That's MR. Ranko to you

~ Tuesday, February 03, 2004

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2. In America
3. Lost in Translation / Capturing the Friedmans
4. To Be and To Have
5. Dark Blue
6. Buffalo Soldiers
7. 28 Days Later
8. The Secret Lives of Dentists / The Company
9. Bad Santa / Big Fish
10. The Station Agent / Stone Reader / Spellbound
11. A Mighty Wind / Holes
12. L’Auberge Espagnole / Winged Migration

1. All the Real Girls
2. Bad Boys II
3. Below
4. Cabin Fever
5. The Core
6. Dirty Pretty Things
7. Down With Love
8. Duplex
9. Finding Nemo
10. Freaky Friday
11. The Good Thief
12. Hollywood Homicide
13. The Human Stain
14. The Italian Job
15. It Runs in the Family
16. Laurel Canyon
17. Masked and Anonymous
18. Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
19. Old School
20. Out of Time
21. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
22. The Rundown
23. The Triplets of Belleville
24. The School of Rock
25. Seabiscuit
26. Shattered Glass

1. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. Jim Sheridan (In America)
3. Danny Boyle (28 Days Later)
4. Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)
5. Ron Shelton (Dark Blue/Hollywood Homicide)
6. Carl Franklin (Out of Time) / Neil Jordan (The Good Thief)

1. Capturing the Friedmans
2. To Be and To Have
3. Spellbound
4. Stone Reader
5. Winged Migration

1. In the Cut
2. Gerry & Elephant * Gus Van Sant wins the Soderbergh 2-for-1 award

1. Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan (In America)
3. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (Bad Santa)
4. Billy Ray (Shattered Glass)
5. Craig Lucas (The Secret Lives of Dentists)
6. John August (Big Fish)

1. Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog)
2. Kurt Russell (Dark Blue)
3. Bill Murray (Lost in Translation)
4. Ian McKellen / Viggo Mortensen/Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
5. Tobey Maguire (Seabiscuit)
6. Paddy Considine (In America)
7. Campbell Scott (The Secret Lives of Dentists)
8. Shia LeBouf (Holes / The Battle of Shaker Heights)

1. Samantha Morton (In America)
2. Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me) / Jennifer Connolly (House of Sand and Fog)
3. Catherine O’Hara (A Mighty Wind)
4. Naomi Watts (21 Grams) / Hope Davis (The Secret Lives of Dentists)
5. Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls)
6. Scarlett Johanson (Lost in Translation) / Frances McDormand (Laurel Canyon)

1. Sean Astin / Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. Bernard Hill / John Noble / Billy Boyd / Dominic Monaghan / David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
3. Fred Willard (A Mighty Wind)
4. Peter Saarsgard (Shattered Glass)
5. John Billingsley (Out of Time)
6. Ed Harris (Buffalo Soldiers) / Dulé Hill (Holes)
7. David Hyde Pierce (Down With Love) / Kevin Bacon (Mystic River)
8. Scott Speedman (Dark Blue / My Life Without Me)

1. Jacinda Barrett (The Human Stain)
2. Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog)
3. Sarah Bolger (In America)
4. Patricia Arquette (Holes)
5. Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men) / Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent)
6. Natalie Portman (Cold Mountain)

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2. A Mighty Wind
3. Holes
4. The Company
5. In America
6. The Core

1. Andrew Lesnie, A.C.S. (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. Phillipe Rousselot, A.S.C., A.F.C. (Big Fish)
3. John Seale, A.S.C., A.C.S. (Cold Mountain)
4. Chris Menges (The Good Thief / Dirty Pretty Things)
5. John Schwartzman, A.S.C. (Seabiscuit) / Nicola Pecorini, A.I.C., A.S.C. (The Order)
6. Jim Denault (City of Ghosts)

1. Annie Collins & Jamie Selkirk (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. Paul Seydor (Dark Blue / Hollywood Homicide)
3. Francine Sandberg (L’Auberge Espagnole)
4. Richard Hankin (Capturing the Friedmans)
5. Tony Lawson (The Good Thief)

1. Grant Major (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2. William Sandell (Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World)
3. Dennis Gassner (Big Fish)
4. Mark Tildesley (28 Days Later)
5. John Paino (The Station Agent)
6. Maher Ahmad (Holes)
~ Monday, December 15, 2003
I attended a screening of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King yesterday, at which the four hobbits--Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan--answered audience questions and graciously tolerated the photo-seeking teenyboppers. I'll write more about the movie in a longer post, but for now let it be said that I think it's the best epic ever made. Hell, it's the best movie ever made.

