5 items from 2003
Sundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- Filmmaker Peter Hedges stirs the family plot in this pithy, sweet glimpse into one distraught family's last Thanksgiving together.
In tone, it most resembles Jodie Foster's edgy "Home for the Holidays" with its humorous, grainy take on American family life. Playing as a Dramatic Competition entrant, this warm and scruffy film may strike some as a mere period piece, but it's juiced with recognizable family trauma and garnished with a quirky sensibility -- it's the portrait of a group of people we come to care about.
Undeniably, "Pieces of April" is structured somewhat as a tearjerker: Mom (Patricia Clarkson) has incurable breast cancer, and the family's Thanksgiving trek to their wayward daughter's grungy New York abode has all the earmarks of a "last meal." Remarkably, writer-director Hedges laces this sad story with bizarre humor and identifiable family nuttiness. By today's standards, this is very much a functioning two-parent family and, as such, they bicker, annoy and joust for attention.
Understandably, Mom is depressed over her illness and has lapsed into withdrawal behavior, isolating herself and making acid comments about her husband (Oliver Platt) and two remaining house-living offspring (Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr.).
The film centers on the family's trek by car from the 'burbs into the grubby Lower East Side. No one is looking forward to the dinner, owing to the fact that the family's black sheep, April (Katie Holmes), is slated to cook. Mom struggles to recall one loving memory of April, while the two younger siblings harbor similar sentiments about their misfit sister. Dad tries to keep the drive on track, resolutely and falsely trying to perk up spirits.
As the family zigzags their way into town, Hedges offers as a counterpoint April's frantic efforts to concoct a memorable dinner. April is no Martha Stewart -- opening a can of cranberries stretches her culinary prowess. It's almost a slapstick ordeal as her oven breaks down, her neighbors go berserk, and her boyfriend disappears. And, of course, loaded into this whole cracked familial equation is the fact that the boyfriend (Derek Luke) is black. What we have here is a crazy, degentrified version of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".
Ladled with screwy affection, "Pieces of April" is a robust family saga, greatly flavored by the varied performances. Clarkson stands out as the mother who can barely brave confronting what she knows will be a calamitous day, while Platt is smartly stolid as the paterfamilias who knows he does not always know best. Holmes' nervous energy is perfect as the beleaguered daughter who wants desperately to make good, while Luke is engaging as her new boyfriend. Pill and Gallagher are right-on as the bickering kids, and Sean Hayes does a hilarious turn as a prissy, self-absorbed neighbor whose maddening antics are enough to cook anyone's goose.
Laura Bauer's duds convey perfectly the idiosyncrasies of the characters and this altogether identifiable American family tradition.
PIECES OF APRIL
IFC Prods., InDigEnt, Kalkaska Prods.
Producers: John Lyons, Gary Winick, Alexis Alexanian
Writer-director: Peter Hedges
Co-producers: Lucy Barzon, Lucille Masone Smith
Producer for IFC: Holly Becker
Associate producer/script supervisor: Dianne Dreyer
Director of photography: Tami Reiker
Production designer: Rick Butler
Editor: Mark Livolsi
Costume designer: Laura Bauer
Composer: Stephin Merritt
Casting: Berney Telsey, David Vaccari, Will Cantler
Sound mixer: Aaron Rudelson
April Burns: Katie Holmes
Joy Burns: Patricia Clarkson
Jim Burns: Oliver Platt
Bobby: Derek Luke
Beth Burns: Alison Pill
Timmy Burns: John Gallagher Jr.
Grandma Dottie: Alice Drummond
Wayne: Sean Hayes
Running time -- 80 minutes
No MPAA rating »
COLOGNE, Germany -- The Hamburg Film Festival said Wednesday that French star Isabelle Huppert is set to receive its top award, the Douglas Sirk Prize. Huppert will attend the festival, which runs Sept. 19-26, for a screening of Michael Haneke's apocalyptic drama The Time of the Wolf. She stars as Anna, a woman struggling to survive in the French countryside after an unknown disaster has wiped out all signs of civilization. Announcing the prize, festival director Albert Wiederspiel called Huppert "a European artist who, with her films, has achieved and earned star status far outside her nation's borders." Huppert will receive the award at a ceremony Sept. 25. Previous luminaries to have received the Hamburg honor include Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Peter Weir, Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar-wai and Aki Kaurismaki. »
Wednesday, Aug. 6
For an old warhorse, "Freaky Friday" looks darn cute. Disney made the original film, based on Mary Rodgers' novel, in 1977. It starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as a mom and daughter who magically switch bodies and must go through a day in each other's skin. The property was remade for TV in 1995 and, in reality, the concept stretches from 1948's "Vice Versa" to 1988's "Big". Thanks to a script by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, the new "Freaky" plays the obvious gags in ways both surprising and imaginative. And Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan appear to be having a blast playing each other's characters for more than half the film.
