a big fan. Should be pretty much un-missable.

- Finally, just wanted to announce that all of the individual pages are up at the Muriel Awards web site. So if you want to see how everyone voted, get there now before someone second-guesses his votes and asks for them to be taken down...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Once-Valuable Movie Site Lowers Standards Drastically

Ian Powell, Beacon Journal Arts Columnist
February 21, 2007

In an appalling lapse in judgment, the promising movie-oriented Web site The Screengrab has hired a complete cinematic charlatan as a regular contributor. Screengrab, edited by critic/independent filmmaker Bilge Ebiri and launched in May of 2006, had been looking for new critics in order to increase their number of posts.

The announcement sent shock waves throughout the critical community. Eric Lurio, film critic for the Greenwich Village Gazette, publicly stated, “this is an outrage of the highest order. I had been expecting great things from Screengrab and its capable editor, but this is a step in the wrong direction. Little short of Ebiri resurrecting Pauline Kael and hiring her could convince me to start reading Screengrab again.”

Lurio’s sentiments were echoed universally by the other critics interviewed. “A whiz-bang ride of a scandal!” raved one reviewer, who asked to remain anonymous. Earl Dittman, critic for Wireless Magazine, also expressed his displeasure. Dittman, who has devoted his career to the philosophy that if you can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say anything at all, opted in lieu of words to simply point to the Screengrab site and snicker.

While he has already posted an article about the upcoming Academy Awards, the newly-hired critic’s name has yet to be revealed to the public for health reasons. Simply hearing or reading his name could lead to severe medical problems, particularly among pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, and people suffering from liver disease.

Neither Ebiri nor the unnamed critic could be reached for comment, but a representative for Screengrab’s parent company was reported to say, “come on bud, hiring this dude wasn’t my call. Seriously this guy put DOMINO in his top 10 that year i mean jesus.”

The Screengrab (Scroll down for the post in question)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Muriel Awards: The Golden Muriel for Best Feature Film

"After a couple attempts at white elephant, Oscar-chasing art, Scorsese retreats with a remake of a (barely noteworthy, in my opinion) Hong Kong crime drama and crams it full of stars for good measure. And whaddya know -- with the help of William Monahan's pungent script, he gets not only some of the best reviews of his life, but the biggest box office as well. See what happens when you stop trying and just do? (I think Kundun said that.) Nicholson's accused of scenery chewing, but, as The Departed's heart and soul, he's really gnawing at the edges of the film, like a rat... or a termite." ~ Kent M. Beeson

Marty’s comeback? Dude hasn’t gone anywhere; it’s the audience that refused to follow him- to 1870s New York , to Tibet , and so forth. That said, it’s good to see Scorsese jump back into the genre that more or less (ahem) made him, without sacrificing any of his style or verve. But Scorsese has always surrounded himself with able collaborators, and The Departed is no exception- William Monahan wrote the complex and gleefully salty screenplay, and the cast, made up almost entirely of Scorsese newbies, is as good as any from this past year. Some have complained that The Departed is too long, but I can’t imagine it working without the initial 90 minutes of buildup- it’s because Scorsese, Monahan, and the rest have laid the groundwork, establishing the principals and the conflicts, that once the reckonings come down and the bodies begin piling up, it means something rather than being simply a series of killings and plot twists." ~ Paul Clark

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Direction

"[Children of Men] inspires genuine hope even in the bleakest of possible futures... Cuaron just made a huge leap from a great up-and-coming director to one of the most important voices in cinema today." ~ Andrew Bemis

Click here for complete results

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Lead Performance, Male

"One of the pleasant surprises in Borat is the performance of Sacha Baron Cohen, who has added levels previously unseen to the Borat character. This is a Borat terrified of an old Jewish couple, mortified to learn of Pamela Anderson's sexual past, genuinely thrilled to learn of the death of his wife, and, at his most vulnerable point, pushed to the edge of collapse. Cohen handles all of this with aplomb and total dedication to his character. It's rare you even see such devotion to a role in any film, much less a broad comedy. Cohen owns the role, his transformation is complete. It's honestly one of the best performances of the last couple of years." ~ Lucas McNelly

Click here for complete results

Friday, February 16, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Lead Performance, Female

"Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in acting is to portray a living legend who everyone has seen and heard a thousand times, because quite often the scrutiny of that performance is unbearable. Therefore Helen Mirren's achievement in "The Queen" is certainly no little thing, as nearly all who saw the movie watched with awe as she completely disappeared into the role of Elizabeth II during the uncomfortable week that she lost the mother of her grandchildren. Mirren's is one of the greatest performances of recent memory and the centerpiece of this finely crafted film." ~ R. Presley Stephens

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Cinematic Moment

"A lot of lip service was given to his cool long, technically difficult shots, but very little lip was given to how well they were integrated into the narrative. During the scenes I was aware of the shot, but like the opening of Touch of Evil, that awareness never broke my suspension of disbelief." ~ Martin McClellan

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Supporting Performance, Female

