Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This is your heart--no, really..., don't ask how I got these, or why, but all I will say is this: these Medical Gross Anatomy Dissection Videos are some of the most compelling bits of film I've seen in a while. They're academic--though explicit--so be warned...this is the closest you'll get to viewing surgery without going to med school.

These videos remind me of some of the scenes in Lukas Moodysson's "A Hole in My Heart." Curious if anyone knows what I'm referring to...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

ROSEMARIE DEWITT is 20 feet tall!

Perhaps you've seen massive billboards with images like this if you're in Manhattan or Los Angeles...they're everywhere.

Well, the person who isn't Ron Livingston is named Rosemarie Dewitt.

Rosemarie is one of the finest actresses you've never heard of (but soon will).

I was lucky enough to have her play a supporting role in "Off the Black."

Her career trajectory is an interesting one...let me explain. I'll call this:

Welcome to the strange life of a New York theater actor.

Rosemarie has been acting on New York stages for almost a decade, garnering the sort of critical praise that any actor would dream of (as well as an Obie award for her work in Craig Lucas' "Small Tragedy"). She is honest and moving and never predictable in her choices. And smart as hell.

She was in a tiny film that came out last summer...

It must have been interesting, because in addition to playing a supporting role in "Cinderella Man," Rosemarie got to see Russell Crowe play her grandfather. Yes, you heard me right: "Cinderella Man" was based on the life of Rosemarie's grandfather, depression-era boxer, James Braddock.

Pretty cool.

Then Rosemarie went back and did more theater. Then my movie. Then she followed my film with a part in Kenneth Lonergan's much-anticipated second film, "Margaret." Rosemarie played Mark Ruffalo's wife. I'm dying to see this movie, because like many of you, I'm a huge fan of his first film, "You Can Count on Me."

And now...Rosemarie is starring in a massive FBI hostage negotiation show on Fox (sort of like "Moonlighting," but with hostages). And her face is splashed everywhere.

And more people will probably watch the first episode of her show (on September 5th--my birthday) than will ever see "Off the Black" in theaters. I mean, I hope many people see my movie...but TV is seen EVERYWHERE. Indie-films...well, no, they're not seen everywhere.

But it's pretty exciting to me that a fantastic actress like Rosemarie Dewitt can hop from off-Broadway plays to studio films to indie films to network television and probably back again, always elevating the quality of whatever she's in. Seriously. The woman in allergic to bullshit, and whenever she's on screen, you're slightly stunned to see such effortless yet exciting acting.


In case you were wondering, that's who's staring down at you from the giant billboard. She has a name, and it's one worth remembering:

Rosemarie Dewitt.

(This image is from Rosemarie's revelatory off-Broadway performance several years ago in John Patrick Shanley's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea." Sorry if you missed it.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

THE REELER..., while S.T. VanAirsdale, the editor of the essential New York film site, THE REELER, took a much-needed vacation, he asked various folks to write guest-blogs.

I wrote one about Dadaism, and you can read it right HERE.

I tried my best. Please, ahem, don't make fun of me.

You can also find The Reeler via the addictive Movie City News website.


So, the producers of "OFF THE BLACK"--Scott Macaulay and Robin O'Hara--are two of the coolest folks I know, and their taste is eclectic beyond description. The proof is in the films they choose to work on. Case in point: they have a movie opening nationally today...maybe you've heard of it?

I can't wait to see it--I'll be going either today or tomorrow. And while I'd see anything Scott and Robin produced, I'm also excited to see it because, well, I'm a huge Outkast fan.

See, Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton went to Tri-Cities high school, which was right down the road from where I went to high school in Georgia. When their first album came out--Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik--I was just a freshman in high school. Some of the songs on that album, like "Player's Ball," "Ain't No Thang," and "Hootie Hoo," became omnipresent on car stereos during the spring and summer of '94. It was something unique and special to us--rap had always been about the East Coast (NYC) and West Coast (LA and occasionally Oakland) and now people were rapping--and rapping well--about the south. With southern accents. I remember driving to Atlanta to see Outkast play with Goodie Mob that spring...the tickets were about five bucks and and there were less than 100 people at the show.

It seems ridiculous to think of Outkast as local-boys-made-good, because, well, they're massive friggin' superstars and a muzak version of "Hey Ya!" is always playing when I'm in the produce section at the grocery store. And now they're starring in "Idlewild."

Everyone has this experience--your favorite small group becomes huge and you feel somehow betrayed--but to me, when I think of Outkast, I'll always remember twelve summers ago, walking into the locker room from football camp in the middle of August with it being about 105 degrees with the heat index (that's nasty, sticky, Georgia heat) and hearing sixty of my teammates sing along to "Hootie Hoo" while it played LOUD from some busted Pioneer speakers. That's still my favorite Outkast album.


Last night I saw The Mountain Goats (it was just John--no backing band) play a free show at AMOEBA MUSIC, my favorite record store in Los Angeles or pretty much elsewhere (though I'll always have a soft spot for WUXTRY).

The show was in support of the beautiful, brand-spanking new album: "GET LONELY."

I stood right in front of the stage with my pals Hrishikesh and Hank--both of whom also make gorgeous music (those links will take you to their tunes).

The Mountain Goats show was packed, and while it was just John with an acoustic guitar, the intense, manic sound that he brought to his performance echoed through the warehouse and hushed everyone inside it. It's hard to take your eyes off him when he plays. And, having been a fan of The Mountain Goats for years, going to upwards of 25 shows, the most exciting, strange development in the past couple albums is that the audience seems to know the words to every damn song. And they're not afraid to sing along! It's bizarre, like what you might expect at a U2 or Stones concert--not a nasally, lo-fi, cryptic, storytelling oddball.

But here's the thing: the music connects with people in an extremely personal way.

