It was fun to see “Sex and the City” last night at midnight at one of the area multiplexes with about 200 hardcore female fans of the HBO series.
I only counted four other men in the audience — who all looked like they had been dragged there by the women in their lives — so it was a little like attending a college sorority slumber party (without the pillow fights).
The anticipation for the movie has built to a feverish pitch this week and you could feel the excitement in the crowd last night when the lights went down and we were reintroduced to New Yorkers Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte four years after they left us.
“Sex and the City” — the series — is a very hard act to follow because it was one of the most sophisticated sitcoms in TV history. It was produced for HBO, so the show had almost no limits when it came to the presentation of the women’s sex lives. There were situations and images in the series that probably would have earned some of the episodes NC-17 ratings if the producers submitted the material to the Motion Picture Association of America.
It was the frankness of the show that hooked me right away — for once sex was presented in a popular entertainment format without network and movie studio euphemisms. The adventures of the oldest woman in the quartet — Samantha — afforded Kim Cattrall the opportunity to score in some of the bawdiest material to be seen outside a burlesque house or porn theater. The early episode in which Samantha dates an aged multi-billionaire who is hooked on Viagra was one of the funniest 30 minutes ever recorded on film.
Critics claimed the show was actually about four gay men in drag — women just wouldn’t talk or act that way, the detractors said. Since everyone knows creator Darren Star and primary writer-director Michael Patrick King are gay, this was the same sort of thinly veiled homophobia Edward Albee faced in 1962 when some people suggested “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was really about two bickering male couples.
If “Sex and the City” was simply a gay comedy in disguise I don’t think millions of straight women all over the world would find Carrie and her friends to be so endlessly fascinating. Star and King simply tapped into the new post-porn pop culture in which women discuss men in the same sexually frank manner that used to be called “locker-room” talk.
The HBO series did have a huge gay following because of the way that the four women were so open about sex and because there were so many gay men in their urban scene. The show also featured the deluxe production values and frequent excursions into the urban nightworld underground that are elements in so many gay cult films and TV shows (the Showtime series “Queer as Folk” which ran on cable during roughly the same period as “Sex and the City” was strikingly similar in its frank approach to nudity and vulgar langauge and an often surprising mix of comedy and drama).
The TV “Sex and the City” is peerless, but I think most fans of the series will enjoy the movie for what it is — a leisurely and beautifully produced reunion with four women we are very fond of.
The passage of time has shifted the original focus of the material away from the sexual adventures of 30somethings and toward the problems of 40ish women who are trying to find mature domestic arrangements with men without losing the desire for freedom that brought them to New York City.
The movie has more than a few strong scenes, but I missed the frank sex comedy of the early seasons of the HBO production. It is to Kim Cattrall’s credit that she scores some huge laughs despite the fact that Samantha has been largely neutered by the improbable continuation of her relationship with the much younger actor played by Jason Lewis.
Samantha spends a good portion of the film tending to the business affairs of the actor and doesn’t get the chance to cut loose the way she did on the first five seasons of the TV show.
“Sex and the City” was created to be consumed in tasty 30-minute portions on TV, so the expansion to a two-hour-and-20-minute feature film running time changes the whole set-up we grew used to on HBO.
Still, the movie is consistently charming and amusing and what a blast it is to see a contemporary Hollywood film focus on the lives of four women.
Archive for May, 2008
It was fun to see “Sex and the City” last night at midnight at one of the area multiplexes with about 200 hardcore female fans of the HBO series.
Sydney Pollack was such a vital presence on screen and off for so many years that his death Monday was a real shock — it was only a few weeks ago that I enjoyed the 73-year-old actor-director’s very funny performance as Patrick Dempsey’s father in “Made of Honor” and I also recently watched a hilarious interview Pollack gave for a Stanley Kubrick documentary about working on that filmmaker’s final movie, “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Like John Huston, Pollack was a terrific actor as well as a filmmaker, so he got closer to us than the average Hollywood director.
Pollack stole every scene he had with Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” (1982), in the relatively small role of a frustrated agent, and then gave a major performance in one of the leading roles in Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives” (1992).
