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  • June 29, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: 32A

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed 32A, you might also enjoy these great films:


    The Commitments

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Group of young working-class Dubliners share a love for American soul music- and pull together a band to perform their favorite hits. And guess what-they’re good. Tracing the band’s genesis puts us in the home of band leader Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) whose immediate family looks bewildered at all the activity and whose Dad (Colm Meaney) only has ears for Elvis.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An exuberant, funny, feel-good musical comedy from director Alan Parker. Granted, you have to pay attention to get all the dialogue through all the thick Irish accents and colloquialisms, but you’ll still be able to share the fun and laughs. And when the music starts, all barriers come down, as the group pulls off toe-tapping renditions of some immortal R&B classics. The band audition scenes are priceless.


    The Snapper

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When unmarried 20-year-old Irish gal Sharon (Tina Kellegher) informs her parents that she’s pregnant, and even refuses to name the irresponsible seed man, the unexpected happens: The large, closely knit family takes it all in stride and tries to be supportive, especially her proud, big-hearted father Dessie (Colm Meaney). But when the neighborhood gossips start wagging their tongues, it all gets too personal for Dessie, and Sharon begins to wonder if moving out isn’t the best thing for everyone.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Written by Roddy Doyle (“The Commitments”), who adapted the script from his own Tarrytown novel, Frears’s “Snapper” lets us cozy up with an eccentric bunch. Like any big family, the Curleys are constantly bickering at each other, but Frears quickly establishes just how tight everyone is, too—especially Dessie and Sharon, who talk turkey while sharing pints at the pub. “Snapper” zeroes in on the special nature of this father-daughter relationship, with Meaney in excellent form as a kindly, slightly overprotective dad, and Kellegher equally good at uproarious girl chatter, deep mortification, and even late-night anxiety. A lovely and bittersweet slice of Irish life.


    Once

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    An Irish singer-songwriter with a lingering broken heart (Glen Hansard) meets a spunky Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) while busking on the streets of Dublin and discovers that she has a special musical talent. The two become warm friends and collaborators, but love proves more complex and elusive.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    John Carney’s gorgeously spare drama has a homemade feel that fits perfectly the story of two people with some emotional baggage who nevertheless find a way to connect through music. Real-life bards Hansard (of the Irish band, The Frames) and Irglova (an artist in her own right) write beautiful songs together, and their performances as actors and singers in “Once” couldn’t feel more natural, or tug at your heartstrings any more insistently. Kudos to Carney (Hansard’s former bass player) for having the courage to tell such a blissfully simple story.


    Welcome To The Dollhouse

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Dorky, bespectacled seventh grader Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is the most viciously harassed adolescent in her middle school, where she’s spurned by the cool crowd and menaced by thuggish Brandon (Brendan Sexton), who enjoys threatening “Weiner Dog” with rape. Home life is also grim: Her older brother is a bookish whiz, her younger sister a button-cute ballerina, while Dawn barely registers on her family’s radar. What’s a geeky girl to do?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A harrowingly accurate, darkly hilarious look at that time of life most of us would prefer to forget, Solondz’s portrait of gawky pre-adolescence visits all the landmarks of childhood hell: peer abuse, sexual awkwardness, and the general sense that people are the source of all misery. Matarazzo is fantastic as the ostracized, alienated tween who suffers the insults and indignities of her peers with stoic resignation. Sexton (“Kids”) also registers well as Dawn’s cruel, glowering classmate. “Dollhouse” isn’t for younger kids, but teens and grown-ups will appreciate its bitingly funny blend of pathos and punishment.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • June 26, 2009

    A Scouting Life: A Sense of Menace in the Desert

    by Sam Hutchins

    Outside Twentynine Palms, Mojave Desert, California

    Outside Twentynine Palms, Mojave Desert, California

    Continuing on, we passed through Twentynine Palms. Seeing signs for the Joshua Tree National Park, we briefly considered a detour, but it was already getting on into the afternoon so we skipped it. From the look of the map it looked like we were heading into the desert soon, and we did. Twentynine Palms is actually a decent size town, fueled largely by a massive Marine Corps base just outside city limits. It’s also one of those western towns that just ends. Never ceases to amaze me when I see that. You’re on the main drag, with seemingly countless gas stations, bars and gun stores. Turning onto a side road you travel a few similar blocks, pass some houses, and then the city just stops. You’re in the wilderness. Makes me wonder what it’s like to live in that last house on the edge of town. Don’t know that I could handle it. Sure, the view would be great, but how do you sleep at night knowing you’re the closest food source for any wildlife that requires such? Then again, whoever that guy living in the last house in town is he probably would think I was crazy for living in New York City.

