Category Archives: Movies

Korengal

Why ‘Korengal’ Matters As Much As (Perhaps Even More Than) ‘Restrepo’

KorengalPerhaps you’ve heard of them — the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. They were the subjects and the stars of Restrepo, the greatest documentary on what it is to go to war ever filmed.

In Restrepo, writer/director Sebastian Junger and the now late photo-journalist Tim Hetherington followed one platoon from the 173rd Airborne in the Korengal Valley, one of the deadliest outposts in Afghanistan (described in the film by one soldier as a “sport’s paradise… if only they’d stop shooting at us”) in 2007. Released in 2010, it received critical praise, respectable media attention, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Hollywood gave the Oscar that year to Inside Job, a documentary that looked at the steps leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 and its ramifications. No surprise that Tinseltown found the criticism of their shrunken brokerage accounts more worthy of an award than a film that dares to position its cameras not to one particular political side or other, but right in the line of fire. But the goal in making Restrepo wasn’t to win awards; it was to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment.

But where Restrepo was mostly experiential (giving moviegoers the opportunity to witness the doing of war), Korengal probes deeper; it explores the mental process of fighting, risking life and coming home afterward. In short, Restrepo revealed the “combat” in “Combat Team,” and Korengal focuses more on the “team.”

All of which makes Korengal just as important today as Restrepo was in 2010. In the new film, Sebastian Junger uses many of the same techniques as he did in Restrepo. Action footage of combat and patrol are shown alongside still camera interviews, creating an immersive war experience, forcing the viewer to decipher the doing of war from an insider’s perspective. In Korengal, the camera lingers a bit longer on the men during those private moments, letting them share conflicted emotions and ideas so brutally honest that they sometimes seem to take the soldiers by surprise as they give voice to them.

Far too often these days, documentaries are produced not to show us things we don’t already know, but rather, to simply reinforce our misguided sense of certainty about the things we think we know. Korengal is that rarity — a documentary that asks a nation to soberly assess our role in the longest ongoing war in our nation’s history… and a documentary that provides us not only with unexpected answers, but also usually unasked questions. It forces us to admit that these soldiers did not go off to war alone; among the things they carried was our asking them to go in our place.

War is complicated. Sending young soldiers off to war is easy. Welcoming them home, when they are now as complicated as the war, should be simple too. For a nation ill at ease with, and unprepared to care for soldiers returning home, Korengal is a must-see. Civilians, well-meaning though we may be, are often at a loss for what to say to a veteran. Korengal, which will be released on May 30, is our chance to actually listen first, before we say anything.

Spc. Misha Pemble-Belkin (left) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's Battle Company in a firefight in 2008 in  Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. (Photo: Tim Hetherington/Outpost Films)

Spc. Misha Pemble-Belkin (left) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Battle Company in a firefight in 2008 in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. (Photo: Tim Hetherington/Outpost Films)

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Idina Menzel Becomes The First Tony Award Winning Actor With A Top 10 Hit

Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 4.02.23 PMThe Billboard Hot 100 chart, which ranks the week’s 100 most popular songs in the United States, began in August of 1958. This week, for the first time, there is a Top 10 hit by a performer who has also won a Tony Award for acting.

With a pop hit that is defying Billboard chart gravity, Idina Menzel has reached the Top 10. The song, of course it “Let It Go,” which makes her the first person with both a Top 10 hit and a Tony Award for acting. The Oscar-winner (from the film “Frozen”) jumped into the number 9 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week.

John Travolta mispronounced her name (as Adele Dazeem) on the March 2nd broadcast of the Academy Awards when she sang the song for an audience of 43 million viewers, guaranteeing that the entire world would soon know her real name. Ironically, that (and the fact that the song won the Oscar) could only have helped.

Menzel is a Tony Award winner — the highest accolade for Broadway theater — for her performance in the megahit “Wicked,” where she originated the part of Elphaba. Playing the role of the green witch who belts out the show’s anthem, “Defying Gravity,” won Ms. Menzel the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

In 1996, she was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a musical, for her performance in “Rent” (with the award going to Ann Duquesnay for her performance in Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk).