Although he came of age as a film director in the turbulent 1960s and ’70s, Pollack stood apart from peers such as Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese because of his seeming lack of interest in “personal” moviemaking. He was a throwback to the classical Hollywood careers and styles of men like Fred Zinnemann and William Wyler who always put storytelling and acting ahead of the flashy “cinematic” style of directors like Alfred Hitchcock. You could always spot the Hitchcock technique in his movies — Wyler and Zinnemann preferred to find the right style for whatever material they were working on.
What was interesting about the movies Pollack made in the 1970s was the way they eschewed the camera and editing fashions of that era; for this reason, pictures like “The Way We Were” (1973), “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972) and “Three Days of the Condor” (1975) haven’t dated as much as some of the more highly regarded productions of that period.
Pollack held on to the notion of the importance of old-fashioned movie star charisma in a time when Altman and Scorsese looked for gritty realism in the ensembles they put together in the 1970s. Pollack would never have cast Shelley Duvall in a leading role in one of his movies
Romance was in short supply in movies during the 1970s, so mainstream audiences took “The Way We Were” to heart immediately, despite the fact that reviewers tended to write it off as a throwback to 1940s Hollywood kitsch. Pollack knew that if he guided Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford to their best possible work, the flaws in the plot and the messy historical detail wouldn’t matter, and he was proven right by the huge success of the film in 1973 and the fact that it is now a beloved classic.
Pollack could have spun variations on “The Way We Were” for the rest of his career, but he never showed much interest in repeating genres or trying to rekindle elements of earlier hits (with the one notable exception of working with his old New York friend Redford throughout his career).
My favorite Pollack movie, “Three Days of the Condor” (above), was a hit when it first came out and was warmly endorsed by most critics, but it was viewed as a strictly commercial enterprise and didn’t register with the movie awards groups at the end of 1975. That was the year of “Nashville” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
It is only with the passage of time that the espionage thriller’s sheer craftsmanship, entertainment value, and extraordinary acting have become so evident. A picture many of us took for granted 33 years ago as a smart and clever thriller seems to get better with each passing year.
Pollack grounded a fairly standard paranoid thriller plot — about a rogue element within the CIA — in the sort of beautifully crafted physical production and superb performances we rarely get in a mainstream Hollywood entertainment these days.
Redford as the threatened agent Joe Turner is a character we care about, not just an excuse for a lot of chases and killings. And the spy-on-the-run’s brief relationship with a slightly icy Brooklyn photographer (Faye Dunaway) is more memorable than the full-blown love affairs in movies that focus on romance.
Although the puzzle plot fits together quite neatly at the end, Pollack dared to have enigmatic elements in the story, such as the strangely sympathetic European hit man played by Max Von Sydow and a final scene that leaves room for doubt that Condor (Redford) will totally vanquish his enemies.
“Three Days of the Condor” would, no doubt, be tightened and streamlined if it was remade in 2008 and a contemporary star might bristle at the size and importance of the “supporting” roles in the production.
Pollack was that rare modern director who brought new themes and new styles of acting to the Golden Age Hollywood belief in the importance of a well-told story.
The way that New York City has become home to millions of wildly diverse people over the past century is explored in the documentary/essay film “Home,” a collaboration between the Irish immigrant writer Alan Cooke and native born director Dawn Scibilia.
The film was shown on Channel 13 on St. Patrick’s Day and has been screened around the city for the past several months, but I just caught up with “Home” on the recently released DVD version.
It’s a beautiful study of the way each person sees the city in a slightly different light. Cooke gives us his own account of coming to New York a few years ago, falling in love with an American woman, and deciding to start a new life there.
In his attempt to figure out what makes New York so alluring despite its many challenges, Cooke interviewed a great gallery of writers and actors, including Pete Hamill, Fran Lebowitz, Susan Sarandon and Rosie Perez.
Cooke also sat down for terrific chats with two fellow Irishmen who now call Manhattan home — Frank and Malachi McCourt.