    Just a few miles out of town we saw an adobe roadhouse. I didn’t particularly like the looks of the joint but it was likely our last shot at lunch for quite some time. Unsurprisingly there were several meth-head types and other sorts of scary frontier types sucking down dollar-fifty beers at the bar. I gave my standard spiel about scouting and introduced myself around, playing the role of hail-fellow-well-met. Quite unusually no one really seemed to give a shit. We were free to shoot pictures as we pleased. The place was sort of interesting-looking but not great. Snooping around the place it appeared to be a pretty heavy biker bar and I was happy we had not stopped there in the evening. The place carried a tangible sense of menace.

    The bartender was one of those women who look like they are 38 going on 60, definitely some rough living there. She seemed fairly annoyed that we wanted hamburgers and had to be talked into making us some. When she reluctantly agreed, she came out from behind the bar and walked out the door. We sat and watched as she crossed the yard to a nasty old trailer and banged on the side with her open hand. She did so until a gorgeous young blonde emerged, stretching and pretty clearly just rolling out of bed for the first time that day. They returned to the bar with the younger of them shuffling wordlessly into the kitchen to make us some lunch. It took a few moments to figure out but eventually the resemblance between the two women registered. They were mother and daughter. That lithe young thing was going to become the used-up bartender with the hacking cough now pouring us cokes and cracking dirty jokes in due time. I wanted to tell her to run, get out while she could, but I didn’t suspect the sentiment would be well-received.

    At first, my road buddies Stephane and Darius seemed oblivious to the bad vibes I was getting but eventually it registered with them as well. For such sensitive guys they can be a little oblivious at times. By the time our food came we were all eager to finish fast and get on our way. I’m not sure if living in the extreme conditions of the desert warps people, or if previously warped people are drawn to live in harsh conditions like that but there is an unquestionable edge of strangeness to most people we met living out there. Until you’ve travelled in similar places the film “Near Dark” doesn’t make much sense. Once you have, it feels more like a documentary.

    The old mine.

    Deposits from the old mine.

    Pressing on, we hit the gold mine. Literally and figuratively. We found a stretch of desert road running through land owned by a mining operation. The waste of the extraction process left what appeared to be a crust of salts and other minerals baked into the desert floor and piled along the roadside. It was quite striking visually and we spent a good deal of time shooting pictures. It would prove to be attractive to Kar Wai as well, and we revisited it with him later on. Certainly toxic to some degree, it nonetheless was such an odd-looking spot on the earth that it begged to be filmed. Between the wind farm in the morning and the mineral flats in the desert it was a productive day so far. If we could keep this pace, finding two good locations for Kar Wai each day, we would have an abundance of riches to return with. I took down the mining company’s information so I could contact them for permission to film there later and we moved on down the road.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

  • June 24, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Venturing into the American West

    by Sam Hutchins

    Darius Khondji taking stills.

    Darius Khondji taking stills.

    We made it to LA without incident, and the flight was actually rather pleasant. One very nice thing about my business is flying first class. There is simply no way you can go back to coach once you get used to a seat that reclines into a bed, not to mention the unlimited free whiskey. Given those circumstances I actually hate to land. Another good thing about being in the air was not worrying about either of my companions wandering off and getting lost. Safely confined in the plane, I didn’t have to worry about losing them, as would clearly be the case when earthbound.

    After collecting our ridiculous cache of luggage we trammed it to hertz and picked up a great big SUV. We were making a low budget film, so of course the initial thought had been to cram us into some sort of sedan. All three of us had rebelled at this, and I actually tried to get us the biggest truck possible. Knowing what the road is like there is great advantage to travelling in a Ford Expedition or something similar. I love the environment as much as anyone, but not to the point of travelling thousands of miles shoehorned into a small car. Ultimately we compromised on a Nissan Armada, which appeared to be the most spacious option without going up to one of the real monster size rides. Good thing we held out. Once our luggage was loaded we three were a snug fit.

    It was late so we checked into a hotel near LAX and got ourselves settled. Darius and Stephane were meeting a potential production designer, but I was not needed, so I chose to grab some sleep. In retrospect, it is rather funny that this fellow’s interview was as unusual as mine, meeting two weird Frenchmen in the bar of an airport hotel close to midnight. For my part, I found it hard to sleep as excited as I was. The thrill of starting an epic journey kept me up for quite a while, with me eventually falling asleep to the late rerun of Sportscenter.