The post-film q&a was the first one I've ever been to that felt like something more that a publicity stunt. Granted, it was a publicity stunt. But it really helped me understand how the four actors were able to muster up such extraordinary performances in the movie, which, I assume, is what people always want figure out at these things.

As they tackled the usual, lighthearted fare ("How big were the sets, really?" "What was your favorite scene to film?"), they joshed one another like brothers, often going off on tangents that turned out to be far more interesting than their answers to the aforementioned questions. Cute fact: only Dom Monaghan had read the Tolkien books before the casting process began! They all told stories about the bonds they developed from spending so much time alone with each other, isolated from their families; and we started to understand how their kinship on-set must have paralleled their fellowship in the movies. The devastatingly emotional conclusion to The Return of the King started to sound like it was a cakewalk to film. And the scene we see in the movie is actually take two: the entire sequence had to be re-shot due to a costuming error the continuity coordinator noticed after the celluloid was originally put in the can. If what we see is what they came up with after having to do it at their most vulnerable, the entire crew must have been weeping uncontrollably the first time around.

A girl who stood up in her chair and flailed her arms, trying desperately to set herself apart from the crowd, got the rights to the last question. She wept as she asked the cast members how they felt about the impacts they've had on the personal lives of their fans; she'd just seen the movie with a friend she'd met through Billy Boyd's website (a tidbit he was obviously happy to hear). Dom Monaghan spoke about his inability to comprehend the fact that people are connecting through him, while Elijah Wood heaped mountains of praise on Peter Jackson and the people who worked on LOTR for making it such a communal effort. However, the moment of the night came when Sean Astin got the mic and spoke with startling eloquence about how moved he was when he saw ROTK for the first time. He "sobbed," and lost his ability to talk. He realized how much the movies are about families, and the importance of human contact--our need to form friendships. His words were intelligent, poignant and remarkably humble. Astin was the ideal speaker to end the session: he reminded us of the aura of selflessness that surrounded the production, and showed that there are still talented, generous actors who care about their craft and are able to speak about what their work means in a simple, honest and meaningful way. He made that girl's face look like the face of everyman. Give the guy an Oscar already. He deserves it.

As the actors shuffled offstage, whisked away by security, Sean Astin walked within an arm's length of my party (we lucked out and got seats in the second row). My brother yelled, "Nicely said, Sean," at which point Astin turned to us with a beaming smile and said, "Thanks, guys. Glad you could come." We could see how sincerely happy--and unsentimentally so--he was to be there, which made the movie experience of a lifetime all the more joyous. He knew the value of being an audience member.
This is a test. My blog is fucked.
~ Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Gigli & Bad Boys II

What better way to pass a heavy snowstorm than catching up with trashy movies you secretly couldn't wait to see earlier in the year? I gave Friedkin's Hunted an honest try, but it's predictable, blunt and dour. Why is Tommy Lee Jones still chasing fugitives through the woods? And why does Benicio Del Toro feel the need to torture himself in every role he takes? It all looks nice (kudos, Caleb Deschanel), but there's no pleasure in it and no choices in the direction. Friedkin is an anti-stylist: he just throws images in front of you with a total disregard for any sort of dramatic thrust. His camera angles don't do anything for the action; he doesn't seem to care where the damn thing is placed.

Gigli, on the other hand....well, it's not a good movie either. But, it's not hard to sit through. It would have higher camp value if Christopher Walken and Al Pacino stayed around to shred the scenery a little longer: they have one scene each, but they do hilariouslessly tasteless riffings on their own oft-parodied styles. It's like they're playing actors playing them on SNL. Is Affleck bad? Yes, he is. He playacts his way through every goomba hitch in the book, while J. Lo. tries her damndest to make something of one of the most ridiculous movie characters in recent memory. (If you didn't know, her character is a lesbian.) It's not that she gives a lousy performance, it's just that...ah fuck it, I don't know what it is. All I know is that she does yoga in spandex while talking about her vagina. You should just see it.