There have been many Tony Award winners (among its eight acting categories) that have also charted on the Billboard Hot 100…

Ruth Brown (1989 Best Actress in a Musical for “Black and Blue”) – Brown has had six songs in the Hot 100, including “The Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’” (No. 24)…

Kristin Chenoweth (1999 Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) – With her appearances on the TV series “Glee,” Chenoweth has had six hits, the highest-ranking entry being her cover of “Alone,” which hit No. 51…

Robert Goulet (1968 Best Actor in a Musical for “The Happy Time”) – Goulet has charted on the Hot 100 three times. His biggest hit was No. 16, with “My Love, Forgive Me (Amore, Scusami)”…

Heather Headley (2000 Best Actress in a Musical for “Aida”) – Headley has charted three times on the Hot 100. Her biggest hit is “I Wish I Wasn’t,” which hit No. 55…

Jennifer Holliday – 1982 Best Actress in a Musical for “Dreamgirls”) – Holliday has had four Hot 100 hits, including her signature hit “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (from “Dreamgirls”) which climbed to No. 22…

Linda Hopkins (1972 Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “Inner City”) – Hopkins had two hit singles with Jackie Wilson: “I Found Love” (No. 93) and “Shake a Hand” (No. 42)…

Melba Moore (1970 Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “Purlie”) – Moore had two Hot 100 entries: “This Is It” (No. 91) and “You Stepped Into My Life” (No. 47)…

Bernadette Peters (1986 Best Actress in a Musical for “Song and Dance) & 1999 Best Actress in a Musical for “Annie Get Your Gun”) – Peters’ hit single was “Gee Whiz,” which reached No. 31…

Leslie Uggams (1968 Best Actress in a Musical for “Hallelujah, Baby”) – Uggams hit the Hot 100 once, with “One More Sunrise (Morgen),” a No. 98 hit…

Dick Van Dyke (1961 Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Bye Bye Birdie”) – Van Dyke performed (with Julie Andrews) “Super-Cali-Fragil-Istic-Expi-Ali-Docious” in the film “Mary Poppins,” and it hit No. 66…

Although there have been Tony Award winners in other categories that have also notched top 10 Hot 100 hits, they were not Tonys awarded in competitive acting categories. For example, Barbra Streisand, who has had 12 Top 10 singles, including five No. 1s, was given a special Tony Award in 1970 as “Star of the Decade.” Like Streisand, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Diana Ross all won special Tony Awards in the 1970s. Roger Miller had five top 10 singles before he received the Tony Award for best score in 1985 (for “Big River”). Marvin Hamlisch took home the 1976 Tony Award for best score for “A Chorus Line,” shortly after netting a top 10 single with “The Entertainer.” Pete Townshend won the 1993 Tony Award for best score for “The Who’s ‘Tommy’,” Elton John won a 2000 Tony Award for best score for “Aida” and Billy Joel won in 2003 for his orchestrations for “Movin’ Out.” Cyndi Lauper won the 2013 Tony Award for best score for “Kinky Boots.”

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Come To The DESERT SHOWDOWN With Academy Award Favorites Will Ferrell and Kevin Spacey

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Will Ferrell, star of “Anchorman” and one of the funniest presenters in the history of the Academy Awards will host the DESERT SHOWDOWN golf and tennis charity event.

Tuesday, at La Quinta Resort & Club, Will Ferrell and another Oscar favorite (and two time winner), Kevin Spacey, will appear on the hard court. For the 10th Annual DESERT SMASH tennis event, Ferrell will team up with No. 2-ranked Novak Djokovic to play against “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey and No. 3-ranked Stan Wawrinka. Other celebrities and pro players also are scheduled to play against each other throughout the day.

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DESERT SHOWDOWN also includes the “Will-Powered Golf Classic” on Monday at the Bighorn Golf Club and “Will Ferrell’s Epically Awesome Desert Showdown Concert Extravaganza” Tuesday night featuring Nelly and Boyz II Men at The Show at Agua Caliente.

The money raised during the Desert Smash tennis tournament will benefit Cancer for College. “Cancer for College is an amazing cause. To see these cancer survivors realize their dream of a college education is inspiring,” said Ferrell in a prepared statement. “You know what else is inspiring? Me embarrassing Kevin Spacey on a tennis court in front of a thousand people. Those Academy Awards aren’t going to help him one bit when I’m raining fire on him from the baseline,” he continued.

Other celebrities who will show off their tennis strokes include: Rebel Wilson, (“Pitch Perfect” and “Super Fun Night”), Kaley Cuoco (“Big Bang Theory”), Justin Chambers (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Kevin McKidd (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Brave”), Timothy Olyphant (“Justified,” “Live Free or Die Hard”), RedFoo (LMFAO) and Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”). Tennis players include Daniela Hantuchova and doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan.

As a warm-up to the on-court comedy of DESERT SMASH (and since it’s Oscar Night), let’s enjoy some of the memorable moments from Will Ferrell and Kevin Spacey at the Academy Awards over the years…

Dianne Wiest presents Kevin Spacey with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in “The Usual Suspects” at the 68th Academy Awards in 1996…

Gwyneth Paltrow presents Kevin Spacey with the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “American Beauty” at the 72nd Academy Awards in 2000…

Will Ferrell and Jack Black sing “Get Off the Stage” at the 76th
Annual Academy Awards in 2004…

Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly sing at the 79th Annual Academy Awards in 2007…

For DESERT SHOWDOWN tickets and information go to WillFerrellDesertShowdown.com or call (760) 599-5096.