"Adriana Barraza's compelling performance in Babel takes the audience on the shattering journey through Amelia's fear and guilt-stricken terror after she is coerced into the unwise decision to take the two young children she nannies for (as an illegal immigrant) in Southern California across the Mexican border to attend her brother's wedding. On the return trip home, we watch in desperation as Barraza is forced to make a gut-wrenching life and death decision when things go terribly awry for she and the children in the unforgiving Mexican desert. Barraza's is the character I empathize with the most as she forges on in the unbearable desert heat like a fierce, yet trapped mother lion, pushed to the brink of madness." ~ Jenny Sekwa

Click here for complete results

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Supporting Performance, Male

"Marky Mark lit up the screen in The Departed every time he showed his face. I found myself actively yearning for his scenes as the film went on, to bring the life back to a movie I wasn't all that hot on. Some have called his tough guy performance a one-trick pony (comparing it to co-star Alec Baldwin's turn in Glengarry Glen Ross), but his best scene is the last one, in which he doesn't say a word." - Greg Dunlap

Monday, February 12, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best DVD Release

"It’s becoming a bit of a DVD reviewer’s cliché to trumpet the latest spectacular Criterion release as the best thing the company’s ever done, or as a candidate for best DVD of the year. How much easier it would be to avoid using this burnished chestnut if the company would just stop creating DVD editions that could honestly be said to be the best of the year. And what Criterion has done with Richard Linklater’s superb evocation of high school life in small-town Texas in 1976, Dazed and Confused, will justify all enthusiastic descriptors, clichéd or not. The elements of a great disc are all there: a de rigueur all-new high-definition transfer (supervised by the director and cinematographer Lee Daniel); a Linklater audio commentary that highlights the director’s unique ability to be laid-back and verbose at the same time; a 50-minute documentary on the making of the film, which began shooting in 1992, that surpasses the standard “making-of” featurette by co-opting the cool, yet energetic observational style of the movie itself (it includes footage from the 10-year anniversary cast reunion); and Criterion’s usual top-drawer optional English subtitles.*

But beyond the digital treats, Criterion’s Dazed is a triumph of packaging—there’s a 72-page book, designed like a high school notebook, featuring essays by Jim DeRogatis on the music, Kent Jones on the movie, profiles of Linklater and the film by Chuck Klosterman and John Spong, and page after page of 'Profiles In Confusion,' yearbook-style portraits of all the film’s characters, major and minor, and even a reproduction of the film’s original one-sheet, all tucked in a psychedelic doodle of a slip box that looks like every PeeChee I ever disfigured in my pre-college days . You can get just as lost in Criterion’s package for the disc of this brilliant picture (not only a great high school movie but perhaps the best movie about small-town life I’ve ever seen) as you can in the movie itself.

* Full disclosure: I created those English subtitles for Criterion—it’s my day job. It may not seem like it, but there’s art as well as craft in rendering readable subtitles for movies that honor both the material and the intended audience. And it’s always more fun doing that kind of work when the movie is as wall-to-wall sharp and smart as Dazed and Confused. And, oh, yeah, I graduated high school in a small town in southern Oregon in 1977. This movie looks like a documentary to me." ~ Dennis Cozzalio

Click here for complete results

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Screenplay

Frank Costello: Have a seat, Bill.
[Costigan sits down at Costello's dinner table]
Frank Costello: [while eating crab] Do you know John Lennon?
Billy Costigan: Yeah, sure, he was the president before Lincoln.
Frank Costello: Lennon said, "I'm an artist. You give me a fucking tuba, I'll get you something out of it."
Billy Costigan: [sarcastically] Well I tell you Mr. Costello, I'd like to squeeze some fucking money out of it.
Frank Costello: Smart mouth. Too bad. If you'll indulge me...
[sees Gwen leaving]
Frank Costello: Now what?
Gwen: Choir practice.
Frank Costello: [annoyed] Choir practice.
[Costello pulls out a severed human hand]
Frank Costello: The point I'm making with John Lennon is - a man could look at anything, and make something out of it. For instance, I look at you and I think "what could I use you for?"

"Of course it's sharp and compelling and formally impressive; what surprises is that this film, built around twin life-or-death situations and constructed from slickness and paranoia, is funny. Really funny. (Best exchange, bar none: "How's your mother?" "Good. Still tired from fucking my father.") The premise, imported from the HK action winner Infernal Affairs, turns out to be as close to unfuckupable as most people suspected, and all Monahan and Scorsese really had to do was give the plot wheels a little push and everything would have turned out fine. Instead of that just-add-water approach that would have enticed lesser filmmakers into creating a mere punch-press modest entertainment, they aim big. Infernal Affairs is infused with a marvelous sense of local Boston color and enough close character work to propel the average novel; these inclusions transform the film from a crackerjack thriller into something more satisfying -- a gusting tapestry of human nature under pressure, at turns hilarious and heart-stopping." ~ Steven Carlson

Click here for complete results

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Cinematography

"Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography may be the best of the new millennium. The long takes allow for a constant increase in pressure that most filmmakers can only dream about achieving, making Children of Men the most extraordinary technical achievement of the year." ~ James Frazier

Click here for complete results

Friday, February 09, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Ensemble

"Jack Nicholson, given the right role, will act his co-stars under the table. This was the right role, which is why it's a testament to the amazing acting bravado of his colleagues that he wasn't able to steal the show entirely. And what colleagues: Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin all doing some of the best work of their careers." ~ Matt Riviera

Click here for complete results

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Muriel Awards for this special message...