Scibilia did the camerawork on “Home” as well the direction; one of the greatest strengths of the film are the gorgeous shots of the city at all hours of the day and night. Ken Burns has called the movie “a visual poem” and that’s an apt way of describing the mix of urban images and the smart commentary.
Hamill tells Cooke that he thinks it is impossible to truly “know” New York because it is always changing. Nostalgia plays a big role in the life of almost any New Yorker, Hamill says, because people and places keep changing from era to era. What New Yorker of the 1980s would ever imagine a skyline without the World Trade Center? But a New Yorker of the 1950s would be just as shocked by the absence of the original Penn Station on West 34th Street.
“Prepare to be surprised,” is Hamill’s advice to Cooke on living in the city.
Sarandon talks about the surprises you can find on any walk in the city and the weird way you can run into people you know anywhere you go in Manhattan.
“If you’re in L.A. and you run into somebody, you’ve been in a car accident,” the actress says, with a grin.
(For more information on “Home” visit the film’s website at homethemovie.com)
Doomsayers have been predicting the end of live performance due to the new century’s explosion in media, but don’t tell that to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the The Metropolitan Opera, whose regime change has included HD simulcasts of live performances all over the country as well as the addition of hundreds of free recordings and videos to the arts institution’s Website.
Gelb’s decision to make opera more available (and less elitist) has increased ticket sales to the live performances in Manhattan at the same time that it has generated new audiences in movie theaters and at college campuses all over the country (Fairfield University hosted some of the HD transmissions this season).
It was thanks to Gelb’s decision to send opera out into movie theaters that I found myself in the audience last weekend at the season closing performance of “La Fille du Regiment,” where stars Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez (above) gave two of the most thrilling (and thrillingly LIVE) performances I’ve ever seen.
So, how did HD deliver me to the Met?
Well, thanks to the new policy, a great friend of mine from Philadelphia started going to the HD transmissions near her, was turned on to the power of opera, and this season decided to drive to Manhattan for as many performances as she could fit into her busy schedule.
When my friend’s daughter was unable to join her mom at the Met, I got to see several performances, including the powerhouse finale with Dessay and Florez.
It is hard for me to describe the electricity in the house generated by these young and vibrant singer-actors (not to mention the literally show-stopping pandemonium that erupted in the audience after Florez hit nine high Cs in a row during the notoriously difficult Act One aria “Pour mon ame”).
I had a few great times at the opera in the 1980s and 1990s, but the need to study up for a performance in a foreign language made it seem a bit like schoolwork, so I drifted away — it always seemed easier to go to a homegrown play or musical.
But the addition of Met Titles — subtitles that run continuously on the back of the seat you sit behind — make every moment easy to follow.
And the newer stars of the Met — Dessay and Florez and Renee Fleming whose heartbreaking Desdemona in “Otello” was another of my wonderful nights with my Philly benefactor — are as exciting to listen to as they are sensational to look at. Obviously, the time has come to retire that cliché about the “fat lady” and her singing.
Do yourself a big favor and go to an HD transmission at Fairfield University when the new season begins in the fall or better yet plan an outing to Manhattan. Dessay and Florez are set to do “La Sonnambula” next spring and another starry couple, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, are teaming up for “La Rondine,” in December.
On June 20, Gheorghiu and Alagna are also re-energizing the Met’s tradition of free New York City parks concerts with a performance in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park at 8 p.m.
Check out the great website at www.metopera.org for all the planning info you will need, along with lots of free entertainment, thanks to the visionary leadership of Peter Gelb.
The theatrical movie business has been sagging along with the rest of the U.S. economy in recent weeks — none of the summer season hits so far have set any records.
Paramount has to be disappointed in yesterday’s opening day box-office reports on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” which sold an estimated $25 million in tickets (compared with $50 million for the first day of the final “Star Wars” sequel three years ago).
Last weekend’s big franchise sequel, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” did $10 million less than the 2005 Narnia movie, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” — adjusted for inflation, this means the difference in the number of tickets sold over the three-day period was more dramatic than the dollar figure might indicate.