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis onstage at the 84th Academy Awards (2012).

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis onstage at the 84th Academy Awards (2012).

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Parcbench’s 2014 Academy Award Predictions

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

In the fall, “Gravity” was at the forefront of the Academy Awards race. Then, along came “American Hustle,” gaining most of the enthusiasm until just this week — when most of the critic’s predictions were announced. Now, on the eve of the big awards handout, “12 Years a Slave” is looking like the frontrunner. “American Hustle” has still has the potential to score a few upsets in the acting categories, thus creating at lest some unpredictable excitement on Oscar night. One things I’ll bet you can count on: a Best Picture/Best Director split. And possibly a replacement for Ellen Degeneres as host next year.

Here are the Parcbench Academy Award Predictions for 2014:

BEST PICTURE
“American Hustle”

“Captain Phillips”

“Dallas Buyers Club”

“Gravity”

“Her”

“Nebraska”

“Philomena”

“12 Years a Slave”

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

WILL WIN: “12 Years a Slave”
SHOULD WIN: “Nebraska”

DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

ACTOR
Christian Bale, “American Hustle”

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
WILL WIN: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
SHOULD WIN: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Judi Dench, “Philomena”

Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
WILL WIN: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
SHOULD WIN: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
WILL WIN: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
SHOULD WIN: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

June Squibb, “Nebraska”
WILL WIN: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
SHOULD WIN: June Squibb, “Nebraska”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

“Captain Phillips,” Billy Ray

“Philomena,” Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

“12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley

“The Wolf of Wall Street,” Terence Winter
WILL WIN: ”12 Years a Slave”
SHOULD WIN: ”12 Years a Slave”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“American Hustle,” Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell

“Blue Jasmine,” Woody Allen

“Dallas Buyers Club,” Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

“Her,” Spike Jonze;
“Nebraska,” Bob Nelson
WILL WIN: American Hustle”
SHOULD WIN: “Her”

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“The Act of Killing”

“Cutie and the Boxer”

“Dirty Wars”

“The Square”

“20 Feet From Stardom”
WILL WIN: “The Act of Killing”
SHOULD WIN: ”20 Feet From Stardom”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“The Broken Circle Breakdown”

“The Great Beauty”

“The Hunt”

“The Missing Picture”

“Omar”
WILL WIN: “The Great Beauty”
SHOULD WIN: ”The Broken Circle Breakdown”

CINEMATOGRAPHY
“The Grandmaster,” Philippe Le Sourd

“Gravity,” Emmanuel Lubezki

“Inside Llewyn Davis,” Bruno Delbonnel

“Nebraska,” Phedon Papamichael

“Prisoners,” Roger A. Deakins
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Gravity”

COSTUME DESIGN
“American Hustle,” Michael Wilkinson

“The Grandmaster,” William Chang Suk Ping

“The Great Gatsby,” Catherine Martin

“The Invisible Woman,” Michael O’Connor

“12 Years a Slave,” Patricia Norris
WILL WIN: “12 Years a Slave”
SHOULD WIN: “American Hustle”

ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Croods”

“Despicable Me 2”

“Ernest & Celestine”

“Frozen”

“The Wind Rises”
WILL WIN: “Frozen”

SHOULD WIN: “The Wind Rises”

EDITING
“American Hustle,” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten

“Captain Phillips,” Christopher Rouse

“Dallas Buyers Club,” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa

“Gravity,” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger

“12 Years a Slave,” Joe Walker
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Gravity”

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
“Dallas Buyers Club,” Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” Stephen Prouty

“The Lone Ranger,” Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny
WILL WIN: “Dallas Buyers Club”
SHOULD WIN: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

ORIGINAL SONG
“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” music and lyrics by Pharrell Williams

“Let It Go” from “Frozen,” music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“The Moon Song” from “Her,” music by Karen O; lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze

“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, lyrics by Paul Hewson
WILL WIN: “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
SHOULD WIN: “The Moon Song” from “Her” 


ORIGINAL SCORE
“The Book Thief,” John Williams

“Gravity,” Stephen Price

“Her,” William Butler and Owen Pallett

“Philomena,” Alexandre Desplat

“Saving Mr. Banks,” Thomas Newman
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Her”

PRODUCTION DESIGN
“American Hustle,” production design: Judy Becker; set decoration: Heather Loeffler

“Gravity,” production design: Andy Nicholson; set decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard

“The Great Gatsby,” production design: Catherine Martin; set decoration: Beverley Dunn

“Her,” production design: K.K. Barrett; set decoration: Gene Serdena

“12 Years a Slave,” production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Alice Baker
WILL WIN: “12 Years a Slave”
SHOULD WIN: “American Hustle”