"Come now, gentlemen,
your love is all I crave;
You'll still be in the circus
when I'm laughing,
laughing in my grave"


(Guess what arrived in the mail today?)

Happy early birthday to me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best First Feature As Director

"BRICK, a cinematic mash-up of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett detective stories with a contemporary high school drama, seems like a stylistic stunt, but writer-director Rian Johnson’s film works quite well. This isn’t an exercise in playing dress-up. The characters inhabit a place where disappointment and pain lurk around every corner, something all too familiar to teenagers. Johnson’s sources of inspiration for BRICK put forth tough dicks and dames in a cold, uncaring universe. Glum teens are a clever and natural evolution for the genre." ~ Mark Pfeiffer

Click here for complete results

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Breakthrough Performance

"[Hudson's] character has the most difficult arc in "Dreamgirls" and she plays it flawlessly. Funny and poignant, brash and tender, sometimes all at once. Oh, and did I mention she can sing her ass off?" ~ Jason Alley

Click here for complete results

Presenting... The Muriel Awards.

If you've taken a look at my screening log lately, you may have noticed a downturn in the number of movies I've watched in the last week or so. While some of this may be chalked up to the weak caliber of January movies (when SMOKIN' ACES is the most intriguing-looking multiplex release, it's a fallow period indeed), I've also been busy with something else.

I've always enjoyed voting for movie awards. For years I've given out my own my own honors, which I would post on my now drastically-revamped site. I've also participated in numerous polls and online awards over the years, though I never resorted to voting for the People's Choice Awards, where my nomination of, say, KINGS AND QUEEN might not have gone over too well. So I suppose it was only a matter of time until I'd play a part in getting one of these things off the ground. Thanks to all who participated, in particular Steven Carlson who helped me immeasurably in gathering this year's voters:

Jason Alley
Kent M. Beeson
Andrew Bemis
Dennis Cozzalio
Greg Dunlap
James Frazier
Martin McClellan
Lucas McNelly
Mark Pfeiffer
Matt Riviera
Jenny Sekwa
R. Presley Stephens

While you're here, why not drop in on their sites as well?

I'm sure some of you are asking what's with the name of the awards (or not, if you're a regular reader over at Rickey)? Anyway, I decided that my guinea pig Muriel would be as good an inspiration/mascot as any, seeing as how, as I say on the Muriel Awards web site:

"[Muriel] is both temperamental and endlessly curious, two traits which are common to a lot of die-hard filmgoers. Of course, few of them are as cute..."

Plus the Muriel Awards has kind of a nice ring to it, in my opinion. Now all I need to do is name something else after my other guinea pig, Victoria, so she doesn't feel left out.

I'll be unveiling the award winners by category on this blog over the course of the next week or so, one per day, with the big prize- Best Feature Film- to be announced on President's Day, Monday, February 19. In addition, I'll be updating the Muriel Awards web site as I announce the awards, and when it's all said and done the page will also include ballots from the various voters, which should prove illuminating.

So watch this space, and enjoy!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

YouTube finds: LET IT BE

Like many people, I went through a Beatles phase when I was younger. It mostly happened during my senior year in high school and my first two years of college. I bought all of their CDs and listened to them over and over, and I also had my first exposure to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT!, HELP and YELLOW SUBMARINE, all three of which I still love, especially the first. I wouldn't say I've moved on since then- I still love their music, of course- but I don't really listen to them like I used to. Occasionally I'll break out one of their CDs- usually REVOLVER or ABBEY ROAD- and groove on the awesomeness, half rocking out, half nostalgia trip.

Anyway, watching the trailer for the upcoming ACROSS THE UNIVERSE today (meh... not a Taymor fan, and the idea of Beatles covers by the hottest indie-rock and emo-wussy artists doesn't exactly thrill me) on AICN I discovered in the comments that the out-of-print Beatles doc LET IT BE can be found on YouTube. But of course! So I poked around a little and sure enough... It was interesting seeing it for the first time now, focusing not so much on the music as the filmic qualities of it. This was no doubt enhanced by some sound issues in the first hour of the film, in which the syncronization between soundtrack and image is off about a second or so. Because the music being played was so familiar to me, I was able to direct my attention to what was on the screen- the dynamic between the band members, the ragged looks on their faces, and so on. And when they take to the rooftop for their last hurrah, it's a hell of a moment. Oh to have been walking through the streets of London on that grey January day to experience this firsthand!

Anyway, the film was pretty awesome overall. Hard to imagine what it would have been like in its original 210-minute form (more expansive and Wiseman-esque, I'm sure), but in its present form, even watching it on YouTube, it's a fascinating cultural document.

But why take my word for it? Carve out a few hours and check it out!

Section 1 (20 minutes)

Section 2 (20 minutes)

Section 3 (20 minutes)

Section 4 (7 minutes)

Section 5 (7 minutes)

Section 6 (7 minutes)

Don't say I never did anything for you.