Cinema Retro was invited to the special preview screening
of the new documentary film My Generation, which is to be screened with a
Q&A with narrator Sir Michael Caine in selected cinemas throughout the UK on
March 14th 2018.
Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Harry Palmer, Jack
Carter, Charlie Croker and simply Alfie: these key names in British cinemaall have one thing in common- they all share
the iconic characteristics of one man and, bar Carter, all come from the latter
part of the era that defined him as one of the
“Faces” of the 60s, Sir Michael Caine. From A-Z, Alfie to Zulu, this is an
actor whose roles literally cover all the bases when it comes to memorable 60s cinema,
although, as Caine himself points out, “The 60s didn’t really end till 1971” so
that being the release date of Get Carter, we’ll happily include it in that
iconic “role call”.
There’s no better star to take us through a
documentary of what made the 60s the 60s than Caine. This is the era that
defined him and he knows all the other people who could easily have fronted
such an undertaking, many of whom feature in revealing conversations with the
once Maurice Micklewhite. Incidentally, he famously changed his name to Caine
after speaking to his agent from a phone box in Piccadilly and when asked for a
stage name, saw a sign for The Caine Mutiny starring his favourite actor Humphrey
Bogart and the rest is history- just like the documentary itself. “It’s a good
job I didn’t look up the other way” he says “As I don’t think Michael 101
Dalmatians has the same ring to it”.
The colleagues and friends I referred to whose
stories bring many of the still photographs of the time to life include David
Bailey, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Roger Daltrey, Sandi Shaw, Donovan,
Penelope Tree and Terry O’Neill to name just a few. The title of the film, once
vocalized so memorably by Daltrey when he fronted The Who, now takes on a
greater meaning; one of reflection rather than the youthful disdain it once did
when Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old”. The lyric took on a different
meaning to me after seeing this documentary. I’d always wondered if its writer,
Pete Townshend, had ever regretted singing it so often, especially when he got
into his sixties, but now I see it very differently. The fact that the talking
heads aren’t seen as they are now in 2018 but simply vocalize images of their
younger selves is a master stroke by director David Batty. The wiser words of
hindsight of those featured stars, looking back at themselves as well as the
era as a whole, gives the piece genuine pathos. What I gleaned from this is
that fact that they may have aged but none of them really did get old. There’s
still a fire and a sense of amusement as they divulge their stories over the
footage of their younger selves. They now look upon this time and its seismic
changes with the same wonder and disbelief as the viewer does in 2018. As Caine
himself re iterates “The 60s was and is a mindset, not just a number”.
Michael Caine was and is the face of 1996
rather than just 1966 to me. This is because he was seen by this next
generation of “lads” as the ultimate symbol of Cool Britannia, the granddaddy
of hip. His face adorned just as many magazines as it had 30 years earlier and
the reason for that is that these pictures, like the decade they were taken
from, were seen as iconic; the time when Britain was the epicenter of fashion,
film and music. Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls in those Cool
Britannia days, kept pushing the idea of this documentary film to Caine. It
took three years to complete due to Caine’s still incredibly busy acting
There were so many fine films released last year that it's difficult to call any clear cut favorite for the Oscars. Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" seems to have the momentum, but one should not underestimate "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri", a British film that perfectly captures the look and feel of a small town American community. Like Guillermo's movie, "Billboards" presents a superlative role for a mature actress, this time in the form of Frances McDormand, who gives the performance of her career as Mildred, a no-nonsense independent woman who has recently divorced her philandering husband, who is carrying on with an air-headed beauty young enough to be his daughter. Mildred is trying to juggle her threadbare financial existence by working in a charity shop and scrounging to put food on the table for her teenage son. However, she is obsessed with a family tragedy that permeates every moment of her day. We learn that she had another teenage child, a daughter, who was killed seven months ago when she was accosted on a remote road, raped and horribly murdered. When we first meet Mildred, she is all-to-apparently carrying the weight of that incident on her broad shoulders and she is obsessed with finding her daughter's killer. She's fed up with what she feels is lack of progress on the part of local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who she suspects has let the case go cold. Willoughby maintains he and his small department are doing all they can but there are few clues to follow up on. Mildred decides to take drastic, if unorthodox, action by renting out three billboards that sit abandoned on a road rarely traveled by locals since a highway rendered it superfluous. She puts up insulting messages to the chief in the hope it might shame him into being more assertive in solving the case. The tactic unleashes a backlash of bad will in her direction. Willoughby is a popular figure in the town and any sympathy Mildred's tragic situation has elicited from her neighbors vanishes overnight. She becomes the object of everyone's anger and she can find solace only among a couple of loyal friends. Her main antagonist is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), one of Willoughby's deputies. He's an uncouth hard ass who is determined to defend the department's honor by taking on Mildred personally through harassment and insults. The end result is to bring the simmering tensions to a boil in a spectacular, if misguided, act of violence on the part of Mildred.
I don't want to divulge too much more about the plot because the main strength of writer/director Martin McDonagh's screenplay is its sheer unpredictability. Every time you think you know where the plot is heading, McDonagh takes you in a different direction. Friends become enemies, enemies become allies. McDormand is a cinematic force of nature in the leading role. She's not entirely sympathetic, as she uses her barbed-wire wit to attack friend and foe alike. We later learn there is an additional emotional burden on her that can never be resolved: she feels a sense of personal responsibility for her daughter's fate. Refreshingly, the three main characters are not presented as stereotypes. If Mildred is the protagonist we are rooting for, she is also a flawed human being who seems at times to be devoid of any feeling of rapprochement even when Willoughby offers her every imaginable olive branch. He's a decent man with his own family and he's also carrying his own secret burden. Dixon, however, is initially presented as a bumbling Deputy Barney Fife-like character but with a sadistic streak. The interactions between these characters make for some fascinating scenarios that are brought to life by three actors who give the performances of their careers. (McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell are all up for Oscars.) The film is also peppered with some truly remarkable performances by a supporting cast that seems cherry-picked to perfection. Among them is Peter Dinklage, who provides some much-needed humanity and gentleness.
I don't know how Three Billboards will fare at the Oscars, but it's my choice for Best Picture. Martin McDonagh has provided us with a highly original and compelling work (and it has a great soundtrack, too).
The year 2017 was a particularly gratifying one in terms of watching a virtual tidal wave of impressive young talent emerge both on screen and behind the cameras. It was also a year in which the major studios finally afforded a good number of talented females plum leading roles. The one constant, however, is that while the major studios became even more obsessed with tentpole franchise films based on comic book characters, it fell to the smaller, more creative independent films to remind us of just how wondrous cinema can still be. Case in point: "Lady Bird", which has received numerous major Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. If you think the movie is the biography of President Lyndon Johnson's wife, known affectionately by one and all as "Lady Bird", you're in for a rude awakening. The film marks the directorial debut of 34 year-old actress/writer Greta Gerwig, and she has come through with flying colors. The film is a bittersweet comedy/drama set in the early 2000s and centering on Christina McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a senior in a Catholic high school who dreams of grand achievements that include leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California and heading east to the Big Apple where she wants to attend college and begin making her mark on society. She is fiercely independent, self-confidant (a bit too self-confidant), highly intelligent and in possession of a sarcastic wit that all too often strays into the realm of outright cynicism. So desperate is Christina to establish her own unique identity that she insists upon being called "Lady Bird", although the name doesn't seem to have any significant meaning beyond Christina thinking it has some sort of profound impact.
When we first meet Lady Bird, she is grappling with the challenges that senior year presents to most kids her age. She is eager to move into adulthood but not quite as well-equipped to do so as she might imagine. She's likeable, funny but also somewhat narcissistic. She is trying unsuccessfully to cope with the fractious relationship she has with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hardworking nurse who often seems tone deaf to her daughter's dreams and ambitions. At a time when a teenager's quests in life are usually encouraged by their family, Lady Bird gets a daily dose of reality tossed in her face. Her mother eschews her plans to apply to notable universities on the east coast, reminding her that they are literally living on the other side of the tracks from most of Lady Bird's more affluent friends. Indeed, the family is barely clinging to vestiges of the lower middle class. Lady Bird has a hands-off relationship with her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend (Marielle Scott), who was invited to live with the family when she fell on hard times. Both indulge in the goth look that would make them seem at home in the Addams Family mansion. It puts a chasm between them and Lady Bird, who argues often with them and her mother. The only respite or sympathy she finds in the household is from her adoring dad, Larry (wonderfully portrayed by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts). They share a gentle, humorous relationship that masks over the fact that he's got a world of trouble of his own, having just been fired from his job. (In one of the film's most disturbing scenes, the ever-desperate Larry goes on a long-shot job interview only to find himself competing with his own son). However, the core of the film focuses on the mother/daughter relationship and captures it in a way most mothers and daughters can relate to. They are both fundamentally decent people who care for and love each other but neither is particularly open to seeing life from the other's viewpoint. They spend most of their time caught up in emotionally-shattering debates and verbal duels. Lady Bird needs her dreams to be nurtured. Her mom understandably wants some recognition that she is working herself to death just to keep a roof over everyone's heads. At school, Lady Bird finds more frustrations. Her school adviser seems immune to reading her desires for higher education. Her frumpy but sweet girlfriend Jule (a marvelous Beanie Feldstein) is someone who has already thrown in the towel in terms of achieving her life's ambitions. Lady Bird angles for a good role in the senior class stage musical but finds nothing but irritants. She's determined to have sex before she graduates but her hunky first boyfriend turns out to be too good to be true. She latches on to a creepy intellectual (Timothee Chalamet, an Oscar nominee this year for "Call Me By Your Name") and ends up losing her virginity on the basis of his deception.
Greta Gerwig's script and direction are pitch perfect. One assumes the only logical reason that the film is set in the early 2000s is because that's when she attended high school. If that's the inspirational motive for the setting, fine with me. It allows us to revisit the last time period in which people still conversed with one another instead of gazed endlessly into a cell phone. Gerwig also gets a star-making performance from Saoirse Ronan, who won acclaim for her performance in "Brooklyn" a few years ago. However, it is this role at the tender age of 23 that stands to make her a major player in the film industry. She is matched by Laurie Metcalf, who has justifiably snared a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Even the minor roles are wonderful enacted. The film bristles with domestic tensions but ends on a beautiful and poignant note. "Lady Bird" is a film by women and about women, but it's appeal extends to anyone who appreciates great movie making.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Stephen Spielberg directs another winner with "The Post", which covers in spellbinding detail the legal and political intrigue leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Then, as now, the New York Times and the Washington Post were locked in a professional competition, as the two symbols of the gold standard of American newspapers. The film begins with a brief segment set in 1966 in the battle zones of Vietnam as we watch military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) on a Pentagon mission to personally evaluate how the war is unfolding on the ground. Ellsberg is reporting to President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The U.S. military presence which began modestly under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy has been ratcheted up to new heights, with LBJ's administration pouring increasing numbers of troops and resources into beleaguered South Vietnam to thwart the invasion from the communist north. Ellsberg shares his findings with McNamara and they are not encouraging. He sees the U.S effort as stymied and incurring increasing costs in blood and treasure with only incremental, temporary gains on the battlefield. McNamara informs Ellsberg that he shares his conclusions but continues to assure the American public that things are going swimmingly and that victory is inevitable. Disillusioned, Ellsberg continues his services to the Pentagon while stateside and contributes to the massive study of the war that ultimately became known as the Pentagon Papers. He concluded that while the Johnson administration concurred the best America could hope for was a costly stalemate in Vietnam, the American public would continue to be mislead by the president and his key military personnel. Ultimately, Ellsberg- at great personal legal risk to himself- managed to photocopy the massive report and leak it to the New York Times, which began printing key aspects of the papers. The publication became an international sensation but the Times was served with an injunction by a judge to cease publication while the courts considered whether further aspects of the papers could be suppressed due to the fact that they were considered Top Secret documents by the Nixon administration.
With the Times fighting the administration in court, Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) senses an opportunity to capitalize on his rivals' court-imposed inertia. The Post's assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) suspects the leaker was Ellsberg, an old acquaintance. He gets Ellsberg to photocopy the papers he had originally given to the Times and turn them over to the Post- but this puts in play a legal and ethical dilemma. The Post is owned and run by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), a Washington socialite and heiress who inherited the newspaper from her revered late husband. The unspoken feeling among even her staffers is that a woman is not fully capable of running such a business. Indeed, the Post is facing financial hardships and Graham makes the difficult decision to raise capital by selling shares in the company. Bradlee imposes on her to take the moral initiative and allow the Post to print excerpts from the Pentagon Papers while the Times is precluded from doing so. The brilliant script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer follows in painstaking detail the risks that Graham had to evaluate by doing so. The threat of inevitable legal action by the Nixon administration to keep the Papers suppressed might scare away investors and lead the Post into insolvency. Against this is Bradlee's compelling argument that a free press must reveal the lies that the American people have continued to be told by the current president and his military brass. (Note: although Nixon wasn't president when the Pentagon Papers were completed, he had good reason to keep them under wraps because he was continuing to follow the same practices as Johnson's administration and had made a campaign promise that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War when, in fact, he intended to keep escalating it).
Spielberg manages the difficult task of turning "The Post", which is enhanced by a typically fine score by John Williams, into a suspense-packed Cold War thriller despite the fact that we already know the outcome. It's no small feat and he's enabled by superb performances by Hanks and Streep, who plays Graham as a woman on the razor's edge of landmark historical decision. Ultimately, she decides to go for broke and defy the president by publishing the Papers in the hope that the Supreme Court will side with the Post on the basis that the American people have a right to know when they are being lied to by their elected officials. Nixon is only seen as distant figure through the White House windows but his presence looms large over the drama. When Graham finally gives permission to get the presses rolling with the story, it's the kind of rousing scene that draws cheers from audiences. Nixon would survive this scandal and go on to win a massive re-election victory the following year, but the publication of the Papers forced him to ultimately sue for peace and begin withdrawing American troops. Ironically, he would lock horns with the Post once again when the Watergate scandal unraveled in its pages- and lead to his political demise. It's all hinted at in the film's poignant epilogue.
