DID YOU READ

“Taking Woodstock” Offers Nothing New

“Taking Woodstock” Offers Nothing New (photo)

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Apparently determined to tackle every cinematic genre known to man, Ang Lee has thus far given us his take on the popular-lit adaptation (“Eat Drink Man Woman”), the classic-lit adaptation (“Sense and Sensibility”), the Civil War western (“Ride With the Devil”), the wuxia action flick (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), the Marvel comic-book summer tentpole (“Hulk”), the WWII espionage thriller (“Lust, Caution”) and, of course, the gay cowboy weepie (“Brokeback Mountain”).

It was inevitable, I suppose, that he would eventually get around to the historical docudrama — or, as I’ve recently dubbed that generally useless collection of bullet-point factoids, the Wiki-movie. Technically, “Taking Woodstock” was adapted from key organizer Elliot Tiber’s memoir of the same title; with the exception of some laborious anecdotes involving Tiber’s Russian immigrant parents, however, you can find pretty much every detail of the movie in Wikipedia’s tidy entry on the fabled concert, assuming that you don’t know most of that stuff already. If this film winds up being all that remains after a nuclear holocaust, it’ll be a valuable document. Otherwise, zzz.

A big part of the problem is that Tiber, played here by “Daily Show” correspondent Demetri Martin, didn’t really do much of anything — certainly nothing that required extensive dramatization. He was a civic-minded young music lover who, when he heard that a proposed extravaganza featuring many of his favorite bands was on the verge of being canceled for lack of a venue, used his position on the Bethel, NY city council to wrangle the necessary permit, originally intended for a concert of chamber music. He also put the promoters in touch with nearby dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who rented out 600 acres for the event. Tiber’s family ran a cruddy little motel, which the Woodstock staff booked in toto; Tiber therefore had to run around changing the sheets and creating smaller mini-rooms (using dividers) to handle the overflow.

Sound scintillating? If it’s a recreation of Woodstock itself you seek, forget it — like Tiber, we see the stage only from a faraway hilltop, at a distance so great that the music isn’t even audible. And there just isn’t anything even marginally interesting about the behind-the-scenes machinations of one two-bit hustler. Martin plays Tiber as an amiable nebbish, practically devoid of personality; it barely registers when he comes out of the closet towards the end of the movie, inspired by the liberation he sees all around him, as the character hadn’t been anything more than a generic plot motor prior to this emotional epiphany. To keep the film from flatlining, Lee and his regular screenwriter, James Schamus, are forced to resort to goofy, mostly unfunny comedy, courtesy of Imelda Staunton as Tiber’s outrageously greedy/stingy mom and Liev Schreiber as a hulking transvestite with a pistol strapped to his upper thigh, who volunteers to be head of security.

08252009_TakingWoodstock2.jpgMostly, though, the experience of watching “Taking Woodstock” — at least for anyone not recently attached to a placenta — amounts to ticking off items from a checklist of “well, duh” expectations. You sit there waiting for the roads into Bethel to be jammed by barefoot hippies, for heavy rains to turn Yasgur’s field into a giant mud pit and, inevitably, for Lee to employ the same split-screen effect that Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker used when editing Michael Wadleigh’s documentary “Woodstock.”

It’s the kind of movie in which you know the acid just kicked in because the background suddenly goes all smeary-psychedelic; the kind of movie in which you’re prompted to chortle with retroactive knowingness at a promoter’s assurance that an upcoming Rolling Stones show will surely be a nonstop groovy lovefest. (Get it? Altamont!) It’s Ang Lee’s lamest movie ever, but at least he has it out of the way now. Bring on the musical.

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Southern Fried SNL

Watch Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in SNL’s Southern Rock Supergroup

Fred and Carrie kept it mellow on the SNL season finale.

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

It was a veritable “band from comedy heaven” this weekend as a myriad of comedians assembled for a feel-good musical sketch in the Saturday Night Live season finale. Guest host Fred Armisen was joined by Portlandia cohort Carrie Brownstein as well as Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, and members of the SNL cast to form faux-southern-rock supergroup The Harkin Brothers — a band whose members managed to outnumber its audience.