Believe me, it's an incredible feeling to hear a room full of strangers sing "Rome wasn't built in a day" in unison. Yes, I saw tears in some eyes. It was group catharsis. Anyway.

Want to know what it sounded sort of like? Listen to this:


And here's a live version of the song I mentioned last week,


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"OLD JOY" trailer... now online.

I saw it at Sundance, and I can't possibly express how moving it is.

I haven't seen a film this good in a long time. At just 76 minutes, it seems like a sliver of a film, but there isn't an excess shot, line of dialogue, or missed emotional beat in the entire movie.

It felt like a film I'd been waiting to see, glimpsed moments of in other films, heard snippets of in songs I love, wished I could have made...but it wasn't until the end of the screening at the Egyptian Theater in Park City that I was overwhelmed with gratitude, because someone had been able to tell this story, without compromise.

It's a story about two old friends walking through the forest.'s also about so much more (I'll wait until it's released before I write more about the actual story).

"Old Joy" comes out in select theaters in the next month...if it's released anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and check it out.

"OLD JOY" trailer

Secrets of, ahem, INDIE ROCK..., Aziz, Paul, Jason, and Rob--the folks that make up HUMAN GIANT--have made a video about Pitchfork and, uh, how you break an indie rock band. With the help of a few special friends. It is funny.

Ever heard of Clell Tickle? Ever heard of a Columbian Necktie?

Check it out...

Wow. This is really, really sad:

Today is River Phoenix's birthday.

He died almost 13 years ago.

He was only 23.

He was an actor capable of breaking your heart. If you don't know what I mean, go out right now and rent "RUNNING ON EMPTY."

So, this chimp is walking a pig...

Why do I love YouTube?

Simple: because it's the single most democratizing innovation to happen to the world of entertainment in...dare I say it, EVER.

Everyone can be a star.

Need evidence?

Okay: I wanted to see a chimp walking a pig on a weird Japanese television program.

I did, okay. I like monkey-humor. Got a problem with that??

And where do you think I looked?


Check this out--it's brilliant (I have a feeling that it's very popular in know, like their version of "Desperate Housewives." At least, I hope so. It would be a better world if that were the case.)


Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Last night, after a special screening of "BARRY LYNDON," there was a Q & A with star RYAN O'NEAL, producer BERNARD WILLIAMS (who also produced "A CLOCKWORK ORANGE"), and LEON VITALI (who played Barry's vengeful stepson, Lord Bullingdon, and curiously, served as Stanley Kubrick's assistant for the rest of his life--as well as acting as casting director for "FULL METAL JACKET" and "EYES WIDE SHUT").

Everyone confirmed that Stanley Kubrick could be both an incredibly funny man (with "beautiful eyes," according to O'Neal), a wonderful husband and father, a genius in the specificity of his vision, and yet a complete monster to work with.

O'Neal said that 40-50 takes per shot was standard, and Kubrick would offer no direction or adjustments, save for one instance, where he said, "Ryan, you're acting like you're giving an Oscar acceptance speech. Make it more like Glenn Ford."

O'Neal also told a story where, while on set, he asked Kubrick if he'd ever thought about making a horror film. Kubrick said, "Yes. I've got an idea where this average, middle-aged guy wakes up, gets out of bed, takes a shower, makes breakfast, then goes to his mailbox and finds an anonymous letter. He opens it and inside he finds a photo of himself sleeping."

O'Neal, engrossed, asked Kubrick what happens next, and Kubrick replied, "I have no idea. That's all I got."

Bernard Williams attested to Kubrick's legendary cheapness and paranoia--he drove a massive, tough Mercedes with a crash helmet, insisted that his car be white (so drunks could see him at night), and never went over 25 miles an hour.

Kubrick was fickle, secretive, and unpredictable--he fired actors on a whim, and nobody knew what would be shot the next day. Because "Barry Lyndon" was supposed to look like 18th century paintings, Kubrick kept a reference book of paintings and would decide what scenes to shoot based on what paintings appealed to him at that particular moment (and would stage the scene to exactly replicate the paintings, even forcing O'Neal--who was left handed--to hold things with his right hand).

Williams thought that Kubrick did "Barry Lyndon" as something of an afterthought when it became clear that to do his epic passion-project--"Napoleon--would require the assistance of an entire nation.

I think my favorite comment of the night came when O'Neal was asked about the wigs, and he replied, "They were done by Leonard of London, who made wigs by using hair cut from Italian girls entering life in the convent. They don't do that anymore. Now, I think, they use Koreans."

Well, then.

It's worth noting that, seeing "Barry Lyndon" on the big-screen, in a crowded theater, you're reminded of not only how stunningly beautiful it looks (the candle-lit scenes required lenses that were furnished by NASA!), but also how hilarious it is. Michael Hordern's fantastically sly, and occasionally self-serious narration certainly laid the groundwork for a certain type of distanced, literary tragicomedy (that I think includes films ranging from "Dogville" to, obviously, "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"...the latter of which manages to turn the genre in on itself).

This event was sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who only last week had a special screening of "CHINATOWN," with screenwriter Robert Towne in attendance (as well as the entire supporting cast--and the casting director who put them in the film!). Towne discussed the entire evolution of the script, as well as how he and Polanski developed it into the final product. My favorite comment came from Burt Young, who played Curly. Young said to Towne, "I gotta admit. I read that script three times and I still didn't know what the fuck it was about!"

And while one might think the stodgy Academy just does screenings of "classics," it's worth noting that in the past few months, I've also attended events sponsored by them that included the 25th 1/2 anniversary cast & crew screening of "AIRPLANE!" as well as the first personal appearance in the United States of the BROTHERS QUAY (!).

Go figure...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"SNAKES ON A PLANE" haiku review...