Bad Boys II. Michael Bay must know what a joke he is. He HAS to. As his "directed by Michael Bay" credit rolls, there's a gigantic burning cross in the frame--and nothing else. What kind of prick/genius gives himself a KKK intro? The movie is Commando for an urban audience, with one hundred times the production value and the hottest tits I've ever seen on a dead chick.
~ Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Hey, Time Warner Cable, listen here

Your management, local and corporate, should be ashamed of the way its employees treat its customers. Every Time Warner Cable employee I've spoken to in the last month or so has given me conflicting information about the mishaps I've experienced with my account since moving into my apartment; and the majority of these voracious leeches are discourteous, short-tempered and rude. Example: as I'm sure you know, in order for a customer to process a tenant takeover form without a signed copy of his/her lease, a valid utility bill is (understandably) required. Your people recommend a Verizon phone bill. Again, I understand the logic behind this suggestion, but when I asked a CSR (over the phone) if a Verizon wireless phone bill was acceptable, he immediately replied, "Yes! Of course!" Well, let me tell you what--when I brought a copy of my wireless bill to the TWC offices on 23rd St. in Manhattan, the woman who handled my claim had a serious qualm with the aforementioned CSR's advice. "Well, he shouldn't a' told you that," was all she could offer up as an explanation. In my estimation, it is totally amazing that such a basic guideline obviously has no substantial grounding within your employees' mental file cabinets. What's more, this lack of information creates an unnecessary waste of time for everyone involved in the miserable process of setting up and/or modifying TWC accounts. There is an obviously flagrant lack of communication between your departments, your staff is poorly trained and your customers bear the burden of said negligence. Your entire organization seems aware of its own ineptitude, and you hire some of the worst dunces New York has to offer. Surely there are scores of depressed souls in our city's unemployment offices whose mental capacities dwarf those of the cretons answering your phone lines and wasting away behind your "service" kiosks. My only hope is that someone without a "let me throw my hands up in a 'this ain't my problem' pose" reads this message and decides to alert a TWC figure of authority to its significance. You run a horrid, shoddy operation and you have no concept of how to treat people. I would advise anyone in their right mind looking for cable or high-speed internet services to steer as far clear of your company as possible.
~ Friday, August 29, 2003

Lost in Translation


Sofia Coppola’s second feature film is a deeply personal and emotionally affecting piece of moviemaking. Her style is more relaxed; it’s toned-down from the hyper, buzzy intensity of The Virgin Suicides. The picture is about a washed-up movie star named Bob Harris (Bill Murray, selfless and staggering), who travels to Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial and befriends a newlywed Yale graduate—Charlotte, played in a quiet, star-making performance by Scarlett Johansson—who’s accompanying her photographer husband on a shoot. Bob and Charlotte are unable to sleep, and the time difference is only a minor factor in their shared insomnia. He’s irredeemably jaded and mired in self-loathing; she’s disconnected from her family and any sense of normalcy and is beginning to question her decision to get married young. The movie isn’t really dramatic, yet it has a rhythm and we sense how the week Bob spends with Charlotte changes their lives. Many of the scenes are non-scenes: they aren’t shapely in a conventional sense. We see Bob just playing golf, just passing the time in between work hours. We watch Charlotte wander the hotel’s halls peeking in various rooms. What Coppola is doing with this material is contrasting the beauty of Tokyo’s landscapes and architecture with the emptiness her characters feel: she’s dramatizing our need for human bonding even when we’re somewhere most other people in the world would kill to be. That’s a bold concept coming from someone so hip—the movie’s tasteful soundtrack, jangly, naturalistic camerawork and spaced-out ambience are proof of the filmmaker’s connection to pop culture. Coppola isn’t afraid to suggest that Americans need to seek out other Americans sometimes—that what’s lost in translation when you’re abroad has nothing to do with language barriers, but with an unplaceable sense of belonging together. Bob’s marriage is clearly unstable: his kids are used to communicating with him via fax, and Charlotte catches him sleeping with a hotel lounge singer. But we see that he’s got real wisdom to impart; and the advice he gives Charlotte about her own marriage doesn’t seem silly. It’s incredibly earnest—almost enough to make her fall in love with him. There’s a tense scene where it seems the two of them will kiss, and it’s understandable: the lines between appropriate and inappropriate have become invisible. These characters feel connected to each other in an extremely basic way. When they part ways, their final, shuddering embrace is searingly heartfelt. Bob whispers something inaudible to Charlotte; and the choice to keep the dialogue muffled in the sound mix is a brilliant one. We know what he’s saying to her. We’ve all been there before.
~ Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Masked and Anonymous