At a time when the bastion of America's democracy- its free press- is once again under intense attack by politicians who may have a lot to hide, Spielberg's big wet kiss to the nation's "fourth estate" comes as a welcome reminder that real heroes aren't confined to battlefields but also can be found in the mundane settings of newsrooms.
"The Post" has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress (Meryl Streep).
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water illustrates just how far the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has evolved when it comes to recognizing major achievements in film genres that were once generally ignored when it came to Oscar recognition. The once-gentrified Academy would occasionally bow to popular sentiments and nominate blockbusters like The Exorcist, Jaws and The Exorcist for major awards but no one ever truly expected them to win. More often than not, horror and sci-fi-oriented movies were generally recognized in the categories of special effects to the exclusion of recognition for picture, director, screenplay, etc. As a new generation that was weaned on the artistic merits of these genres came of age, the Academy began to reflect their values and at last the artists who created great works in these areas were afforded attention. The Shape of Water is a cinematic oddity that is admittedly an acquired taste, so it speaks well for the Academy that del Toro has been nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay (with Victoria Taylor) as well as Best Picture.
If you haven't seen it, do so, because the greatest asset of the movie is that you never know in what direction the script will veer. The film is set in the early 1960s with Sally Hawkins as the protagonist, Elisa, a cleaning lady who is employed at a top secret government facility that is dedicated to Cold War espionage research. Elisa lives a lonely existence and she is suffering from a severe handicap: she is a mute. She shares a modest apartment above an old world movie theater with Giles (Richard Jenkins), an aging gay graphic designer and artist who is living on the financial edge, having lost full time employment and trying to subsist on a decreasing number of freelance assignments. He and Elisa are the closest of friends and he acts as combination parental figure and intellectual companion who has learned to communicate with her with ease. Elisa's life takes a dramatic turn when she discovers that government agents have brought an extraordinary find into the facility: a creature that resembles a human in form but which has gills and lives underwater in a river in South America. The creature, which we will refer to as a merman (no, his name isn't Ethel), is being examined and routinely tortured by short-sighted government agents led by Richard Strickland (a mesmerizing Michael Shannon), a mean-spirited who quickly decides the creature has no real value in terms of helping to win the Cold War and advocates having him destroyed. Elisa secretly makes contact with the merman and takes pity on him, sneaking him food and helping to ease his pain. She realizes he is an intelligent creature who has human qualities and vulnerabilities. With his execution imminent, she organizes a daring rescue for the merman, assisted by Giles and her best friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). This unlikely trio of misfits orchestrates the plan in a manner that is both ingenious, amusing and very suspenseful. By now, Elisa is madly in love with the merman and thereby introduces perhaps the first inter-species romance seen in a major film. Call it Creature from the Black Lagoon by way of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I won't divulge much more except to say the performances are truly superb and Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer have all been justifiably nominated for Oscars along with Alexandre Desplat for his impressive score.
There are a few nitpicks I can make, primarily that del Guillermo throws in some superfluous sex scenes. We know Elisa is a lonely soul, but is it necessary to demonstrate that by having scenes of her masturbating in the bathtub? Similarly, a scene of Strickland playing tyrannical husband to his obedient, attractive wife includes an out-of-left-field tidbit in which she plops out one of her breasts, thus leading to a scene in which he makes love to her in a manner that most women would consider to be sexual assault. Not to be a prude, but such gimmickry seems reek of crass commercialism rather than ingredients that add measurably to the story,
The Shape of Water is a moving and genuinely beguiling love story unlike anything the Academy would have considered honoring had it emerged decades ago. It's not for everyone but even those who don't warm to the premise will admire the outstanding performances and production values.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The most over-rated of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees is director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread", a bizarre, off-putting drama that succeeds in presenting unusual characters in offbeat situations. It's a film saturated in atmosphere and intriguing plot scenarios that ultimately never delivers on presenting satisfactory conclusions to any of them. Daniel Day Lewis, in what is his self-described final screen appearance before entering retirement, is Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker who has become a legend in his own time. The House of Woodcock designs top-line dresses for the international jet set as well as royals from around the globe. He prides himself on his obsession with his work and he runs the business with his humorless, equally dedicated sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their design house is run like a military base with discipline and dedication expected of their devoted, if not too happy, employees. The only vices Reynolds allows himself are short-term relationships with women, which he enters into with charm and intensity only to inevitably discard his lover when he tires of her. The film opens with the story's leading female character, Alma (Vicky Krieps) relating in flashbacks how she became the object of Reynolds' desires. He meets her in a small country bed and breakfast where she is working as a nondescript waitress who he finds charming. That evening, he takes her to a lavish dinner and then brings her back to his house where she understandably presumes he will attempt to bed her. Instead, the quirky Reynolds immediately orders her to stand for a fitting in order for him to make her an exquisite dress. More bizarrely, this promising first date is further detoured by the arrival of Cyril who begins to assist in the measurements of the dress, though it's clear she resents the younger, more attractive woman. Why? The implication is that she might have an unhealthy sexual interest in her own brother but, like so many of strands of this "Thread", nothing concrete is ever presented regarding the origins of Reynolds' and Cyril's strange relationship. It's one of several promising story scenarios that are presented in a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible manner, while others are hinted at but dropped altogether. At times it feels as though Anderson simply tore up the last twenty pages of his script during production.
Over their courtship, Reynolds proves to be a charming, highly intelligent beau. Alma is obviously from humble origins but the script fails to tell us anything about her life, background, or even nationality (she speaks with a rather exotic accent that is difficult to pin down). Soon, she moves into Reynolds' apartment building, which doubles as his design studio. She begins to learn the clothing trade from the bottom up, resenting after a while that her status as the boss's lover doesn't get her any perks. She's treated the same as the rest of the obedient staff. Soon, Alma begins to see disturbing personal traits in her lover. He has many eccentricities. He requires complete silence at breakfast while he contemplates his design work The slightest deviation from his standards can result in him erupting in anger. The film traces these outbursts and how Reynolds and Alma alternate between having a fractious and loving relationship. Ultimately, they marry- but that is only the beginning of the psychological agony they will both endure before finding a bizarre scenario that pleases them both, based on the "Munchausen syndrome by proxy" (Google it) that involves a peaceful coexistence established through poisoning by mushrooms. If it sounds weird, the premise seems even weirder when played out on screen.
Throughout most of "Phantom Thread" I was duly impressed by the superb production design (the film is set sometime in the 1950s but doesn't specify exactly when) along with the wonderful classical/original score provided by Johnny Greenwood. Then there are the mesmerizing performances. Lewis is predictably superb but the real find is Vicky Krieps, of whom much more should be heard in the near future. Like Woodcock's design creations, every aspect of the film looks perfect so it's disappointing that director/screenwriter Thomas never allows the plot to come together in a satisfying manner. The key plot point involving mushrooms is a bit wacky and doesn't fit in with the general tone of the movie. It's like having Godzilla appear at the finale of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and there's no getting around the fact that poisoned mushrooms makes this feel like a watered down premise of that seen in "The Beguiled".
There's much to admire in "Phantom Thread" including the lush cinematography (also provided by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson). Anderson enjoys a loyal following among critics and film fans who enjoy the quirkiness of his scripts and direction. Consequently, I wonder if that devotion extends to overlooking the obvious flaws and tangled, unsatisfying aspects of his work, of which there are plenty in "Phantom Thread". This may not be the case of the emperor having no clothes, but at a minimum, he is scantily clad.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There was great trepidation in the film industry about whether director Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" would be able to attract large enough audiences to recoup its considerable production costs. After all, most movie-goers are young people and the most popular kinds of features are superhero epics and gross-out comedies, not historical epics. To the surprise of many, "Dunkirk" did indeed prove to be a major hit, grossing over $500 million worldwide.This proves that the intelligence and taste of younger movie-goers should not be underestimated and also that Nolan himself enjoys the kind of loyal following that few directors can brag about. His name on a film will draw audiences that might be immune from a certain movies if not for his involvement. "Dunkirk" has also won critical acclaim and is nominated for numerous Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It's to Nolan's credit that he sought to bring this story to the screen during an era in which the average person is probably unacquainted with its historical significance, at least outside of Europe. That may be a sad reflection on society but it's all the more reason why Nolan should be commended for bringing the heroic saga to the spotlight.
"Dunkirk" relates the ominous period of time early in WWII when the British sent the bulk of its army as an expeditionary force into France to help stem the German invasion. At the time it was assumed that France had the strongest army in Europe. The recently -constructed heavily fortified Maginot Line was designed to be an impenetrable barrier to the German forces. Hitler decided to outflank the Allies by invading France through the back door in Belgium, plowing his tanks through the seemingly impassable Ardennes Forest, thus completely bypassing the Maginot Line and rendering its heavy artillery useless. The result was a rout for the Alllies and the bulk of the British army, along with French units, found itself trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. German forces could have moved in for the kill but made a major mistake by giving their exhausted units some down time, feeling that the Allies had no way to escape. Churchill issued an edict that called up any available vessel to make a desperate journey across the Channel under heavy fire and air attacks to rescue as many soldiers as possible. These gallant civilians pulled off the impossible by doing just that and rescuing the bulk of the 300,000 British troops on the beaches. French troops also made it out and joined the Free French units stationed in England under the command of DeGaulle. All of this makes for a highly compelling story but only fragments of it end up in Nolan's often admirable film. He provides virtually no historic context to the action seen on screen, which covers the battle from the viewpoint of individual soldiers as well as a small boat captained by an every day middle-aged Brit (Mark Rylance, in excellent form), his teenage son and his good friend. Aside from an opening series of captions informing the audience of the bare bones facts, no other overview of the dramatic occurrences is provided.
The film presents the battle scenes in spectacular and intense detail. You can feel the fear and confusion among the stranded troops and individual soldiers who attempt to use any means necessary to hitch a ride on the few overcrowded British Navy vessels that were available prior to the arrival of the civilian "fleet". The scenes inside the cockpit of the British Spitfire, one of only a few available in the battle to combat the constant German air attacks, are especially riveting. When a pilot has to ditch his plane in the ocean, he finds his cockpit is jammed and he may well drown. It's this type of harrowing scene that allows Nolan to ratchet up the suspense. However, it's Nolan the scriptwriter who undercuts the production on numerous occasions by failing to provide any emotional core to the film, with the exception of the scenes involving Rylance, which are genuinely moving. The rest of the characters are just relatively anonymous combatants of which we know nothing about personally. We can relate to their dilemma but unlike the similarly-themed "The Longest Day", we have little emotional resonance in them beyond the fact that we simply want them to survive. Nolan also fails to capitalize on the arrival of the civilian fleet, one of the most inspiring moments in military history, as it not only spared 300,000 lives, but also saved England- and thus the world- by allowing its fighting men to be able to resist Hitler's aggression. Nolan provides only a few fleeting shots of numerous boats approaching the Dunkirk beaches but the type of soaring emotional moment you might expect is rather watered-down.
There's much to admire in "Dunkirk". It's a big, ambitious war movie the likes of which we rarely see today. The aerial combat scenes are extraordinarily exciting and frightening. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is outstanding and Hans Zimmer provides a thundering, impressive score. More importantly, it attempts to commemorate a battle in which the British people turned a massive defeat into a tremendous victory. It's good filmmaking, but it never soars as high as you might expect and want it to.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" has been winning plaudits from critics and has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The lyrical love story between two closeted gay men is set in Italy in 1983.Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17 year-old Jewish-American high school student who is also of Italian heritage. He lives a seemingly idyllic life in a villa located in rural Italy. He's a brilliant student, able to converse in multiple languages and also displays stunning musical talents.His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archaeology who annually invites a graduate student to spend six weeks at the villa to assist in cataloging materials pertaining to excavations of historical finds. This year's student is Oliver (wonderfully played by Armie Hammer), a hunky, charismatic American who arrives at the villa and takes over Elio's bedroom, thus evicting Elio to an adjoining room. Whatever resentments Elio is feeling about being summarily moved from his own bedroom vanish when he lays eyes on Oliver. Elios, we learn, is hiding a secret: he's gay. Despite the fact that he is a popular figure in the small, intimate circle of his high school friends, he is actually a lonely, frustrated person with seemingly no outlet for romantic desires. He plays the game of acting straight and even has an attractive French girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel) but he only has eyes for Oliver. Elios suspects Oliver may also be gay but ponders whether certain subtle gestures are actually acts of flirtation or just figments of his imagination. His doubts grow when Oliver predictably becomes the object of desire among local young women- and Oliver seems to be enthused about capitalizing on their intentions. Much of the early stages of the film concentrate on Elios trying to decipher Oliver's sexuality and whether he should make an overt pass at him. Ultimately, his question is answered when the two spend an afternoon together in the countryside. What follows is a carefully choreographed scenario in which the two try to maximize their time together without raising suspicions of those around them. Within a short time both realize that their relationship is one of genuine love, not just lust. They also realize that it is inevitably doomed as the clock ticks down to the day Oliver must return to America.
"Call Me by Your Name" (which boasts a grand total of twenty producers/executive producers) is a highly emotional love story that unspools over a leisurely running time of 132 minutes. That would ordinarily seem overlong but the laid back pace keeps in-synch with the lazy atmosphere of the Italian setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry and everyone is enjoying la dolce vita. The running time also allows director Guadagnino to fully develop not only the two main characters, but the supporting figures as well. It's a marvelous collection of diverse people, thanks to screenwriter James Ivory and source novelist Andre Aciman. The film succeeds on all levels. The acting is superb throughout with even minor roles expertly portrayed. The real triumph is that of Chalamet, who delivers a finely-tuned portrayal of a teenager who not only has to cope with the usual psychological challenges of being on the verge of adulthood, but who also must suppress his sexuality. Both his father and mother (Amira Casar) defy stereotypes in scenarios such as this by being progressive and sympathetic to their son. Both can instantly see the mutual attraction between Elios and Oliver and conspicuously try to afford them the maximum amount of time together. The film has numerous scenes that are highly moving and emotional, one of which is a long talk between father and son in which Elios's dad delivers a life-affirming talk to Elios that makes it clear he is accepted and loved for who he is. It's superbly enacted by Michael Stuhlbarg, who probably should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There is also a wonderful score that incorporates classically-styled works with contemporary rock. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is tantalizing enough to make you book the next flight to Italy. What is refreshing about the film is the lack of contrived crisis points one would expect to see pretentiously introduced into the story. Instead, everyone in the film is a good person. No artificial crisis is introduced aside from the inevitable parting of the lovers, which does pack a tremendous punch in a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of way. The film's haunting final image of Elios is extraordinary. You must stay through it and not leave the theater, even as the credits role over the image.
