Category: Film

Shotgun Stories

Monday, March 24th, 2008 | All Things, Film

Tonight: Shotgun Stories, the criticallyadmired debut feature by writer-director Jeff Nichols. The film is a take on a classic feud story, pitting two sets of half brothers against each other over the languid backdrop of rural Arkansas. Years of resentments erupt following a confrontation at their father’s funeral, setting off an escalating series of vengeful acts that can leave no winner. (Nichols is said to have been inspired by the current political climate.)

Michael Shannon stars as Son Hayes, who along with younger brothers Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs), shares the hard memories of being abandoned as children by a violent drunk of a dad, who reforms and remarries, eventually becoming a loving father to four more sons. The older Hayes boys are formed of a certain Southern stereotype, which until the eye-opening trip last summer, I would have assumed to be some a kind of gross exaggeration: one lives in a pup tent pitched in his brother’s yard; the other, literally, in a van down by the river. The intensity of the young men’s bitterness burns deep, sharpened by their lives of constant struggle, all sparingly presented with minimal dialogue and improbably beautiful landscapes. (Credit to Adam Stone for the cinematography.)

A laid-back Shannon was tonight’s guest, fresh off a Public Theater rehearsal for Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Little Flower of East Orange, in which he plays Ellyn Burstyn’s junkie son; The Times called Shannon’s performance “undeniably commanding, if at times exhausting.

Shannon and Siegel

Shannon and Siegel

That seems to be a recurring theme throughout the little of Shannon’s oeuvre I’ve seen; I still recall his creepy, but memorable turn as a devout ex-marine in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.

The part of the seminar I most enjoy is hearing the backstory of how these independent films get made. In this case: Arkansas-native Nichols, while a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, had watched some scenes Shannon filmed with his professor Gary Hawkins at the Sundance Labs. Nichols was so taken with the brooding actor that he wrote an entire screenplay with Shannon in mind, eventually contacting him through Hawkins about starring in his film. And in a turn of events sure to frustrate aspiring screenwriters everywhere, Shannon read Nichols’s script, was likewise impressed with the student’s work, and agreed. Just like that.

The way Shannon described it this evening, the entire shoot was a labor of love. Nichols’s whole family was involved in aspects of the film’s production: his parents and assorted family friends hosted much of the cast and crew in their homes, his mother was put on craft services duty, cooking dinner for 30 every night. Nichols’s brother wrote the film’s music while his father was a driver on set and an all-important funder. (David Gordon Green, director of All the Real Girls, the 2003 romance starring Zooey Deschanel, has official producing credit.)

Shannon was an engaging, if not particularly chatty, presence… slightly less scary in person than on screen. He did more than once say he wished that Nichols could have been at Town Hall tonight himself to explain the film better. Nichols, however, was unavailable, due to attending his own wedding the day before. Good excuse.

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Canadian Front

Saturday, March 15th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Film

Back at the MoMA theaters for “Canadian Front, 2008” — a collection of feature films from our neighbors to the North. Last year’s opening film, Sarah Polley’s Away From Her went on to earn Catherine Deneuve a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a still vibrant woman ravaged by Alzheimer’s.

This year’s festival featured a week-long engagement of Poor Boy’s Game, directed by Clément Virgo and co-written with Nova Scotian writer/director Chaz Thorne. The film premiered at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival and was selected later that year for inclusion at the Toronto Film Festival. It stars Rossif Sutherland, the 6’5″ dark eyed, half-brother of Kiefer and son of Donald.

Sutherland plays Donnie Rose, a brooding young man recently released from prison, where he has served nine years for a brutal beating that left a black teenager handicapped for life. Nine years later, Donnie is a changed man, but his gritty, racial tension-filled surroundings in Halifax remain much the same. Sparked by the desire to settle old scores, a local boxing champ from the black community (Flex Alexander) arranges a grudge-match with Donnie. And although it’s clear that the intent is bloody vengeance, Donnie accepts the challenge and the $20,000 payment to fight. The victim’s father (Danny Glover), moved by a desire to overcome the violence of his and Donnie’s shared past, forms a tortured and unlikely alliance with the ex-con, leading up to a climactic showdown in the ring.

MoMA sculptures

I’ve seen my share of mass destruction on film, but something about boxing movies always makes me cringe behind my fingers.

After dinner, we did some date location scouting in Midtown — no, not for me — passing Elmo along the way.

I’d been intrigued by Kyotofu, the Hell’s Kitchen branch of a Kyoto dessert bar and cafe chain, since it opened in October 2006, touting Japanese-inspired, homemade tofu-rich desserts. New York magazine called Kyotofu “a magnet most nights for dainty, delicate females and chirpy, dessert-nibbling aesthetes of the opposite sex,” which described the clientele inside architect Hiro Tsuruta’s mod, white jewel box of a dining room pretty accurately. We settled into stools around the front bar, in full view of the glass enclosed kitchen, to sample two desserts from chef Ritsuko Yamaguchi’s menu of sweet and stylish tofu, fruit, green tea, chocolate and sesame creations. (The cafe also features an extensive cocktail and beverage list, light savory bites, and on occasion, Sunday tea service.)

Kyotofu desserts

The Tofu Cheese Cake, topped with candied ginger, was wonderfully airy with a hint of tanginess, but I loved Kyotofu’s “Signature Sweet Tofu,” served with a shallow boat of kuromitsu black sugar syrup, candied apricot and a crispy black sesame tuile. The silken texture was reminiscent of the Chinese doufu fa, but creamier, with just the right amount of sweetness. Ed Levine called the dessert “strangely beguiling.”

Downtown location coming this summer.

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Wouldn’t it be loverly?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008 | All Things, Film

When I read that My Fair Lady was going to be playing at the MoMA as part of “Rex Harrison: A Centenary Tribute” (March 5–24, 2008), I knew I would find the time to go. The 1964 film is one of my all-time favorites – one of three musicals to which I can sing along to just about every song. (The others are The Sound of Music and West Side Story.)

Roger Ebert called My Fair Ladythe best and most unlikely of musicals…The songs are literate and beloved; some romantic, some comic, some nonsense, some surprisingly philosophical, every single one wonderful.”

MoMA film

MoMA film

Controversy surrounded the casting of Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews for the part of Eliza Doolittle; Andrews had originated the role on stage to great acclaim, but producer and Warner Bros. Studio head Jack L. Warner chose established movie actress Hepburn for her greater box-office appeal. My Fair Lady went on to be nominated for twelve Oscars, winning eight (including best picture, actor and director). Hepburn, whose songs were (in)famously dubbed by Marni Nixon, was not nominated for Best Actress that year; ironically, Andrews was nominated… and won for Mary Poppins. In his Academy Award acceptance speech, Rex Harrison, the man who had played Professor Henry Higgins opposite them both, thanked “two fair ladies.”

The MoMA theater was packed tonight with fellow devotees of Hepburn and Harrison’s repartee, Lerner & Loewe’s classic songs and photographer Cecil Beaton’s delightful costumes.

The My Fair Lady DVD has a dual soundtrack, which features two songs with Hepburn’s original singing voice so listeners can judge for themselves how inadequate it was. (Contrast the scene with Nixon’s final cut here.) Interestingly, Harrison himself, despite extensive vocal training, was unable to sing his role either, which resulted in his signature quasi-speaking song delivery throughout the film. Sexy Rexy‘s deliciously patrician tones reportedly inspired the voice of Stewie Griffin on “Family Guy”.

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