Saturday, March 27, 2010
“…everything has to be disposable. Because you see the main thing today is shopping. Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself; he go to church, start a revolution, something. Today you’re unhappy? Can’t figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping.”
--Arthur Miller, The Price.
When I read those words, I knew I had to direct The Price, a play written in 1968 from the hand of the great American playwright Arthur Miller. They were spoken by Gregory Solomon, a 90-year-old furniture salesman who is about to purchase a huge room of furniture from Victor Franz, a man unloading a burden, in more ways than one.
The Price is one of Miller’s most under-recognized and least appreciated works. It’s the story of two brothers who, after 16 years of estrangement, try to reconcile in the attic of the family residence, where their old furniture is to be sold. Debuting in 1968, the play ran on Broadway for about a year before closing and toured a number of countries before being retired from the stage. I don’t think it was intentional. Miller’s other plays such as The Crucible, All My Sons and the most familiar, Death of a Salesman, became part of the American canon of drama, appearing on student reading lists for years. His plays also became part of the standard repertoire of amateur and professional theatre companies around the world and more recently on television and motion pictures. The Price is in the same company as those works because it offers insight into the relationships between fathers and sons, memory and the consequences of making choices.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Noam Baumbach’s Greenberg is, unlike his other features, a movie where, ultimately, there’s much less than meets the eye. Of all the directors toiling in the American independent movie scene, Baumbach, with movies like Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy and The Squid and the Whale, has managed to be one of the savviest and most entertaining of filmmakers. He eschews the heavy handedness of self-conscious movies like Lance Hammer’s Ballast and Lee Daniels’ Precious, while opening a window on characters who warrant the attention. Baumbach's protagonists also have little in common with the mopey whiners in Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, or any of the caricatured, grotesque folk at the centre of the films of Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness). Greenberg, however, will likely test the patience of even Baumbach’s staunchest fans.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
One was an iconic 1960s TV star, the other was unknown as a personality, but the photographs he took captured the musical icons of 1960s in a way few others have. Robert Culp and Jim Marshall passed away on March 24th -- one 79, the other 74 -- yet for some reason, Culp's passing, though sad, had no impact on me. He was an actor I enjoyed in repeats only. Because I grew up in one-TV-channel small town Ontario, I never saw his best known works (I Spy, the legendary “The Demon with the Glass Hand” from The Outer Limits) when they first ran. He always seemed more of my parent's era than mine. But reading about Jim Marshall’s death, even though he was only five years younger than Culp, left a deeper impression. Ironically, I never knew his name until today, but his images have been with me (in one way or another) all my life. Many of his most famous shots became record album covers, magazine and newspaper spreads, and they were flashed on TV in the 1960s right up until the present day. The two Marshall pictures posted above are not only part of my permanent memory bank; they have always been two of my favourite musician photographs.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
People who toil in the trenches of film criticism know what it’s like to be courted or dissed by publicists and festival organizers. There’s also that love-hate thing with readers. Moreover, it’s a lonely line of work to sit for hours in a darkened theater and then tap away on a keyboard while staring at another screen. Your eyes and tush begin to ache.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Before I saw Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple of years ago, what I'd hoped for was a highly entertaining look at an old-fashioned traveling festival. Surprisingly, the picture turned out to be even broader than I imagined. While taking his inspiration from Buffalo Bill's famous tent shows, Vaughn also set out to tour young talented stand-up comics across the United States where they could ply their trade on a nightly basis. Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show is an entertaining, yet poignant examination of the makings of a comedian.
Although Vaughn is the presiding spirit over the tour, which took place in September 2005, he serves more as the impresario of the event. Helmer Ari Sandel, who directed the ingeniously funny comic short West Bank Story (that parodied West Side Story within the Arab-Israeli conflict) provides more than just an inside look of the tour. He goes within the very dynamics of how a comedian makes things funny - even issues that under other circumstances wouldn't be funny at all. Vaughn first pays tribute to the many performers who have been a huge part of his career, including director/writer/actor Jon Favreau, actor Peter Billingsley, and country singer/actor Dwight Yoakam. But most of the picture is about a number of novice comedians who are trying to find their footing on a nightly stage.