B-movie heaven?
Try Sam Jackson Tasering
Motherfucking snakes!


...Al Ruban, and Lynn Carlin all participated in a Q & A last night after a screening at UCLA of the revolutionary, devastating "FACES."

The talk was moderated by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential," "Wonderboys"), who was actually surprisingly thoughtful and appropriate--he seemed like a random choice initially, but he told a moving story about being a young photographer in Los Angeles in the 60's and finding himself on the set of "Rosemary's Baby" to photograph Mia Farrow. He struck up a conversation with her co-star, John Cassevetes, who mentioned that he was also editing a film he'd made with friends around Los Angeles (primarly filming in his and Gena's house as well as the house of Gena's mother). Curtis followed Cassavetes up Gower to Laurel Canyon and watched a lot of the raw footage (the film was initially clocking in at eight hours, with a 50 to 1 shooting ratio! It was finally cut down to a bit over two hours.). Hanson said that there was quite a bit of rumbling in Hollywood about these actors making an independent feature around town, which, in those days, was very rare. And from the first moment Curtis Hanson saw the footage in Cassavetes' garage, he knew something special was being created. He was right. The critical--and commercial--success of "Faces" helped initiate a solid decade of renegade filmmaking (coming a year before "Easy Rider," which is usually seen as the harbinger of 1970's American auteurism).

Gena, Seymour, and Lynn were all incredibly open and honest to questions from the audience, which primarily focused on the mythical and much-debated working process of Cassavetes. Curtis Hanson flat-out asked, "How much of "Faces" was improvised?" Of course everyone in the sold-out theater leaned in for the response.

Gena answered, "Except for some of the songs that Seymour sang, pretty much none of it was improvised." The other actors supported this statement, praising the excellent script.

When Gena was asked how John directed her, she answered, "He said less than any director I've worked with. He would get frustrated if I asked too many questions. He'd say, 'I wrote the script, I gave you the part, and you've done your homework--now act!'" Everyone suggested that part of Cassavetes' uniqueness was in his respect for the actors and crew--he gave them a remarkable amount of freedom to make their own choices.

Revelations also included the fact that the film was shot in continuity, as well as the aforementioned incredible shooting ratio. "John liked to shoot film," said Gena. Al Ruban added, "John always said that film is cheap--it's processing that's expensive." The actors couldn't stop raving about the sense of love and support that Cassavetes engendered in those that worked with him.

The results of Cassavetes' process are clear when you watch the film--there isn't a false note from beginning to end. It overwhelms you with its honesty, and while the script might come off as a scathing critique of a country in crisis during the 1960's, perhaps even brutal in its depiction of the characters, the end result has a sense of warmth and emotional charity that comes from the amazing actors who simply refused to condescend or simplify. When you watch "Faces," you're watching people that you could know, probably already do know, perhaps that resemble yourself.

This amazing event was the final night of UCLA's Festival of Film Preservation.

The festival ran for almost a month, and included an unbelievable array of rarely screened, endangered, damaged, and previously "lost" films. "Faces" is a notoriously troublesome film to screen, because it was so dirty, shot on many different stocks, and part of the original negative was lost. UCLA does a fantastic job of preserving these masterpieces and bringing them back to their intended state. It really does make a difference to see a film the way it was supposed to be seen--in the case of "Faces," that means in a 1:66 ratio (and the print was gorgeous).

A few of the other films that I'd seen at the festival included Eliza Kazan's controversial "Baby Doll," a collection of Kenneth Anger shorts, and the original film version of "Chicago," which was released in 1928, only two years after the 1926 Maurine Watkins play (inspired by articles for the "Chicago Tribune").

The (13th annual) Festival of Film Preservation was a real treat, and a reminder that in an over-saturated DVD and internet world, there are still film treasures out there that could, without the help of good people like the UCLA Film and Television Archive, be lost forever.

And tonight I'll be watching "Snakes on a Plane." If that's not a study in contrasts, I don't know what is...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"BRICK," THE MOUNTAIN GOATS, MOODY and LETHEM..., RIAN JOHNSON, who directed the ambitious and ingenious "BRICK," has directed a video for one of my favorite groups, THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

Check it out HERE.

Also, in case you don't know The Mountain Goats, you should really get acquainted.

John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats) is one of the finest lyricists alive. Yes, people say shit like that all the time, so the compliment probably seems ragged, but in this case, it's true. Along with folks like Vic Chesnutt, Lucinda Williams, Rakim, David Berman, Richard Thompson, Will Oldham, Bob Dylan, and Nas, this man is a fucking topnotch, A-1 storyteller with few peers (well, I guess I just named some folks I consider his peers).

Darnielle doesn't write verse-chorus-verse songs--he writes epic novellas that clock in around three minutes.

Case in point: his song, "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," which says more about small-town hopes, adolescence, friendship, anguish, and Satanic rock n' roll than, well, anything else I can think of. Pure genius.

John Darnielle also has one of the most consistently enjoyable blogs on the internet, LAST PLANE TO JAKARTA.

He just posted his favorite tunes so far of 2006--check it out. It gives a bit of insight into how musically omnivorous this dude is.

Also, if you really want a great read, the L.A. Weekly did a round table a while back with Darnielle, Rick Moody ("The Ice Storm"), and Jonathan Lethem ("Motherless Brooklyn") about the "crossbreeding of literature and pop." It's wonderful.

Read on...

"13 TZAMETI"...

...has already had plenty of praise lavished on it, so I feel a bit late to the dance, but:

This film is the real deal. No shit.

I'd heard a lot of early-Polanski comparisons, and they're not at all off the mark. Though I think a chief difference might be that while Polanski was interested in turning his view inward, towards shattered psyches and inexplicable, evil impulses, Gela Babluani is looking outwards towards a capitalistic global marketplace, with the occasional nod to old school communist kickbacks and corruption (though this is a film with its eyes thoroughly focused on an economy of the present and near-future).