    Just before parting company with my travel companions, I made a valiant effort at starting out bright and early.

    “What do you say, guys, meet in the lobby at eight am, checked out and having had?”

    “Aving ad? What does this mean?” asked Stephane in that goofy accent.

    “It means having had breakfast. At eight tomorrow morning we should meet here in the lobby having already eaten breakfast and turned in your room key, ready to travel. We have lots to see.”

    From the look on their faces I might as well have just kicked their dogs and insulted their wives. Obviously this was an uphill battle. In the end we compromised on a 9AM leave time. At a quarter after nine the next morning they ambled into the lobby and insisted we eat breakfast before leaving. For me, a scouting breakfast is a bagel and a coffee scarfed down while driving. For them apparently it was more like a casually eaten bowl of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola. I suppose there are worse problems to have in life than meandering through a lengthy breakfast, but I was already wondering how anything gets done in France.

    My spirits soared once we were on the road, though. Navigating due east out of LA there was nothing but open road and the entire country laid out before us. We took the 10 east through a few hours of suburban LA sprawl as we started getting to know each other better. My only issue was their occasional lapses into speaking French, but that was an understandable thing. For the most part it was a pleasant bit of fast highway driving under a sunny blue sky. Although quite well-traveled, I am born and raised in the northeast. It’s easy to forget the beauty and majesty of the American West. Jumping off the highway at Palm Springs I was struck by the surrounding vista. Driving the desert road with massive mountains rising on the horizon sent my soul soaring. What an amazing sight to behold.

    Turning north towards Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree, we encountered the first wind farm I had ever seen. Enormous windmills rose like aliens from the desert floor. Ignoring the many “no trespassing” signs posted, we did our first bit of off-road four-wheeling. Damn good thing we had the SUV after all. No regular sedan would have made those moves. We pulled over and got out to shoot some pictures. It quickly became apparent that shooting video was a pain in the ass. We had brought a professional grade camera and it was rather cumbersome. Darius shot a few clips using Stephane as an actor but soon packed up the video rig for the last time on the trip. We instead shot lots of stills, taking in the amazing views. Not bad for our first pullover, definitely an amazing and otherworldly spot. If our trip proved this easily bountiful we were going to have some amazing stuff.

    Darius and Stephane

    Darius and Stephane

    I had given a lot of thought to how Kar Wai’s films would play in an environment like this. His work is so urban and confined, and he loves industrial decay layered with streaks of electric neon colors. Frankly I just couldn’t see it until this very moment. Standing on the burnished sand of the desert floor, mountains obscured by the haze under these giant looming alien-looking machines it all clicked for me. I could see one of the loners he so loves portraying looking lost in their surroundings as the blades of the windmills slowly whomp-whomp-whomped away overhead. Yeah, man, this was it. This felt right.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

  • June 22, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Charade

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Suspicion

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The shy but wealthy Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) marries suave, penniless Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) despite warnings that he’s a gold-digging playboy. Before long, Johnnie appears to show his true colors when he gets involved in an embezzlement scheme-and his partner Beaky (Nigel Bruce) turns up dead. Though lacking hard evidence, Lina begins to suspect her husband is a killer, and fears he may come for her next.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Hitchcock’s psychological thriller is as tightly plotted and crisply directed as any of the master’s finest works. The tension builds slowly and inexorably, as the bookish, increasingly frightened Lina waits passively for her nightly glass of (poisoned?) milk, fearing the worst. Fontaine, who appeared the previous year in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” won an Oscar for her role as the rattled wife, while Grant is superb as a cynical charmer. “Suspicion” is sure to thrill anyone in the mood for subtle romantic intrigue.


    Notorious

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    American intelligence officers tracking Nazis in post-war South America coerce Alicia Hubermann (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of an executed Nazi spy, to use her feminine wiles to implicate more of her father’s colleagues, including one Alex Sebastian. Before the assignment is disclosed; however, American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia have already begun a passionate romance, complicating matters going forward.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “Notorious” still delivers outstanding suspense, with director Hitchcock at his most subtle. The story of a fallen woman-first redeemed by love, then put in peril- is riveting throughout, and stars Grant and Bergman emit powerful on-screen chemistry. Acting laurels also go to supporting player Rains, who’s never been smoother or slimier than here, playing a Nazi agent. But then, just look at his friends-and that mother! Don’t miss the climax, nothing less than pure, understated genius.