The update also is a much hipper movie. Fifteen-year-old Anna (Lohan) plays guitar in a rock band and pursues an older high school boy (Chad Michael Murray), while her mom, a widow, is a day away from marrying her boyfriend (Mark Harmon), which does allow for modest sexual tensions. So the PG-rated family comedy should produce solid boxoffice numbers and continue the strong performance in ancillary markets.
Psychiatrist Tess Coleman (Curtis) and daughter Anna see eye-to-eye on virtually nothing. To Anna, her mom is a stressed-out shrink and control freak who is, as she says at least once a day, "ruining my life." To Tess, her daughter is self-centered, ungrateful and way too loud. Then there is Anna's little brother (Ryan Malgarini), who constantly teases and torments her, yet Mom sticks up for him.
A visit to a Chinatown restaurant and the mysterious gift of identical fortune cookies by its meddling though sagacious owner results in "Asian voodoo", which causes the seismic personality switch between mother and daughter the next morning. The two first react to the other's body. Staring at a middle-aged woman in the mirror, Anna shrieks, "I look like the Crypt Keeper!" Tess hollers too when she discovers her daughter's pieced belly button.
To her mother's horror, Anna gives Tess' body a credit card-financed makeover with short hair and hipper clothes. To Anna's shock, her mother wears Anna's hair up and dresses more maturely. Other confusions make for a long day for those who orbit around their lives, especially when each must confront the other's love interest. Naturally, the two learn meaningful things about one another as well. Tess discovers the veracity of her daughter's complaints about school and her passion for her music. And Anna begins to see not only her mother but her mom's fiance in a new light.
Curtis has always had an affinity for comedy, never better displayed than here as she almost literally jumps into acting like a rebellious teenager. Lohan, who played twin sisters in another Disney remake, 1998's "The Parent Trap", plays a different kind of dual role here and does so with remarkable ease, moving back and forth between two personas.
Veteran Harold Gould earns laughs as the often perplexed grandfather. Harmon can do little with such a "straight man" role, but Murray's character is given more comic latitude when he bewilderingly finds himself falling for Anna in her mom's body.
The director is Mark Waters, maker of a Sundance fave, the twisted dark comedy "The House of Yes". It is hard to imagine a more radical shift in tone between these two films, but Waters adjusts quite well, moving the picture along at a brisk clip and giving his performers plenty of room to convey the conflicting demands on their behavior. Music plays a key role as Anna's band actually plays decent rock music. All other technical credits are solid, though the Southern California locations look a tad familiar.
Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures presents a GUNNFilms production
Director: Mark Waters
Screenwriters: Heather Hach, Leslie Dixon
Based on the book by: Mary Rodgers
Producer: Andrew Gunn
Executive producer: Mario Iscovich
Director of photography: Oliver Wood
Production designer: Cary White
Music: Rolfe Kent
Co-producer: Ann Marie Sanderlin
Costume designer: Genevieve Tyrrell
Editor: Bruce Green
Casting: Marci Liroff
Tess Coleman: Jamie Lee Curtis
Anna: Lindsay Lohan
Ryan: Mark Harmon
Grandpa: Harold Gould
Jake: Chad Michael Murray
Mr. Bates: Stephen Tobolowsky
Maddie: Christina Vidal
Harry: Ryan Malgarini
Running time -- 97 minutes
MPAA rating: PG »
Legendary actor Robert De Niro received a lifetime achievement award at a star-studded dinner last night. The American Film Institute (AFI) is paying tribute to the Meet The Parents star for his three decades in the movie business. Martin Scorsese, who has directed him in eight films - including his Best Actor Oscar turn in Raging Bull - will present the award. De Niro's friends and colleagues, including Billy Crystal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster, are due to attend the tribute dinner at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre, the home of the Academy Awards. The 59-year-old has created a host of memorable screen characters, such as Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and Goodfellas' Jimmy Conway. His first Academy Award was for Best Supporting Actor as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. DeNiro has moved into comedy with recent flicks like Analyze This, tried his hand at directing A Bronx Tale and The Score, and even produced the Queen musical We Will Rock You for the London stage. He also founded New York's Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, as a way of promoting culture and tourism in districts that were suffering in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The AFI hands out lifetime achievement awards to ensure "great accomplishments of the past are recognized to the end that the masters of film may take their deserved place in history beside leaders in other arts." Previous recipients have included Barbra Streisand, Alfred Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood. »
Monday, May 19
Trying to boil down 50 years to three hours (including commercials) is no easy task. Just ask anyone who has ever tossed a 50th wedding anniversary bash. But exec producer Don Mischer and his cohorts do a reasonably spiffy job here in catching most of the highlights, lowlights and midlights of ABC's purported half-century of existence. We say "purported" because ABC actually boasted a primetime schedule as early as 1948, which would in fact make it 55 years old. In Hollywood, clearly, even networks aren't immune to the obsession with trying to trim years from their lives. But "ABC's 55th Anniversary Celebration" obviously carries somewhat less cache for a sweep extravaganza.