I've also heard a few people make comparisons between "13 Tzameti" and either Asian Extreme films or Eli Roth's ("Hostel") oeuvre--but I don't think the comparison is apt. I also think it's too easy to talk about Babluani's worldview as part of a strain of "Eastern European nihilism."

I mean, yes, the perspective of the film is very much a product of Babluani's world, but I think "13 Tzameti" is a major work, from a young director with a staggering amount of insight to offer, and that the film is prescient for the entire world (parallels could be made between the dangerous game played in this film and the Asian sex trade industry, Mexican immigrants dying to enter America, etc.). This film is global in its point-of-view, and is less a warning than a sad, resigned acknowledgment of where we've arrived (with, yes, a bit of Kafka-esque calculation and dramatic build-up).

But if the men with guns in "The Deerhunter" represented the debasement of culture during wartime, then "13 Tzameti" one-ups the proposition by offering a dark perspective of culture fully embracing capitalism in the 21st century: everyone gets paid...except for those anonymous corpses hidden in the basement.

See "13 Tzameti" at FILM FORUM before it leaves at the end of August...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

While watching "WORLD TRADE CENTER"...

...I found myself asking four questions:

1) Is Oliver Stone in such a tough career spot, so desperate for public and critical acceptance, that he really must resort to making a sappy, defanged, wrong-on-so-many-levels 9/11 film?

I mean, Stone is a virtuoso of machismo, paranoia, and hyper-testosterone/cocaine filmmaking. I think this film virtually sidesteps the entire event of September 11th. It asks no tough questions. It explores no moral gray areas. Everyone in the film is an unassailable hero. It seems "patriotic" but lacks actual bravery. It's neutered Stone-lite, and seems like the work of a filmmaker afraid to offend. And as for the actual look of the film, it has all the slow motion and soft focus of a commercial for feminine deodorant spray.

And that last detail, the gooey lushness of the film, is what actually managed to offend me--"World Trade Center" is a pristine work about grisly events.

That, in my opinion, is tacky.

"World Trade Center" is occasionally-persuasive propaganda. It reminded me of another film in that regard: "Triumph of the Will."

2) Why didn't we get to see more of the weird, intense Marine--Dave Karnes--who drove to New York in his Porsche 911 to save the day? He was compelling and haunted, like a character from a Lodge Kerrigan film. His heroism came from a strange, mysterious place. It wasn't completely clear why he did what he did, and that is precisely why he was the most interesting character in the film.

I would have much more enjoyed spending two hours with the Dave Karnes character than with Nicolas Cage's ever-evolving hairpiece.

3) I once heard that Tom Cruise has it written into his contract that he must be allowed to run in at least one scene in each film he does (I guess he likes the way he looks while running...I must admit, he's graceful). No idea if this is true--hope it is. I'm curious if Nicolas Cage has the same stipulation. Granted, he was in a hole for the majority of the film, but oh, that gallant dash to the the stairwell in slo-mo while screaming "NOOOO!!!!" sure brought back charming memories of "Con Air" and "The Rock." Ah, Oliver Stone didn't let down the faithful...

4) Now, most importantly, the question of, "Is America ready to see a film about September 11th?" is not the correct question.

The right question in this case should be, "Are America's film critics ready to drop the hammer on a bad film about 9/11?"

Judging from the pretty-decent reviews of Stone's film, I would say no. Because I don't think it's un-American to criticize a bad movie. No political film--just like political leaders--should be above criticism. And if it's impossible to separate the tragedy of the event from the criticism of the film, then perhaps it is, in fact, too soon.

This all being said, after I groaned through two hours of tearjerking heroism, and felt not moved, but bored, and not manipulated, but annoyed by failed-attempts at manipulation, the credits came up on the screen and most of the theater applauded.

So what the hell do I know?

I guess, perhaps, America just got the 9/11 film it wants and deserves.

Wow, "HALF NELSON" kicked ass... case you missed it, Kevin Smith almost gave himself an aneurysm praising "Half Nelson" this past weekend while filling in for Roger Ebert. He went so far as to acknowledge that he's never directed anything nearly as good as "Half Nelson." Well, good to see that Smith is honest with himself.

Also, "Half Nelson" made some insane bank over the weekend...I guess it was only $54,450, but that's on just two screens, and yeah, that's really, really good. Can't wait to see how it does when it expands past Manhattan...with all the great reviews, I think it's got a shot. Sure hope so. Yes, I'll be buying tickets to see it several times...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My favorite thing to do in Los Angeles... going to the Cinespia cemetery screenings.

Held every Saturday night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Cinespia is an outdoor film screening series/massive picnic. Basically, a few hundred folks get together around 7:30 and eat tacos/goat cheese/grapes/fried chicken/whatever, get drunk on cheap beer and wine and enjoy the collective contact-high from tons of, ahem, hand-rolled cigarettes, listen to catchy music from a great DJ and then, at 9, the movie begins, projected onto the side of a giant mausoleum.

These movies run the gamut, from "Psycho" to "Repo Man," "Manhattan" to "Dressed To Kill," "A Place in the Sun" to "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," "Over the Edge" to "Chinatown," and so on...

It's a film-lovers paradise, and for the those that criticize Los Angeles for having no sense of community, it's a perfect example of a diverse group of people unifying over two simple things: picnics and great flicks.'s in one of the most historic, eye-opening cemeteries in America. That, I think, is the most unique aspect of Cinespia--it manages to transform a cemetery into a vital, public space. The United States, which I believe has an overt fear of death--quite different from the rest of the world, where death is more openly discussed, seen as part of a natural cycle, and therefore not a paralysis-inducing concept--seldom uses cemeteries for much other than, well, funerals.

