Saturday, April 28, 2012


Even in this "everything comes out eventually" era, once in a while there's a film that its studio dislikes for one reason or another, resulting in its sitting on a shelf for years before a token run in a New York theatre for a week or two and an anonymous DVD release.

The film Margaret was almost one of those. Sitting in the Fox Searchlight vaults since 2007 because the studio and Kenneth Lonergan, the film's director kept squabbling about its length and Lonergan's difficulties in coming up with a finished cut, it did finally get released in New York in September 2011 and that would have been that except some critics saw the film and were impressed enough to make it a cause celebre in the film press and get it more exposure. It did eventually some acclaim and made a few critics' "Best of 2011" list. It's finally getting a wider release now and my personal opinion  In a lot of ways this feels like the airless film about self-absorbed West Side New Yorkers that Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach are always accused of making.

The main thrust of the film concerns a 17-year-old prep school girl, Lisa, who is involved in a bus accident that results in a woman's death.  The woman was run over by a bus whose driver had been distracted by Lisa.  The woman literally dies in her arms and although she at first tells the police the woman was at fault, she becomes consumed with her own guilt and obsessed with making the bus driver legally responsible for the death.

 Anna Paquin plays Lisa and she really conveys her confused senses of guilt, loneliness and outrage well.  When the movie concentrates on this main plot everything works fine.  It's all the bizarre tangents and parallels that drag things down.  Lisa's parents are divorced (naturally) and she lives with her mother, a stage actress who is starring in a hit play and is dating a Colombian businessman.  The mother-daughter estrangement angle is understandable but there seems to be too much time spent on Mom's dates.  As for Lisa herself, when she isn't haranguing police and lawyers about having the bus driver fired, she spends her school time getting in political arguments with a Syrian-born student and having very casual sexual encounters with a classmate she barely talks to and one of her teachers.  There are also some random background statements about the arbitrariness and mystery of existence that further confuse the issues.

All these elements could be part of a compelling movie but they feel poorly organized here.  Lisa comes off selfish, unsympathetic and sometimes so arbitrary you wonder if she might need a therapist.  Paquin is excellent but Lisa is not someone I'd want to watch for two and a half hours. Her character reminds me somewhat of an even more unsympathetic woman Sigourney Weaver played in a 1999 film nobody knows called A Map Of The World. There Weaver portrayed a cold, hostile woman wrongfully jailed for child molestation.  Her frostiness was compelling because it came from a grown woman whose inability to communicate with others seemed a lifelong tragedy.  Paquin's moods come off just come off as the petulance of a spoiled kid.

The acting is really good all around. Paquin, as I said, is convincing and there are also good turns from J.  Smith Cameron as her mother, Jean Reno as Mom's beau, Alison Janney as the accident victim and Matt Damon as the teacher who gets lucky.  Matthew Broderick also appears as another teacher but I have no idea why he is even in the movie.

In the end the film did need a good editor.  Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, no slouches, contributed to putting this version togetrher but making a coherent whole out of all this seemed even beyond their powers.  Not every unseen film is a suppressed masterpiece.

Sister Clodagh's Spring Movie Quiz

Dennis Collazio runs an interesting movie blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, where he occasionally runs a movie quiz to get opinions on a number of film topics. Here is the quiz and my answers are below.

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns

An easy one. Black Narcissus.

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

Seven Days In May second only to The Manchurian Candidate.

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

Bendix. I always confuse Brady with his brother, Lawrence Tierney.

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

I've never done it but for the 42 reel version of Greed, I'd think about it.

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

Murder At The Vanities. It was insane but it's the only one I really know.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?
Cummins as Annie Laurie Starr? I'd rob a bank for her any time

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child

The animated 101 Dalmatians. (So I'm old. Deal with it.)

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?

I'd say Medea's first appearance in Diary Of A Mad Black Woman except I saw it at a family gathering on DVD, not a theatre.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?

Widmark because he could play cowardly punks as well as tough guys.