SOUND EDITING
“All Is Lost,” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns

“Captain Phillips,” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity,” Glenn Freemantle

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Brent Burge and Chris Ward

“Lone Survivor,” Wylie Stateman
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Gravity”

SOUND MIXING
“Captain Phillips,” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro

“Gravity,” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson

“Inside Llewyn Davis,” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

“Lone Survivor,” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Gravity” 


VISUAL EFFECTS
“Gravity,” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds

“Iron Man 3,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick

“The Lone Ranger,” Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier

“Star Trek Into Darkness,” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton
WILL WIN: “Gravity”
SHOULD WIN: “Gravity”

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Feral”

“Get a Horse!”

“Mr. Hublot”

“Possessions”

“Room on the Broom”
WILL WIN: “Get a Horse!”

SHOULD WIN: “Get a Horse!”


DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
“Cave Digger”

“Facing Fear”

“Karama Has No Walls”

“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”
WILL WIN: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

SHOULD WIN: “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
“Aquel No Era Yo” (“That Wasn’t Me”)

“Avant Que De Tout Perdre” (“Just Before Losing Everything”)

“Helium”

“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?” (“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?”)

“The Voorman Problem”
WILL WIN: “The Voorman Problem”
SHOULD WIN: “Avant Que De Tout Perdre” (“Just Before Losing Everything”)


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Mel

Mel Brooks to Receive AFI Honor

Mel

Legendary comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks will be honored by the American Film Institute with its Lifetime Achievement Award next year. Brooks, one of a select few talents to win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy, will be recognized for a career that includes some of the funniest films ever made.

“Mel Brooks is America’s long-reigning king of comedy – as he taught us long ago, it’s good to be the king,” Howard Stringer, chairman of AFI’s board of trustees said in a statement. “He’s a master of an art form that rarely gets the respect it deserves, and it’s AFI’s honor to shine a bright light on laughter by presenting Mel Brooks the 41st AFI Life Achievement Award.”

Brooks, 86, was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn (he took the stage name Brooks from his mother’s maiden name, Brookman). His father died when Brooks was two years old, leaving his mother to raise Brooks and his three older brothers on her own. After a stint in the army, Brooks began performing the Borscht Belt circuit and was a tummler (master entertainer) at Grossinger’s, one of the most famous Catskills resorts.

In the 1950s, Brooks became part of Sid Caesar’s legendary writing team on Your Show of Shows. It was there that he met Carl Reiner and the two became fast friends, eventually becoming one of the most popular comedy teams of the 1960s with their 2000 Year Old Man LP’s.

In 1968 Brooks wrote and directed his first film, The Producers, a raucous comedy starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder that did not make a lot of money on its initial release but is now considered one of the all-time great film comedies. The film won Brooks an Oscar for his screenplay and made a star out of Wilder, who would also team up with Brooks for Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

Brooks has personified modern Jewish humor for decades. Who else would put a Yiddish speaking Native American chief in the middle of the old West as he did in Blazing Saddles? Or revamp the Sherwood Forest legend by replacing Friar Tuck with Rabbi Tuckman, as he did in Robin Hood: Men in Tights? (Both of these roles were played by Brooks.)

In 2001 Brooks turned The Producers into a Broadway musical with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the Mostel and Wilder roles. The show was a runaway hit, breaking box office records and winning an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards.

Brooks had one of the most storied Hollywood marriages to Anne Bancroft. The two were wed for 40 years when Bancroft died of uterine cancer at age 73 in 2005. “I get excited when I hear his key in the door,” Bancroft once said of her husband. “It’s like, ‘Ooh! The party’s going to start.’” They have a son, Max, 40, who won an Emmy as one of the writers of Saturday Night Live and has drawn a cult following as the author of a series of books about zombies.

Brooks joins the distinguished ranks of such past AFI winners as Orson Welles, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand, and Shirley MacLaine.

The AFI tribute will be held on June 6, 2013 in Los Angeles and air later that month on TNT.

American Masters Documentary Mel Brooks: Make a Noise Premieres Nationally Monday, May 20 on PBS.

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‘The Great Gatsby’ & The Future Of American Tennis

leonardo-dicaprio-tennis

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
(from “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

“The Great Gatsby,” the 1925 American novel of the 20th century, is back. This time it arrives in 21st century 3-D. Premiering May 10th nationwide, Baz Luhrmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby is getting a contemporary treatment, with performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, and with music by Jay-Z, Beyonce, Jack White and others. The 1974 film version was far from perfect, but how could one not like a movie that used Rosecliff, one of Newport’s many Cliff Walk “cottages,” as Jay Gatsby’s home? What better place to choose to film than Newport — home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame? I’ve not heard great things about the new remake and I haven’t seen it yet myself, but I do offer a few thoughts on “The Great Gatsby”‘s connection to tennis — the game that skyrocketed in popularity during the “Gatsby” era.