It's funny to me that the most communal activity I've taken part in while in Los Angeles is in a cemetery. And it's inspiring to me that the thing that brings these people together is good movies (and the occasional so-bad-it's-good movie).

Stop by if you're in town...this coming Saturday they're showing "The Searchers"...!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I saw the new MIRANDA JULY... last night at the Steve Allen Theater.


Miranda was clear to state that the show is a "performance-in-progress."

As a fan of her previous work, which obviously includes her feature from last year ("Me and You and Everyone We Know"), I was excited to see this show.

Without giving too much away--because it is a show which should be experienced, and because I imagine it will develop quite a bit in the next year--I will tell you a bit about it.

The Steve Allen is a small theater--97 seats, I believe--and it was filled to capacity. Miranda walked on stage wearing a simple black outfit, made a few statements about the development process of the show, and then began asking for volunteers from the audience:

--"Couples who've been together for a long time."

--"A man who fell in love recently."

--"A woman the same height and build as Miranda."

Other volunteers would be taken during the rest of the night, and the show relied on them playing numerous parts. The show was heavy on video projection (both prerecorded and live) and audience participation--which took the form of everything from foot stomping, speaking in unison, to holding lighters in the air to answer pointed questions.

The show was ostensibly the story of Fiona and Donnie, a couple that had been together for years, but who would "only spend three more nights together."

Like "Me and You and Everyone We Know," this show dealt with very similar themes: the quality of love and intimacy in an age of alienation, faith, tiny moments of grace lodged in the mundane, childlike mystery and its slow decay as we become adults (or, in Miranda's case, the ability of that same mystery to thrive and fuel her work), and really, at its core, I felt like the show, while dealing with a number of issues, was asking one central question:

How can we learn to love and trust another person that is just as infinitely fallible and fragile as ourselves?

While the show seems to still be finding its size and shape (it was the first time it had been performed for an audience!), there was more than enough humor, humanity, and a few moments that dared to aim for that ephemeral thing James Joyce wrote about, those tiny moments of transcendence, those "epiphanies."

It was those startling, glimmering moments during the show--when a woman goes through the simple motions of opening curtains, when a child dances and everything becomes slow-motion, when a couple's story of meeting and falling in love is told twice during the same show (the second time having a completely different context, and therefore, meaning), and when a room full of strangers in a darkened room are asked if they've "lost a parent," or if "everything is going to be okay"--that I felt Miranda July was making a statement about our quality of life, or perhaps it was a demand for us to all take inventory of the quality of love in our lives.

When the house lights came up at the end of the show, everyone seemed surprised that the show had ended so abruptly, but upon later reflection it made perfect sense: some things end not with a declaration, but rather, a heartfelt question that begs no immediate answer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


...opens tomorrow in New York. Go see it.

It's a fantastic film, and Ryan Gosling fufills on all the promise he showed a few years back in "The Believer."

Also, it's a New York flick, which gets me excited, and THINKFilm , who're distributing my film in a few months, are releasing it.

I spent a day on the set out in East New York last summer. Great group of people. I originally met Andrij Parekh--the talented DP--a few years back when we both had short films at the Clermont-Ferrand film festival in France, and then I met Jamie Patricof (one of the producers of "Half Nelson") at the IFP conference two years ago. Small world...nice to see such good guys make a stellar film.

Man...there's a bunch of movies out in theaters now I need to go see this weekend...not enough time...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


It's a gorgeous video directed by Andy Bruntel...I'm still trying to make sense of it, but Will wearing odd animal skins, a curious E.T. mask, and falconry are enough to keep me re-watching the thing. Oh yes--the song's lovely. Take a peek...


You know it's a wonderful world when "BREWSTER MCCLOUD"...

...plays twice in the span of a couple months...

...on the BIG SCREEN!

God bless the New Beverly and the Aero Theatre, two of the finest gems in Los Angeles.

For me, "Brewster McCloud," even more than "Nashville," is sort of a Rosetta stone for Robert Altman fans. It manages to tell an endearingly quirky love story (with Bud Court and Shelley Duvall! It's a 70's wet dream!) and encapsulate all the insanity, death-obsession, spot-on music, humor, and sage-like, almost-bemused cynicism that exists in the rest of Altman's work.

AND...Stacy Keach delivers one of the weirdest fucking supporting performances I've ever seen. Hands down.

This movie is the reason I go to movies...


"OTB" Sundance Q & A...

At Sundance, Cyndi Greening (and Mike Montesa) filmed the Q & A for "Off the Black" after our screening at the Eccles Theater.

The theater was packed (over 1000 people!) I seem nervous? Um...yes. Terrified? I'll leave that up to you...

"OTB" Q & A


...SATURDAY at the Echo.

Holy crap, they killed. Unbelievable.

Jason Molina's voice--which sounds like a Neil Young/Will Oldham chimera-beast--is so high and lonesome, and the band plays such thundering, crunchy, early-70's rock (think vintage The Band or Crazy Horse), that everyone in the room was just floored.

And this was for a show that started before 8 p.m. (there was some sort of "mash-up dance party" later that night...ahem...I guess everyone has to pay the bills).

So why do I mention a great rock n' roll band on a film website?

Good question.

Answer: Magnolia Electric Co. (who formerly were called Songs: Ohia) was just about all I listened to while writing the script for "Off the Black." It fit perfectly. Jason Molina sings such heartbreaking, soulful rock n' roll, and isn't afraid to talk about masculinity and loneliness in a raw, honest, and sensitive manner that seems like a rare, precious commodity in an age of irony. I wanted my film to have some of the same qualities.


I'm a big fan.

