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New critics are old souls

January 01, 2008|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

The sparks fly just as much in real life, as I learned when I visited Semple's home to watch the duo tape a review of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," an imaginary exploration of the life of Bob Dylan. Heather Finnegan, a young documentary filmmaker, films the discussion with two video cameras, then edits it to a five-minute YouTube clip. Before the taping began, we sat in Semple's living room, listening to Nasatir recount a recent trip to China where she'd filmed a cameo in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."

"I'm an old Russian expatriate princess who got stuck in Shanghai," she reports. "All I say is 'Nastrovya!' I got the job because I know [director] Rob Cohen."

"She put him in the business," Semple says with a laugh. "Marcia let him steal Mike Medavoy's Rolodex."

"I got Rob his first apartment," says Nasatir.

"And now, 35 years later, you got a part," says Semple. "It took a long time for the payoff."

Nasatir spent a considerable time in the hair and makeup trailer. "That's where you hear all the good gossip. If there's a romance going on or if anyone's had Botox, they know it all." She met "Mummy" stars Brendan Fraser ("He was so sweet") and Maria Bello, who she says "was lovely -- she's from a real working-class family in Philadelphia."

"That's one of my biggest failings in my career," Nasatir adds. "I wasn't working class. We had live-in help. I wasn't hungry enough." Semple cackles. "Not hungry enough?" he says. "You're a piranha!"

They both clearly love movies, but Nasatir believes they matter more than Semple does. "You like message movies," Semple tells her. "It's exactly what I don't like about your politics. You want to fix everything." Nasatir objects: "That's not so. I just don't want people to lie to themselves."

Semple believes movies have little influence on social issues. "No one's vote has ever been changed by a movie," he says. "That's why all the Iraq war movies failed. People who were against the war already knew it and people who supported the war didn't want to see them. Movies are immediate. No screenwriter has ever been discovered after their death the way painters or novelists have been. If you don't like a movie right away, it's no good."

If it weren't for Semple's cane and Nasatir's gray hair, you'd completely forget you're hanging out with an older generation. Nasatir is especially dispirited by Hollywood's attitude about aging. "They're scared to death to make movies with old people in them. It's why every actress feels that once they turn 40 they have to get a face-lift."

Semple says he is perfectly happy embracing whatever new comes along -- he has two iPods and spends hours surfing the Internet each day. A supporter of the writers strike, he rented a wheelchair to attend a recent rally, having his daughter, Maria Semple, a TV writer, push him around, half for convenience, half as a gag. "I thought it would be good PR to have two generations out there on the line," he says.

Nasatir hopes people who watch Reel Geezers will gain an added respect for their elders. Semple isn't so sure.

"It's just entertainment," he says. "What I think people really want is for Marcia to reach over and hit me with her handbag, except she doesn't carry a handbag."

"The Big Picture" runs Tuesdays in Calendar. Questions or criticism can be e-mailed to

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