Weekend Movie Releases

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Get prepped for the cineplex with reviews from Daniel Holloway of Metro.

JOHN FUGELSANG, host:

Well, for the last weekend of the year, Hollywood is doing everything it can to lure us into movie theaters for one last serving of 2007 cinematic goodness. You got your big family-friendly flicks in wide release all over the place. But there are a few artistically relevant gems opening on just a couple of screens to qualify for Oscar consideration.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Perhaps you're in the mood for a broad, starchy comedy peppered with some nutty geezers? Can't sell that one? All right. Maybe something a little more refined.

FUGELSANG: Maybe a nice serving of star-driven, inspirational drama.

STEWART: Intense historical drama poached in a mixture of religion and capitalism, a delicate proposition for sure. But we also can talk about an elegantly animated foreign film.

FUGELSANG: Well, you're not sure yet. You want a recommendation, I think we have the man to help you out. Here he is.

Daniel Holloway is the movie critic for Metro and he will attend to all your needs, art house and multiplex alike.

Hello, Daniel.

Mr. DANIEL HOLLOWAY (Movie Critic, Metro): Hello.

FUGELSANG: Okay. I want to get this out of the way really quick. Let's just briefly mention the phenomena that is that is "The Bucket List." Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson are dying old men who meet in the hospital. One happens to have a lot of money. So they do a lot of things…

STEWART: The trailer was too long.

FUGELSANG: …a fair way to kick the bucket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I'm sorry.

FUGELSANG: Yeah.

STEWART: The trailer was too long for me.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Well, if you thought the trailer was too long, just imagine the trailer extended over 90 minutes because the whole movie is basically a montage scene with them jumping out of planes and racing cars and climbing mountains…

FUGELSANG: All on green screens in Glendale, California, right? Yeah.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah, exactly. It was all shot in Burbank probably. And, you know, them having 25-year-old women hit on them and picking on Sean Hayes from "Will & Grace." It's the - every time a Rob Reiner movie comes out, you just hope that this will somehow be the end of his career, that he'll decide to run for governor of California…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLLOWAY: …and stop making films. This reinforces that notion on Rob Reiner.

FUGELSANG: Well, I will look forward to that flight.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Well, let's talk about the big inspirational drama opening this week. It's Oprah-approved and it's notable because Denzel Washington directed it and it's called "The Great Debaters." It's based on a true story about a group of young men and women at Wiley College, which was a black college in Texas in the 1930s. Denzel directs but he's the star of the film as the professor who coaches these kids on the debate team. Here's a clip.

(Soundbite of movie "The Great Debaters")

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor, Director): (As Melvin Tolson) Anybody know who Willie Lynch was? Anybody? Raise your hand. He was a vicious slave owner in the West Indies. The slave masters in the colony of Virginia were having trouble controlling their slaves, so they sent for Mr. Lynch to teach them his methods. Keep the slave physically strong but psychologically weak and dependent on the slave master. Keep the body, take the mind.

I and every other professor on this campus are here to help you to find, take back and keep your righteous mind.

FUGELSANG: Daniel, I'm already inspired just from that.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's an inspiring movie and the best part about it is that it's inspiring without being modeling. This could fit very easily into a sort of subgenre of movies that, you know, tell inspiring stories of oppressed people overcoming odds and there's a lot of…

FUGELSANG: PG(ph) historical drama.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

FUGELSANG: Yeah.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Based on a true story type of things that would be very weepy. This is not that. Denzel Washington does a fantastic job in his second directorial effort. He also does a fantastic job playing the professor of these three students. So he's not really the lead, he's, you know, kind of the coach character. But it's one of his best roles. He's probably one of the best actors working today, but he doesn't always get into the best movies. It's almost as if he went out and created a great movie for himself to be in.

This was a big surprise when the Golden Globe - the nominations came out a couple of weeks ago. When this was listed with Best Drama, I think there's a lot of - there wasn't a lot of buzz around it and a lot of people hadn't seen it yet and it sort of fit into that genre we just spoke of. But it's such a great historical context. It talks not only about race in Texas in 1935 but also about anti-Communist mania, economic inequality for blacks and whites, union busting. There's a lot going on in this film that's all brought together very well by Denzel Washington and also Forest Whitaker and three fine young actors.

STEWART: Denzel Washington was here last week which set this floor aflutter. He was sitting in that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: …studio right there and I think people were doing laps so they could get a look at him. He was doing an interview with Terry Gross of FRESH AIR. And something that I get to know about him is I think he studied journalism…

FUGELSANG: Really?

STEWART: …in college at some point. He was in college at Fordham in New York. It was kind of interesting to talk - to hear him talk about researching this movie and that he went about it using some of the skills he learned in college.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's, you know, it's a very well researched movie. The historical aspect of it is fantastic and he knows how to get the perfect amount of dramatic umph out of anything from depicting the lynching to showing, you know, Harvard and all of its academic, you know, splendor.

