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Archive for the ‘20 lashes’ Category

terrible review: was this guy even at this concert?

Posted by rollinsloane on 5 March 2008

This past Sunday found me in the upper balcony of the Walt Disney Concert Hall for a musical tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, an unmatchable talent whose predilection for standards has basically ensured that all posthumous tributes inevitably end up sounding more Supper Club than soulful blues-jazz. Mercifully, the LA Phil’s line-up instead swerved across genres, featuring the Broadway showmanship of TC Carson and traditional vocals of Ann Hampton Callaway and Janis Siegel. Carson’s jazz hands were the best of that genre and both ladies could belt and scat with equal ease, but the evening belonged to self-proclaimed “new kid on the block” Ledisi. This chick may not have the biggest pipes, but she works her distinctive reedy twitter with real aplomb, and she offered Ella’s vocal creativity the show’s only totally cheese-less tribute.


Ledisi only got two of the program’s dozen-odd songs, but somehow she ended up with the two most ripe for some good old teeth-sinking — “Fly Me to the Moon” and the night-ending “Blues in the Night.”

Maybe she doesn’t deserve all the credit for her final audience-winning number. Ledisi was simply balm to the hall’s tortured ears, coming as she did on the heels of professional jazz hack Mark Murphy. If Will Ferrell hadn’t already mocked Robert Goulet to the smooth-crooner hilt, Mr. Murphy would be f-ing ripe for parody, with his personal accompanist and great dead possum of a coif.

mark murphy

Good lord, this guy poured his voice into such cringe-worthy classics as “Body and Soul” with all the subtle finesse of a ladies man at a singles’ bar.  His embarrassing display of god-awful taste was only matched by the LA Times‘ inept reviewer.  Damn you, Don Heckman!

The inner creativity — the quest to make a song her own — that was at the heart of Fitzgerald’s singing was best illustrated by veteran vocalist Mark Murphy…Finding the heart of the stories, moving lyrics around, winging freely across the harmonies, he transformed classics into up-to-the-minute interpretations, simmering with emotional density. Just the way Ella would have done.

Hoooooly cow, buddy, have you ever heard Ella Fitzgerald?  This is pure blasphemy, the editorial equivalent of giving a cute script an OSCAR (ahem, Juno) or a tribute album a GRAMMY (ahem, Herbie).  In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say this is why the newspaper business is failing — Don Heckman, pure and simple.  Congratulations, Mr. Heckman.  I’d curse you to a hell of Mark Murphy live and in person, but somehow that’s not punishment enough.




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why juno’s best screenplay accolades are rather off-the-mark

Posted by rollinsloane on 21 January 2008

Sure, Juno‘s a cute movie, solid the whole way around and with characters so compelling you wish it ran more than 96 minutes.  But Best Screenplay?  Considering it’s about teenage pregnancy, Juno does incredibly little ruminating on either being a pregnant teenager or pregnant in general.  Obviously screenwriter Diablo Cody has never herself been preggers, or we might have been treated to Juno’s caustic take on swollen feet, constant bloat or seven-odd months of scandalized stares and awkward pauses.  Juno remains sweet, simple and audience-friendly because it never treads into that uncomfortable territory.  How else could Juno be so plucky all the time?

It’s a cute movie, yes, but not a fully written one.  Cody makes the first-screenplay mistake of being utterly linear and entirely relevant to the plot at hand, rather than expanding the story out into other directions.  Don’t get me wrong — Juno is terrific, and deserves its praise.  But shouldn’t Best Screenplay awards be reserved for a piece of work that challenges the form?   When a script’s innovations are just a handful of out-there lines like “Your eggo is preggo,” hailing it as Oscar bait is ludicrous.

— Sloane 

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worst review quite possibly ever — I’ll even take Ebert over Elaine

Posted by rollinsloane on 17 January 2008

Whoever Elaine is over at /film, she ought to be anticipating the hook. This chick couldn’t review the Bratz movie with any eye for nuance. Her review for There Will Be Blood depends so heavily on simple tenses that even spectacularly unspectacular points about basic film production seem subtle: “The first thing I noticed about There Will Be Blood was the sound design. It’s something that many filmmakers don’t focus on anymore, but can really make a film stand out.” Ms. Elaine goes on to compliment the film’s “ominous feel of every scene,” “superb filmmaking,” and the fact that “the psychology of the film is unique” without any need for elaboration.

— Sloane

PS — check out LA CityBeat‘s Andy Klein instead.

