27 November 2007


I've seen a number of films that copy the formula set in motion by the spelling bee documentary SPELLBOUND, profiling individual participants and charting their progress as they compete or work towards a unified goal. Produced for HBO but now receiving a theatrical release (and a place on this year's Academy Awards doc shortlist), Tricia Reagan's provocative, exuberant film is one of the very best.
Over a six month period, special needs educator Elaine Hall takes on the challenge of coaching a group of autistic children to write and perform their own amateur theatrical production. Reagan focuses on five particulars kids (including Neal, Hall's adopted son); their personalities and behavioral quirks encompass a wide range that effectively illustrates how autism is highly idiosyncratic and mostly irreducible to a particular set of symptoms. For instance, compare hyperactive, talkative Henry to withdrawn Neal, who cannot speak without the aid of a keyboarded voice box. Somewhere in between is Lexie, an affable fourteen-year-old girl whose astonishing singing voice is poignantly at odds with her mostly reserved, internal nature.
We intimately get to know each child and their parents as they attend classes, workshops and rehearsals. As this happens, the film also dispels myths about the disease. It presents these kids as real, complicated individuals with uncertain futures, not glossing over their flaws and difficulties, but not painting a sentimental portrait of them either. The musical itself is something to behold: although far from seamless, it's incredibly moving just to see what each child has accomplished. AUTISM: THE MUSICAL also isn't entirely seamless, as the editing could be tighter in spots. However, it is inspirational without being maudlin, and remarkable in how naturally it moves us respect these kids as we would any other—perhaps the thing their parents desire most for them.

21 November 2007


I began blogging five years ago today. Instead of linking to my very first post (if you look hard enough, you'll find it), I present a movie meme. I've been wanting to do one for some time; I found it here.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times. A CHRISTMAS STORY, thanks to incessant, round-the-clock screenings on cable every year.

2. Name a movie that you’ve seen multiple times in the theater. MULHOLLAND DR. Just thinking about the opening music gives me chills.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie. Tilda Swinton.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie. It’s become cliché to pick on Tom Cruise, but he still deserves it.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, although I only saw it in the theater three times.

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with. See # 6.

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see. Jean-Pierre Melville’s ARMY OF SHADOWS, possibly the best movie I saw in a theater in 2006, even though it was made in 1969.

9. Name a movie that you own. I own about 100, but I’ll never sell my copy of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops. David Bowie—a predictable answer, given his music’s theatricality. But he was brilliant as Warhol in BASQUIAT.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what? I admit I saw a Jim Carrey double feature of ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and THE MASK. Yes, it was 1994.

12. Ever made out in a movie? Yes—during 28 DAYS LATER no less.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it. Here are a few still simmering on my Netflix queue: ONE FROM THE HEART, DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, 1900, THE BELIEVER, and FINGERS.

14. Ever walked out of a movie? Regretably, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but only because I was ill, and I had seen it before (it’s one of my faves).

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater. The end of SHORTBUS moved me to tears.

16. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater? SOUTHLAND TALES, which was ridiculous, incomprehensible and fascinating, in equal amounts.

17. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie? I prefer good movies.

18. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater? PINOCCHIO (the Disney version, of course), although THE MUPPET MOVIE must have been second.

19. What movie do you wish you had never seen? CRASH. Along with A BEAUTIFUL MIND, it established a moratorium against my having to see every Academy Award Best Picture nominee each year.

20. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed? Depends on how you define weird. I guess THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATIKURIS is kinda out there.

21. What is the scariest movie you’ve seen? I don’t know about scary, but PEEPING TOM is easily one of the creepiest films I’ve seen.

22. What is the funniest movie you’ve seen? I’m gathering a list of my favorite, funniest films for a Chlotrudis poll, so I’ll reveal the answer in the next few weeks.

19 November 2007


Rather than post a separate essay for each one of the glamorous locales I've traveled to over the past few months, here's a brief overview:

06 November 2007


Wes Anderson's latest follows three brothers as they travel across India on a tripped-out train that gives the film its title. The Whitmans, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), haven't seen or spoken much to each other since their father's death one year ago; it's immediately apparent why they're estranged. Francis is controlling ringleader of the trio, crafting daily, hyper-detailed itineraries for his brothers (and even ordering food for them on occasion); Peter is a compulsive hoarder and borrower, claiming his father's artifacts for himself (much to Francis' chagrin); and sex-obsessed Jack just seems to be on his own planet much of the time. Naturally, the brothers' effort to reconcile, bond and achieve some sort of spiritual enlightenment doesn't go as Francis planned.

More than anything in Anderson's oeuvre, this film feels transitional. It incorporates many of the themes and stylistic traits he's used since BOTTLE ROCKET: the breakdown and patching up of familial relations, the intricate attention-to-detail (a train's contours prove a natural fit for this), whimsical sequences that add more to the emotional pull than the narrative. On the other hand, it also suggests Anderson is open to expanding his repertoire, if just a tiny bit. Instead of the usual Mark Mothersbaugh score, he supplements the classic rock soundtrack with music from Satyajit Ray's films. Also, when a truly tragic event occurs midway through, he gets the sparse, mournful tone exactly right with a depth of feeling that may surprise some of his critics.

His head half-covered in bandages, Wilson plays a role that seems tailor-made for him (and a bit unnerving, given his recent suicide attempt), as does Schwartzman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson and Roman Coppola). However, Brody gives the revelatory performance here, so completely at ease as he lends complexity to both the film's humorous and sobering moments. The worst one can say about Anjelica Huston's brief, anticipated appearance toward the end is that she looks unexpectedly awful, although her presence still shines through enough to carry her scenes.

On my first viewing, I had some trouble with the film's shambling final third (and in particular, the clumsy, unnecessary extended flashback to the father's funeral). After a second time, I warmed up to most of it, finding it to be a charming (if shaggy) travelogue with a clever payoff that revisits most of the supporting cast. As a huge Anderson admirer, I'm sorry to say THE DARJEELING LIMITED as a whole lacks that empathetic resolve his previous films all had; changed they might be, at the end the Whitmans are barely less self-absorbed than they were before. Fortunately, the film also carries the promise of a mature, career-defining work lurking somewhere within—like the Whitmans, Anderson just needs to shed some of his baggage.