Honestly, the so-called “buzz” on the movies released over the past four weekends hasn’t been very strong — many of the people I know under the age of 30 have told me they have no interest in the latest adventure of Indiana Jones (an understandable situation for a movie series that hasn’t been heard from in 19 years).
Meanwhile, the buzz on next weekend’s “Sex and the City” is off-the-charts. The wires are full of stories about women who are planning to make a party of the debut and see the movie with groups of friends.
My colleague Eileen Fischer has written a story for the cover of the Accent section of Monday’s Connecticut Post about the area women who are planning to converge on “Sex” in groups next weekend.
The Internet is full of reports of what the closely guarded plotline might involve and if you do a Google image search there are very racy shots of Kim Cattrall and Jason Lewis in a scene that was shot on a balcony somewhere in New York or Los Angeles (and which is evidence of the film’s strongly worded R rating).
“Sex and the City” is a global brand with astounding power. Millions of very expensive DVD sets of the six-season HBO run have been sold and an edited version of the series is still in heavy rotation on hundreds of TV stations around the country.
The many upscale product placements in the TV series turned designers Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo into household names.
Absolut vodka reaped millions of dollars in free advertising from a mock ad featuring the show’s resident hunk Jason Lewis (above) that was only briefly glimpsed on a Times Square billboard on one episode of the series, but has been widely viewed on the Internet (Absolut never used the ad in a “real” campaign, so this was “viral” marketing of the highest order).
Older moviegoers and the 20-to-40 female demographic are almost never catered to by the Hollywood manufacturers who stock the multiplexes in the earliest weeks of summer, so if “Sex and the City” lives up to its Internet anticipation, expect to see changes in the sort of films that are released in future summers.
I don’t understand why so many of those very smart people who write about the stage in New York waste so much time and space analyzing the Tony nominations every year.
In a city where much of the best theatre is not produced on Broadway, a media spotlight continues to be turned on a crassly commercial prize that is restricted to the relatively small number of productions that appear in Broadway houses each season.
Efforts have been made to include off-Broadway and off-off Broadway shows in the Tony race, but the real estate operators and producers who control Broadway don’t want to lose the box-office “bump” from the annual Tony PR bonanza. If the field was opened to include any professional productions in New York City, non-Broadway shows playing downtown or crosstown would probably steal away many of the prizes on the nationally telecast awards show every June.
With only several dozen new shows opening each season on Broadway, the nominators are so desperate to fill out categories that crazy flops like “Cry-Baby” get nominated in the best new musical category, and the best revival category includes this season’s umpteenth staging of that 1972 warhorse, “Grease.”
No one would take a movie or book award seriously if the voters could only choose from 100 or so titles released by the most powerful companies, but this is exactly what happens every year when Tony season rolls around.
The Tony Award made some sense 50 years ago, when the Broadway theatre was humming with new musicals and plays — and the commercial and non-commercial off-Broadway sectors were not as strong as they are today — but to continue to pretend that winning a Tony represents the best that New York theatre has to offer is ridiculous to anyone who ventures to non-Tony eligible venues such as Second Stage, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons and many more.
As the number of new musicals and plays produced on Broadway dwindled in the 1970s and ’80s, the organization behind the award had to cook up the “best revival” categories, since revivals now outnumber new productions most seasons.
Because of the dearth of great new musical parts for performers, next month Patti LuPone will probably become the third actress to win a Tony for playing Rose in “Gypsy” (indeed, every actress who has ever played this part on Broadway has been nominated for a Tony — originator Ethel Merman and recent revival star Bernadette Peters lost in their races, but both Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly won Tonys in the years they headlined revivals).
The Tony voters lump the stars of revivals in the same categories as the actors who originate new roles so you get such grossly unfair situations as Kerry Butler’s brilliant comic performance in the charming but fluffy diversion “Xanadu” (above) going up against LuPone in “Gypsy,” Kelli O’Hara in “South Pacific” and Jenna Russell in “Sunday in the Park with George.”
