Monthly Archives: February 2012

Let Us Now Praise: ‘Wanderlust’ Filmmaker David Wain

February 29, 2012
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Filmmaker David Wain directs Jennifer Aniston in his comedy 'Wanderlust'

One of my favorite books, from one of my most favorite writers, is James Agee’s 1941 collaboration with photographer Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Here’s my creative stretch. Agee’s book about Alabama sharecroppers, a community of hardworking but mostly forgotten people, reminds me of the supporting players, up-and-comers, undiscovered artists and talented crewmembers working in the shadows of the celebrities around them. Really. That’s why I call this column Let Us Now Praise and why I’m putting the spotlight on the comic filmmaker, artist and son of Shaker Heights, Ohio, David Wain.

People think of the current Universal Pictures comedy Wanderlust as a Jennifer Aniston comedy simply because she’s the only celebrity in the movie. Perhaps, if they’re feeling generous they refer to Wanderlust as a Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd comedy since they co-star as George (Rudd) and his wife Linda (Aniston) who leave their cherished West Village micro-loft and Manhattan lifestyle after George loses his job. The luxury goods-fixated couple end up in a hippy commune in rural Georgia named Elysium with ample drugs and free love. That’s when the fish-out-of-water laughs start.

Aniston enjoys some hilarious moments as a struggling documentary filmmaker who just can’t find the right creative job. A disastrous pitch of her film about penguins with cancer to HBO execs is one of the funniest bits Aniston has done in a long time.

Paul Rudd is even funnier as George, a materialistic, career climber unsure if he can adjust to Elysium’s hippy ways, well, except for the free love.

Far away from Aniston’s cutoff shorts (nice) and Rudd’s butchered rendition of the Spin Doctors’ ‘90s classic Two Princes (nicer) lie the film’s biggest strengths, the oddball script by Wain and longtime collaborator Ken Marino and Wain’s subversive storytelling.

A desperate couple dropping out of society is a tried-and-true comic premise but Wain boosts Wanderlust with bursts of zaniness familiar to his small group of devoted fans.

A look at Wain’s filmography — the web series Wainy Days, his independent films The Ten, Wet Hot American Summer, his TV series The State, Stella and Children’s Hospital and his previous studio comedy Role Models — raises this key question: Why isn’t Wain as successful as fellow comedy director and his Wanderlust producer Judd Apatow?

Perhaps Wain is just too insane for mainstream audiences. The best bits about Wanderlust, a nudist winemaker who’s also an aspiring author; a hippy mother that refuses to cut the umbilical cord from her newborn baby, George’s obnoxious brother and his suburban, McMansion lifestyle, are far more surreal than anything seen in an Apatow comedy.

Sure, the Hangover boys are far raunchier but Wain gives sax gags a unique and surreal spin unlike other studio comedies. Maybe that’s why audience response is modest so far for Wanderlust. That’s ok, just more David Wain for the rest of us lovers of the whacky.

The Morning Feed: Wang Shu Receives 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize

February 28, 2012
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Chinese architect Wang Shu is the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, announced today that Chinese architect Wang Shu, known for using salvaged materials in many of his buildings, is the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner.

Wang became the first Chinese citizen to win the Pritzker prize and at age 48, the fourth youngest architect to win the prestigious prize.

“The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury, represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” Pritzker said in a release. “In addition, over the coming decades China’s success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world. This urbanization, like urbanization around the world, needs ot be in harmony with local needs and culture. China’s unprecedented opportunities for urban planning and design will want to be in harmony with both its long and unique traditions of the past and its future needs for sustainable development.”

Wang; an alumnus of the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, co-founded the Amateur Architecture Studio with his wife Lu Wenyu and became the first Chinese architect to hold the position of Kenzo Tange Visiting Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Recognized for numerous works including the Library of Wenzheng College at Suzhou University and Nigbo Contemporary Art Museum and Ningbo History Museum, Wang joined celebrated architects Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas among many others as a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

The Hyatt Foundation scheduled the formal ceremony to present Wang with the prise for Beijing on May 25.

Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius’ Roaring Twenties Hollywood drama The Artist, the sentimental tale of a Hollywood leading man (Jean Dujardin) whose career plummets upon the arrival of talking pictures, was the big winner at the 84th Academy Awards Sunday night winning multiple Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Jean Dujardin.