Check out the band, and if they come to your town, see 'em live. You won't regret it.




On Friday night I saw PEACHES play at the Wiltern.

I was sort of dragged to the show.

After the show, I had two thoughts about Peaches:

1) From a distance, she kind of reminds me of Tim Curry in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." No, seriously.

2) PEACHES KICKS ASS! Holy mother of baby Jesus...I had no idea. I mean, I knew a couple things about her, like that she used to be roommates with Feist (from Broken Social Scene) and that she's nasty like a horny 8th grade boy. But who knew she put on such a great live show? Not I.

But by the time Peaches had stripped down to her bra and cameltoe shorts, started riding a bicycle on stage while singing about the "Shocker" ( explanation necessary, right?), I was a convert.

On stage, Peaches is vulgar and hilarious and hopped-up on something nasty and I'll be damned if her songs aren't Black tar addictive.

That juvenile, foul-mouthed woman IS the funk.

Will I buy her new album, "Impeach My Bush?"
(Yes, Peaches came up with the best Bush-pun ever. Feel that? It's your mind being blown.)

Probably not.

If I hear the car next to me on the 101 blasting Peaches out their window, will I throw the Shocker up in the air?

Oh, yes. You can count on it.

Yes, that dog is wearing a dress...

William Wegman is a genius and a dog lover and sometimes sorta creepy all at once (yeah, he's kind of like the Anne Geddes of dog photography).

God love him.

If you're feeling blue, or just want to watch dogs do silly human activities, check out this video.
(I've watched it 43 times already).

Wegman's painting puppies

My Little Underground...

...the folks at Rhino just reissued a bunch of Jesus and Mary Chain albums.

If you don't own "Psychocandy", shame on you.

Feedback aplenty will be waiting for you...

Monday, August 07, 2006

SUNDANCE synopsis...

...this is how the folks at Sundance described "Off the Black" in their catalogue.


"Ray is a mess. Instead of being a baseball player, he's an aging high school umpire. Instead of being married, he's divorced. Instead of having a real relationship with his son, he makes grandiose video diaries to send him. Instead of being sober and fearless, he's drunk and scared and alone. Ray is the stuttering heart and soul of "Off the Black," James Ponsoldt's fearless portrait of small-town lives in crisis, and acclaimed actor Nick Nolte utterly devastates us in the raging lead performance. Coaxing Ray's self-discoveries is the chance friendship he forces on troubled teen David, a local pitcher who can't refuse Ray's demands after being caught vandalizing the umpire's house. Ray's alcoholic and urgent needs escalate until he strikes a deal to wash the slate clean with one last requestDavid must go to Ray's fortieth high school reunion and pretend to be his son. Perceptions and realities then collide as the men find in each other the surrogate companionship obviously missing from their daily lives. "Off the Black" develops patiently and rewardingly, pulling us deeper into the inner lives of its characters with each redemptive discovery, and exploring what it means to be a son, a father, a man...sometimes all at once."

-- © Sundance Film Festival



By Duane Byrge

PARK CITY -- In baseball terms, it's a breaking ball -- looking like one kind of story pitch, but curving into another. While tag-wise, it's a sports story, "Off the Black" is more accurately a father-son story, told with gritty finesse and laced with a strong, hard performance from Nick Nolte.

Like the world champion White Sox, "Off the Black" plays smart ball and has no big power ingredient, but will eke out some decent commercial runs via the cable and video paths. The title is umpire-ese for a pitch that just misses the black edges of the plate and is a ball; in actuality, this story pitch is truly "on the black," and a nifty strike.

Fittingly, Nolte stars as a jock-gone-to-seed, once a helluva a player and a popular hell-raiser. He now grinds out a living at a car junkyard, while ump-ing baseball, mainly high school home talent. Creaking even more than he did in "North Dallas 40," Nolte clues us to the after-pain of sports glory. Each night, he plops into his easy chair and watches baseball on the tube, guzzling beer with only his ugly mutt for company.

When the high-school star pitcher, and a pair of his team-mates, toilet-paper Nolte's house, he catches the hurler in the act. Tells him he won't call the cops, if he cleans up the mess. It's here in the story's second inning that "Off the Black" hits its stride. Nolte and the kid develop a gruff attachment and, surprisingly, the boozing-losing Nolte becomes a father figure for the hurler. From the other side of the relationship plate, he becomes Nolte's surrogate son.

Its sensitivity grooved in guy-speak -- belches, pats, grunts -- "Off the Black" is as tender a relationship story as you'd hear over-verbalized on Lifetime. Stand-up applause to filmmaker James Ponsoldt and to his scrappy crew, especially production designer Anthony Gasparro for the spare but telling, macho-man furnishings.

Like a good pitcher, Trevor Morgan varies his emotions and perfectly grooves his role as the high-school star. Huffing and puffing, Nolte plops around with brilliant finesse, smartly exposing this frustrated old ballplayer's inside strength and fears.

In a supporting role as the teen ballplayer's depressed father, Timothy Hutton is haunting as a man who is functionally comatose.


SUNDANCE: Weinberg's Sundance Scorecard

Posted by Scott Weinberg on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006, 07:50 PM

"Ratings run on a 1-5 scale. I'll keep the commentary brief because I have a whole lot of work to do!

Off the Black - **** - A low-key and melancholy character study with Nick Nolte at the top of his game. (He plays an emotionally isolated umpire who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a high school pitcher.)"

UNCUT Magazine's Top 10 list...

...from Sundance 2006 included "Off the Black."

Pretty cool. They're my favorite British film/music magazine (though I also have a big soft spot for MOJO and SIGHT & SOUND).

Thanks, guys...



A Forensic Films production. Produced by Scott Macaulay, Robin O'Hara. Executive producers, Bob Hariri, Meg Mortimer, Maggie Meade, Steve Kalafer. Co-producer, Carrie Fix. Directed, written by James Ponsoldt.