After a series of preview mini-fests — including one in Trumbull a few weeks ago — the Connecticut Film Festival kicks off its official six-day run in Danbury today.
These are difficult times for theatrical movies — with grosses slightly up so far this year while the number of tickets sold continues to decline — and film festivals face the added challenge of generating interest in little-known independent movies.
Because of the declining art house market, festivals have sprung up all over the country in recent years, but Connecticut has seen a number of them come and go in the past ten years (remember Film Fest New Haven and the Director’s View Film Festival in Stamford?).
Connecticut Film Festival executive director Thomas Carruthers has had a hard time finding one town in which to base the festival. Many people have been confused over the past few years by the way the festival roamed from theater to theater in this part of the state. The CFF also has been plagued by technical glitches involving its website and scheduling (a few years ago I was mortified when the private judges’ ballots popped up on the festival website, including my own not so nice comments about a few of the entries!).
So, here’s hoping the festival finally clicks into gear in Danbury this week and is able to remain there in years to come.
Unlike the popular gay and lesbian festival in Hartford every June — which has a clearly focused mission — the CFF is offering 130 fiction and non-fiction films dealing with a wide range of subject matter and storytelling styles.
The line-up includes a wonderful new documentary, “Uncounted” (above), about the looming horror of paperless computerized voting machines spreading across the country. The movie digs into the disaster in Ohio during the last national elections and ends with a stirring call to arms demanding paper copies of every vote cast (in case someone calls for a recount).
One of the late night attractions will be the striking sex drama, “Leave You in Me,” by Stamford filmmaker Dutch Doscher which I recently had the privilege of screening with “Last Tango in Paris” at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford. Doscher has had a hard time getting the award-winning film publicly shown due to the casual frontal nudity and blunt langauge, so it’s great that the festival has agreed to include the short film.
Tonight’s opening festivities will center around “The Flyboys” starring Stephen Baldwin and Tom Sizemore.
The six-days will be packed with special parties and networking events for aspiring moviemakers and there will be a festival awards ceremony Sunday night.
For complete schedules and ticket information, go online to www.ctfilmfestival.com
Vanessa Redgrave was already a star of the London stage in 1966, but she became an international movie star that year as a result of her breakthrough performances in “Morgan!” and “Blow-Up.”
It was a double-barreled triumph similar to the one-two punch Julie Christie scored a year earlier in “Darling” and “Doctor Zhivago.”
England was as much a center of pop culture as New York or Los Angeles in those wonderful days of The Beatles, James Bond and “Tom Jones” (the 1963 Tony Richardson film that startled some Hollywood folks by winning the best picture Oscar).
“Morgan!” is one of the most fondly recalled pictures of that fervent era, a mix of satire, romantic comedy, politics and fashion about the free-spirited Londoner of the title, Morgan Delt (played by David Warner), a would-be artist and devout believer in Karl Marx who is dismissed as being crazy by some people. (In England, the film was subtitled “A Suitable Case for Treatment”).
Redgrave plays Morgan’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Leonie, a woman who adored her husband but wants an easier, more conventional life among the rich people she was raised with. The actress faced the challenge of playing a rather shallow society type who might have been repellant (and unbelievable) if played by a less charming and talented performer.
Because we can see Leonie’s doubts about her new beau (a rich rotter played by Robert Stephens), we root for Morgan as his romantic quest becomes crazier (and even violent).
The picture is in the same spirit as another ’60s inmates-running-the-asylum cult classic, “King of Hearts.” These days, Morgan probably would be diagnosed and medicated and wouldn’t even think about winning his wife back with over-the-top theatrics.
As the times changed, David Warner went from being a romantic icon to a villain in countless films of the subsequent 40 years, but Redgrave was launched on one of the great film careers of our time (“Morgan!” earned the actress her first Oscar nomination).
Tomorrow night I’m hosting a free “Martini and a Movie” screening of the Karel Reisz-directed film at 7 p.m. It will be interesting to see how this “Swinging London” classic holds up after 44 years.
(The Fairfield Theatre Company is at 70 Sanford St. For more information on the Tuesday screening call 259-1036.)