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Monday, November 2, 2009

Playing WIth Time in Movies, Photography Show in Georgetown

AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHY On Saturday night, I attended the opening reception of Select Contemporary Photography from the Lucille and Richard Spagnuolo Collection in the Walsh Building on the campus of Georgetown University. Coming on the heels of FotoWeekDC, this is a great appetizer with standouts Nikki S. Lee, Carrie Mae, Weems and Doug Hall. It goes to Dec. 11 if you can get over there.



Film Talk

That Damn United (4 out of 5 Red Dots)
An Education (4½ Red Dots)
American Casino (4 Red Dots)
Money-Driven Machine (3.5 Red Dots)
The Invention of Lying (3 Red Dots)

Can it really be almost 10 years since Memento? Or is someone playing with time? (Guy Pearce has made interesting choices since then – The Hurt Locker, The Proposition, The Factory Girl with Sienna Miller who just received okay reviews for After Miss Julie on Broadway. Though when you start with LA Confidential and Memento, tough to keep that up.) Twenty years before that, Nobel-prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter succeeded with Betrayal (Roy Scheider, Raul Julia, Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother) which started with the last scene chronologically and then went backwards in time ending with the scene where the three protagonists first met. And 20 years before that, Pinter, who died last year, also played with time in writing the screenplay for the film Accident—where we see the accident at the beginning and then go back in time from there—which kicked off the Joseph Losey retrospective at the National Gallery yesterday. Film critic Jay Carr gave a wonderful talk at the before the film. That place is a treasure! Highly recommended: two more Losey/Pinter collaborations – The Servant, Nov. 7 at 4pm; The Go-Between with the beautiful Julie Christie, Nov. 8 at 4:30pm.

I bring the “time” element up for a couple reasons. I saw the famous director Peter Bogdanovich a couple weeks ago (Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Daisy Miller). He spoke following the film , Anatomy of a Murder, at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was a friend of the film's director Otto Preminger, so he told some stories including how much the star James Stewart liked to rehearse, but no one on this film would rehearse with him. It is a superb film, and interestingly, the judge, Joseph Welch, was a famous real-life attorney who represented the army in the McCarthy hearings. Bogdonavich doesn't like the playing with time, but the film he criticized, the very average Duplicity, was not a fair example. The latest to play with time is That Damned United, written by Peter Morgan and starring Michael Sheen (they also worked together on The Queen and Frost/Nixon), focusing on the '70s British soccer manager Brian Clough who took small teams to championships but failed miserably in a 44-day stint with the big team, Leeds United. Timothy Spall, the great character actor, plays his assistant in another standout performance. I heartily recommend this film; it has received little publicity but it is different from the usual sports movie.

An Education is an even better film. It’s written by Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and About a Boy and who just made the Washington rounds plugging a new, well-received novel, Juliet Naked. I remember standing in line to hear him speak at Olssons Books at Metro Center around 15 years ago after High Fidelity. He has such a good ear for dialogue. The film should be nominated for an Oscar – though with 10 such films this year, is that still an honor? – because Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgard and Alfred Molina put out some exceptional performances. The Invention of Lying certainly has a good setup and a lot of hearty laughs early on - all the things that we're thinking but never say get said in this truth-serumed society. But then, as others have written, it loses steam. Probably a shame - if Gervais had not been as worried about the happy rom-com ending, he might have really had something special. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton have funny cameos.

We joke sometimes that Washington has a cultural festival of some kind almost every week. Actually, I think it’s true. Last week it was the 2009 Impact Film Festival in the two auditoriums of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. (Have you seen this place? Wow, quite a venue! You enter from the East Capitol side.) Next week, of course, it’s FotoweekDC. After that, The Jewish Film Festival, in January the new German Film Festival. This week, I’m sure there’s something and I’m chagrined not to know about it. I saw a film called Money-Driven Medicine (http://www.moneydrivenmedicine.org/) about our health care situation, specifically the lack of coordination between doctors at hospitals, something partly attributed to the growing scarcity of general practitioners. (It’s very expensive to follow this path, apparently.) I spoke to director Andrew Fredericks afterwards at a cool restaurant called The Reserve. He was originally contacted by producer Alex Gibney who was also there (he directed the great Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Academy-Award winning Taxi to the Dark Side)— which was quite flattering to Fredericks. The film is based on a book of the same name by reporter Maggie Mahar. The Impact Festival also included The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (which I did not get to see but has been very well-reviewed) and The Messenger with Woody Harrelson who was in town last week promoting it. This is a great new festival for the DC cultural radar.

It’s unbelievable what we have here in DC. My friend saw Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) in person last Monday before a showing of his new film, Pirate Radio. Gibney the next night, Harrelson two nights later, the same night Ian McKellen gave a performance at Shakespeare Theater. (I still have a signed poster after a one-man show he did at Olney 20 years ago. I’ll never forget it.) Cate Blanchett just got a rave review for Streetcar today, so on and so on.

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