Of course, this is also a precipitous time for the network to be using fuzzy math given the ongoing sorry state of its primetime fortunes. But again, this here is about celebration, not wallowing, and indeed ABC has had plenty to be proud of in its glorious history. The celebration touches all of the key areas with panache, giving it a sparkling (if sometimes token-driven) sheen.
Staged at the Pantages Theatre and shot on film to give it a classier and more consequential look, the all-star retrospective trots out nearly every living soul who has ever meant anything to the network -- with the ghost of ABC's late news/sports impresario Roone Arledge hanging tantalizingly over the proceedings. We get reunions of the casts of "Welcome Back, Kotter" (complete with John Travolta), "The Brady Bunch", "The Mod Squad", "Happy Days", "Family Matters", "The Love Boat" and even the still-going "NYPD Blue". This serves mostly as a gauge for how poorly, or well, these people have aged. And "Dynasty"'s Joan Collins looks significantly better and younger now than she ever did on the show, which points to the miracle of ... well, something.
Tellingly, David Caruso isn't present with the "NYPD" cast, nor is Ellen DeGeneres there for the brief tribute to "Ellen".
There are kicky moments scattered throughout, such as clips featuring the appearances of Harrison Ford on "Love, American Style", Tom Hanks on "Love Boat" (be very afraid), stars Ryan O'Neal on "Peyton Place" and Michael Douglas on "The Streets of San Francisco", Jodie Foster on "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and Burt Reynolds on "The Dating Game". There's Sonny & Cher and the Jackson Five on "American Bandstand". And exes O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett (herself an ABC icon, of course, from "Charlie's Angels") arrive onstage together.
We also get clip packages galore, of course, paying self-homage to ABC's groundbreaking work in sports broadcasting (via the Olympics, "Wide World of Sports" and "Monday Night Football"), in longform movies and miniseries, in comedy and at the Oscars -- which is somehow missing the most electric Academy Awards moment of them all, which featured Charlie Chaplin in 1972.
Some things do indeed receive unnervingly short shrift, like the ABC News legacy (dispensed with in roughly five minutes of reflection from Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel) and most anything that predates the mid-1960s. There is, however, a little something for everybody in the star-studded special. And let it be said that while ABC may admit to being 50, it doesn't look a day over ... well, OK, 50.
ABC'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Don Mischer Prods.
Executive producer: Don Mischer
Producer: Charlie Haykel
Director: Glenn Weiss
Ling producer: Bill Urban
Co-producer: Julianne Hare
Associate producer: Mark R. Leed
Music director: Harold Wheeler
Production designer: Robert Keene
Art directors: Brian Stonestreet, Alex Fuller
Set decorator: Dwight Jackson
Costume designer: Paula Elins
Editors: Mike Polito, Mark Stepp, Bill Weinman Appearances by: Muhammad Ali, Tim Allen, Jim Belushi, LeVar Burton, Drew Carey, Richard Chamberlain, Dick Clark, Michael Cole, Joan Collins, Hugh Downs, Peter Falk, Farrah Fawcett, Michael J. Fox, Dennis Franz, Jennifer Garner, Dorothy Hamel, Florence Henderson, Bonnie Hunt, Peter Jennings, Jimmy Kimmel, Sugar Ray Leonard, Carl Lewis, Peggy Lipton, George Lopez, Susan Lucci, Joan Lunden, Jim McKay, Gavin MacLeod, John Madden, Camryn Manheim, Penny Marshall, Al Michaels, Joe Namath, Ryan O'Neal, John Ritter, Roseanne, John Travolta, Barbara Walters, Damon Wayans, Jaleel White, Cindy Williams, Clarence Williams III, Oprah Winfrey, Henry Winkler »
5 items from 2003
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