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most wasted cast…ever (and I don’t mean in the good way)

Posted by rollinsloane on 9 January 2008

I was just sitting around and innocently flipping channels last night when my modestly sized, far-from-high-def TV screen suddenly filled with the unbelievable swashbuckling team of John Malkovich (Being John…well, Malkovich), Gabriel Byrne (Crying Game, go-to Irishman), Gerard Depardieu (Hollywood’s favorite Frenchman — Cyrano de Bergerac) and Jeremy Irons (gravel-voiced and not afraid of Lolita). Can you imagine those four decked out in full Three Musketeers frills and tights? With their wide range of accents and generous helping of thespian gravitas, I was more than ready to hunker down and let the period drama begin.

Too bad the movie was 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask.

man in the iron mask poster

Has a worse Alexander Dumas movie adaptation ever been made? I can’t imagine how. Even relentlessly optimistic moviegoer Roger Ebert had to admit that it’s little more than a “costume swashbuckler.” When stalwart side players Hugh Laurie and Peter Sarsgaard can’t lift the cheesy plot muck from Leonardo DiCaprio’s well-coifed shoulders , you know there’s a problem.

And it’s quite possible the coif was the problem. Did it occur to anyone during production that maaaaaybe long hair was a no-go on young Leo? Call me crazy, but somehow I couldn’t help but feel he bears a striking resemblance to Blue Lagoon Brooke Shields — too prissy for even the easy-to-thump hearts of the late 90s’ teen girls.

leonardo dicaprio man in the iron mask

brooke shields blue lagoon

— Ollie

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film art: dismal failure 2007

Posted by rollinsloane on 4 January 2008

Why, Photoshop, why? ‘Nough said.

georgia rule poster


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dr. strangewilson — what might have been; or, how mike nichols learned to stop questioning and love the film machine

Posted by rollinsloane on 30 December 2007

I’m tired of Hollywood’s political earnestness.

Let me clarify. Charlie Wilson’s War is not a travesty. That hyper-criticism would be totally unfair — it’s a pitch-perfect piece of enjoyable mainstream political comedy, calibrated for the lowest common mental denominator of the movie-going public. America = good. Kill those Russians!

Whatever. Has far as box-office-driven cinematic ethics go, it’s fair enough. Par for the course. The ‘mainstream’ construction of the film (strings, close-ups) isn’t as unsettling as the mentality behind it. Charlie Wilson’s War, the supposedly true tale of a congressman who enlists a socialite and a CIA unit to help arm Afghanis against Russian forces, comes off as part parable, part feel-good comedy. The rich and powerful collude and succeed in aiding the trod-upon and impoverished — whoopee! But why focus on how they do it? Why focus on bills and politician names and trade deals the aforementioned mainstream audience will never in a million years follow? Why take this true plot of stranger-than-fiction absurdity and not emphasize the inherent satire of its infeasible plausibility? Why set sights so low, especially when such hallowed surnames are taking gleeful part?

I couldn’t help but imagine this movie re-framed with that signature black-and-white wide-angle of Dr. Strangelove, a camera style that communicates a larger context for a depicted interaction and, in effect, the preposterous-ness of the situation. Kubrick’s 1964 imagining of world politics is a fiendishly spot-on send-up of world leaders, and Charlie Wilson could have transplanted its cynical ethos into modern-day Washington with hardly a change to Aaron Sorkin’s lively script. Charlie parties hard in hot tubs. He likes his whisky and, it seems, occasionally, his cocaine. He salaries a staff of entirely young, nubile females, whom he collectively hails with “Jailbait!” like it’s a job title. And the film merely plays him off like a lovable scoundrel.

My criticism isn’t merely Puritan, so don’t you go hating on me for raising a doubts against a man who likes his booze, drugs and promiscuity. That’s not my complaint — hell, I’m a marginal partaker in the Charlie Wilson lifestyle my own damn self. But the film doesn’t comment on his in-office dealings; instead, it too takes a tracking shot of his assistant’s comely ass (Amy Adams, with sadly nothing to do but fawn) as she strides down the hallway. It embraces the cleavage with Charlie’s own aplomb while all the while lacking entirely any sense of aesthetic joy. In other words, titillation without commentary and therefore sanction. The gaping lack of opinionated visual camera play that might give a broader view of the characters’ carefree hedonistic behavior leaves the movie’s storytelling a flat, practically judgment-less narrative.

Sure, by the end of the film, Charlie Wilson (the perpetually affable Tom Hanks) realizes the impossibility of extending his foreign efforts to the education or infrastructure of the nation whose war efforts his country has just assisted. The Iraq parallel is clear — don’t forget the citizen needs of the states whose military you target. But Nichols’s film is at heart a story of American triumph, and the irony of powerful men routinely cracking on attractive fems or even of Texas socialites assisting with fairly careless ease in world politics is underplayed so much it’s practically taken for granted. Charlie Wilson revels in its privledged world of unheard-of power and excess, rather than setting up the truer fact of its utter ridiculousness beside normal society.