If The Harkin Brothers’ smooth vocal stylings remind you of The Blue Jean Committee from Documentary Now!, that’s probably not a coincidence. The BJC first appeared in a different, more regionally-specific form in a SNL sketch with Sudeikis on drums.

Watch an all-star SNL cast perform a mellow tribute to Arkansas called “Summertime in Fayetteville” in the video below.

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Farewell Mr. Fred

5 Funniest Sketches From Fred Armisen’s SNL Season Finale

Is "Farewell, Mr. Bunting" the best SNL sketch of the season?

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

The 41st season of Saturday Night Live drew to a close this past weekend, and star of Portlandia and Documentary Now! Fred Armisen hosted the occasion. A former SNL player himself, this homecoming allowed Fred to show off the comedy chops and character skills he’s honed since leaving Studio 8H.

Here are the 5 funniest sketches from the season finale of Saturday Night Live hosted by Fred Armisen.

1. Farewell, Mr. Bunting

What appears to be a straightforward take on the maudlin climax of the 1989 Robin Williams classic Dead Poets Society takes quite an unexpected turn. But if you’re really watching, you’ll realize it’s completely organic and integral to the plot.


2. Fred’s Monologue and One-Man Show

Actor, writer, producer, musician, impressionist — Fred can do it all. So tackling the many characters in the story of his life is a cakewalk for such a talent. Here, Fred takes us on the emotional journey through the day he got the job at SNL and luckily he leaves no detail, however minor or insignificant, out of the performance.


3. New Girlfriend

We were wondering what characters Fred would bring back, but we didn’t predict Regine. Fellow SNL alum Jason Sudeikis appears in this sketch as Regine’s new boyfriend, who introduces his pals to his snarky, raunchy lady. Watch Aidy Bryant try not to crack up at Fred/Regine’s joygasms.


4. Expedition

Three of the biggest stars in American colonialism are Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea. But what most history books choose to omit is the simmering sexual tension between the three explorers. Fortunately, a group of community players illustrate the historical figures’ lustful dynamic to a high school class in graphic detail.


5. Escape Pod

As an interstellar ship begins breaking apart, Fred plays the lucky member of the space crew who wins access to the last escape pod. But a heartfelt goodbye is mitigated by the pod’s virtual assistant ensuring all the luxuries and pampering are to the occupant’s liking.

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The Crying Game

10 Things You Didn’t Know About A League of Their Own

Batter up for A League of Their Own this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

While there may be no crying in baseball, lots of blood, sweat, and tears went into the making of A League of Their Own. From sweltering July heat to concussions to the Material Girl causing trouble, making the hit film wasn’t exactly a homerun. Before you catch A League of Their Own on IFC, check out some dirt on the making of this sports movie classic. Hear that call! The time has come for one and all to play ball!

1. The cast really had to play baseball.

League of Their Own Quotes
Columbia Pictures

Director Penny Marshall was adamant that all of the actresses cast in the film could really play baseball. Prior to the start of filming, the cast (even Madonna!) trained eight hours a day, six days a week for over seven months to hone their skills and bond as a team. They initially practiced sliding using a Slip ‘N Slide, but that method was abandoned when both Tracy Reiner and Megan Cavanagh suffered concussions.


2. Geena Davis auditioned in Penny Marshall’s backyard.

Geena Davis
Columbia Pictures

The Fly and Beetlejuice star was the last person cast in the film after several other prominent actresses like Debra Winger, Laura Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Demi Moore passed. Davis had never played baseball but won Marshall over through a game of catch in her backyard. A natural athlete, Davis was outplaying most of the other actresses on the film. (Though she did use a double for the sliding portion of her infamous catch in the splits.)