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Seeing beyond what promises to be layer upon layer of cinematic glitz, are moments when “Gatsby” uses tennis to make the “jazz age” (a term coined by Fitzgerald himself) story come to swinging life…

Daisy
First of all, there is the always-out-of-reach Daisy Buchanan, who just might be the ultimate Grand Slam. For one player, she’s Wimbledon. For another, she’s Roland Garros. For far too many, she’s the ever-elusive number one ranking. She’s unattainable, no matter how hard one tries.

jordan
Next, there’s Daisy’s friend, Jordan Baker, the cynical woman with whom Nick Carraway becomes romantically involved. Representing the “new woman” of the ‘20s, she’s a competitive golfer (and a tennis player). She’s a beauty, but dishonest and self-centered who cheats in order to win. If she were a player, she’d probably despise the Hawkeye line-calling system.

brendan-maclean
Then there’s Mr. Klipspringer, the superficial freeloader who seems to live at Gatsby’s mansion. He constantly takes advantage of his host’s money, and when things go awry, he disappears. At a dramatic moment in the story, he reappears, but not for the reason that would be prudent, but to inappropriately ask about a pair of tennis shoes (of all things) that he might have left behind. He’s a bit reminiscent of a player who completely rides on the coattails of a more talented doubles partner.

But most of all, there’s Jay Gatsby and “the look.” When you’re impressed with the film’s period visuals, the classic summer-in-the-Hamptons style, you can thank tennis. “The Great Gatsby” took place in a time of easy money and the hard sell. It was a complicated time when societal manners shifted and America’s sense of individualism grew deep roots. What is one of the lessons learned in The Great Gatsby? Lots of money can’t necessarily buy you class. It comes not from the latest fashion one wears on the court, but from how one plays the game.

Wearing white, of course.

gatsby

Dollars may be green, but F. Scott Fitzgerald painted a portrait of the rich where everything else seemed to be white: the mansions, the rooms inside the mansions, the sheets and drapery in those rooms. Daisy’s car was white (at least the car she had before she was married), as was her “white neck,” “white girlhood” and her “white palace.” But whiteness does not symbolize Daisy’s innocence. She’s hardly an innocent; by the end of the novel, she’s predominantly selfish and destructive. By then, white becomes bloodless… the color of false purity over goodness. This is an off-white daisy.

So it must be all about the popularity of 1920s tennis. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right: The rich were different. The rich in England and America had adopted summer white as their leisurewear of choice. Since white clothing dirties so easily, it simply wasn’t practical for the new factory worker class (not to mention the domestic servant class). The only people suited to wear white with any frequency were those who didn’t participate in some sort of manual labor. In other words — those who had the free time to use popular phrases of the day like, “Tennis, anyone?” The rich were different and they made sure that everyone noticed by wearing white as often as possible. In the early 20th century, the first competitive tennis tournaments called for new outfits that were more practical than the layered, restrictive fashions of the 19th century court action. Enter “tennis whites”!

Tennis slowly democratized over the 20th century and since the middle class loves to imitate the rich, they began to wear tennis whites too. Eventually tennis whites became the norm, then the rule: Wimbledon mandated all-white outfits for players in 1890. Tennis whites were required at most country clubs, where tennis tournaments took place and where it was required dress. Nowadays, Wimbledon is the last of the grand slams to be held at a private club, therefore it is the only one left with the white dress code.

What about today? Is Jay Gatsby – once the embodiment of America in all its chaotic glory – still relevant? Is America still the same concoction of equal parts cynicism and idealism? I sense the cynicism, but where is the idealism? Can we find it in the crowds at the US Open? And what of Gatsby — the man willing to do anything to gain the social position he thought necessary to win the affection of his unattainable object of desire? Are we willing to overlook the host’s flaws merely in hopes that our name will be on his guest list? Do today’s young players recognize themselves in Gatsby’s drive for self-improvement, his devotion to self-discipline?

THE GREAT GATSBY
Most importantly — is there a young tennis player ready to emulate Nick Carraway, and not Gatsby? Easy-going Nick Carraway… newly arrived from the Midwest, who has the secretive Jay Gatsby as his next door neighbor. Nick may not be the title character, but he is the narrator; his thoughts tell the story. For Nick, the Midwest seemed pedestrian compared to the excitement of the ritzy East, but in the end, the East is merely a glittering surface lacking the Midwest’s moral center. American tennis needs a guy with a golden forehand and the charisma of Jay Gatsby, but with the mental game and trustworthiness of Nick Carraway. And since both Nick and Gatsby are from the Midwest — chances are that next American tennis star is a Midwesterner too, right?