After decades of gay characters being either ignored completely in films or used as objects of ridicule or derision, it's satisfying to see we've finally reached a point where a same-sex love story can be presented in a mature, intelligent manner that will appeal to mainstream audiences. "Call Me by Your Name" is the epitome of an art house movie but with the strong reviews and word-of-mouth it is generating, the film is exhibiting significant cross-over appeal. Highly recommended.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Who would have imagined that amid the debris of over-produced super hero movies, Winston Churchill would emerge as a major figure in films released in 2017? The woefully underrated "Churchill" (click here for review) was first out of the box, chronicling the British Prime minister's tumultuous inner-grappling with the pending D-Day invasion, which he supported but dissented from Eisenhower and Montgomery as to where and when the great armada should land. (History happily proved his instincts wrong.) Brian Cox gave a magnificent portrayal of Churchill that was largely overlooked by critics and the public. Churchill's specter also looms largely over Best Picture nominee "Dunkirk", as it was he who ordered the evacuation of stranded British troops by an improvised "fleet" of private vessels, small and large. The second Churchill biopic, "Darkest Hour", has won raves for Joe Wright's direction, Anthony McCarten's script and the towering performance of Gary Oldman as Churchill. The role is one that any fine actor would relish but there are dangers in portraying the man, as the line between accuracy and playing a cartoon version is a thin one. Oldman succeeds brilliantly, capturing Churchill's many character flaws as well as his strengths. The movie confines itself to Churchill's uneasy ascension to being Prime Minister, a lifelong dream achieved under less-than-optimum circumstances. His successor, Neville Chamberlain (a superb Ronald Pickup, who bears an astonishing resemblance to the man) has been removed from office for failing to adequately stand up to Hitler's advances through Europe. (It was Chamberlain who had met with Hitler and proudly waved a meaningless treaty that promised "Peace in our time.) Churchill is no one's first choice to lead the nation in the coming struggle. He's regarded by his peers as temperamental, eccentric and questionable in terms of wisdom, with his disastrous WWI campaign at Gallipoli still haunting the nation. Furthermore, King George VI had little confidence in the decision to elevate Churchill to PM, but relented and gave approval only when it became clear that there was little choice.
The film traces Churchill's dilemma in those early days of the war. Things looked grim, indeed. Churchill knew it was essential for America to enter the conflict but, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation was in isolationist mode. In one of the most poignant scenes in "Darkest Hour", Churchill pleads over the phone with FDR for assistance, but the president explains his hands are tied by a congress that wants to remain neutral. The biggest crisis he faces is that France is rapidly falling to advancing German forces, leaving the cream of the British army stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk and awaiting annihilation. The movie painstakingly chronicles Churchill's inner struggles in dealing with the crisis. His first instincts are to resist until the end, giving his famous speech that the British people will fight on no matter where the enemy confronts them. However, he is under severe pressure from Chamberlain and Halifax to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, an alternative that disgusts him but which seems practical to Parliament. The film gains tension even though we know how it all played out in the end. Churchill comes up with a desperate plan to enlist every available ship in the private sector to form a mini armada across the Channel to rescue the stranded troops. Before the operation can be completed, however, Churchill begins to cave and consider the option of a peace plan. This is where the script goes off kilter with a completely fictional scene in which Churchill gets a sudden desire to read the will of the people about their resolve to fight on. He jumps out of his limousine and makes an impromptu ride on the London Underground, chatting with astonished passengers and being reassured they support his strategy not to negotiate with Hitler. The scene is emotionally moving, but preposterous and more than a bit corny. Making matters worse, Churchill is only supposed to be on the train for a single stop but the journey seems longer than the one experienced by the people traveling to Siberia in "Doctor Zhivago". Bolstered by the resolve of the public, Churchill walks straight in to Parliament and gives an impassioned speech that rallies friends and foes alike. His judgment is ratified by the ultimate success of the Dunkirk operation, which turned a bitter defeat into a triumph.
The historical hokum presented in "Darkest Hour" is frustrating because it undermines the entire film. Why create a scene that so simplifies history when the real life scenario was even more dramatic? Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the film aside from Oldman's superb performance. Every supporting actor delivers the goods, with Ben Mendelsohn particularly good as King George. Unfortunately, Kristin Scott Thomas is largely reduced to a figurehead as Churchill's wife Clemmie. In "Churchill', the character, played by Miranda Richardson, engaged in constant contentious situations with her husband, which mirrored their real-life marriage. In "Darkest Hour", Clemmie simply smiles a lot and reassures ol' Winnie that things will be just fine. Despite the film's flaws, "Darkest Hour" is an engaging and admirable effort that should be seen. It has many virtues aside from the fact that it's probably sent the sale of cigars soaring.
("Darkest Hour" is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture).
Our friends at Park Circus invited us to a preview
of The Shining, which is returning to
the big screen this Halloween for limited screening in 100 theatres. This is
where the film really should be seen.
I first saw The Shining, under age, in my local cinema where the kindly staff
used to let us watch X Cert films from the stalls which were closed to the
public. At the time The Shining really
didn’t have the impact of Friday The 13th
to my 13 year old self. Certain images did stay with me obviously, this was Kubrick
after all, but the one thing I do remember was that the image from the poster
of Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” moment terrified my younger sister and I
used to put the poster up just to scare her. Boys, eh? Over the years I’ve re-watched The Shining several times and each time
it’s become more and more of a favourite. This is an adult film, dealing with
adult themes and it’s a lot different watching the terror of the young boy Doc as
a parent, rather than being closer in age to the character, as I was then. What
I also gleaned from this screening was how important sound is in this film and
this new print really does justice to the look and aural experience Kubrick
strove to achieve.
There were many points that stood out that
I’d missed on TV and DVD viewings, such as the aforementioned use of sound when
one of the protagonists is “Shining” or indeed the use of mirrors throughout
the film; whole scenes where the character’s reflections address the camera, T
shirt logo’s in reverse, which pre- empt the famous use of the words REDRUM
later in the film.
The film was trailered by the short but interesting new documentary Work & Play. This accompanying film
concentrates on the stories of the actual people involved with the production, whereas
other documentaries have concentrated of the enigma of Kubrick and the film
itself, such as Room 247. Here we
have interviews with the film’s iconic twins who are just as fascinating to
look at today and still talk in unison- obviously even off the camera, as well
as those who rightly intone that “95% of films are forgotten but the ones that
fall into that 5% are the great ones, the ones that remain”. So does The
Shining fall into that 5%? As far as horror movies go, yes. Like a great
wine, The Shining gets better with
age, both in look and standing. Although Jack Nicholson’s performance has been pastiched
many times, it still stands up as one of the best examples of a man falling
into madness ever to cross the silver screen. Although Steadycam camera shots
had been used in horror a couple of years earlier (i.e John Carpenter’s Halloween), they have never been utilized
better than the scenes of Danny or “Doc”, the boy who can shine, as he races
through the Overlook Hotel’s corridors. Again, this is another example of the
use of soundscape, as the child’s bike wheels jar from hard floor to carpet in
the same way a heartbeat quickens when you approach something dreadful.
The wonderful touches such as Doc wearing an Apollo
NASA T shirt alluding to the fact that Kubrick was supposed to have been the
director of the “faked” moon landings just add to the fascination of this film.
The documentary shows that the working title was “The Shine” and that is exactly what this film will continue to do.
I’d be interested to see what Stephen King thinks of the movie now after
famously disliking it for so many years. Whatever the case, this is a landmark
work and whatever one thinks of the finished product, it’s clear that King wrote
a timeless source novel and Kubrick developed it into a classic film. This is
the perfect time of year to see for yourself, thanks to Park Circus. Let it
CLICK HERE FOR LIST OF INTERNATIONAL CINEMAS SHOWING THE FILM
It’s taken 35 years for the often talked
about sequel to one of sci-fi cinema’s finest moments- Blade Runner- to actually appear in the form of Blade Runner 2049. Most
fans were against the idea of a sequel, pondering how you could improve on
perfection. Well, like the Replicants of the first film, although perfect in many
eyes, the original version underwent its own various modifications to improve
significant flaws over the years. We had the original “noir” version, the “director’s”
and the “final” cut before director Ridley Scott and most fans were happy. This
final cut also seemed to answer the conundrum relating to Deckard (Harrison Ford)
being a Replicant himself. Or so we thought. If, as I and many thought pre-screening,
Deckard was indeed a Replicant, how has he lived so long and aged? Did this
mean that the Replicants were given skin that would age, yet their strength
would remain? If so, then Harrison Ford
is still the perfect choice but I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything as director
Denis Villeneuve asked for reviewers to refrain from giving away any key
aspects from this special preview in London on Oct 2nd. Not only that,
I’m still not sure of the answer after
seeing this incredible continuation of the Blade Runner mythos. What I am sure
about is that this is, along with The Godfather Part II, one of the greatest sequels
in movie history.
The premise is thus: LAPD Officer K (Ryan
Gosling) is a Blade Runner in 2049. During an investigation, he unearths a long
hidden secret that, if true, would lead society into chaos. Once begun, his
quest leads to him tracking down the long missing Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford)
to find out the truth; but will he and, indeed, Deckard, like what they find?
Everything about Blade Runner 2049 works.
From the perfect casting to the sets which rise from the dust bowls of a
radioactive Vegas and the sodden Los Angeles like glistening tiers in the rain.
The cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning while the screenplay by Hampton
Fancher and Michael Green is as subtle as the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin
Wallfisch in complementing, yet adding to, the mythos of the original. As a viewer,
you are like a feather on the breeze and have no choice but to be blown
in whichever direction Villeneuve and producer Scott decide to take you.
The film is like a spiral interior of a sea shell; whether it’s leading you out
or into its centre is the question you have to try and work out for yourself.
With a running time just short of three hours,
this film, like the beloved “spinners” which have replaced cars, simply flies
by and the fact that this screening took place on the eve of director
Villeneuve’s 50th birthday led me to think that this is a movie will
still be talked about 50 years from now. We may not have flying cars by then but I’m
sure we’ll still have neon advertising dominating our cities and climate change
affecting our lives.
This is a modern masterpiece that you really need to
see on the big screen, although I left there thinking I’d love to
see it in the “Elvis” room Deckard has. See it and you’ll know what I mean.
Until it goes off the rails, writer/director Taylor Sheridan's "Wind River" shapes up to be a compelling murder mystery. The film's opening scene shows a young woman desperately running through a remote, snowy landscapes, obviously trying to outpace whoever or whatever is pursuing her. Ultimately, we learn her fate when Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker who is assisting the police in the search for the missing girl, stumbles upon her body. Turns out she had been sexually abused prior to her death, which took place on the barren Wind River reservation for Native Americans in Wyoming. Cory has to deliver the bad news to the girl's father (Gil Birmingham), whose wife is already suffering from a mental disorder. Ironically, the victim, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), was the best friend of Cory's own daughter, who died under tragic and unsolved circumstances a few years prior. Both men are now forced to cope with staggering grief even as Cory continues to assist police in pursuing whoever killed Natalie. The FBI sends a single agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to head the investigation. She is given an arms-length reception by the local constable on the reservation (Graham Greene in an excellent performance) because she seems like an ill-equipped city slicker. It will come as no surprise to anyone that she proves to be a quick learner and earns everyone's respect with her courage and brainpower.
"Wind River" is an indie film getting an unusually wide release (it credits twenty-five people as producers/co-producers). It boasts outstanding cinematography by Ben Richardson, who makes the bleakness of the Wyoming winter landscape a truly foreboding place. Taylor Sheridan, who specializes in films about rugged individualism, has considerable skill with his actors, and gets top-notch performances from Renner, Olsen and every actor who appears even in the smallest role (kudos to casting directors Lauren and Jordan Bass.) In terms of acting and atmosphere, the film is commendable on every level. However, Sheridan the screenwriter lets down Sheridan the director with a script that meanders half-way through. Just as I was crediting him for avoiding gun battles and concentrating on character development, it devolves into a shocking act of violence that leads to a flashback sequence that depicts another despicable act of violence that brutally depicts the sexual abuse of a young woman. While the scene is designed to shock, it also becomes somewhat prurient and difficult to view. The script falls off a cliff as Cory gets closer to resolving the murder largely because there is no "Aha!" moment that every good mystery commands. Sheridan provides plenty of red herrings but an expected link to two key elements of the story that never materializes (I can't say more without issuing a "Spoiler Alert!") What's left is an ambitious and impressive effort that falls short of its possibilities. Renner makes a stalwart leading man but Olsen's character seems like needless window dressing; someone tossed into the mix to mitigate the otherwise all-male dominance of the story line. The film has its heart in the right place, demonstrating the shame of having Native Americans still living on remote reservations, but Sheridan can't make up his mind about whether he wants to tell a compelling mystery story or make a social commentary. The result is a mishmash of intelligent dialogue mingled with needlessly exploitive violence.