Julia Roberts, in the role of that Texas socialite, is additionally silly; her performance all but ensures the entire production stales into cardboard. As an actress, she’s certainly demonstrated plenty of flair in the past, but her Joanne Herring amounts to a single facial expression and one woefully flat Southern accent, and she comes off more as Julia Roberts going stony glam blonde than an actual flesh-and-blood character. Add to that the character’s instinctual bitchiness (ordering around professional political assistants like so many cocktail waitresses, for one), and you’ve got a plot supplement of romance and influence that only might have been. I’d have gone with Diane Lane instead. Maybe even Susan Sarandon.

Thankfully, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acerbically rational CIA agent contributes a dose of reality’s outlandishness (Charlie asks why more hasn’t been done about the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, and Hoffman acknowledges that “me and three other guys” are working hard on it), although even he’s left largely to the wayside when the narrative arc’s push comes to climatic shove. The Afghani plight, after all, isn’t really the point of the tale. This is a film about the twin American keystones of individual ability and governmental power. Nichols does indicate the awkward post-coital of such uncomfortable bedfellows, but he’s more interested in putting them between the sheets than examining the sleazy battle of their courtship power play.


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ollie’s showbiz question of the week: delusion and the deluxe treatment

Posted by rollinsloane on 9 December 2007

A message to the owners and operators of cine-palaces nationwide: yes, there is such a thing as too much service. The new wave of deluxe theaters geared towards turning movie-going into an ‘entertainment experience’ is preposterously out of touch with the isolationist appeal of actual movie-going. Last time I checked, people go to movies to avoid interaction.

And I’m not just talking about the un-optional reserved seating business going on in LA’s upscale ArcLight and Landmark theaters. That’s annoying enough — at 11:15 on a weekday morning, does anyone really think the eleven people filing in to see Margot at the Wedding actually need some teenage usher to show them to their seat? I’m parking my keister wherever I damn well please, thanks much, because I’ve got 800 chairs to choose from. Save the reserved seating for crowd control on an opening weekend.

But the Landmark remains hellbent on making every movie an occasion and every customer a VIP. Yesterday, at the Landmark’s Westside Pavilion location, I experienced a rare first in my 20 years of rigorous movie-going. At an early screening of Atonement, one usher stepped to the front of theater and made the sort of welcome-to-this-establishment intro you resent enough on an airplane. “If you have any concerns about the theater, or you just want to talk, don’t hesitate to come see any of us,” he offered cheerily. One elderly patron immediately took him up on the offer and demanded a little more heat; the rest of the theater promptly booed. Therein lies the problem of touchy-feely VIP treatment — movie-goers are a mob, not individuals, and democracy rules.

So, yeah, I have a concern. Shut the hell up and roll film already.


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oh, ebert, give it up already

Posted by rollinsloane on 27 October 2007

Look, I hate to point out the increasingly senility of the aged. Really, I do. The elderly can be so sweet. But Roger Ebert is only 65, and if you’ve got the cahones to release a book called Your Movie Sucks, you’d better be ready to bring proof of your Pulitzer Prize-lauded critical eye to the table

.roger ebert’s your movie sucks

Exhibit A: Ebert’s 2006 review of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Let me put this movie in context: 34% approval rating on rottentomatoes, 46 out of 100 on metacritic. Ebert’s take? “The racing scenes in the movie are fast, and they are furious.” What an eye for detail.

Ebert’s problem isn’t that he’s wrong, per se. It’s just that his powers of observation are obviously dulling with his taste and, dare I say it, eloquence. “What’s interesting is the way the director, Justin Lin, surrounds his gaijin with details of Japanese life, instead of simply using Tokyo as an exotic location. We meet the sumo wrestler, who will be an eye-opener for teenagers self-conscious about their weight.”

Another witticism just dripping with authorial panache: “One nice touch happens during the race on the mountain road, which the kids are able to follow because of instant streaming video on their cell phones.”

Pulitzer Prize, ladies and gents. Pulitzer. For Criticism.

Ebert goes on to save his best analysis for last.

“Lin is a skillful director, able to keep the story moving, although he needs one piece of advice. It was Chekhov, I believe, who said when you bring a gun onstage in the first act, it has to be fired in the third. Chekhov might also have agreed that when you bring Nathalie Kelley onstage in the first act, by the third act the hero should at least have been able to kiss her.”

Not a peep against the blatant sexism of this movie. Far from it — Ebert wants a clinch, and trots out poor dead Chekhov to make his point.

One year later, Ebert hasn’t been getting any punchier. His glowing review of the solid-not-awesome Michael Clayton is a uninforming pile of one-sentence softballs: “Naming the film after Michael Clayton is an indication that the story centers on his life, his loyalties, his being just about fed up.”

If I want to know if it’s raining outside, I know who to call.

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