FUGELSANG: Well, you mentioned that he hasn't always picked the best projects to act in but he does have a lot of guts in what he picks to work on, even a film like "Deja Vu" was pretty much a mind bender and anyone who saw his production of "Julius Caesar" two years ago in New York knows that, you know, he's not afraid to take some risks. You mentioned it's his second film as a director - "Antwone Fisher" was the first. How has his…

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

FUGELSANG: …directing style evolved?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's, you know - it's difficult to say. I think that Denzel is turning into a formidable director. It depends on whether or not he continues to pursue that. It's been several years already since "Antwone Fisher." And I think this film shows that he could, you know, continue to go in that direction and as he ages out of his good looks could be a very serious director.

STEWART: That's not going to happen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: It's not going to happen.

STEWART: That's not going to happen. I just want you to know that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: The aging out of good looks part.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: Well, let me ask you about the film that I am really excited to see, that I've been waiting years for and that is "There Will Be Blood." It's one of the smaller prestige-types films opening this week and it's the new movie from Paul Thomas Anderson. You know him from "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." And it stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an oil prospector in the early 20th century. Those of us who wait years and years for the next D-Day movie, we're very excited about this.

In the film, he moves into a small town in Southern California that he believes sits on top of an ocean of oil and tries to convince the townspeople to sell.

(Soundbite of movie "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. PAUL DANO (Actor): (As Paul Sunday) We have oil here - that's worth something.

Mr. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS (Actor): (As Daniel Plainview) Well, do you have someone who can drill for it? Do you think there's oil here?

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) I know there is.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) But it's very expensive to drill, to get it up and out of ground. Did you ever tried that before?

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) How much is it? Well, our oil sits right up on top of the ground.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I believe that's called seepage, which doesn't necessarily mean there's anything underneath.

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) Why would you give us (unintelligible)?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I don't know.

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) Something you don't know.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) That's right. What would you like Eli?

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) Ten thousand dollars.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) For what?

Mr. DANO: (As Paul Sunday) For my church.

FUGELSANG: That's Paul Dano - he was the mute brother from "Little Miss Sunshine" - playing opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. He also played Catherine Keener's son in Daniel Day-Lewis' last film "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and got a right to thrashing. (Unintelligible) if they loosen that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: So this is a story of American progress in capitalism, Daniel, but it's also about religion, right?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Dano plays an evangelical character who's Daniel Day-Lewis' rival and does a fantastic job of it, you know. For the folks who are only familiar with him from "Little Miss Sunshine" and, you know, not speaking very much, he does a fantastic job in this movie playing the character who is sort of I guess you could say the obverse of the coin of Daniel Day-Lewis. He presents himself one way to the public but is another in his own soul, I guess you could say. And they have a few moments together where, you know, Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the most formidable actor of his generation.

STEWART: Formidable is the right word, I think, right?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. In fact, if anyone who read the profile of him at the Times magazine a couple of weeks ago knows that he scared off the first actor who was cast for this role.

FUGELSANG: For his son or for the role…

Mr. HOLLOWAY: For Paul Dano's character and Dano was brought in, I guess, after the movie had been shooting for a few weeks and was able to go toe to toe with him. And you can see that in the movie. He gives as well as he gets from Daniel Day-Lewis which is about the best thing you can do as an actor.

FUGELSANG: It's something else hearing the voice that Daniel Day-Lewis has developed for this character and I understand he listened incessantly to tapes of John Houston.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: To get that sound. And it sounds just like Chinatown.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's, you know, it's great character. There's a hint of Bill the Butcher from "Gangs of New York" in there but, you know, Bill as messed up as he was had his own sort of moral code and who was willing to die for a cause. This character is - I was in a sort of e-mail war with Jacob when we're talking about these films. He was saying that he sees the character as having some redeeming qualities. I see the character as irredeemable but not in a bad way. It's as if he is being tempted to experience actual human emotion but ends up resisting that temptation.

FUGELSANG: Critics have been rapturous for this film. The word masterpiece has been thrown around. There are those who called it the best film of the century so far.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's a short century.

STEWART: Just seven years.

FUGELSANG: Yeah, you know, but how do you feel about that, Daniel, the critics going overboard yet, or is it the accolades deserved?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Critics love going overboard. I mean, you know, every year something is called - you know, every year five things are called best film of the century.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLLOWAY: It's a good movie. You know, Paul Thomas Anderson is a good director. He's been, you know, he's been off in the wilderness for a while. He was, you know, holding Robert Altman's hand for his own companion.

STEWART: Right.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: And, you know, it's good to see him back. It's good to see him going in different directions and I think it's a great movie. Movie of the century - sure, it's only been seven years. Why not?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: Well, let's talk about one more film. "Persepolis" is an animated film from France based on the series of comic books by Marjane Satrapi about her childhood growing up in Iran during the revolution that deposed the Shah. Here's a short clip.

(Soundbite of movie "Persepolis")

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman): (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

STEWART: I don't even have to look at it to know it just went off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Some titles work really well on radio.

STEWART: Yeah.