There's a weird sort of genius at work in Larry Charles's film, Masked and Anonymous, starring Bob Dylan as Jack Fate, an aged rock star who's called out of imprisonment to perform at a benefit concert in an unplaceably distant, civil-war-torn America. Written--by Dylan and Charles--in the same style as the liner notes to many of Dylan's legendary albums, most noticeably Highway 61 Revisited, every word of dialogue is meant to have some pointed, elusive significance. And most of the cast latches onto the phrasing and cuts loose in a circus of freakish, often embarrassingly awful diatribes, though there are mesmerizing moments: Val Kilmer finds a refreshingly new manner in which to dissolve his own performance in front of our eyes; Ed Harris mugs his pants off, and in blackface nonetheless; Giovanni Ribisi nearly brings things to a stand-still playing a confused revolutionary--or counter-revolutionary--distraught about the state of the war. The exception, of course, is Dylan himself, who's not an actor and seems alarmingly out of place when he goes up against talents like Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. But that seems to be the point: the movie is little more than a paean to Dylan's continuing relevance as one of America's leading critics of pop culture and all things socio-political. However, his utterly bizarre vision of a near-apocalyptic America mirrors the current shape of things so perfectly--a President whose rise to power is mysterious at best, a media that brainwashes the public and attmpts to shred and degrade the very concept of artistic integrity--that you wonder if the movie even needs to make a whole lot of sense. He is Bob Dylan, after all. His awe-inspiring skills as a songwriter and arranger are still as revolutionary as they were in the 1960's: he finds new, jaw-dropping ways to breathe life into "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and "Blowin' in the Wind." True, the proceedings are under-developed and deliberately incoherent: there's little to hold on to, emotionally speaking. But, the film stands as proof that creativity can still encourange people to take refuge in the power and solace of art, even under the most hopelessly repressive regimes. Considering the current state of movies, Dylan's is a fairly novel idea.

*Note Aritcolo 31's rap remix of "Like a Rolling Stone" (with arrangement and writing assistance from Dylan), Sertab's version of "One More Cup of Coffee," and Dylan's re-working of the traditional "Dixie" and "Diamond Joe."
~ Tuesday, July 22, 2003
I haven't posted in a helluva long time. Apologies. Come on, who's reading this anyway?

The new film by Stephen Frears, Dirty Pretty Things, a neo-noir set in the underworld of a London organ smuggling ring, is fashionably directed and grips you for a while. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a smart, hard-working African immigrant, drives a cab by day and mans the front desk of a posh hotel by night. When his after-dark employer, Sneaky (Sergi Lopez, in a performance that's all mugging, whistling and hair gel), learns about his tenure as a surgeon in Nigeria, he tries to rope him into a lucrative scheme operating from the hotel's fifth floor: desperate, poverty-stricken hopefuls exchange a kidney for fake European passports and citizenship under a new identity. Okwe's co-worker and roommate, Senay (Audrey Tautou), falls in love with him because of his righteousness, humility and devotion to her; he's a bastion of hope for her in a life that's otherwise miserable. She harbors him illegally--immigrants are not allowed to accept rent or employment during their first six months of residency in the U.K.--and is busted by cops cracking down on these violations. Forced to leave her job at the hotel when the police stake it out, she turns to sweatshop employment and sexual degradation, deciding she'd rather give up her organs and go to New York than endure rape any longer. There's a nifty twist, and it all wraps up nicely, and painlessly, but the picture never builds up much steam. And the teary-eyed farewell between Okwe and Senay feels fake and tacked-on, like most of Tatou's performance. There's not much chemistry between the two lead actors; and Ejiofor--a striking presence, his face wracked with fatigue, pent-up angst and sadness--outperforms his counterpart in every scene they play. Shot by the immensely talented Chris Menges, the picture has a dingy but appealing look: Frears revels in the flourescent caverns where the people who drive society's cars, clean its rooms, and suck its cocks live. Their dreams are simple, and worth working for. The problem is the sentimentality of Senay's fantasy world, Manhattan, where "They put lights on the trees in the winter. You can skate in the parks. The policemen ride white horses." Sure, but they might also shoot you a couple dozen times.

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