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Review: “My Own Love Song” takes so many wrong turns it’s almost all right.

Review: “My Own Love Song” takes so many wrong turns it’s almost all right. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

One of my fondest memories of the Tribeca Film Festival involves the time I went to see “Tennessee,” the road trip drama in which Mariah Carey found her voice, literally and figuratively, and helped two lost souls find their way as well. It was an awful movie, but not in the fun way that the trio of friends sitting next to me had hoped, sneaking in a flask under one of their coats and making all sorts of snide comments about Carey before the film started. Unfortunately, the alcohol was more likely to put them to sleep rather than enhance their enjoyment of the film, which was a total bore.

It saddened me to think those guys probably weren’t at the premiere of “My Own Love Song,” which took essentially the exact same story and threw in scenes of animated flamingos and kingfishers, a batshit Forest Whitaker and Elias Koteas, and Nick Nolte serving up slices of a psychedelic chocolate cake. Sadly, these things overshadow Renee Zellweger’s first genuine performance in years as a wheelchair-bound singer who reluctantly travels down south to New Orleans when her mentally unstable pal (Whitaker) stumbles upon a letter from her son who she gave up for adoption.

The rosy glow that Zellweger once exuded has seemed to return, albeit under a thicket of brown hair and little makeup. It’s one of the rare examples of subtlety on the part of director Olivier Dahan (“Ma Vie En Rose”), who, like Wong Kar-wai and so many other foreign filmmakers, decided to make his English-language debut on a de Tocqueville-esque travelogue.

04232010_ZellwegerMyOwnLoveSong3.jpgIn some sense, it wouldn’t matter where “My Own Love Song” takes place, as Dahan explained during the post-screening Q & A how “it’s not a real realistic movie, it’s more about dreams,” but, like an early scene at the start of the film where Whitaker carries Zellweger into an ice cold lake during a day of fun in the sun, Dahan doesn’t ease us into the water.

We first meet Zellweger’s Jane Wyatt at a bar where she feigns interest in a farm machinery insurance agent who won’t take no for an answer — until she reveals her paralysis from behind a table. The first shot of Whitaker’s Joey has him laying flat in a parking lot as a galaxy of stars turns to asphalt. The pair are bonded by their shared trauma and add a third when a young married woman named Billie (Madeline Zima) shares a bus ride with them and explains how her husband has disappeared.

All three are looking for something, but in setting up tangible goals for each of the characters, Dahan makes a film that’s utterly adrift when it comes to a coherent narrative. For instance, don’t ask for the specifics when the trio is lured into Nolte’s cabin in the woods of Cairo, Mississippi by a guitar riff and then listen patiently as he recounts how Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in Clarksdale to play the blues, complete with a reenactment. Also, it’s best not to wonder why Zellweger is suddenly able to sing a stirring rendition of “This Land is Your Land” after years of refusing such requests (though the moment gives an idea of what she might’ve done had she played Janis Joplin, as was once planned).

04232010_WhitakerMyOwnLoveSong.jpgTo be fair, “My Own Love Song” couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as it is without being as ambitious as it is. The film features original music from Bob Dylan (I counted four of a reported 16 new songs composed specifically for the film), and frequent Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky cinematographer Matthew Libatique rarely stops using a steadicam — there’s a car chase in the film that is almost breathtaking between its constant movement and Dahan’s use of split-screens, until it gets confusing and ultimately frustrating.

You could also use those adjectives to describe Whitaker’s performance of the schizophrenic Joey; like Nicolas Cage, you can always count on Whitaker’s commitment to character, but you never know when you’re going to get “The Last King of Scotland” or something like this, which borders on parody with all of Joey’s strange tics and a half-baked romance that develops between he and Billie.

After the film’s international premiere at Tribeca, Dahan was warmly received by the minority of the audience that stayed, with those using their questions to praise the director for the dreamlike quality he brought to the film, which is why Zellweger’s Sarah may sum up the film’s appeal best when she asks during her wistful narration, “Should I believe or should I disappear?” The answer may be the former for some, but as the festival walkouts testified, the latter for most.

“My Own Love Song” is currently without U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “My Own Love Song,” Légende Films, 2010]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

attitudes

Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Review: “Micmacs,” paddywhack, give a dog a bone.