    To Catch A Thief

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    On the sun-drenched French Riviera, someone is relieving rich women of their precious jewels, and all the evidence points to retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant). Reluctant to sit for questioning, “The Cat” evades investigators who show up at his luxe villa and-with the help of London insurer H.H. Hughson (John Williams)-cozies up to wealthy American widow Mrs. Stevens (Jesse Royce Landis), who he believes may be his imitator’s next victim.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Paramount’s new two-disk “Centennial Edition” has re-mastered audio and crystal-clear color. Filmed in VistaVision by Oscar winner Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s swanky, breezy suspense film takes a simple idea-one cat burglar on the tail of another-and spins it into cinematic gold. With his customary wit and sexual innuendo, the director positions tanned star Cary Grant on a collision course with the resplendent Kelly, who never looked more ravishing as spoiled heiress Francie Stevens, especially in a wide-brimmed white sun hat and bathing outfit Jackie O would have coveted. When they kiss, there are literally fireworks on-screen, a technique Hitch used to keep the censors from snipping his film. You’ll have a lot of fun catching this “Thief.”


    North by Northwest

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    By chance, martini-swilling adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a top spy, and set up for murder. He then finds himself in the unfamiliar position of fugitive, criss-crossing the country in search of the real culprit, his only chance of survival. Along the way, he meet the beautiful but mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint), who wants to help him. But is she who or what she seems?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Fifty years after release, “Northwest” provides gripping, colorful entertainment for the whole family, full of the Master’s trademark twists and turns. Only Cary could undertake such a rugged and dangerous journey and keep looking marvelous with no change of clothes. Eva Marie-Saint is appropriately enigmatic and alluring as the icy blonde who may or may not be in his corner. But it’s James Mason’s treacherous turn as the cold-blooded enemy agent that stays etched in your memory.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • June 22, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Funny Ha Ha

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Five Films (Faces & A Woman Under the Influence)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Five films, organized chronologically, which capture the essence of the Cassavetes legacy: Ahead of its time, “Shadows” centers on a fragile love affair which dissolves when a young white man discovers his naive girlfriend is half-black. In “Faces,” we follow the crumbling world of a middle-aged businessman (John Marley) who leaves his empty marriage and retreats to his mistress, a high-class call girl (Gena Rowlands). “Influence” concerns a loving married couple (Rowlands and Peter Falk) who nevertheless can’t fully connect. “Killing” follows a strip-club operator (Ben Gazzara) who gets in over his head with the mob, while “Opening Night” shows stage diva Rowlands blocked over a part that suggests her advancing age.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Resolutely independent filmmaker John Cassavetes is a hero to film buffs, and this indispensable collection comprises five of his groundbreaking dramas. Though the rawness and immediacy of a Cassavetes film can be unnerving to watch, we feel sympathy, even affection for many of his characters. Our hearts break for the deflowered girl in “Shadows,” the bewildered housewife in “Influence,” even the two-bit gambler in “Killing,” whose only home is his strip-club, his only family its sleazy denizens. A Cassavetes film usually makes the viewer a bit uncomfortable, like someone who’s walked into a party uninvited, one which could turn ugly any second. Such is the impact of the “truth” Cassavetes empowered his actors to find, reflecting life as a wondrously weird, often messy phenomenon. Here’s your chance to see him- and his troupe- at their very best.


    The Graduate

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.


    Happy-Go-Lucky

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    No matter what life throws her way—a stolen bike, a cutting remark—chipper, 30-year-old primary-school teacher Poppy (Hawkins) always sports a smile. Content as a single gal, Poppy enjoys the camaraderie of her best friend and flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), with whom she shares an especially intimate bond. But her encounters with sour, rageful driving instructor Scott (Marsan) challenge Poppy’s natural effervescence, especially once a kindly social worker (Samuel Roulkin) enters her life.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Sally Hawkin’s winning, unforgettable performance in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated drama, about a free-spirited working-class British gal confronting a unredeemably noxious soul, is absolutely first-rate. Ever the optimist, Poppy can’t help but try to recuperate Scott’s malignant, borderline psychotic attitude—bitter, racist, paranoid, utterly devoid of joy—and Marsan’s turn as the splenetic, tightly wound Londoner is edgy and riveting. Funny, sad, and life-affirming in equal measure.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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