Winston Churchill may be the famous figure of the 20th century to be most-portrayed on film. Indeed, it's hard to sell a historically-themed British film or TV series that touches upon the WWII years without making Churchill a central character. For actors the role must seem irresistible. After all, Churchill's real-life mannerisms and eccentricities remain the stuff of legend. In an age when most people are seemingly uninterested and uninformed about history, Churchill Mania is very much in vogue in some quarters. In the new film independent film "Churchill", Brian Cox becomes the latest thespian to portray the larger-than-life statesman. He does a brilliant job of it, too, having gained over twenty pounds in the process. It may seem that Churchill is one of the easiest legends to be imitated. As with John Wayne, it seems any drunk with a lampshade on his head can knock out a reasonably effective impersonation. However, Cox delivers one of the more effective interpretations of the man, playing up his physical and emotional frailties. The film concerns itself only with the period of timing leading up to the D-Day invasion- and there lies the rub. It is known that Churchill had strong reservations about the audacity of the Allies launching an "all-or-nothing-at-all" gamble to liberate Occupied France. However, the extent of those reservations has long been debated by historians. Churchill apologists have argued that his concerns were relatively minor and that he ended up being an enthusiastic proponent of the plan. His critics say that he whitewashed history in his memoirs and believe that he was reluctantly dragged into supporting the invasion only when it became clear that his objections were being overruled. The screenplay for the film is firmly in the second camp, making Churchill a man who was vehemently opposed to D-Day to the point of making himself a nuisance to Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, who were hell-bent on taking the gamble. I don't proclaim to be an expert in Churchillian history so I can't address concerns cited by some other critics that the film exaggerates his objections to the invasion and the impact it had on the military and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson). She is portrayed as a long-suffering spouse who must endure her husband's constant temper tantrums and self-centeredness. This isn't a minor point. The entire plot is basically centered on Churchill's position on the D-Day invasion. The film does acknowledge a known fact: Churchill did favor a massive invasion of Europe but wanted the Allies to land in Italy, where they already had a foothold. His ideas were dismissed by Eisenhower in favor of using Normandy as the landing point. Although the film doesn't specify why Eisenhower rejected Churchill's plan, historians say it was because the fighting going on in Italy was proving to be far worse than anyone had predicted and the feat of getting an entire invasion force over so many geographical obstacles would have greatly slowed or diminished the effort. Although some critics have said that "Churchill" is a bastardization of history, there are scholars who back up the representation that Churchill was vigorously opposed to Eisenhower's plans for the Normandy invasion. As indicated in the film, he was haunted by the battle at Gallipoli in WWI, which he had planned. It resulted in massive Allied losses and Churchill was obsessed with not having another major invasion result in such casualties. What the film undeniably presents in an accurate setting is Eisenhower's momentous decision to trust his weatherman and approve the launch of the D-Day invasion, taking advantage of a sliver of barely acceptable conditions at sea. Half of his advisers told him not to do it while the other half told him he must. It's a scene filled with drama and tension- and one in which Churchill finds himself relegated to the status of bystander.
At a packed symposium in Cannes where he received a three-minute standing ovation, Clint Eastwood discussed his philosophies of filmmaking along with the personal experience of growing up in the Depression. Eastwood said that he views movie-making as an emotional experience not an intellectual one and warns that when an emphasis on intellectual aspects of a film overrides trying to move the audience emotionally directors can find themselves in trouble. Eastwood addressed his long-standing complaints about what he perceives as political correctness in the film industry and warns that "We've lost our sense of humor." Ironically it was Eastwood's sense of humor that earned him rare bad press concerning his personal life. Traditionally Eastwood stayed out of commenting on national politics but in 2012 he appeared at the Republican convention to endorse Mitt Romney with a bit of improvised comedy that earned him a good deal of criticism because of barbs aimed at President Obama that many felt crossed the line in terms of being too distasteful. Eastwood was not overtly active in the 2016 presidential campaign and he did not address the current political situation in his appearance at Cannes. During his chat at Cannes he did acknowledge that he sometimes misses acting on screen. (He has not starred in a film since "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012). He says he will return to acting "someday", a vow that might seem overly-optimistic for a man of 86 years of age- but we wouldn't want to bet against him. For more click here.
among discriminating CR readers, there is NO doubt that Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi
masterpiece is truly terrifying. Jump
forward to 2017: technology is light years ahead and the world is counting down
towards Scott’s latest directing effort, Alien:
Covenant. One of the many new
technologies to emerge in the 38 years since the franchise chest-burst onto the
scene is Virtual Reality. VR vastly
expands the experience of a visual work by immersing the viewer in it. Like
feature films a century ago, VR content is starting out as short films, being
consumed by a growing audience. Kudos to
Twentieth Century Fox and RSA for giving their iconic franchise the VR
treatment with Alien: Covenant In Utero,
A Virtual Reality Experience. The two-minute
feature was unveiled at a special event held at Technicolor’s Experience
Center, the company’s VR incubator in Culver City.
can forget John Hurt curiously peering into the strange pod and getting
attacked by a face-hugger in the original Alien? Now you can be inside one of those very pods. “Consumers are being part of the story, not
just watching the story,” says Matthais Wittmann, VFX Supervisor for MPC, the
Technicolor company that worked on the project with Ridley Scott Associates,
Twentieth Century Fox and a host of other partners.
goal was to scare you,” said Ted Schilowitz, Futurist at 20th
Century Fox. Mission accomplished: The In
Utero experience immerses the viewer inside the birthing pod, complete with
sights (like blood or whatever alien fluids transverse the veins) and sounds
(heartbeats, a screaming victim outside the pod) as the Alien Neomorph finishes
developing and bursts out, fully lethal, towards its next victim.
hit the ground running,” says the project’s director, David Karlak, who rode
the buzz from his brilliant futuristic short Rise straight into Ridley Scott’s office. “It’s an example of how
you take all the different disciplines that make films look as good as they do
today and recalibrating them to deliver a VR experience that is unparalleled,”
the director adds. Obviously any young
filmmaker would jump at the chance to work with a legend like Ridley Scott, but
for Karlak, the project’s unique universe also had its attractions: “For me the inspiration was the concept… since
this was told from the point of view of a Neomorph, how would a creature that’s
designed to hunt perceive the world?” Well, like the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon
everything starts to look like a nail.
Director David Karlak
Dennis, RSA’s Executive Producer of Branded Content & VR watched how her
boss immediately took to VR when a similar project was created for his 2015
hit, The Martian. “It’s very important to Ridley that these
pieces have a real filmic essence to them, they have to feel ‘filmic.’” In a nod to Karlak’s talent she said, “When
we saw Rise, we knew he was the right
person for this.”
the proper 360° look fell to Technicolor’s MPC VFX Supervisor, Matthais
Wittmann who had his hands full from the very first frame: “You need a really
high frame rate or you get sick,” he pointed out. Since there are no cuts in VR, “You can’t
save yourself with edits.”
fact that MPC was also handling visual effects for Alien: Covenant was a huge plus. “We knew very early on that there would be a VR component so our crew
went over to the sets to take photographs so we’d have them…” Wittmann says,
adding, “our team was there, they knew about the lighting, they’ve worked on
other Alien movies already so all
this information we can leverage.” And
then, of course, there was The Master: “Since this was a point of view that has
never been done before,” Wittmann continues, “it was also very helpful to have Ridley Scott close by so we could ask
him, ‘Is that how it would be?’” Director
Karlak echoed how invaluable Scott’s guidance was – suggesting he watch videos
of baby crocodiles hatching and endoscopic footage of a human womb, just to keep
the team on the right track. Now after
over five months of intense work, this alien baby has arrived, fangs and all…
Intrepid Cinema Retro scribe Mark Cerulli gets the full "Alien" VR treatment.
Alien: Covenant In
Virtual Reality Experience, is available on the Oculus platform on “Alien Day”,
April 26th and then on all mobile and tethered platforms like
Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View, HTC Vice and PlayStation VR starting May
Alien: Covenant arrives in theaters
on May 19th from Twentieth Century Fox.
trailer tells you everything you need to know about “The Belko Experiment”,
writer James Gunn’s bloody trip to the dark side of the corporate
workspace.You know there’s going to be
a serious body count… you know there’s going to be some wicked humor… and you
know that somewhere you’re going to see Michael Rooker.But HOW things unfold is what makes Belko
such an entertaining ride.Think “Office
Space” meets “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”…
directed by Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), “The Belko Experiment” chronicles a
(final) day in the life of the staff of a rather bland American company set up on
the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia. It’s
a typical workday until an anonymous intercom voice tells them they have two
hours to kill thirty of their co-workers or sixty of them will be “sacrificed”. The execs laugh it off as a prank - until the
back of a staffer’s head explodes, thanks to an “anti-kidnapping” locator they’ve
all had implanted. Soon Belko
descends into “Lord of the Flies”, for
real. Factions form, alliances are
made and friendships are erased by the basic urge to survive. The movie is
helped along by a terrific cast which blends relative newcomers with seasoned
pros: John Gallagher, Jr. plays a
workplace everyman trying to stop the carnage and protect his colleague/girlfriend
(lovely Adria Arjona). Tony Goldwyn is
outstanding as Belko’s COO who morphs from cool boss to killing machine so he
can make it home to his wife and kids. He doesn’t want to kill his direct reports…
he just has to. John C. McGinly
is deliciously evil as a leering workplace creep who methodically tries to
raise his “body count” using a meat cleaver. And yes, Michael Rooker is short but sweet as Belko’s stoic maintenance man
trying to find a way out of the hermetically sealed building.
a testament to writer/producer James Gunn’s growing power in Hollywood that
this film is getting a wide theatrical release in today’s megabuck franchise landscape. “The Belko Experiment “feels like a 1990s
action/horror film, which is a good thing: in the 1980s and 90s, small,
entertaining genre films routinely got theatrical releases – great movies like “Surviving
The Game”, “Trespass” and “Southern Comfort” all delivered the thrills
audiences wanted without costing tens of millions to produce. Most of them actually made a profit, unlike
today when almost every big budget release is a huge gamble - James Bond, Star Wars and Guardians
franchises excepted! Today those small 1980s/90s movies would be relegated to
streaming or other platforms if they found a distributor at all.
the special “Employee Appreciation Day” screening Cinema Retro attended in
Santa Monica, key cast and crewmembers talked about making the film. Fanboy favorite James Gunn said he wrote the
script in a “two week fugue state” of 18-hour days. John C. McGinley commented that what drew him
to the script was the fact that “the choices each character made determined their
survival.” He drew a parallel to 9-11 as
his brother worked in the Twin Towers and when an anonymous PA voice told his
floor to stay put after the first plane hit, he and other colleagues knew
enough to immediately take the stairs to safety. On a lighter note, Tony Goldwyn admitted that,
as an actor, he wanted in after reading a script that featured exploding heads!
person, Gunn is amiable and funny and managed to carve out a little time for
fans, many of who showed up with bits of “Guardians of the Galaxy” memorabilia
to be signed. Other cast members posed
with attendees and all the actors seemed genuinely happy to see each other for
the first time since their Bogota shoot. It made for a surprisingly happy ending after 90 minutes of onscreen carnage.
The Belko Experiment opens nationwide on
March 17th. Be prepared to never look at a tape dispenser the same
to believe it’s been five years since America’s worst environmental disaster,
the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which claimed 11 lives and allowed 50,000
barrels of oil per day to spew from
the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 heartbreaking days until the well was
finally capped. Since then the world has
moved on and the event remains relevant only for those who lived through
it. Director Peter Berg’s riveting new
film “Deepwater Horizon”, should snap people back to attention.
Horizon” is told through the eyes of blue-collar worker, Chief Electrician Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg,
who leaves his loving wife (Kate Hudson) and arrives on the massive rig, 41
miles off the Louisiana coast. Costing $500,000 a day to run, the rig is weeks
behind schedule – which means a team of BP managers led by a creepy John
Malkovitch is breathing down the crew’s thick necks. In fact, they’ve just cut short some important
safety inspections to save time. When
seasoned rig manager Mr. Jimmy,
wonderfully played by Kurt Russell, demands a pressure test, the results are
troubling… and then all hell breaks loose! Flammable gas leaks from the well and the failsafe mechanisms –
including slicing through the main drilling pipe – fail and the rig explodes. From then on it’s a white-knuckle fight for
good as the actors are, and Wahlberg is at his best playing a workin’ man, the
real stars of “Deepwater Horizon” are
the visual effects. The film takes you
5000 feet below the surface to spot the beginnings of trouble – tiny gas
pockets leaking out, then inside the
well as the toxic gas races up, turning the rig into a raging fireball. To recreate the maritime disaster, the
filmmakers built one of the largest sets ever constructed – using over 3.2
million pounds of steel. Real life oil
workers (including Mike Williams) acted as technical advisers to give it all an
authentic look and feel right down to the control panels. The set even features a working helipad, used
onscreen. (Shades of “You Only Live
the movie shows the sheer terror facing the crew, it also spotlights true acts
of bravery as Wahlberg’s character rescues their beloved crew chief, Mr. Jimmy
from the burning bowels of the rig. When
he and the platform’s young Dynamic Positioning Operator (sort of like a pilot)
played by Gina Rodriguez find themselves trapped, with seemingly no way out, he
gets her to take a (real) leap of faith into the burning waters far below.
illuminating is the film’s ending crawl where we see the faces of the 11 lost
crewmembers and learn the fates of the survivors - several quit the oil
industry for good and the BP managers got off with a legal smack on the wrist
(although the company was forced to pay a massive $20 billionin fines.) “Deepwater Horizon” is a stark and thrilling
example of what happens when human greed and hubris meet Mother Nature.
Dazed and Confused, the first major
feature from director/writer Richard Linklater, was released in 1993. The
story, set in 1976, concerned one day in the life of a group of Texas high
school students on their last day of classes. The proceedings were so high on
nostalgia the film could very nearly be mistaken for a documentary. The movie
(which included the likes of Ben Affleck and Mathew McConaughey) was ignored in
theaters, but soon began flying off of video rental store shelves. Quickly it
achieved cult-hit status, and for the last twenty-some years fans have begged
for a sequel. Though Linklater had no desire to revisit that film’s characters,
he did occasionally remark about doing a quasi-follow-up set in college in the
1980s. Finally in 2015 the long gestating “sequel” began filming.
when Linklater shot Dazed and Confused
he was in his early thirties, with high school still fresh in his memory. It
could even be said he caught the perennial lightning in a bottle in capturing the
film’s perfect atmosphere. In his mid-fifties by 2015 when filming on Everybody Wants Some!! commenced, could
Linklater accomplish the same feat twice?
the answer is a resounding yes. However, to call Everybody Wants Some!! a sequel to Dazed and Confused isn’t 100% correct, as there are no continuity
ties to that film—at least none that anyone has spotted yet—though it’s still
reasonable to assume they take place in the same little world. And though some
call this the “1980s Dazed and Confused,”
it should be noted this movie only takes place in the late summer of 1980, well
before the decade of excess had managed to establish itself, so really the
period’s not too terribly different from the late 1970s. That being said, this
film doesn’t attempt to imitate its predecessor as much as one would expect.