With: Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan, Sonia Feigelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sally Kirkland, Timothy Hutton, Michael Higgins.


Stepping up to bat for the first time, scribe-helmer James Ponsoldt hits a solid single with "Off the Black." Anchored by a terrific performance from Nick Nolte as a grizzled umpire who gets an unexpected second chance at fatherhood, this easygoing comedy-drama plays out slowly but assuredly, infusing a conventional story about a blossoming relationship with welcome reserves of honesty and humor. Modesty and familiarity of the material might stand in the way of a larger audience, but few who see it will leave wholly unaffected.
As was once stated in a memorable episode of "I Love Lucy," nobody loves the ump -- the ump in this case being gruff, hard-drinking Ray Cook (Nolte), who finds his house vandalized one night. Ray manages to collar one of the perps, high school baseball player Dave (Trevor Morgan, "Mean Creek"), whose team recently lost thanks to one of the umpire's close calls. A troubled but fundamentally decent kid, Dave starts coming by every afternoon to slowly clean up the damage.

Ray is obviously lonely -- he spends a lot of time shooting personal video diaries, talking mainly about baseball in words that ache with regret -- and it's revealed early on that he's also terminally ill. Dave is close to his younger sister (Sonia Feigelson), but their father (Timothy Hutton) has become distant and uncommunicative in the years since their mother abandoned them.

When Ray suddenly offers to erase the boy's debt if he will escort him to his 40th high school reunion pretending to be his son, Dave initially freaks out, then reluctantly agrees. What starts off as a business transaction ever so gradually becomes something more, with fishing trips, nights spent chatting on the porch, and (although one of them is underage) frequent guzzling of beer.

It's one of the strengths of Ponsoldt's fine script that neither Ray's cancer nor Dave's parent issues take center stage as they would in a less confident, more melodramatic piece of work. Nor is their surrogate father-son bond seriously meant to compete with Dave's relationship to his biological dad (who meets Ray only once, in a scene that's wisely played for laughs). Instead, pic offers a balanced, bittersweet picture of a symbiotic connection that leaves both better equipped to relate to those around them.

Reducing his voice to an emphysemic growl and frequently slurring his speech, Nolte is toweringly funny as a sad-sack curmudgeon who, for all his ills, never becomes pathetic. The vet thesp harmonizes beautifully with Morgan, who imbues Dave with a starry-eyed sadness and maturity beyond his years.

Ponsoldt rushes nothing, letting every interaction play itself out and allowing the precisely calibrated acting and dialogue to determine the pacing. Helmer's style is sometimes too generous, accommodating side characters -- including an attractive single mom (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Ray's own Alzheimer's-stricken father (Michael Higgins) -- who serve no obvious narrative function but add humanity and texture nonetheless.

Though it's grounded in the mundane, pic is beautifully lensed by Tim Orr ("Undertow"), who once again displays an appreciative eye for the beauty and tranquility of nature.

The best thing about "TALLADEGA NIGHTS"...

By the time you read this, I'm sure "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" will have made enough money to finance at least 100 indie films. At least that much...if not a lot more.

And billboards for the movie have been up for months, so it seems silly to talk about such a huge, over-publicized, Sony production.

I saw the movie last night, and here's the deal:

It's really good.

Being from Georgia, I'm hyper-sensitive to portraits of "middle-America," but I wasn't the least bit offended, and while the performances from Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly and Sasha Baron Cohen were all great, and all the supporting actors were strong, here's what I think were the true secret weapons of the movie:


Less than ten years older than Will Ferrell, Lynch and Cole play the parents of Ricky, and they both bring deep reserves of vulnerability, welcome crudity, humor (of course), and real humanity to a mainstream comedy about NASCAR (random note: where I'm from, the accents of folks make it sound something like "Nice-car"). These two actors felt like flawed, loving, REAL parents.

I was surprised how much the sense of loss, regret, and sadness ran through a Hollywood comedy. Much credit is due to Adam McKay and Will Ferrell for creating such a generous, humorous, and humane world.

No, Adam Mckay isn't Lubitsch or Wilder or Hawks or Edwards...but for lovers of great comedies, don't let art-film impulses keep you away from this movie.

I was going also say that Adam McKay is no Woody Allen, but then sadly, Woody (who I love) hasn't made a movie as funny as "Talladega Nights" in decades...


...I saw this lovely, modest film at Sundance.

It opens in selected cities on Friday.

Do yourself a favor and check it out...and support a genuine, independently made film!

FILM THREAT interview...

by Eric Campos

Filmmaker James Ponsoldt gives us "Off the Black" as his feature film debut, a look at an aging umpire, played by Nick Nolte, who finds his life going straight down the toilet. But before he hits rock bottom, he latches onto a troubled teen pitcher for help, attempting to form a relationship with the boy that he wishes he had with his own son.
We spoke with James about "Off the Black."

What inspired you to make "Off the Black?"

"Off the Black," my first feature, was inspired by a confluence of ideas. But they all had to do with fathers and sons and baseball.

A few years ago, I was down in Florida, watching spring training for the Atlanta Braves with my father (as a native of Athens, Georgia, I'm a lifelong Braves fan). I've gone to spring training for years, because my grandparents retired to southern Florida, and throughout my childhood we would visit them in the springtime.

Watching one of these games, I realized how closely scrutinized the players on the field were, yet the home plate umpire was someone who seemed nameless, unnoticed--who literally wore a mask. And who isn't made curious by a mask? I began to wonder about the umpire's personal life--What were his wife and children like? Did he have a happy childhood? Did he have a clean or messy garage? What had he lost in his life?--and less about the actual game being played. The secret life of this umpire became endlessly fascinating to me.