Review: “Micmacs,” paddywhack, give a dog a bone. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

A man who works in a video store and spends his days watching movies catches a stray bullet to the brain and winds up in a movie himself in French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs,” which looks a bit like “Yojimbo” or “A Fistful of Dollars,” where a savvy warrior places himself between two powerful rivals and engineers their mutual destruction, refracted through Jeunet’s (best known here for “Amélie”) trademark whimsical touch.

The man in this case is Bazil (Dany Boon) and after he survives his head injury but loses his job and his home, he’s taken in by a group of misfits that resembles a French, grown-up version of The Goonies, and includes a contortionist (Julie Ferrier), a girl with a knack for numbers (Marie-Julie Baup), and a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon). After Bazil learns that the bullet that’s taken up permanent residence in his skull and the land mine that killed his father in Africa years earlier were made by competing weapons manufacturers, he plans his revenge and recruits his new surrogate family to help him.

Their schemes bring a Rube Golderbergian prankster’s ethos to “Ocean’s 11″-style heist film shenanigans: they might stage a sexual encounter to distract a horny guard, and then a woman who can fit herself inside a refrigerator might slip a mickey in his coffee while he’s distracted. Leave it to Jeunet to take a fairly serious issue — the ethics of profiteering off the manufacture of deadly weapons — and tackle it with a hefty dose of absurdity and outlandish humor. Also leave it to Jeunet to make a film that uses the language of silent physical comedy to celebrate the spirit of grassroots activism and journalism on the Internet. By linking the two, he suggests that artists and journalists carving out a niche on YouTube are the ones carrying on the spirit and magic of film’s first pioneers, not the established filmmakers in Hollywood (or, for that matter, directors like himself).

04232010_micmacs2.jpgThere’s not much more to “Micmacs” than that, and audiences allergic to quirk should be warned that the film contains several sequences contaminated with near toxic levels. But Boon, a relative unknown in America but a massive star in France, is a charmingly disheveled protagonist, and the movie bounces from one ingeniously designed set piece to the next with the same ethos as its protagonists: an air of fun and a spirit of invention.

“Micmacs” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on May 28th.

Review: “My Queen Karo,” a commune coming-of-age.

Review: “My Queen Karo,” a commune coming-of-age. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Like those pictures that can be interpreted as either a vase or the silhouettes of two lovers, “My Queen Karo” might be a young girl’s coming of age story set in a squatters commune, or it might be the tale of the disintegration of a squatters commune as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s a far better, if uneasier, film for this fluctuation in focus than if it settled for a more conventional route down only one of those paths.

For instance: There’s a scene in which Karo’s mother Dalia, who’s been struggling with how to deal with the new lover that Raven, Karo’s father, has taken, approaches the couple as they’re getting frisky on a large shared mattress. She disrobes, and they cautiously welcome her into their embrace. And then Karo, through whose point of view everything unfolds, loses interest and, though we might crane our necks trying to keep watching the bohemian threesome, trots off to entertain herself with the constellation pattern made when she shines a flashlight through the fabric of her ratty bathing suit. She understands that her parents have been fighting, and that this moment represents a tentative, temporary truce. She doesn’t know that the very arrangement, not to mention the fact that a ten-year-old girl is witnessing it, would be enough to give some people heart palpitations.

04062010_myqueenkaro5.jpgIt’s the ’70s, and Karo, Dalia and Raven move to Amsterdam from Belgium, a uprooting echoing a similar one in director Dorothée Van Den Berghe’s childhood. Dalia (“L’enfant”‘s Déborah François), young and a little fragile, is in love with Raven. Raven (Matthias Schoenaerts), a handsome, charismatic artist, is in love with the whirling ideals of the era. They and their friends set up a utopian living arrangement in which everything — including sleeping, squabbles, sex, childcare and drug use — takes place in the open, in one giant communal room. This idealistic casting off of the bounds of convention begins causing problems almost instantly, when Raven meets the free-spirited Alice (Maria Kraakman) and welcomes her into the fold despite Dalia’s objections.