For instance, in Dazed it’s difficult
to say just who the main character really is due to its large ensemble, whereas
Blake Jenner’s lead character Jake, a freshman college baseball player, is the
singular point of view in Everybody Wants
Some!! Nor does this story take place over the course of only one day,
which would have been a disservice to the character’s relationships. In the
case of Dazed, most of the characters
had established friendships/relationships as they had several years of high
school under their belt. But in Everybody
Wants Some!! Jake has no prior existing relationships with any of his new
roommates/teammates whom he is moving into a frat house with. As such the
storyline more or less chronicles Jake adapting to living on his own and bonding
with his new roommates over the course of one party-filled weekend, the film
ending with him starting his first day of college classes.
one can tell from the brief synopsis above, Everybody
Wants Some!! is not a high-concept film by any means. Like Boyhood and other Linklater films, the
focal point is human interaction itself, with a heavy dose of philosophizing—some
of which is naturally fueled by marijuana. Actually, aside from the “getting
high and having a strange conversation scene” Everybody Wants Some!! really isn’t too heavy on call-backs to Dazed and Confused. Other than the
aforementioned scene, only the hazing of the new players on a baseball field
and the climax involving an all-night party strongly harken back to Dazed. And like its predecessor, the
final scenes don’t consist of the typical movie deaths, explosions, fist fights
or first kisses. As a coming of age film, it naturally ends on the note of the
lead character firmly realizing he has entered a new phase of his life. (Beware of spoilers) The final scene,
where Jake attends his first class after having pulled off an all-nighter, sees
him tiredly watching his history teacher writing “Frontiers are where you find
them” on the chalkboard. Jake closes his eyes to sleep, and then smiles.
the joy of the film is found in the nostalgia factor in remembering back to
one’s college days and early youth. Much of this joy is found in the lengthy
conversations/interactions as Linklater proves he still reigns supreme as the
king of realistic movie dialogue. Ever watch a movie with bad dialogue? Of
course you have, and there’s absolutely nothing more distracting than bad
dialogue. Simply put, Linklater gets how people—specifically in this case
college guys—actually interact with each other. Every scene felt completely
natural, including Jake’s introduction to his roommates. For other
writers/directors these scenes can often come across as clunky or heavy on
exposition, but Linklater perfectly captured the awkward “first day of school” feeling
for Jake walking into the frat house for the first time. Credit also goes to
Jenner’s wide-eyed acting, taking in his new surroundings in believable
fashion. Likewise, all of his roommates are well balanced in that they manage
to entice plenty of laughter without losing their believability. The only
exception is the character of Jay, an arrogant loud mouthed pitcher portrayed
by Juston Street. While Street is hilarious in his part, his character is the
only one that’s perhaps too much of a caricature and upsets the near perfect
illusion of realism. Granted, wacky people like that do exist, but they’re
fairly rare in the real world.
speaking of humor, in a day and age where all the funniest bits are in the trailers
more often than not, Everybody Wants
Some!! is the exact opposite. There’s nothing particularly funny in the
trailers (at least not as far as this writer is concerned) but in the context
of the actual film the witty dialogue and gags are hilarious. Nor are they
set-up to the point that they feel forced, and they come quickly enough that
the viewer can’t see the punchline coming before it lands.
summary, Everybody Wants Some!! may
come from the same mold as Dazed and
Confused but still manages to be its own film, and is far more than just
“Dazed and Confused 2.” Its run in theaters is currently over, but it has just
been released on DVD/Blu-ray and is available for digital download now.
the years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena among Star Trek fans which is that most of them love the television
series but seem only to tolerate the films. Maybe my perception is off, seeing
as how I fall into the category of a non-fan who greatly enjoys the films—namely
the ones from the 1980s starring the original cast—but not the TV series from
which they were based. For whatever reason, there seems to be a strange sort of
disconnect between fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences. Take for
example the films that deviated greatly from the series, such as the overly
comical Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(1986) which soared at the box office, while films that most resembled episodes
of the TV series—namely the awful Star
Trek: Insurrection (1998)—performed below expectations. The rebooted Star Trek of 2009 was also pretty far
flung from the Original Series to a degree with its blaring of “Sabotage” on
the soundtrack among other elements, but was a big hit with mainstream
audiences. Now with this year’s Star Trek
Beyond (which also blares the Beastie Boys on the soundtrack) many critics
say this is finally the Star Trek
film that fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences can finally mutually
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) which
was perhaps too reverential of Star Trek
II:Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek Beyond is a completely
original tale that, if condensed, could almost seem like an episode from the Original
Series. Perhaps this is why I didn’t enjoy this one as much as 2009’s reboot,
but that being said, it’s still a highly enjoyable film with some excellent character
moments and set-pieces. I can’t say much more without getting into SPOILERS, so
if you prefer not to know about certain surprise elements (like the identity of
the “new” ship seen in the trailers) quit reading now.
the biggest difference between this film and its two predecessors is the
character dynamics. Mostly audiences had seen the crew together on the bridge
of the Enterprise, while in this film the characters are spilt into pairs on an
unexplored planet after the Enterprise gets destroyed by the new villain Krall
(Idris Elba). Kirk and Chekov have an excellent action scene amidst the ruins
of the Enterprise; Uhura and Sulu try to discover the villainous motivations
behind Krall in captivity; Scotty teams with an intriguing new alien warrior
named Jaylah, and McCoy must do his best to stabilize a wounded Spock. Not
surprisingly, the McCoy/Spock pairing makes for the film’s best character
moments and one-liners, with Scotty (Simon Pegg who also co-wrote the
screenplay) and Jaylah’s scenes in a fairly close second. And while on the
subject of Jaylah, portrayed by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), the alien warrior makes for an
excellent addition to the cast who will hopefully return for future
all being said, for me Star Trek Beyond
didn’t really take off until the third act when the cast regroups on a
long-lost federation ship that had crashed on the planet’s surface (this would
be the “new” ship spotted by eagle-eyed fans in trailers). Those hoping that this
ship is the NX-01 Enterprise from the 2001 prequel TV series Enterprise will be disappointed though.
While the new creation is the same class of ship from the same era, it is a heretofore
unknown ship called the Franklin. While it would have been fun to see the new
cast commandeer the Enterprise from the 2001 TV series, from a writer’s
standpoint the Franklin makes more sense for reasons I will soon reveal.
climax, wherein the crew utilizes the Franklin to save a massive space station
named Yorktown, actually reminded me of the climax for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Just like in that film, it’s great
fun seeing the cast adapt to and use a rickety unfamiliar ship to save the day
and then come crashing into the water with it. It was after said crash that the
film had me fooled into thinking that it was headed towards the obligatory
face-to-face showdown between Kirk and Krall. It instead took me by surprise
when it is revealed after the watery crash that Krall isn’t actually an alien,
but used to be a human—specifically the original captain of the Franklin. This
slightly resolved one issue I had with Krall in that he seemed to be too much
of a cookie-cutter alien menace. As to both his evil motivations and how he
went from a human Federation Captain to an alien menace, the explanation relies
perhaps a bit too much on last minute exposition but still works for the most
part. On top of the surprise reveal, the hand to hand duel between Krall and
Kirk—which I expected to be a boring paint-by-the-numbers fist fight—is made
fresh and exciting due to the fact that it took place in a zero gravity
atmosphere, allowing them both to the fly about the gigantic Yorktown space
station as they trade blows.
thing I found interesting in the marketing of the film was that the Limited
Edition poster for Star Trek Beyond
is a callback to the original Star Trek:
The Motion Picture poster. That film finds Kirk now an Admiral and Spock
having left Starfleet to return to Vulcan. Perhaps not coincidentally this film
seems to be setting up the same story elements for the “future” film as Kirk is
applying for an Admiral position and Spock is pondering leaving Star Fleet to
better serve his race. For Kirk, life in space is becoming monotonous, and he
laments that he is now older than his father ever lived to be over a birthday
drink with McCoy. Spock is likewise saddened to hear of the loss of his future
self, Ambassador Spock. This makes him question his relationship with Uhura, as
any children he has with her will only be 1/4th Vulcan leading him
to the conclusion that he should procreate with a full Vulcan to better further
his species. In the end both Kirk and Spock decide to stay with Star Fleet as
they witness the building of a new Enterprise. Spock’s reason for staying is actually
a touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy. The scene, and I would say this is a big
spoiler, has Zachary Quinto’s Spock discovering a certain photograph amongst
the deceased Ambassador Spock’s belongings. The photo is of Nimoy, William
Shatner, and the rest of the original cast (which looks to have been taken for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
on the bridge of the Enterprise. The realization dawns upon Spock that he is
meant to grow old with these people, and his place is on the bridge of the
Enterprise. It’s also obvious that Kirk’s toast “to absent friends” during the
end scene was initially meant as a nod to Nimoy, but sadly ended up
encompassing the late Anton Yelchin as well. Yelchin, who played Chekov in the
new series, was tragically killed in a car accident shortly before the film’s
Star Trek Beyond is projected by
analysts to have healthy grosses at the box office, and a sequel (which will see
Chris Hemsworth return as George Kirk) has already been announced.
many years Tarzan was a staple of cinema—in fact from its very onset. The first
Tarzan feature, Tarzan of the Apes,
came out in 1918 and was followed by close to 50 other adaptations in the last
century. His star started to fade in the late 1960s and there were no Tarzan
features in the 1970s save for one. The 1980s somewhat provided his last gasp
on the big screen with movies like the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and- more impressively- the
well-received Greystoke: The Legend of
Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The 1990s saw only 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City and
the 1999 Disney animated version. In fact, for all many “youngsters” know
Tarzan may as well have originated with the Disney cartoon. For the first time
in many years, we finally have a new big-budget live-action iteration of one of
the screen’s oldest icons in The Legend
of Tarzan from Warner Bros. Can it strike a balance between lovers of
vintage cinema who grew up on Tarzan and the new “iPhone generation”? Or will
it suffer the fate of that other recent Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation John Carter?
there is a lot of CGI vine swinging which will put some viewers off, but I for
one say it makes for very exciting action (and less risk for the stuntmen). And
secondly, would Tarzan’s journey through cinematic history be complete without
a little CGI? I think not. Though there is a lot of appreciation in watching
well-done stunt work, the CGI enabled Tarzan could well be the “purist”
representation of Burrough’s vision ever put on the screen. In fact, certain
shots of Tarzan swinging through the jungle with the apes look like a Frank
Frazetta painting come to life. A CGI-enable animal stampede unleashed during
the climax is also a scene straight from classic Burroughs, and would have been
impossible to pull off with real animals, as is Tarzan’s fight with a gorilla
midway through the picture.
he’s probably a little too far on the blonde side for Burroughs purists,
Alexander Skarsgard is pretty perfectly cast as Tarzan; and for more than just
his lithe physique. Playing Tarzan was usually a tough act to balance for most
actors. Mike Henry played him as though he were James Bond in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966),
while Miles O’Keefe never even spoke in Tarzan,
the Ape Man opposite Bo Derek. Perhaps this is why the writers chose to set
this film ten years after he has left Africa for England, and Tarzan has become
acclimated to modern society as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton. Naturally in this
civilized period of his life the character is much easier to write and to
portray for Skarsgard. Therefore, this is probably one of the more relatable on
screen Tarzans, though I’d say Johnny Weissmuller is still safe as the all-time
for the rest of the cast, Margot Robbie is a knockout and does great as Jane.
However, it feels as though the production team felt a bit guilty about making
her a damsel in distress for most of the film and it shows in some of her
scenes in captivity. That being said, Jane’s kidnapping was a necessary
plot-device for this film’s story, not to mention something of a Tarzan
tradition, but perhaps in the future she can get a better subplot. As the
heavy, Christoph Waltz is his usual very watchable self. Though the story sets
up Waltz to look like a weakling in his first scene, he quickly proves to be
anything but in a nice twist. He even comes complete with a unique way of
killing his enemies that would be right at home in one of the older Bond
pictures. Samuel L. Jackson portrays Tarzan’s ally from the civilized world who
has to acclimate to the jungle, another Tarzan tradition of sorts. Rounding out
the rest of the big name actors is Djimon Hounsou who plays the leader of a
viscous tribe who has a vendetta with Tarzan, yet another series staple which
makes the film round all the usual bases (and I mean this in a positive
some respects, were I to ignore the CGI, I almost felt as though I was watching
some vintage cinema from a bygone era. Perhaps part of this feeling is due to
the period setting, since there are so few period piece blockbusters these
days. The film is also simply plotted, and is true to the Tarzan formula. An
evil white man is out to get the lost diamonds of Opar, and Jane naturally gets
kidnapped by him. Much like a Burroughs book, the action cuts back in forth
between Tarzan’s trek through the jungle and Jane’s efforts to escape captivity
from the villains. Coupled with this are flashback scenes to Tarzan’s origin
and first meetings with Jane, as this is more of a “sequel” than an origin
story. For purists who dislike CGI, have no fear at least when it comes to the
on-location shots of Africa, which are beautiful up on the big screen. Naturally,
there are of traces of the 21st Century filmmaking trends too. In
the wake of Marvel Studio’s success it seems every action film these days tries
to be a comedian, so to speak. The Legend
of Tarzan doesn’t try too hard, but I found most of its jokes fell flat
enough they should have been left on the cutting room floor.
overall I wouldn’t call it a fantastic film, in this day and age of obligatory
reboots I’d have to say The Legend of
Tarzan has more merit than most. As to how the new generations just being
introduced to Tarzan will react, who can say, but I have a feeling this film
will end up being embraced more so by the older crowd than the younger. But
just so long as it makes enough to produce a sequel, myself and many others
will be happy.