Director/co-writer Robert Olsen and co-writer Dan Berk delivered the first playful poke at the Oscar phenomenon via their comic shot The Artist’s Intervention, starring Royal Pains co-star Paulo Costanzo as a fanatical fan of The Artist who turns black-and-white and starts communicating via title cards.

Olsen and Berk stayed true to all trappings of The Artist including a jazzy score, a cute dog, plenty of tap dancing and Costanzo hilariously recreating the film’s trademark coatrack scene.

The CW answered longtime Sex and the City fans wondering who they would cast to play a teen Carrie Bradshaw for its pilot based on Candace Bushnell‘s two Carrie Bradshaw books, The Carrie Diaries, and Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel, telling the story of Bradshaw as a high school girl coming to New York City for the first time.

AnnaSophia Robb, of Charlie and the Chocolate Family, Bridge to Terabithia and Race to Witch Mountain, joined the series as the teenage Carrie Bradshaw and took on the task of proving to a devoted mob of fans that she can pull of being a young version of Sarah Jessica Parker.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Miguel Arteta signed on to direct the ’80s-set comedy with Amy B. Harris writing the pilot and as well as executive producing alongside Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein and Bushnell.

Of course, the success of the show already fell firmly on Robb’s shoulders.

The Morning Feed: The Dictator Crashes Oscars, while ‘The Artist’ Wins Top Prizes

February 27, 2012
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'The Artist' wins the key prizes including Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards Ceremony.

Monday morning pundits, myself included, point to Sacha Baron Cohen’s red carpet appearance as Admiral General Aladeen, his character from his upcoming comedy The Dictator, as the main highlight of the 84th Academy Awards Ceremony last night in Hollywood. It’s hard to imagine Oscars host Billy Crystal or any of the winners besting Baron Cohen dumping the “reported” ashes of former North Korea dictator Kim Jong Il all over E! host Ryan Seacrest. Still, what’s surprising is just how poorly Crystal performed for his ninth time as host of the Academy Awards telecast and the complete lack of Oscar surprises as the art-house favorite The Artist won key prizes including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role. Want to know the biggest Oscars surprise of the evening? The growing chatter on Twitter that 2011 co-host James Franco wasn’t so bad after all.

 World Book Day is March 1 — any special plans? — and the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England is celebrating by displaying for one day a recently discovered portrait of Jane Austen.

In addition to the pencil drawing of Austen, The Guardian reports that a piece of needlework stitched by the beloved author as a young girl; will also be on display. The sampler, believed to be from 1787, is on loan from a private collector.

The Sundance Institute continued to work on programming for its first ever London edition of the popular independent film fest to take place April 26-29, 2012 at The O2 as a four-day event with an emphasis on American independent film and independent music.

Musician and actor Tricky announced that he would reunite with vocalist and musician Martina Topley-Bird for a April 27 performance of his debut album Maxinquaye in its entirety.

“It is an honor to play the first Sundance London,” Tricky said in a release. “To me, Sundance is like the opportunity Island and Chris Blackwell gave me; a chance for an artist to make their art without compromise for commercial reasons.”

Earlier, Sundance founder Robert Redford announced plans to join musician and songwriter T Bone Burnett for an opening-night dialogue about the role of music in film narrative.

“Time will tell how it works but we’re coming in very small,” Redford said at the time of the initial Sundance London announcement. “I’ve wanted to come to London for a long time and it was a question of how and when. It could only happen if there was someone who wanted us.”

The Morning Feed: Skrillex, Red Hot Chili Peppers Lead Bonnaroo 2012 Lineup

February 15, 2012
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2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival announces its musical lineup.

After a brief digital tease with a false report streaking across social networks, the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival celebrated St. Valentine’s Day by announcing its musical artist lineup for the 11th trip to Manchester, Tennessee June 7-19.

Headliners included 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Red Hot Chili Peppers, fresh from their Grammy performances The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson and Skrillex as well as other artists including Radiohead, Phish, Bon Iver, Foster The People and The Civil Wars.