FUGELSANG: Well, tell us about the movie's look because this is not just your average high-tech photo real computer animated movie in French about Iran, right?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: No, no. Satrapi - these are based on the graphic novels, two graphic novels that she created about her life - and published in - were met to great acclaim probably, you know, the most acclaimed graphic novel since "Mouse." Inconsequently, they have drawn a lot of comparisons between her and Art Spiegelman. She's known for her very simple style.

I spoke with her a couple of months ago and she says, she's - you know, she lives and she grew up in revolutionary Iran but lives in France now. And she said that, you know, she's regarded in France as a very American-style cartoonist and I think that means that she doesn't have a very (unintelligible) drawing style. This movie takes that not very (unintelligible) drawing style and kicks it up a little bit. You know, Satrapi's drawing almost suffers a little bit in the graphic novel. She's a much better writer than she is an illustrator. But she worked with a co-director here. And it's in black and white with lots of gray tones, very minimalist visual style and it's not "Ratatouille." It is absolutely not "Ratatouille."

(Soundbite of laughter)

FUGELSANG: Well, how's the storytelling?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: The storytelling is good. It gets a little strange because you're watching Iranian characters speak French and then reading English subtitles. And then at one point, she goes to Vienna and she's going to a French school in Vienna and you're still in - people are speaking French and you're reading American subtitles but it's fantastic. It tells a very cleanly for people who aren't so familiar the story of the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic and the war with Iraq and the effect that that had on people living in Tehran and, you know, the effects that being in exile can have on one's own person.

FUGELSANG: And they are bringing out a version later on in 2008 dubbed into English?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Sure. Why not?

FUGELSANG: (Unintelligible) American stars.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: I heard that too.

STEWART: Yes, we heard - I heard that on NPR so it must be true.

FUGELSANG: Well, at least there's a good reason to catch it now and then see it again later on dubbed into American.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Absolutely. And for people who get mad when you see white subtitles on the screen and then like somebody walks by in a white shirt, they put a drop shadow on the subtitles which I'm very happy to see.

FUGELSANG: That's a relief. That's good to know.

STEWART: So Daniel, you see movies for a living.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: True.

STEWART: And it's the end of the year…

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: …is there a movie or two that you would have gone to see even if they didn't pay you to go see movies?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Oh, yeah. "There Will Be Blood" is one of them.

STEWART: Okay.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: The other one's I would have to say, oh, we just had a work, we had to do our top five list and, you know, I was getting mad at everybody for not agreeing with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLLOWAY: But, I would…

FUGELSANG: (Unintelligible).

Mr. HOLLOWAY: I would…

STEWART: Let's hear about it in Dan's world.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Let's see, I would say "There Will Be Blood."

STEWART: Okay.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: "I'm Not There," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," and…

STEWART: Wait - "I'm Not There" is the Bob Dylan movie.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: The Bob Dylan movie by Todd Haynes.

STEWART: Bob's will do.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Which I would probably say, it's, you know, that or I'm not…

FUGELSANG: It's a great movie about Todd Haynes.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah. It's a great movie about Todd Haynes. It's a great movie about all these fictional characters that none of which actually are Bob Dylan. I think the Dylan-ness of this movie gets a little overplayed. This is great movie even if you don't like Bob Dylan.

FUGELSANG: It's actually better if you're not a Dylan fan.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah, I think so because you're not bringing all of your baggage and expectations through. I'm not a Dylan fan, so I…

FUGELSANG: See, I'm a fanatic and it was fun to watch all the visual references to the Dylan songs throughout the film and to pick up on which of the characters are based on direct parts of his life and the music is great.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah, the music is fantastic. I think it was, to me, not being a Dylan fan, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the music in the context of the movie. But I mean I just I thought not being a Dylan fan, I thought it was one of my two favorite movies of the year.

STEWART: "Diving Bell" which is…

Mr. HOLLOWAY: The other one being "The Diving Bell" which we talked about a few weeks ago.

FUGELSANG: Julian Schnabel.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Julian Schnabel film with - about Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the former editor of French Elle magazine and ended up suffering a stroke, I believe, and living with this terrible syndrome that doctors call Locked-In syndrome where he could basically only blink one eye.

STEWART: And the movie is just perspective through his eyes.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Yeah, the first half of the movie is shot, like, from the perspective of his one eyeball.

STEWART: We just have 30 seconds left - what are your last two in your top five.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: "Knocked Up."

STEWART: Okay.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: And I am totally blanking right now.

STEWART: "Superbad" - I'll just fill it up for you.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: "Superbad." Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That's my…

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Let's go with "Superbad."

STEWART: …best anyway.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: "Enchanted."

STEWART: Daniel Holloway, we loved having you in '07. Will you come back in '08?

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Absolutely. Love being here.

STEWART: All right. Daniel Holloway.

FUGELSANG: Daniel Holloway is the movie critic for the free paper Metro and thank you for your help.

Mr. HOLLOWAY: Thank you, guys.

STEWART: That does it for this hour of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. I'm Alison Stewart along with John Fugelsang. Here we are courtesy of NPR News. Join us online as well.

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