Bruce Willis will top-line a remake of the urban crime thriller "Death Wish", to be directed by Eli Roth. The original film was a sensation in 1974 and helped elevate Charles Bronson to major stardom in his native America, after having found success in European productions. In that film, Bronson played Paul Kersey, a liberal New York businessman whose wife and daughter are brutally raped. His wife dies in the incident and his daughter ends up brain-dead. Enraged by the inability of the police to catch the culprits, Kersey gradually takes the law into his own hands,making himself an easy target and then killing those who intend to do him harm. Within weeks, his anonymous vigilante becomes a populist hero in a city in which the citizenry is fed up with the break down in law and order. The film, directed by Michael Winner, spawned some sequels, all of which were repellent and cartoonish at the same time, but the original movie still retains its power. Director William Friedkin once told this writer that the audience reaction to Bronson's on-screen killings was visceral and frightening as people cheered with every pull of the trigger.
The new version of "Death Wish" may find an audience, but we're willing to bet it doesn't. Chances are it will fall into the realm of other remakes designed simply to make a fast buck. For one thing, history is against the concept. America's urban areas are in far better condition than they were in 1974. Although high profile mass killings are on the rise, everyday crime is generally far lower than it was back in the Seventies. New York City has routinely posted crime rates that are as low as they were in the early 1960s. It's doubtful that the film will resonate with audiences in the same way that Winner's original version did. It was made during a period when emerging from certain New York subway lines with your wallet intact was considered reason to celebrate. That no longer is the case. Winner was trying as much to make a social statement as he was making a profit. He succeeded with both goals. However, the new "Death Wish" has the odds stacked against it. Charles Bronson was a leading man on the rise at the time of the first version, whereas Bruce Willis works is arguably over-exposed. He will apparently appear in your home movies if the pay check was large enough. He also hasn't had a major hit as the leading man in quite some time and it seems doubtful that this would be the vehicle to reverse that trend. He and Eli Roth deserve the benefit of a doubt, but I'm betting the studio will mostly be counting on profits from the video and Netflix rights.
get it out of the way - 11:55 is derivative. It's a showdown
film. Showdown films have a simple plot device and story line: the protagonist
is threatened and driven by angst, "Should I stay or should I go?"
The antagonist is driven by rage and revenge and has clear intentions. The
characters' reasons vary from film to film but the premise is the same. You've
seen films like that hundreds of times. Welcome to 11:55.
no shame in dragging out an old chestnut. William Shakespeare never came up
with an original story
line either. Co-director Ben Snyder admitted to the fact that the film's title
was inspired by High Noon. But this film, which had its world
premiere recently at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is the first directorial
effort of Ari Issler and Snyder.
Sanchez (co-screenwriter Victor Almanzar) is a returning Afghan War veteran. We
first meet him as we silently ride the bus home to Newburgh, New York. His earlier- than -expected arrival threatens to throw big sister Angie's party
plans awry. Chased out of the house, he surprises his long time girlfriend
Livvy for some quality time before acting dutifully surprised at the party.
There we meet many of Nelson's friends, some of whom are guys he ran drugs with
before entering the service. Nelson is a troubled man with a troubled past. He
escaped the mean streets where he grew up by joining the military - after he
accidentally killed a dealer from rival gang. His former protégé on the
streets, Teyo, breaks the news to him at the party: Nicky Quinn is coming.
Quinn is the older brother of the gangbanger killed by Nelson and he is out for
revenge. He arrives in town on the, you know it, 11:55 bus.
happy homecoming day suddenly turns sour. His plans did not include dealing
with actions from his distant past. Whatever he experienced in the war has
changed him. His sister and girlfriend convince him to run, make a new life in
Boston. But when Nelson and Livvy run into a couple of Quinn's goons at the bus
station, Nelson takes a stand - he's not going to run away this time; he's
going to stay and face what's in store.
The city of Newburgh,
for Nelson Sanchez, turns out to be a lot like Gary Cooper's Hadleyville.
Although he has an abundance of friends, like Cooper’s beleaguered sheriff of High Noon, none will commit to stand
with him in his hour of need. His efforts exhausted, he does what any
knowledgeable sacrificial lamb would do: he gets a haircut. This
is a gritty, moving film filled with a terrific supporting cast. Newburgh
should get credit as well. It once ranked in the 20 most dangerous communities
in the US and has been plagued by gang violence and drugs for years. It
provides a solid backdrop for the film's authenticity.
Almanzar shines as Nelson Sanchez. There's not a doubt in the viewer's mind as
to what Sanchez is thinking at any given time and Almanzar makes the viewer empathize with his plight. He is soulful and deep and you care about what he's been
through and where he's going. Hopefully, Almanzar has a promising future in
film. Elizabeth Rodriguez is scary and soft, sexy and tough as Angie, especially when she
threatens the "Greek chorus" of Nelson's cowardly friends in the barbershop
with a razor. Livvy,
as portrayed by Shirley Rumierk, is the dutiful girlfriend. She's torn between
supporting her man's choice and saving his life.
veteran actors lend some great turns in character roles. David Zayas is
Maurice, Nelson's former "Godfather" from his drug dealing days who'd
rather feed his pigeons than lend a hand. John Leguizamo, as Nelson's
wheelchair-bound, former marine buddy, is the only one willing to stand with
him. Yes, pun intended. He and Julia Stiles, as Nicky Quinn's pregnant wife
bring some terrific comic relief into the film. Her brief rant at Quinn as he
ignores her wishes and resumes his gang persona in order to avenge his brother
is hysterical. It also teaches us the differences caused by the effects of
serotonin and dopamine on the human brain. Mike
Carlsen in his brief screen time as Nicky Quinn is a threatening presence, a
subtle villain whose motivation may not be what it seems. And I can't leave out
Smarlin Hernandez. As Daiza, Nelson's niece and Angie's daughter, she portrays,
with honesty, the warring emotions teenagers feel about the person they both
love and hate the most in their life.
"11:55" is a modern-day, East-coast
Western. I expect to see more great things from those involved in this
production. Film history tells us that America won the West a long time ago but
it is in our smaller cities, those impoverished, under-employed, landscapes and
vistas where today's stories lie. There, real battles continue to be fought on
a daily basis by residents who wish little more than to live safely, securely
and in peace. This film tells just one of those stories.
Film Institute is currently showing the Director’s Cut of “Close Encounters of
the Third Kind” as part of its on-going celebration of Steven Spielberg’s
films. Here is the official press release:
Pictures Entertainment's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an exclusive
extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May, screening from a new 35mm print.
This special presentation will lead the BFI's two month season dedicated to
Steven Spielberg - a celebration of one of the most influential and successful
filmmakers in the history of cinema that will screen more than 30 of the
director's films throughout June and July.Combining elements of both the 1977 original
version and the 1980 Special Edition, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut)
represents Steven Spielberg's definitive edit of his sci-fi masterpiece.
theatrical run of The Director's Cut from 35mm will form a fitting tribute to a
filmmaker now synonymous with the magic of film and the ritual of cinema-going;
returning his version of the story to its intended format and setting.
from a new 35mm print, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Close
Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an
exclusive extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May.
Mark Mawston reflects on the personal impact the film had on him.
Of all of
Steven Spielberg’s classic films, probably the most truly magical, the one that
really lifts your spirits is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Although this
is an incredibly important film, I consider it slightly down the pecking order
in the master’s great works although I, rather controversially I’m sure, would
always place it above Jaws in the auteur’s body of impressive films. The reason
is simple; whereas Jaws terrified me on my 10th birthday, Close Encounters
filled me with a sense of wonder. This
may have had something to do with the venue I first saw it in- The Queens in
Newcastle, which, when the film was released, was one of the few surviving
Cinerama theatres left. Its huge curved screen made any film shown seem like an
event but this one was simply made for it and had the most impact on me. I’ll
never forget the thrill of seeing twinkling stars begin to suddenly move from
the top left of the huge screen towards the events unfolding, especially in the
scene where the alien ships pay a visit to the remote farmhouse of the small
boy Barry and his terrified mother. The sheer impact that scene had on me will
never be forgotten and was one of the main reasons why I wanted to see this
film on the big screen again. I was not to be disappointed. I spotted many new
things that I’d missed when screening it on Blu-ray for my enraptured daughter and
from TV screenings and realised that the moving stars weren’t just limited to this
scene but appear specifically when Roy (Richard Dreyfuss- never better) is
sitting in his van at a remote crossing. It’s now easy to see so many things
that Spielberg drew upon, from shot for shot from North By Northwest to the
fact that When You Wish Upon a Star is playing when Barry’s toys “come alive”.
The one thing I hadn’t previously spotted that really stood out was that when
the alien visitor at the end of the film smiles after giving the famous hand gestures,
his smile and face are those of Barry’s. This is the kind of thing that you can
really notice on the big screen. Science fiction is the one of the genres most
suited to the big screen, with titles such as Blade Runner, Star Wars and 2001
made for this experience. However, it is Close Encounters that benefits from it most
and shows the sheer sense of scope that the young director brought to this
tale. Along with The Searchers, is there a more famous shot of a silhouette in
a doorway in movie history? To see this scene alone is worth the admission fee
and I urge you to see it on its BFI/Park Circus re-release. To paraphrase a
classic of the genre; For space, no one can beat a screen.
Spielberg always said that the added the
scene of the inside of the spaceship for the Special Edition of the film in
1980 was always a disappointment and I agree. What was on screen would always
pale in comparison to what you imagined and also took away for of the wonder. Spielberg
rightly exorcised this scene for this version of the film, which is easily the
best. This is still essential viewing to those who still watch the skies rather
than the “stars” of reality TV.
Variety reports that the family of the late director Sergio Leone is developing a six-episode Western TV series titled "Colt" based upon a concept that Leone had planned with his collaborators but which was never realized. His goal was to present the American West in a more realistic manner than had been seen in his classic "spaghetti Westerns". The focus would be on the handgun used by The Man With No Name, portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the classic "A Fistful of Dollars". The episodes would follow the trail of that gun as it passes from owner to owner. The first two episodes will be directed by Stefano Sollima, the high profile Italian filmmaker and son of Sergio Sollima, who directed Lee Van Cleef in the cult Italian Western "The Big Gundown". Stefano will also be writing the scripts for the series. Unlike Sergio Leone's Westerns, which were set in America but filmed in Spain, the Leone Film Group intends to shoot the series on location in the USA. Click here for more.
While doing press interviews at Cannes for his latest film "Cafe Society", Woody Allen was asked about his biggest boxoffice hit, "Midnight in Paris". Beyond confirming that the film's success surprised him greatly, Allen tells a fascinating tale about the origins of the story. Decades ago he was told by legendary Hollywood agent Swfity Lazar that Cary Grant, who was in self-imposed retirement, would return to films if he could be directed by Allen. Adding substance to the tale, Grant showed up one night at Michael's Pub, the New York jazz venue where Allen still plays with his band. Grant apparently loved the music and Allen was enthused about developing a film project for him. He devised a scenario in which Allen would play his usual nebbish character who, one night, finds himself whisked off in a limousine with Cary Grant. The two end up in the 1920s. However, when Allen approached Grant's office with the idea, he was told flat out that Grant would never return to making movies. He later learned that Swifty Lazar often passed around inaccurate rumors. Nevertheless, Allen kept the story concept tucked away until he used it as the basis for "Midnight in Paris". By then, Allen was too old to play the male lead so he cast Owen Wilson. Allen fashioned a superb film but the mind still reels at what could have been....For more click here.
gangster movies about mobs, molls, and ingenious but ill-fated heists enjoyed a
big vogue in Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s, especially after the success
of Jules Dassin’s stylish “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” in 1955. Opening
here a year later in an edited, subtitled print as “Rififi,” Dassin’s picture
drew a small but appreciative audience of critics and foreign-film fans, and
became a perennial favorite in American art houses, repertory theaters, and
was a rare example of a “policier,” as French audiences called them, gaining
any critical and commercial notice on these shores even remotely comparable to
their popularity abroad. Although the genre owed a clear debt to classic
American crime films, it fell victim here, like nearly every other cinema
import from abroad, to a homegrown bias against dubbed or subtitled foreign
films in that more insular era of American popular culture. The vast
demographic of moviegoers in small-town America tended to be wary of movies
that they had to read as well as watch, or those in which stilted dialogue came out of unfamiliar actors’
mouths in interchangeable voices that didn’t match the movements of their
lips. If you were a crime-movie
enthusiast, you already had plenty of domestic product to choose from, anyway,
thanks to a wave of violent, “fact-based” programmers like “The Bonnie Parker
Story” (1958) and “Al Capone” (1959) that U.S. studios released in the wake of
high ratings for TV’s “The Untouchables.”
policiers that crossed the Atlantic, if they made it at all, were likely to be
relegated to marginal, second-run theaters, alongside nudies and exploitation
pictures. Newspaper ads and posters
played up the sexier, grittier aspects of the films as lurid entertainment “for adults only.” For example, the blurbs on the posters for
“Doulos, the Finger Man,” a subtitled 1964 edit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le
Doulos” (1963), proclaimed: “Raw, Savage, Shocking” -- “So ruthless, untamed
women would do anything for him . . . and did!” In these days of graphic
internet porn, what may have been “shocking” 50 years ago now looks quaintly
tame. Actual nude scenes in the original
European prints, which were modest to begin with by today’s standards, were
trimmed out of the American versions in deference to anti-obscenity laws. The sensual content that remained would
hardly cause a stir in today’s climate, but it was provocative for its era,
when married couples on TV had to be shown sleeping in modest PJs in twin beds,
if they were shown in the bedroom at all.
advertising strategy of implied sex turned a quick buck for distributors who
had little chance of seeing the policiers accepted by mainstream
ticket-buyers. However, the films’
reputation suffered in the larger court of public opinion. Middlebrow critics snubbed them as sordid
trash, almost beneath their notice. The
New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, for example, dismissed the Melville film as
“talkative and tiresome,” and seemed personally offended by the “mean and
disagreeable” title character portrayed by Jean-Paul Belmondo.
have changed greatly since then. Younger
generations of critics, less bothered by disagreeable characters than Crowther
was, have revisited the policiers and found them worthy of serious
discussion. Thanks to DVD, Blu-ray,
streaming video, and cable movie networks, a wider audience in middle America
has a chance to see the films in their original form, and they’re more likely
to be receptive to foreign productions than their grandparents in the Ike
era. Several policiers, including “Le
Doulos” and nearly all of Melville’s other pictures, are available in restored
DVD and Blu-ray editions with classy packaging. However, other policiers of arguably equal merit remain missing in
action on U.S. home video, even on the collector’s market, notably Alex Joffé’s
1959 production, “Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (1959).
the title suggests, Joffé’s film shares a bloodline with Jules Dassin’s better
known classic. Both were based on novels
by French crime writer Auguste Le Breton, who claimed that “rififi” was
criminal slang that he had picked up from real underworld acquaintances in the
hangouts of Montmartre and Pigalle, meaning something like “melee” or
“rumble.” Le Breton co-authored the
script for the Joffé movie.
critics have questioned whether Le Breton was telling the truth about his gangland
connections, and suspect that he coined the term “rififi” himself. Dassin said he was disturbed by racist
implications in the word, since Le Breton asserted that it referred to the
violent characteristics of Parisian gangs made up of North African immigrants
from the Rif area of Morocco. Accordingly, in the film version of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes,” Dassin
downplayed the ethnicity of his characters. Sort of a Mickey Spillane of France, Le Breton became a popular
celebrity after the success of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” and made a lot of
money writing about hoods and tough guys. Many of his novels were branded with “rififi” in their titles, but aside
from certain shared themes and plot elements, the books were unrelated to each
“Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (in my rough English translation, “The Girls Mix It
Up”), underworld entrepreneur Vicky de Berlin (Nadja Tiller) owns a popular
floating nightclub, the “Ration K,” on the Senne River in Brussels. Characteristically for Le Breton’s criminal
figures, Vicky’s surname isn’t necessarily her real family name, just a
nickname referring to the city where she came from. (In “Du Rififi chez Les
Hommes,” the ringleader of the story’s audacious jewel robbery, played by Jean
Servais in the movie, was Tony Le Stéphanois: “Stéphanois” being a
colloquialism for someone from the French town of Saint
Etienne.) Vicky’s troubled past as a
displaced Berliner is suggested by a photograph of her father on the desk in
her private office, a German officer wearing the Iron Cross. The name of her club implies that she might
have made her first money dealing surplus or stolen U.S. Army rations on the
black market after World War II.