Bonnaroo also announced that tickets for the 2012 festival go on sale Saturday Feb. 18; something like a late Valentine’s Day present for those who messed up yesterday and bought their lover funny socks.

IDW Publishing made sci-fi fans ecstatic today with their announcement of their eight-issue comic book miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 with Jean-Luc Picard and his Next Generation Enterprise crew meeting up with the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions Amy Pond and her husband Rory.

“By joining these two sci-fi powerhouses, fans will be taken on the ultimate adventure through time and space,” said Liz Kalodner, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Consumer Products, in the release.

IDW scheduled the series to start May with writers Scott and David Tipton collaborating with Doctor Who comics writer Tony Lee and J.K. Woodward providing artwork.

IDW also teased fans by revealing the villains of the miniseries: Star Trek’s Borg and Doctor Who’s Cybermen.

The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week continued with its non-stop party of models, fashion editors, up-and-coming stylists and bloggers; wrapping tomorrow with shows by American heavyweights Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

In addition to the Tilda Swinton sightings and the fun fact of few attendees wearing coats despite the cold weather, the ever-popular Manila-based blooger Bryan Boy posted on today’s fall/winter 2012 Michael Kors fashion show offering a front-row perspective to fashion fans far and wide.

The Morning Feed: Grammys Remember Whitney Houston; ‘The Artist’ Cleans Up at Baftas

February 13, 2012
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British singer Adele tied the record for most Grammy wins by solo female artist with six awards.

Celebrity culture and the public’s fascination with awards shows collided this weekend with Saturday’s death of six-time Grammy winner Whitney Houston casting a mournful mood over the the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.

Granted, much of the Grammy Awards was the same with music stars like Rihanna wowing the Red Carpet press at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles with her custom Giorgio Armani gown and Nicki Minaj – fresh from accompanying Madonna at her Super Bowl Half-Time show — flashing a Red Riding Hood-inspired gown by Donatella Versace.

But Grammys host LL Cool J placed the night’s razzle-dazzle in perspective when he offered a prayer to the late Houston.

“There is no way around this, we’ve had a death in our family,” LL Cool J said.

Jennifer Hudson sang Houston’s best-known song “I Will Always Love You” as a last-minute tribute and other artists like Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt dedicated their performances to Houston.

Other highlights included Brian Wilson appearing with the Beach Boys for the first time in years for a performance of “Good Vibrations,” a tribute to Country legend Glen Campbell and British vocalist Adele sang “Rolling in the Deep” for her first public performance since vocal cord surgery.

Adele led all Grammy Winners by winning  all the awards from her six nominations including song and record of the year; tying Beyoncé for most wins by a sole female artist in one year.

Foo Fighters won five Grammys including best rock album and Kanye West won best rap album and best rap performance for “Otis.”

The best news for the Recording Academy was the overnight ratings of 40 million viewers for the Grammy Awards; its largest TV audience since 1984.

Across the pond in London were the 65th British Academy Film Awards (Baftas) and The Artist, the black-and-white, silent film set in the early days of Hollywood, was the big winner with Baftas for best actor (Jean Dujardin), best director (Michel Hazanavicius), best film, best original screenplay and best score (Ludovic Bource).

Meryl Streep won the best actress Bafta for her performance of former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners) won for supporting actress and actor.

Thanks to the Baftas, The Artist officially became the runaway favorite to clean up at the Oscars and Guardian film editor Catherine Shoard called The Artist  ”the rottweiler of the awards season;” meaning the film devouring all the prizes in its path.

Far away from red carpets and awards statues, the acclaimed AMC series The Walking Dead returned for its midseason premiere picking up from the last episode prior to its winter break with Rick (Andrew Lincoln), the former small town sheriff and leader of the ragtag group of human survivors, killing the undead girl named Sophia, a missing member of his group who became part of a group of zombies secretly held in the barn of their elderly host (Scott Wilson) named Hershel.

Fans lit up the Twitterverse discussing the lack of the series’ trademark gore in Episode 208 “Nebraska” except for a brief scene of a zombie arm falling off a pickup truck.

In the place of zombie splatter was tense human drama, emotional performances and riveting suspense. Perhaps, last night, The Walking Dead proved there’s more to great horror storytelling than bloody effects.