3. Tom Hanks entertained the extras with puppet shows.

Tom Hanks
Columbia Pictures

Over 1,700 extras were used throughout the shoot, enduring long hours and occasionally extreme 100+ degree summer heat while on location in Indiana. To keep them entertained in between shots and scenery changes, members of the cast performed. Tom Hanks did puppet shows behind the dugout while Rosie O’Donnell would perform stand-up. Madonna reportedly refused to perform (what a shocker!), leaving the rest of the cast to perform imitations of her. Geena Davis suggested they perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” and songs from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, assigning Tom Hanks the role of Caiaphas.


4. Madonna wasn’t exactly a team player.

Madonna Bosoms
Columbia Pictures

To say the Material Girl was a bit of a handful during the shoot is an understatement. In addition to refusing to perform for the extras and ignoring requests for autographs, she often complained about coming into the film a star but being relegated to the background. According to costar and friend Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna brought a boombox to set the first day and warned everybody that if they broke it, they’d have to buy her another one. She also wrote a somewhat scathing letter about her experiences to a friend, calling Geena Davis a “Barbie Doll” and lamenting the lack of “beautiful men” in Chicago.


5. All of the injuries in the film were real.

Bruise League of their Own
Columbia Pictures

The real women of the All American Girls Pro Baseball League were tough, but their onscreen counterparts were equally as tenacious on the field. Penny Marshall had the actresses play a lot of real games with multiple cameras set up in order to get enough footage for montages, and they didn’t go easy on one another, jamming their shoulders, spraining fingers, and nearly breaking noses. The giant strawberry bruise Alice gets while sliding into base was a real injury actress Renee Coleman sustained during filming, and it lasted for well over a year.  Ouch.


6. Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell were the real most valuable players.

Rosie O'Donnell
Columbia Pictures

Though Geena Davis showed natural ability and was supposed to be the “best player in the league,” on-set coach William E. Hughes was most impressed by Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell. Petty could actually outrun Davis, so she was forced to slow her pace during the scene where the two race so as not to appear faster than Davis. She wound up throwing more pitches during filming than most Major League Baseball pitchers do in a full season. O’Donnell had actually played Little League baseball with her brothers growing up, so she excelled during training camp, learning how to throw two balls at once from one of the real AAGPBL players on set. O’Donnell and Petty often had hitting competitions and could hit the fences at Major League parks with little difficulty.


7. Even Tom Hanks didn’t know how long he would pee in the locker room scene.

One of the most memorable moments in A League of Their Own occurs when Jimmy Dugan introduces himself by bursting into the locker room in a drunken stupor and relieving himself in front of the rest of the Peaches while Mae times him. To keep both Hanks and the actresses on their toes, Penny Marshall stood in a stall off camera and made the noises with a hose and a bucket for maximum comedic effect. The actual length of Dugan’s epic #1 is an impressive 53 seconds!


8. Jimmy and Dottie had a romantic subplot that was cut from the film.

A League of Their Own Spit

The initial cut of the film clocked in around four hours before being cut down to its more slender two hours and eight minutes. Among the footage left on the cutting room floor were scenes depicting a growing romantic relationship between Dugan and star player Dottie. The conversation on the bus left in the final cut of the film hints at tension, but in a deleted scene the pair shared a passionate kiss late one night on the field which is what originally led to the scene with Dottie telling Lowenstein she was going home.


9. Jon Lovitz was almost upstaged by a cow.

In the scene where Lovitz’s character, baseball scout Ernie Capadino (a role specifically written for the SNL star), visits Dottie and Kit at their family dairy farm, the girls are seen milking cows. Unbeknownst to Lovitz, one of the cows off-screen was giving birth and mooing loudly, causing him to ad lib the line “WILL YOU SHUT UP?!” It was only after they finished filming that Lovitz found out a calf had been born, which the farm named Penny after director Penny Marshall.


10. Some of the cast reprised their roles on the A League of Their Own TV Show.

CBS aired a TV version of A League of Their Own for a brief period in 1993. Cast members Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Reiner and Jon Lovitz reprised their roles, with former “Bond Girl” Cary Lowell in the Dottie role and Sam McMurray channeling Hanks as Jimmy. As you can imagine, it only lasted five episodes.

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