With this column we begin a new feature: showcasing original reviews from industry trade magazines from many years ago. It is interesting to see how classic and cult movies were received on the basis of these reviews which were presented to the movie theater trade prior to their general release. First up: Hammer Films' "Dracula A.D. 1972" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This review appeared in the October/November 1972 issue of Film Bulletin.
The conventions of the gangster movie are rigidly defined,
critic Robert Warshow observed in a famous 1948 essay. At heart is the character arc of the socially
deviant protagonist, whether Rico Bandello, Tony Montana, or Michael Corleone:
“a steady upward progress followed by a very precipitate fall.”
In Brian Helgeland’s excellent biopic “Legend” (2015), currently
playing in limited theatrical release, the twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray
(Tom Hardy, in a dual role) are already on the upward curve of Warshow’s
character arc in the 1960s London underworld as the film begins. “Reggie was a gangster prince of the East
End,” Reggie’s future wife Frances (Emily Browning) muses in voiceover. “Ronnie was a one-man mob.” In the first scene, the dapper Reggie
derisively brings tea to two rumpled detectives who are staking him out, the
senior of whom, Inspector Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), is determined to
bring him down. The mentally disturbed
Ronnie is behind bars, but a prison psychiatrist is intimidated into clearing
his early release. The doctor’s honest
assessment when Reggie comes to escort his brother home: “Your brother Ron is
violent and psychopathic, and I suspect he’s paranoid schizophrenic. To put it
simply, he’s off his fucking rocker.”
The Krays control the run-down East End and wage sporadic turf
battles with their rivals, the Richardson brothers’ “Torture Gang” in South
London. When the Richardsons are sent up
the river, the Krays’ extortion-based empire expands to swallow their
territory. Reggie opens a posh
nightclub, Esmeralda’s Barn, whose clientele of slumming celebrities impresses
sheltered teenager Frances on their first date: “Oh look, is that Joan
Collins?” she asks breathlessly. It
is. Reggie’s financial advisor Leslie
Payne (David Thewlis) tries to convince him to move into legitimate business,
but the big money from the rackets is a powerful inducement to remain on the
other side of the law, especially when the twins seal a trans-Atlantic
partnership with Meyer Lansky through a Mafia intermediary (Chazz
Palminteri). The homosexual Ronnie hosts
orgies that attract a varied following, including a politically powerful Peer,
Lord Boothby (John Sessions). Scotland
Yard begins to close in, but the vested establishment pulls strings all the way
up through the Prime Minister to protect Boothby from public scandal, and
Read’s superiors order him to curtail his investigation. Ronnie murders a rival mobster in a pub, and
Read thinks he’s finally got a case, but the key witness refuses to identify
Kray in a lineup for fear of her family’s safety.
Hardy’s performance is a remarkable, Academy Award-worthy
achievement. Part of the credit goes to
the superior facial prosthetics that transform Hardy into the thuggish,
bespectacled Ronnie, but even more credit goes to Hardy’s own talent and
physicality. The actor gives each
brother a distinctive posture, gait, and voice. The tricks used to put both characters on the screen simultaneously are
seamless, notably in a long fight scene where the twins slug each other to a
pulp with fists and champagne bottles. At the same time, with one actor in the dual roles, Hardy and Helgeland
underscore the fact that beneath the surface, both brothers are very much alike
in their propensity for violence. Reggie
is simply better able to control himself. This shared volatility becomes more apparent in the second part of the
movie, the downward curve of Warshow’s arc, as Reggie becomes increasingly
unhinged because of a personal tragedy. When he bloodily stabs an underling, Jack “the Hat” McVitie (Sam
Spruell), to death, the murder unravels the Krays’ enterprise. As the closing credits note, the brothers
were sent to prison in 1968. The
real-life Ronnie died in 1995, Reggie in 2000.
Cinema Retro fans are likely to get a charge out of the movie’s
1960s costumes and cars, the stream of oldie hits on the soundtrack (when’s the
last time you heard “Soulful Strut” or “The ‘In’ Crowd”?), and the scenes of
music divas Timi Yuro (Duffy) and Shirley Bassey (Samantha Pearl) performing at
Reggie’s club. Pearl doesn’t sing
“Goldfinger” in her cameo as Bassey, but there’s still a one-degree association
between “Legend” and 007 that should interest Bond fans: Helgeland’s script was
based on a 1973 biography of the Krays by John Pearson, who also wrote two
superlative books in the Bond canon, “The Life of Ian Fleming” and “James Bond:
The Authorized Biography.” The film’s
supporting performances are outstanding, with Thewlis and Spruell in particular
nearly giving Hardy a run for his money. The movie suggests a host of comparisons with other gangland classics,
including the British productions “The Criminal” (Joseph Losey, 1960) and “Get
Carter” (Mike Hodges, 1971), which bookended the actual Kray era; Martin
Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1989), from which Helgeland clearly draws inspiration;
and Helgeland’s own “Payback” (1999); in that film, Mel Gibson’s character
Porter and Gregg Henry’s manic Val seem like early foreshadowings of the
Reg/Ron duality. If “Legend” inspires
you to watch or re-watch those pictures, all the better.
If I have a quibble with the film, it’s with the title “Legend,”
which isn’t very evocative of a gangster saga. Worse, it poses the risk of confusion with a very different movie,
Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy-adventure with Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. “The Krays” might have better done as a
title, except that -- in fairness to Helgeland, I should point out -- it was
already taken as the title of a 1990 movie by Peter Medak, with Gary and Martin
Kemp as Ronnie and Reggie. The Medak
version filled out the details about the twins’ early lives more thoroughly than
Helgeland does, and it’s not a bad film itself, if not as riveting and stylish
as “Legend.” It’s currently streaming on
Winston Churchill once said of the Soviet Union "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". The same could be said of Marlon Brando, that most rebellious and unpredictable of acting legends. He could be selfish, nasty, charming, seductive and completely dismissive. If you have even a modicum of interest in Brando's life and career, don't miss director Stevan Riley's new documentary feature "Listen to Me Marlon". The offbeat title is meant to suggest the stream of consciousness that is based on the main premise of the film: audio tapes of Brando engaging in self-analysis. Ironically his intention was to use these recordings, which were made over decades, as the basis of an autobiographical documentary that was obviously designed to give his side of the story as it related to his life and career. As with many quixotic projects Brando became involved with, the film never became reality. However, director Riley (who helmed the acclaimed James Bond documentary "Everything or Nothing") received cooperation from the Brando estate to fulfill the actor's quest to refute certain urban legends about his life through his own words. The film is laid out in a fascinating manner. It is non-linear in the sense that it doesn't strictly adhere to the timetable of the momentous events of Brando's life. The movie zig-zags through the decades with photos and footage of his younger years with those from his final tortured days, beset by personal family tragedies. There was always a sense that Brando was consistently aloof and unconcerned about the public's perception of him. This proves not to be true. In the audio tape segments that define the premise of the movie (there is no narrator, only Brando himself), we find that this was a man who cared very much about being the target of bad press, especially when he was convinced the stories were not true. However, there is also an introspective admission that he considered himself to have major failings as a father and family man, a fact evidenced by the dramatic events in the latter part of his life that saw one of his sons, Christian, incarcerated for shooting to death his daughter Cheyenne's boyfriend and the subsequent suicide of Cheyenne several years later. It becomes clear through are photos and home movie footage that one aspect of Brando was that he truly loved his family, yet he was too self-absorbed with his own life and career to have been anything other than an occasional presence in their lives. In heartbreaking public trial footage, we see Brando, that most private of men, break down in tears as he bemoans his failings as a father. The movie shows that Brando himself was subjected to a strained relationship with his own father, a cold and unfeeling man who could never praise his son even after he had achieved international fame. In one awkward on-camera interview from the 1950s, the father is almost dismissive of his son's achievements. Brando later reflects compassion for his father, however, pointing out that he, too, had lived a very difficult life and was a product of those experiences.
Brando on the set of Last Tango in Paris with director Bernardo Bertolucci and co-star Maria Schneider, 1972.
The film provides no interviews with critics or colleaguesbut does present riveting vintage interviews in which we see Brando at his most playful. On a press junket (perhaps the only one he did in the 1960s) for the underrated WWII spy thriller "Morituri", Brando is far more concerned about seducing the attractive female journalists than he is in extolling the virtues of the film. The audio segments also indicate his bitterness over his experience on the 1962 remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" which almost sank MGM. Brando took the lion's share of the blame for the film's enormous cost over-runs and was publicly chastised for selfish and irrational behavior on the set. His side of of the story is that they needed a scapegoat and he was it, pointing out he felt the film had major script problems from the beginning. The film also addresses the strained relationship between Brando and director Francis Ford Coppola, who resuscitated his career with "The Godfather". Brando laments that fact that Coppola bad-mouthed him for being unprepared on the set of "Apocalypse Now" and says he was hurt by this public flogging by a man he considered a friend. The documentary is peppered with film clips from key Brando movies, all of which are presented in gorgeous transfers, indicating Riley had a sizable budget for this film. (Many documentary film makers use VHS transfers of movie clips in order to get free usage under U.S. copyright laws.) There is also some truly rare color, on-set footage from "On the Waterfront" that left this viewer clamoring to see more. Brando's classics are represented and so are his bombs, so as the infamous "A Countess From Hong Kong", Charlie Chaplin's big screen comeback that landed with a thud. There are also the late career artistic triumphs such as "The Godfather" and "Last Tango in Paris", though on the latter Brando clearly resents his relationship with director Bernardo Bertolucci who he felt manipulated him into unveiling too many of his personal inner demons. Throughout the film, we see Brando represented by a digital 3D image of his head which he posed for in the 1980s and which fascinated him. He predicted that the future of film making would be revolutionized by digital technology- a predication that has come true. The statue-like, free-floating head of Brando serves as an anchor for his narration and perhaps, fittingly, reminds one of his appearance as Jor-El in "Superman". The movie also covers his social activism beginning with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. We see him among a Hollywood contingent in Washington D.C. as part of Martin Luther King's landmark protest. The film also traces his well-known devotion to equal rights for Native Americans. The movie includes the legendary Oscar ceremony footage of a mystery woman named Sacheen Littlefeather, in full tribal dress, refusing Brando's Best Actor statuette for "The Godfather" in protest of Hollywood's treatment of Indians on screen, much to the incredulity or perhaps amusement of presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore. It was the kind of bold, in-your-face move that epitomized Brando as a rebel but it was also a missed opportunity. Why didn't he appear himself to make the speech? Laziness? Cowardliness? We'll never know. Like many of Brando's causes, however, these seemed to burn brightly but briefly.
The movie covers Brando's failed marriages and tempestuous relationships with women, none of which ended satisfactorily. Despite his late career fun appearances on Larry King's chat show, we get the feeling that he died feeling lonely and frustrated, haunted by what he perceived to be his own failures. If "Listen to Me Marlon" has a flaw is that it leaves us hungry for even more. Some key films and events are glossed over or ignored, perhaps for reasons of running time. Brando's "One Eyed Jacks", the only film he ever directed, is tantalizingly glimpsed in clips but not even identified by name. He created a fine movie after taking over from director Stanley Kubrick, who found he could not work with Brando. The film went far over-budget and caused angst at Paramount, adding to the growing belief that Brando might be more trouble than he was worth. However, we never hear a word about his views on directing or what happened on the set of the film. Perhaps he never addressed this in the audio recordings that Riley was given access to, but it will frustrate Brandophiles to not have the film covered in any detail. There are other snippets that also leave us desiring more: his dismissal of the first "Superman" movie, which he concedes he did strictly for money (but did he really think it was a bad movie?) Brando bragging that he rewrote the script for "Apocalypse Now", whereas others said he was just fudging because he was too lazy to read the script. The movie also covers Brando's increasing reliance on cue cards and other devices to remind him of his lines. Over clips from "The Formula", we hear him brag that he insisted that his character wear a hearing aid so that his lines could be fed to him. We see that the only place Brando truly feels at piece was in his beloved atoll in Tahiti. Home movies indicate this was a place where he could find peace and solace, away from studio executives, fawning fans and intrusive journalists.