While spending time with my father at games in towns like Orlando and Port St. Lucie, I realized how much our conversations had to do with "stuff"--sports, politics, school, etc. Yet he was unable to talk about emotions. He couldn't ask me something as simple as: "How are you feeling? Are you happy? Do you look forward to getting up in the morning?" Like so many men my father's age (he was born in 1946), he was taught to repress emotions, to appear strong, and the way he talked to me was the way his father had spoken to him. It's mind-boggling, but my father--and his father before him--must have so many secret hopes and fears that he doesn't know how to share with the world. And the thought of that as my fate terrifies me.

Soon after spring training, I returned to my parents' home in Georgia, where I ran into the father of an old friend of mine from childhood. The father was a high school baseball umpire. He and I saw each other at a grocery store, and he enthusiastically asked me about college, life in New York City, etc., as well as telling me about his high school umpiring job. Never once during the conversation did either of us mention that his son had become addicted to crack cocaine. He'd been in and out of rehab for several years. Later on, I felt like a coward for never expressing...anything. I should have said something, but I couldn't. And I was haunted by the idea that this man would go about his high school umpiring job--for other people's children--and nobody would ever realize that he had his own private life, his own private love, his own private pain. There would always be a mask. It broke my heart.

"Off the Black" is a love story--a platonic love story between two men (forty years apart in age). I feel that I don't often see this type of story. A completely sincere love story, based on friendship and not sex, seems to be very hard to tell in our current climate (that, to me, seems incredibly cynical and fearful). I like stories that manage to stay gentle, innocent, humorous, humane, and non-judgmental--despite the harshness of the subject matter. In making "Off the Black," I tried to tell a story that offers hints of hope and redemption--in the face of the realities of life (which include loneliness, loss, sickness, and death). It was a balancing act, certainly a challenge, but it is a glimpse of the world as I'd like to see it.

How did you get the ball rolling on production?

It wasnt an easy process. It took a couple years. After I wrote a few drafts of the script and was ready to show it to people, I began trying to get in the room with anybody who might be interested in helping me make it. I think it helped that as I was taking the script around. I also had short films playing the festival circuitso I met a lot of people that way. Finally, I had the good fortune to meet four peopleAvy Kaufman (my casting director), Robert Hariri (my executive producer), and Scott Macaulay and Robin O Hara (my producers). Those four people helped legitimize the film and give it the momentum it needed to get made. I owe them all more than I can possibly express.

How did you assemble your cast?

I was lucky to have an amazing casting directorAvy Kaufmanagree to cast my little film. She helped me find amazing actors, from Timothy Hutton (who Ive always loved) to Sonia Feigelson (who is only 12, and had never been in a film before). Avy is, well, brilliant.

Had you always imagined Nick Nolte as playing Ray?

Id dreamed about him playing the part, but I didnt think it was a real possibility. When Scott Macaulay and Robin OHara threw his name out as an idea (they had worked with him on Clean, the Olivier Assayas film he co-starred in with Maggie Cheung), I jumped at it. After Nick read the script and wanted to meet with me, I was sort of in disbelief. But Nicks a really sweet guy and driven by material he finds challenging. Basically, I lucked out.

How long was the actual shoot?

23 1/2 days.

What were some of the biggest challenges in getting this film made?

Simply getting it done with such little time and money. And I didnt feel worthy to be surrounded by such fantastic people. They did so much for so little! I was incredibly lucky to have such amazing people work on the film, from our cinematographer (Tim Orr, who shot George Washington and All the Real Girls), to our casting director (Avy Kaufman, who casts for Ang Lee, Lars von Trier, and Jim Sheridan), to our producers (Scott Macaulay and Robin OHara, who produced Gummo and Raising Victor Vargas), our production designer (Tony Gasparo, who did Tadpole), our editor (Sabine Hoffman, who edited Personal Velocity and The Ballad of Jack and Rose), and our actors (Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Trevor Morgan, Sally Kirkland, and a stellar group of actors in supporting roles). In a nutshell, I think the biggest challenge was believing in my film (when it was only a script), and being able to articulate my energy and vision to other people enough so that they would want to work with me. When youre making your first feature, everyone around you is (usually) much, much more experienced. Theyre taking a leap of faith on you. I had to get over my insecurities and believe that I was worth taking a chance on. Hmmmmaybe, in actuality, the biggest challenge was just overcoming my insecurities and doubt?

Any major lessons learned in making this film?

Yesthe greatest asset you can have in making a film is the benefit of time. And we didnt have enough of it. Our cast and crew was ridiculously talented, but every day was a sprint to try to get everything finished. If I could do it again with a budget that was four times as large (which still wouldnt be that muchwe had very little money), I wouldnt change a thing about the cast or crew or locationsI would only insist on having a week more to film. Time is priceless.


Film Threat--a kickass website--can be found on the web at (and that's where this interview was originally posted and can still be found).

So, we made a movie...

...called "Off the Black."

I'm really proud of it.

It had its world premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The screenings there were incredible (I'll be posting more about that in the future).

And I can't tell you how excited and lucky I feel that it'll be coming out in theaters this December.

It took years to get "Off the Black" made. It's been my life.

I'm still in disbelief that we pulled it off.

It took a lot of amazing people busting their asses to complete the film. I owe them all.

This is my first post, and I look forward to updating this MySpace page over the next few months. Maybe you'll enjoy some of my stories about making a movie. This was my first feature, so hopefully we can both laugh at my screw-ups. I'll try to share every mistake I made (Hint: I made a ton).

Thanks so much for checking out this page. I'll try to post regularly. And I hope to meet some cool new folks (and old friends too).

"Off the Black" comes out December 1st.

It's gonna be a strange ride until then...

Yours and I am,