Raven’s a knotty character, someone who likes to use his own enthusiastic embrace of countercultural objectives as a bludgeon in his personal life. “We came here to be free, and already you’re laying down rules?” he sniffs at a devastated Dalia when she requests monogamy. And yet he is a true believer, a genuine activist and a magnetic one — he’s even able to pull Karo, who feels very protective over Dalia, to his side. Karo, played by the boyish Anna Franziska Jaeger, is realistically childlike in not always charming ways — she’s capricious and half-feral, runs away, throws tantrums and acts out. In a place where every potential authority figure has already tossed out all the rules, there’s a disquieting amount of room for her to roam unattended.

04062010_myqueenkaro2.jpgAnd yet… while “My Queen Karo” doesn’t offer anything like a seal of approval for the rickety lifestyle it portrays, it refuses to condemn the whole doomed, starry-eyed enterprise either. There are many moments of unfettered joy, from the arrivals tossing down their giant mattress in their new squat and bounding onto it, home at last, to the camera that stays with Karo as she’s on the swing, keeping on her happy face as the world swirls behind her. Maybe the film’s best read as a universal coming of age after all: Karo’s forced, earlier than most, to deal with the realization that her parents are flawed and far from infallible, while her parents and their compatriots have to face the fact that people come up with rules and build walls for a reason.

“My Queen Karo” is currently without U.S. distribution.

“My own Love Song,” Forest Whitaker, Renée Zellweger + Bob Dylan.

“My own Love Song,” Forest Whitaker, Renée Zellweger + Bob Dylan. (photo)

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This is one strange mix of talent “La Vie en Rose” director Olivier Dahan has assembled for his first English language picture, “My own Love Song.” I thought I’d seen the last of Zellweger in the disappointingly flat “Appaloosa,” in which I despised her role. If only it had been a Viggo Mortensen/Ed Harris Western buddy movie – but it had to attempt too much with the lady love interest. Perhaps I blame her unfairly, it’s just hard to see beyond that and all the you had me at Hello’s she calls to mind.

That image of her may change with this wheelchair bound performance as Jane, a tough, retired musician who embarks on a road trip (a quest for her long lost son) with her quirky, ghost-whispering buddy, Joey (Whitaker). It premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Here’s a bit of what they say about it:

When Joey learns of a secret that Jane harbors he convinces her to embark on a cross-country trip to Memphis with the hope that she will face her past. On their trip, they stumble upon a bevy of fascinating characters who begin to peel back the layers of Jane’s tough exterior.

For good measure, Nick Nolte also stars. Original music by Bob Dylan included! Have a listen and a gander.


Bande Annonce My Own Love Song
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From Vulture and TFF.

“Luck,” big names pile onto Michael Mann helmed HBO series.

“Luck,” big names pile onto Michael Mann helmed HBO series. (photo)

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Few filmmakers have a flair for music like Michael Mann, whose prowess for crafting the coolest musical sequences is only rivaled by his muscular firefights and a sustained fetish for shiny vehicles. He’s tops. So even though I couldn’t care less about horse racing, I’m giddy over HBO’s upcoming pilot for “Luck,” which Mann is directing.

What’s more Mann’s teaming with David Milch, the creator of “Deadwood” on this one. Milch, who seems to have a thing for horses, is writing and both will be producing. It looks to be an ensemble drama deep in the world of gambling and horse racing… and set at a race track. “It centers on Ace Bernstain, who, after three years in prison, teams with Gus Economou, his longtime chauffeur and muscle, to craft a complex plan involving the track” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Christ, it sounds terrible doesn’t it? And Ace Bernstain? I suspect that is a typo by THR (but I kind of hope not). I suspect only names like Mann and Milch could get this off the ground, but anything these two guys get off the ground is worth getting. I’m certain it will be mind blowing despite how it looks on paper. Dennis Farina and John Ortiz, both Micheal man go-to guys, are signed on to what is turning into a tough looking crew. Dustin Hoffman signed on as Ace, “a man in his late 60s just released from four years in prison who’s autodidactic, intelligent, and deeply involved in gambling.” [Variety]

And now, Nick Nolte has reportedly joined the cast as a character called “The Old Man.” This show is going to be completely out of control. Here’s hoping Mann slips some Neil Young in a montage of Nolte losing his mind at the track.

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