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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cinema under the tree

New York City is an island of little movie ecosystems on Christmas.  Walk down W. 13th St. and there's nobody around, until you get to the Quad Cinema.  Enough people milling around the lobbies of the Kips Bay or the Angelika you'd think they were giving something away.

One of the movies that opened in NYC on the 25th is Last Chance Harvey, which I'd seen Tuesday evening Nov. 18, 2008 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, Auditorium #2, "The Kings," Part of the Variety Screening Series,  2 slithy toads.  It's a star vehicle romance with Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman who had so much fun working together on Stranger Than Fiction (clearly more fun than I had watching the movie) that they yearned to work together so much that they chose this mediocre romantic comedy.  It's the very definition of a 2 toad movie.  It's not very good, but it does have star power and enough pleasant things going on that it's hard to regret spending 92 minutes with it.  I liked the first third of it the most, bcause it does an excellent job of establishing Dustin Hoffman's character.  He's a pianist who works on jingles and is close to being squeezed out for a younger generation.  So much so that it's kind of risky for him to leave work behind to go to the wedding of a long-estranged daughter he's clearly seen rarely since his divorce.  He's at a nice Marriott in downtown London, but that's only so nice when you consider that his ex and pretty much everyone else are at a country house rented for the wedding party for the occasion.  His daughter would much rather her stepfather give her away.  It's a series of small indignaties, one after the other, and Hoffman doesn't drown them in star power.  No, he shrinks just a little further into his not so tall self, his face droops just a little bit more with each passing moment.  Emma Thompson plays a lovelorn spinster who does polling of arriving passengers at Heathrow.  The two meet cute when Hoffman misses his plane home and loses his job as a result, and Hoffman's so desperate for something good to come of it that he breathes life into a relationship that shouldn't exist like somebody managing to regain fire from one drowning ember in a small pile of brush.  It's what comes after that  just doesn't work.  There's no impediment to the two of them having a relationship, and it's so preordained that it makes you yearn for the artificial complication of a bad romantic comedy.  The extent of the complications here is that Hoffman misses a date because of the most contrived circumstances imaginable, and there isn't all that much to the regaining of trust thereafter.  So don't let me keep you from this, there are way worse chick flicks out there, just don't expect much more than a short and pleasant exercise in star chemisty.  Q&A after, Emma Thompson was losing (more had lost) her voice, but that didn't stop Dustin and Emma from turning it into a love fest comedy routine tribute to their joy in one another's company.  It was certainly different than the usual Q&A, and not unpleasant, but when there were those few moments when Hoffman would begin to give a serious answer to a question by reflecting on his Method training or on The Graduate, it was hard for me not to wish there'd been a little more of the master classs from somebody who has a lot of stories to tell and a little less second rate George and Gracie.

On Christmas day, I commenced my movie-going with Let the Right One In, seen Thursday afternoon Dec. 25, 2008 at the City Cinemas Angelika, Aud. #6.  2 slithy toads.  This is an offbeat Norwegian vampire movie that opened 2 weeks ago and which had gotten some interesting reviews in NYC and in DC.  It's the kind of movie that six or ten years ago probably would have been gone from theatres by now, but since the Landmark Sunshine opened up a few blocks from the Angelika and added more screens to the dowtown NYC art house circuit, there's a little bit more room for a film like this with some decent reviews and some decent word of mouth to hang around.  And in this case to hang around long enough I decided finally to see.  The vampire is a 12-year-old who travels around with an elderly man who helps her out some.  Kills the occasional person and taps their blood, or cleans up after her own feedings, that sort of thing.  She moves in next door to a boy who's being badly bullied at school.  The two become attracted.  He offers her human companionship her own age which she's clearly had little of, she offers him encouragement and life coaching, like a little 12-year-old vampire version of Anthony Robbins for young people.  The first half is a little sluggish and could stand some tighter editing.  The second half is a little bit stronger as her presence in town begins to attract attention and his situation at school and with his new girlfriend both start to develop.  There are some nice visuals.  Certainly worth seeing for the die-hard vampire afficianado, and certainly interesting, but also a little too Euro-slow for me to give any kind of strong recommendation.

Then Doubt, seen Thursday evening Dec. 25, 2008 at the AMC Loews Kips Bay, Aud. #8, 3 Slithy Toads.  I had planned on only one movie for Christmas, but I stopped by the Kips Bay to see what was playing on their big screens.  This theatre has 5 passable small theaters downstairs, then the north side of the upstairs has six awful small theatres which I've kind of vowed never to pay to enter ever again. But auditorums #7-10 are all really big and spacious and comfy with nice big screens that I enjoy quite a bit.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that Doubt was on one of those big screens while (as an example) Marley was on one of the smaller downstairs.  Now, Marley was the #1 movie Christmas day and had sold out, while the showing of Doubt had 100 tops in the 350 seat theatre, so you never quite know but that management will flip-flop, so really if I didn't see Doubt on the big screen then no assurance I'd get to later.  Doubt is an adaptation of a play by Moonstruck's John Patrick Shanley about the principal of a catholic school 40 years ago who thinks one of the priests might be getting too affectionate with one of the students, the first black kid to be admitted to the school.  The idea is that there should be some uncertainty about weather the principal, played here by Meryl Streep, is right in her suspicions.  When I saw this on Broadway there was a lot of ambivalency.  Here, there's a little less so, and that throws off the balance of the closing scene.  In that way, it's not as perfect as the play may have been.  But, it's wonderfully acted not only by Streep but by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the priest and Amy Adams as a teacher in the school and Viola Davis as the student's mother.  It's wonderfully photographed.  I'm not sure I agreed with the decision to shoot with a lot of dutch angles (if you don't know the term please do follow the link; I think of these most of all from the old Batman TV show, but there's a lot more to them than that; impress your friends by studying up), but I did like the way that the movie was opened up from the more limited settings available to the stage version.  There's some added context to the whole ritual of the catholic school and the church itself which I liked, and I can assure you that the housing project near to the school where Meryl Streep and Viola Davis go for a walk in one of the pivotal scenes of both play and film is a quintessential examplar of NYC life.  So I would recommend, and I think people who are new to the material may actually enjoy even a little bit than I did, with the experience of the play having spoiled some of the surprises.

I attempted to see Valkyrie on the 26th, but the lines at the AMC Empire were so torturously long that I decided to come home and blog instead before heading out for the evening.  Also allowed me to do my weights.

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