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Eventually, American tennis will return to its former competitive glory. Eternal optimists, American tennis fans still believe in the “green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us,” as the end of the novel reads.

“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning –“

In the end, what does Gatsby’s failure say about American aspiration? F. Scott Fitzgerald questions the idea of an America in which all things are possible if one simply tries hard enough, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to tennis. In tennis, effort, when focused and refined, translates to success.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Somewhere out there are young players trying to free themselves of the pull of the sport’s glorious past in hopes that they will push forward and write their own story of achieved dreams. Somewhere there’s a young player making the necessary effort and getting ready to take American tennis into its past glory days.

Now that’d be great.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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haywire

HomeVideodrome: DVD Releases for May 1st, 2012

Bravo, Soderbergh.  Too often do action directors feel compelled to get in the middle of the action and jiggle the camera around in a half-assed attempt to put the audience “in the action” these days.  The result is almost always muddy, confused, and ultimately boring.  Soderbergh didn’t have a straight-up action film to his name until now, but he does what all good action directors do: get the Hell out of the car and PUSH.  This rule especially applies when you have martial arts as your hook like in Haywire.  Great directors of kung-fu movies like Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung were always content to let their performers do the heavy lifting, after all, we’re here to see them whip some ass, it’s nice if you can witness them actually doing it without a lot of fancy editing and seizure-prone camera operators spoiling the fun.  Because Soderbergh understands this, Haywire is a refreshing genre experience.

Haywire acts as a starring vehicle for accomplished MMA fighter Gina Carano, whose potent physical prowess makes her presence alone in an action scene a special effect.  The plot is a fairly standard spy-yarn, Carano plays an agent named Mallory Kane, who works for a freelance firm that takes on the dirty work that their government clients don’t want to be associated with if things were to go bad.  After handling a seemingly standard hostage situation in Barcelona, she finds herself paired up with a British agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender) for the genre-staple “one last job”, given by her boss and ex-lover, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), before she strikes out to work for herself.  But as per usual, things aren’t what they seem, and soon Mallory finds herself on the run, but she’s not sure why, something she aims to unravel.

The pulpy plot is one the genre-savvy have seen before, but the supporting cast helps elevates the material, and the score by David Holmes gives it a sixties spy-movie flavor without ever resorting to going full-on throwback.  Though I praised Soderbergh’s approach in the intro to this review, his tendencies as an artsy American director threaten to overwhelm the action and intrigue early on, before he throws all his fancypants technique out the window in order to let Carano do her thing. And boy does she bring it whenever she needs to bust out a severe beat-down.  Her line delivery certainly needs some work, it’s more noticeable when she’s bouncing off her heavyweight co-stars.  But what Carano lacks in delivery, she makes up for in screen presence, and her impressive physicality that doesn’t require the aid wires or special effects makes her a rare and welcome commodity in American genre movies.  If she doesn’t show up in the inevitable Expendables 3, Sly’s doing it wrong.

The Blu-ray contains a featurette on Carano’s journey from the world of MMA to movies, and how seeing her fight inspired Soderbergh to make this film.  There’s another featurette with interviews with all the male cast members, but they’re charismatic butts for Carano’s kicking.  The lack of a commentary track is disappointing, considering Soderbergh has done them so well in the past for films like The Limey (his track with John Boorman on the Point Blank DVD is also well worth a listen for any fan of that film).  It would’ve been neat to hear him sit down with Carano, so it feels like a missed opportunity.  Still, the film is strong enough to warrant a purchase for any action movie buff, it’ll certainly be sitting on my shelf.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Other Noteworthy Releases

George Harrison – Living In The Material World: Scorsese has done the rock doc brilliantly in the past, examining Bob Dylan in No Direction Home and chronicling The Band’s “farewell concert” in The Last Waltz (Shine a Light looked a bit on the insufferable side, I never bothered to find out if I was right).  Here Scorsese explores George Harrison, who is, in my opinion, the most talented of The Beatles (his record All Things Must Pass smokes any of the solo work by Lennon or McCartney). I look forward to checking it out.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Joyful Noise: The description on Amazon for this Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton film is as follows: “Joyful Noise tells the story of an unlikely partnership between two strong-minded women who are forced to work together to save a small town Gospel Choir after budget cuts threaten to shut them down. Music is a very important component to the story.”  Here I was thinking a movie called “Joyful Noise” starring Dolly Parton would have absolutely nothing to do with music at all.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

New Year’s Eve: Garry Marshall has a fixation with holiday-themed movies, except he makes them into stale ensemble pieces instead of sleazy slasher films, which would actually be preferable.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Men in Black: A fun, witty sci-fi comedy that boasted insane action and fun performances.  In hindsight, it should’ve been a one-off.