10) Best movie Jesus

Jeffery Hunter in King Of Kings. I haven't seen a lot of Jesus films.

11) Silliest straight horror film that you’re still fond of

The Brain That Wouldn't Die. It's both ridiculous and sleazy.

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?

I know who they are but I haven't seen any of their films.

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular

See #10.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor

The murderer's hysterical confession in Murder At The Vanities.

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?

Farrar. I've missed all of Fassbender's ubiquitous 2011 appearance so far.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie

2001: A Space Odyssey. It really makes the case that there's something bigger than us out there.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism

Through A Glass Darkly. No one does loss of faith like Bergman.

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical

Two by Busby Berkeley: "Lullaby Of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935 and "Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" from Garden of the Moon.

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie

Red River coming after Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?

Harlow. Clara Bow has never connected with me.

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?

In a theater: Headhunters.  On DVD: Apocalypse Joe, a Spaghetti western

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion

The Last Temptation Of Christ.  From the publicity I wasn't expecting it to be that positive about faith.
23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?

Ernie Bilko, of course.

24) “Favorite” Hollywood scandal

The William Desmond Taylor murder

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)

The Burmese Harp

26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)

King Vidor

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat

Create characters with the emotional maturity of adults, not hyperactive six-year-olds.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie

And The Ship Sails On.

29) The Three Stooges (2012)—yes or no?

Heck no. I don't do cover bands.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?

Kelly for her shorts with Thelma Todd

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory

William Randolph Hearst hushing up the accidental shooting of Thomas Ince on his yacht.

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie

Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny. Most people hate it but I thought it was a powerful statement about guilt and loneliness.

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)

The Crying Game. Do I have to explain?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Don Byron New Gospel Quintet - "Love, Peace, And Soul"

In his recording career, clarinetist Don Byron has done tributes to a daunting variety of artists such as Junior Walker, Lester Young, Raymond Scott, John Kirby and Borscht Belt comic Mickey Katz. His first CD in four years, Love, Peace, And Soul, expands that list to include gospel pioneers Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and like all his previous projects, he makes his explorations sound perfectly logical and burn like nobody's business.

In his liner notes Byron makes a argument for Dorsey being the first composer to bring an African-American blues influence into religious music to create modern gospel, one of the foundations of all 20th century Black popular music, making Dorsey a monumentally important figure.  Byron and his quintet put forth a hell of a compelling case for this, performing Dorsey's songs with all out gusto. D. K. Dyson sings the house down while Byron shows his prowess on tenor and baritone sax as well as his usual clarinets and the entire band makes a holy stomping noise. Most of the pieces are gospel based but there are also side trips into blues, country and rock and roll and an Eddie Harris funk tune, "Sham Time" fits into the program perfectly. Besides the excellent work of the quintet, Dean Bowman's powerful pipes and a horn section add to a swinging version of Dorsey's "Consideration" and Brandon Ross and Vernon Reid contribute shredding guitar solos elsewhere.

It's been way too long since Don Byron had some new music out. Now with this triumphant reappearance on a new label, Savoy, hopefully we'll be hearing what his fertile mind comes up with a lot more frequently.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Avis Approach

I have been slacking off on this blog big time. I do know there are other blogs where the writer may go weeks or months without posting but for myself, I feel I can do a lot better. Even if i's just talking about movies, music and books I have as many valid things to say as the next guy and given my wandering eye, I often encounter work that nobody else seems to mention, at least going by the blogs I read. I don't know if I could keep up a year-long movie viewing diary the way my writing hero, Tim Lucas, is currently doing but I am going to start trying harder (Hence the post title.) and commit to writing at least one post a week on something I've heard, read or seen.  I currently have Spartacus, a disc of Italian westerns and samplings of a couple of old TV shows as rental DVDs plus a growing pile of sets of cartoons and old comedy shorts I've bought so I'm sure I'll find something to write about this weekend.  For now though, here's a little shout out to the old Midnight Rambler, Levon Helm...