Thursday, January 3, 2013


Travis Fine's Any Day Now is a well-intentioned, 1970s period piece exploring a gay couple's fight to retain custody of a child with special needs.  Based on a true story, the film's aims are regrettably matched with an overly melodramatic, tin-eared script that isn't up to the task of breathing life into a scenario that really shouldn't require any punching up at all.  It's a film that never surprises, always embracing the safest, most oft-trod path to describing its characters and their conflict.  To make matters worse, actors Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt pour just about everything they've got into the portrayal of their characters.  Their efforts do rescue several scenes from the bland, go-nowhere tendencies of the script, but it's not enough to combat Fine's worst impulses, which continually drag the piece through one tired cliché after another.

Cumming plays Rudy.  He's living in a squalid, dump of an apartment building, barely making ends meet and putting up with the loud parties of the junkie (Jamie Anne Allman) who lives next door.  When Rudy discovers that his neighbor has left her young son, Marco (Isaac Leyva), without adult supervision, he tries to comfort the boy.  When he finds out that she's been arrested, he decides to take in this discarded child with Down Syndrome.  Somewhere in between all this, Rudy and Paul (Dillahunt) meet at the bar where Rudy performs as a lip-syncing drag queen.  Their attraction is immediate and they act on it.  And, whad'ya know, Rudy soon pulls Paul, who works as a lawyer in the district attorney's office, into his attempts to hang on to Marco.

I know what you're thinking.  All of this sounds compelling enough, but the film often feels like its trying to fulfill the time requirement to qualify as feature length.  It's only 97 minutes long, but, if you took out all the filler (like the parts about Rudy's desire to be a real singer, or Paul's struggle to remain in the closet at work), it might only clock in at barely over an hour.  Still, a more streamlined film that kept its focus on the couple's fight to retain custody in the face of rampant prejudice would have been a far more successful film, narrative-wise (witness the similarly-themed accomplishment that was last year's In the Family).  What we have here instead is a sad story relayed in a manner that is always sure to indicate when we're supposed to feel sad; cue melancholic music.  The cast and story deserved far better.

Any Day Now begins its run at Living Room Theaters on Friday, January 4th.  More info available here.

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This coming Friday night, the Northwest Film Center begins their month-long cinema party for the newest centenarian on the block, Universal Pictures.  What that celebration translates to is the return of 17 films dating from between 1916 (Lois Weber & Phillips Smalley's rarely screened silent Where are My Children?) and 1989 (Spike Lee's career-best Do the Right Thing).

There's a whole lot of good running throughout the schedule, but, if I could only pick a few to see, I wouldn't miss Douglas Sirk's 1954 melodrama Magnificent Obsession, Erich von Stroheim's 1919 silent Blind Husbands, or Anthony Mann's 1950 western Winchester '73.  And, of course, you can never go wrong with Jaws or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here's a blurb pertaining to the series from the UCLA Film and Television Archive that I swiped off the Film Center's site:

“The Universal Film Manufacturing Company incorporated in 1912, the result of a merger between a number of independent companies that had been battling Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Trust. Universal would go on to become the oldest continuously operating film producer and distributor in the United States. In an industry defined by change, Universal’s spinning globe logo has remained, along with its back lot and tour in Universal City, Calif. 

From its beginning under Carl Laemmle, there existed a tension between Universal’s need to produce low-budget ‘programmers’ and the ‘major minor’s’ desire to compete alongside better-capitalized studios—with their national theater chains—on the level of big-budget A pictures. Ironically, while several of Universal’s early ‘prestige’ titles are beloved classics today, including ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), it remains the B pictures, including its iconic 1930s horror cycle (FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE MUMMY), that epitomize its contribution to film art and commerce. This irony informs Universal’s post-war emergence as a global entertainment power. After anti-trust actions leveled the playing field in the 1940s, Universal moved into the A-list with superlative mass entertainment that ennobled populist genres, including westerns (WINCHESTER ’73), thrillers (THE BIRDS), and sex farces (PILLOW TALK). Universal also innovated new industry practices, pioneering the ‘percentage deal’ and embracing television production. 

 It changed the game again with JAWS (1975), which established the ‘blockbuster’ formula that still dominates the industry today. Throughout its history, Universal has translated economic necessity into a uniquely American challenge to the distinctions between prestigious and popular entertainment.”

And here's an awesome video clip featuring all the various permutations of the Universal Pictures logo over the years:

 Now on to the trailers!!!

The Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years series begins at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, January 4th at 7pm.  More info available here.


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Cinema 21 extends their ongoing winning streak of retrospective 35mm programming with a series of five of Woody Allen's most loved films.  Entitled Yes, We Have No Bananas: Five Films By Woody Allen, their Woody mini-fest covers the basics for fans and newbies alike, gathering together his two unassailable masterpieces of the late 70s (Best Picture winner Annie Hall and the b&w beauty that is Manhattan), a pair of his best films of the 80s (Crimes and Misdemeanors & Hannah and Her Sisters), and a charmingly sturdy cult fave (The Purple Rose of Cairo) whose reputation has only grown with time.

While the title of the series singles out the absence of Allen's 1971 screwball film Bananas, I'm completely fine without it (sure, it's really funny, but I've always had a strong preference for Sleeper over any of the other films Allen made during his early, visual gag-oriented period).  Plus, it's hard to quibble over what's not there when looking at what is actually present in the line up.  Woody may have become notoriously hit or miss over the past couple of decades, but here's a chance to revisit a time when he was all hit and no miss.

Yes, We Have No Bananas: 5 Films by Woody Allen begins on Friday, January 4th.  More info available here.

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