Available on Blu-ray

Men in Black II: A sequel so dull it should have killed the franchise.  But it made tons of money, so here comes Men in Black III, as well as this stupid movie on Blu-ray.

Available on Blu-ray

W.E.: A movie directed by Madonna is considered to be one of the worst movies of last year?  You don’t say.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Bird of Paradise: A King Vidor film produced by David O. Selznick, starring Joel McCrea.  This Kino release is the only authorized edition from Selznick’s estate, so it should be a treat to check out.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Tim Burton Collection: This Amazon exclusive Blu-ray set contains Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Mars Attacks!, The Corpse Bride, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Available on Blu-ray

Hunter Duesing

DVD/Blu-ray junkie Co-host of the Midnight Movie Cowboys Podcast Follow on Twitter: @JHDuesing

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cedarrapids

HomeVideodrome: DVD Releases for June 21st, 2011

Cedar Rapids is an example of a cancer in American movies, a horrible disease that has befallen independent movies.  Every year a movie pops out from Sundance that seems to be the little indie movie that could.  This would be nice if it were usually movies of ideas made outside the system like Shane Carruth’s Primer, but most of the time it just ends up being stupid bullshit like Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids.

Looking at the DVD/Blu-ray cover of Cedar Rapids makes me want to punch someone.  The image of Ed Helms grinning is a face that begs for a beating, not because he looks like an idiot, but because we’re obviously supposed to feel like superior beings upon seeing it.  As though seeing a DVD box with the face of a naïve man-child is supposed to attract me, so I can feel superior to some fictitious character today.  The same goes for the pathetic family of pitiful dipshits populating Little Miss Sunshine, it’s a film culture that feeds narcissism by depicting creeps that behave like sweethearts with depraved cores.

While independent movies that lack the big comedy stars of today struggle to get shown at Sundance, shit that stars the guys from The Office and Walk Hard gets carte blanche.  Nothing against Ed Helms and John C. Reilly, they’re funny fellows.  It just annoys me to see the brilliant programming from Sundance like Forty Shades of Blue or Primer struggle for audience while calculated crap like this stinks up the marketplace.

Cedar Rapids is one of those movies where big comedy stars show up in the little independent movie in a calculated career move.  Don’t believe the hype.  Just ignore this crap.  If you aren’t convinced, read James Frazier’s epic smack-down, or Greg Victor’s description of two-and-a-half-stars worth of no one cares.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

 

(Note: Parcbench Senior Fellow Chris Yogerst, who is an expert on film noir, offers his thoughts on Kiss Me Deadly below!)

Classic film noir is one of the darkest genres in film history. Full of corruption, death, mystery, sexy dames and fast-talking men, classic noir films continue to win over audiences today. One of the quintessential genre films is Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) that is finally getting the Criterion treatment (DVD and Blu-ray). Aldrich, known for films like The Big Knife, Ulzana’s Raid and The Dirty Dozen, brings to life Mickey Spillane’s story about Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker). Noir stories often deal with private detectives and Mike Hammer may be the most brutal one of them all (not to mention the best noir character name ever!).

Kiss Me Deadly is a memorable film because it famously uses “the great whatsit” that Quentin Tarantino lifted for Pulp Fiction (i.e. what’s in the box?? …then we never find out for certain). The difference is that in Kiss Me Deadly the contents of the box play on the fear of nuclear disaster (common during the mid fifties). If I remember correctly, we don’t know exactly what is in the box but the film does have an apocalyptic ending (that is shown at the end of the trailer from Criterion’s website). The film actually has two endings, one that is less apocalyptic (that they used on the film’s initial release) and one that is more reflexive of the time that they put in many years later.

The Criterion release offers both endings. In addition, there are features that revisit the film’s locations (it was shot primarily around LA), a documentary on the Kiss Me Deadly screenwriter, a documentary on Mickey Spillane as well as movie commentary by film noir experts James Ursini and Alain Silver (editors of the influential Film Noir Reader series). I have not seen this film in years and it will be great to watch it in high definition Blu-ray this week!

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

 

Other Noteworthy Releases

The Women in Cages Collection: Featuring excellent Corman exploitation classics like Big Doll House, Women in Cages, and The Big Bird Cage.  You can’t go wrong with the director/actress combination of Jack Hill and Pam Grier.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Adjustment Bureau: Good adaptations of Phillip K. Dick stories come few and far between.  This is not one of them.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Eagle: Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell star in a period epic that references the same events as Neil Marshall’s Centurion.  It seems I have a habit of recommending Neil Marshall movies over new releases, but I only do it because Neil Marshall is awesome.  Watch Centurion.  If you can’t get enough of Roman garrisons disappearing into Scotland, check this one out as well.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Unknown: I love that Liam Neeson has found a new career as an action hero.  Unlike the pretty boys that fill action movies today, Neeson has that old school Hollywood tough-guy quality that gives him a vibe not unlike Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Steve McQueen.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Rodrick Rules: A sequel to the sleeper family film.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Happythankyoumoreplease: An indie that, like all indies today, looks oh-so-precious and aimed at fans of Garden State and Juno.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Sorrow and The Pity: I know what Woody Allen will be buying on DVD this week…

Available on DVD

Mister T – The Complete First Season: Almost as cool as Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos.

Available on DVD

Hunter Duesing

DVD/Blu-ray junkie Co-host of the Midnight Movie Cowboys Podcast Follow on Twitter: @JHDuesing

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‘The Tree Of Life’ (Don’t Read This Review — Just Go See This Film!)

Tree Of Life
**** (out of 4 stars)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Rated: PG-13

“The only way to be happy is to love,” says the mother. “Unless you love, your life will flash by.” Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life (at a running time of 2 hours 18 minutes) seemed to flash by, even though I loved it. Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, The Tree of Life ranks among the most ambitious movies ever made.

Malick has taken the details of his childhood in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s and placed them within the context of the whole universe. It is like looking at life on Earth from the moon and in a microscope at the same time. It is a large scale experimental film as well as an almost embarrassingly intimate film diary. Word has it that Malick is planning a six-hour cut of the film. I cannot wait.

The Tree of Life centers around the life of a young married couple, Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) and their three sons in 1950s Central Texas. The eldest son, Jack, is played by talented newcomer Hunter McCracken as a boy. As he grows up, Jack goes through a loss of innocence. At first, he sees the world through his mother’s soul (she represents the way of love and mercy). Eventually Jack’s stern father tries to teach his son (for his own good) the harsh ways of the world. After Jack has his first encounters with suffering and death, the world, once a thing of glory, becomes a spiritual and emotional maze.

Framing all this is the adult Jack (Sean Penn), a lost soul in a modern world. He seeks to discover the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into the world’s preparation, everything appears to be some sort of miracle. The mature Jack is able to forgive his father and move forward on the path of life. The film reminds us that our family is the predominant place where most of us learn truths about the world (and ourselves), or discover life’s single most important lesson — the lesson of the importance of unconditional and eternal love.

The film begins with a quote from the Book of Job (“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand”) that lays the foundation for the entire film. The quote is God’s response to Job when asked about God’s allowance of human suffering. In a sense, the film shows us how we cannot know the full event of the human experience, and that there are some things (like how God’s allowing people to suffer sets them on the right path) that only God, in his wisdom, can know. It is futile to keep score of the work of God; after all, we are only human.

The film is propelled by this dialogue with God — a dialogue that is almost as explicit as any other in the film. The compelling questions are posed as voiceovers to a very personal God — or as contemplation before Him. What’s significant is that God answers these questions (in the form of events that occur, responses from characters and the character’s realizations). It is a reminder that God is all around, and answers to the questions we have might be found anywhere at anytime.


The Tree Of Life does not rely on words to achieve its glorious effect. Like its subject matter, it is meant to be experienced. And The Tree of Life has much more to say than that which I’ve approximated here (and it says it with much greater clarity and beauty). Words of mine cannot enliven the event of the film, but hopefully they can compel you to see it. I cannot assume that you will love it as much as I. Nor can I assume that you won’t react like some patrons did at the sold-out showing I attended (with many heckling the screen and making rude commentary on two occasions). The most I can do is hope that you give the film the opportunity to expand your expectations of what a film can do.

This is not a linear, narrative story and you will not be spoon-fed the way you will with so many other summer movies. Instead, Terrence Malick provides a universal frame that allows the viewer to insert the emotions that are specific to their own life. It is a challenging proposition that depends on complete honesty from the actors. The result is the most potent and truthful collection of images and behavior on film that I have seen in years.

Gorgeous, ambitious and important (if you ask me), or pretentious, lengthy and baffling (for others I’m sure), The Tree Of Life is (like life itself) a constantly free-flowing series of events. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on film before.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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The Hangover Part Deux-over

The Hangover Part II has gotten a reaction that could only be described at the polar opposite of the accolades heaped upon its sleeper predecessor.  The Hangover was a refreshing high-concept comedy in the middle of a summer stuffed with branded product.  The movie opens with a disheveled Bradley Cooper, donning aviators in the middle of the desert, on the phone informing a bride-to-be that her wedding wasn’t going to happen.  Follow that with an ominous opening credit sequence set to Danzig’s “Thirteen”, and you knew you were in for something good. Continue reading

Hunter Duesing

DVD/Blu-ray junkie Co-host of the Midnight Movie Cowboys Podcast Follow on Twitter: @JHDuesing

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