"Listen to Me Marlon" is a remarkable film and is a fitting analysis of a man who personifies the old cliche "They don't make stars like that any more".
(The film opens July 29 for a two week run at the Film Forum in New York City.)
a cult favorite, actress Edwige Fenech
has numerous movie moments that are ingrained into the minds of many
Italian men who came of age in the 1970’s. Yet there is one particular moment, running topless in slow-motion
through a field of flowers, that is probably more memorable then the rest. Many words come to mind when trying to
describe this scene: Crude. Low-brow. Gratuitous. All of these are
excellent adjectives to use when trying to sum up 1973’s Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Besides giving audiences an (extremely) intimate look at Ms.
Fenech, this was the film that famously
(or infamously) proved that the Italian “sexy comedies” could be commercially
viable. Although not a for
everyone, Ubalda is perfect for fans who wish to delve more deeply into the
overlooked cult titles of Italy’s yesteryear.
(Pippo Franco) is a hapless knight who has just returned home after a long and
brutal war. As can be expected, he wants
nothing more than to eat fresh food, have a nice bath, and find comfort in the
arms of his beautiful wife Fiamma (Karin Schubert). Before he had left, Olimpio had his wife
fitted with a chastity built in order to ensure that she remained faithful. Yet when he returns home, he finds that Fiamma
is less then eager to return his affections (even with the chastity belt, she
has numerous other suitors lined
up). After she steals the key to the
belt (a fact which delights her suitors), she informs Olimpio that she has
taken a vow of “chastity”, and suggests that her husband focus his energies
toward making peace with their neighbor instead of making love. Discouraged, Olimpio accepts his wife’s words
and heads over to the home of Master Oderisi (Umberto D’Orsi) in order to make
amends. Yet as soon as he sees Oderisi’s
new wife, he quickly has other ideas.
it turns out, Lady Ubalda (Edwige Fenech), is as equally unhappy in her
marriage as Fiamma is in hers. Initially, she is only too happy to add Olimpio to her list of secret
lovers, but quickly loses interest after his plan to bed her fails. Frustrated at home, both Olimpio and Oderisi
eventually agree to swap wives. Yet
their plan sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change their lives
in a very unexpected way. By the time
the film is over, neither man has to worry about the other ever trying to bed
their wife again.
with a budget of roughly $50,000, the
film grossed more than $400,000 at the box office, making it a huge success. (Although people under the age of 18 were not
admitted into the theaters, it is interesting to think of all the creative ways
that teenagers concocted in their attempts to sneak in). After Ubalda’s
stunning success, the Italian sex comedies (known in Italy as “commedia sexy
all’italiana”) became a huge sensation. Aside from the medieval setting, these films tended to center around
numerous other cliched subjects, such as: nurses, policewomen, and lady medics. Unsurprisingly, many of these films would
follow Ubalda’sexample and give top billing to Edwige Fenech.
Fenech was, beyond a doubt, the
break-out star of the movie. Already
known for her roles in the giallos, Ubalda
made Fenech an instant sex siren. It
is little wonder; gifted with natural beauty, she could light up any screen,
regardless of her role. (The fact that
the film featured her disrobing probably made the screen shine even brighter
for many in attendance). On top of her
more obvious attributes, Edwige Fenech also possessed a natural flair for
comedy. Throughout Ubalda, her
wry humor proves to be the perfect compliment to Franco's over the top antics.
Although her glamor and comedy would never grant her universal recognition,
Fenech would still make a decent career for herself.
Those of us of a certain age will recall that, while kooky religious cults have always been part of the American experience, in the mid-to-late 1970s there seemed to go through a boom period. Seemingly every week a new fringe fad movement would emerge, many of which were steeped in inexplicable psycho-babble about helping adherents "find oneself" and enrich their "inner beings". During this period I was approached in a Jersey City bowling alley, of all places, by a card-carrying member of one such cult/religion, the name of which I have happily forgotten. Upon being asked to sign up for the movement, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment to prove a point to my girlfriend (now wife): that the gullible people associated with these groups are just vulnerable souls who can be easily manipulated by virtually any person possessed with a modicum of self-assurance, charisma and determination. I responded to my would-be savior that I could not join her movement because I was a devoted Hestonite. I made the term up on the spot because the evening before, ABC-TV had shown their annual telecast of "The Ten Commandments". I explained that Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior because I had seen him perform so many miracles. The baffled young lady logically pointed out that he was simply an actor, but in the course of a five-minute conversation I had somehow to get her to take my position seriously and to discuss in some detail why I believed Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience and wanted to see if I could go "all the way" with her and make her convert to my new-found religion. However, my girlfriend was getting fidgety and felt I had already proven my point. Besides, I guess there were people waiting for us to bowl with them, which seemed to be the priority at the moment. I still believe to this day that, had I been graced with another fifteen minutes of time, I would have signed up the first member of the Hestonite religious movement.
With each succeeding generation, unquestioning belief in established religions declines. (A recent poll shows that one third of Americans under the age of 30 are not affiliated with any specific religion.) Yet, there is still no shortage of 70's style "self-help" religions, all eager, if not desperate, to attract new adherents. It's easy to ridicule adherents to these causes as naive whack-jobs but in my own experience, those who buy into them tend to be sympathetic souls who are often trying to overcome some kind of personal crisis. They find solace in being accepted among other true believers. Without a doubt, the most controversial non-mainstream religion is Scientology, which is very much in the news of late because of director Alex Gibney's high profile new documentary, "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief", based on the best-selling book by Lawrence Wright. The film premieres on March 29 on HBO and has been the subject of countless news stories. I saw the "Going Clear" several weeks ago at an advance screening at the HBO building in New York. To say it's a powerful, thought-provoking experience would be an understatement.
The film traces the origins of the Scientology movement, which was started by successful science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The movement was originally known as a self-help program called Dianetics and it caught on in the post-WWII era. The "bible" of this movement was Hubbard's own best-selling book. Hubbard enjoyed the fruits of his success, charging devotees to attend self-help seminars. However, over time, Dianetics, like most such groups, began to fade in popularity. Always one to improvise, Hubbard reinvented the movement under the name Scientology. Instead of concentrating entirely on lost souls, Hubbard implemented a plan to appeal as well to the well-heeled and financially successful - with a very special effort to attract celebrities. Hubbard must have been astounded by his own success. By the 1970s, Scientology had taken off and continued to grow, attracting influential movie and TV stars along the way. Hubbard's books- works of inspiration to some, the ravings of a con man/mad man to others, topped the bestseller lists. But there were still problems. Hubbard, who is alleged to have started the movement as a tax dodge, never remitted payments to the IRS. For years, the agency dogged him to the extent that he literally took off to sea as part of a newly-found division of Scientology known as the Sea Org (which is characterized in "Going Clear" as a virtual slave labor operation.) Presumably, those who chose to sail with him and indulge in manual labor along the way, were primarily on a mission to sail the globe and extol the virtues of Scientology. Gibney's documentary says his goal was a bit less lofty: he put to see because the IRS was after him to pay back up to a billion in back taxes. In an audacious move, Hubbard took on the IRS by having his disciples file thousands of frivolous law suits against the agency. Eventually, they prevailed and the IRS- simply to get out of the legal quagmire- granted Hubbard what he always desired: protection from taxes by declaring Scientology as a genuine religion. With that key controversial ruling, Scientology kicked into high gear. The church invested heavily in properties around the world and its current wealth (largely in real estate) is estimated to be over $3 billion. Hubbard was secretive man who rarely gave interviews. The film presents an extremely rare exception, with a vintage interview Hubbard gave for a British documentary. He comes across as likable, avuncular and perpetually smiling and jolly. However, critics say he was attracting troubled people to his movement and systematically isolating them from the world outside of Scientology. According to "Going Clear", Hubbard became like a real-life Bond villain: living in seclusion amid palatial splendor and enjoying unquestioning loyalty from his followers. When he died in 1986, so great was the Scientology cult of personality, that his successor as leader of the church, David Miscavige, could not bring himself to admit to Scientologists that he was actually dead. In one of many fascinating video clips that Gibney secured, Miscavige spins Hubbard's death as a personal choice, saying that he succeeded in reaching such a higher form of life that he felt compelled to shed his now useless human form. The assembled masses cheer in support of their leader's "transition" to a higher plane.
his career, director Marco Bellocchio has been no stranger to controversy.A former supporter of militant left wing
politics, many of his films have strong socialistic and violent themes woven
throughout them.Although he has
somewhat mellowed with age, his younger years were still quite radical.Few of his films demonstrate this better than
1986’s Devil in the Flesh (Il Diavolo in Corpo), a sexually charged film
set during the terrorism and turmoil of Italy’s “Years of Lead”.Loosely based on Raymond Radiguet’s novel, this
Italian-French production stars Maruschka Detmers and Federico Pitzalis as two
lovers entrapped by the passion they have for one another. As they soon
discover, though, passion alone cannot sustain a healthy relationship,
especially when one person is engaged to a jailed terrorist. Although the plot
a bit clichéd, Devil stands out for being one of the first X rated films
to not only feature a mainstream actress, but also be released in the U.S. by a
(Pitzalis) is an eighteen year old student who, like many people in their final
years of high school, is quite bored with all the monotonous lectures in the
classroom. One day class is interrupted
by a commotion from a nearby rooftop. Looking around, the class discovers that a young woman is threatening to
jump, drawing a crowd of onlookers. One
of these onlookers is Giulia (Detmers), an older woman that Andrea sees and
immediately becomes infatuated with. Pursuing her, Andrea and Giulia eventually develop a friendship which
quickly becomes sexual and transforms into a torrid affair. Yet, complicating this affair is the fact that
Giulia is engaged to a man who is in prison for charges of terrorism. Also, Giulia’s soon to be mother-in-law becomes
quite suspicious and endeavors to find out who is sleeping with her son’s
fiancé. As if all this is not enough, Andrea discovers that Giulia is a rather
unstable woman who shows hints at the capacity of violence. All in all, these
factors make all the problems Romeo and Juliet faced seem quite tame in
be given to Pitzalis, who depicts the detached, devil-may-care attitude of a
disaffected teenager with great conviction. As the film progresses, it is clear that Andrea really has no ambitions,
no dreams, and no real concerns in the world. The only thing he actually cares about is Giulia, and the lust he feels
towards her. While his performance is
admirable, it is still undoubtedly Maruschka Detmers who steals the show with
her own dazzling skill. She doesn’t
simply portray a woman who is controlled by passion, but rather a woman who is
trapped by passion. It is readily apparent that for Giulia, passion is both her
savior and tormentor. The longer her
relationship with Andrea continues, the closer she is to being pushed over the
edge into outright madness. Happiness and misery come together hand and hand. Between Giulia’s hysterical laughs, longings
for Andrea, and sudden bursts of energy followed by crashing lows, the film
begs audiences to answer a specific question. Does Giulia truly love Andrea, or does she simply need/use him? Either way, it seems unlikely that “ happily
ever after” is in the cards for these two.
Devil is sexually explicit, and as such
it may make some viewers uncomfortable to watch. In today’s day and age, relations between
high school students and older adults are gravely serious matters. While numerous similar films have been made,
there still may be some viewers who may find the vivid subject matter in poor
taste, especially in a scene roughly halfway through the film. In one of the
more infamous moments in Bellocchio’s
film career, Devil in the Flesh features a scene of un-simulated sex between
Pitzalis and Detmers. Although brief and
done (for lack of a better word) tastefully, it is still unusual to see outside
adult films (although to be fair, many contemporary TV shows such as Game of
Thrones have come pretty close to approaching, and breaking down, that same
taboo). Understandably, Italian
producers wanted the scene to be cut, yet Bellocchio refused. Eventually, Italian Courts ruled in his
favor, and he was able to complete the film with his cinematic vision fully
made a bold career choice by agreeing to the scene, because she became one of
the first mainstream actresses to participate in an act of un-simulated sex.
Initially, she did defend her choice, saying that the scene had not been done
or portrayed in a vulgar manner. While she may be right, it became something
that would stand out in her resume and overshadow many of her other
day, critics are still divided about this infamous scene, although the majority
of opinions seem to be unfavorable. While some will argue that it captures the raw passion that exists
between Andrea and Giulia, many others argue that it trivializes the passion by
trading in for shock value. Even with the relaxation in standards today for
media (again, here’s looking at you Game of Thrones; Blue is the Warmest
Color) there is a fine that can’t be crossed without penalty. When Devil premiered in the United
States, it received an X rating and was confined to art house theaters. Still,
the fact that any major distributor (Orion Pictures) even chose to showcase the
film was pretty remarkable: it shows how times were changing, albeit slowly.
the Flesh was made
in the 1980s, during a period where the Italian film industry was in crisis.
While in previous decades the industry had been one of the most world renown,
the 80s saw a widening gap between mainstream and art house cinema. To this day many people, including Quentin
Tarantino, lament over the current state of Italian cinema. They feel that the industry has lost that
magic touch that helped produce some of the most iconic movies in years past. Agree or disagree, this particular movie is
clearly different from something that would have normally been shown in
NoShame Films and MYA Communications released fully restored versions of Devil
in the Flesh. Although both labels
are defunct, the DVDs are still readily available on sites such as Amazon for
decent prices. The NoShame edition does
have more special features, but both editions are uncut and feature gorgeously
re-mastered colors and crisp audio. Overall, lovers of Bellocchio and art house films might just want to
check this one out; highly recommended.
George A. Romero didn’t invent the concept of zombies.
They’ve had a spot in Haitian folklore for years (as explored in older films
like White Zombie and more
contemporary films like Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the
Rainbow ). There was also the French World War I reactionary J’Accuse(1919) by Abel Gance,
which featured actual footage from the battleground. Some horror enthusiasts
might even argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.P Lovecraft’s
story Herbert West: Re-Animator were also
significant early entries in the zombie canon.
What Romero can be credited with, however, as the recent
documentary Birth of the Living Dead examines, is the
mainstream popularity of zombies. It all began when he made the film Night of the Living
Dead (1968). It features a group of wayward strangers who’ve found
themselves stuck in an old farmhouse in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The
film is remembered for its poignant critique of the 60s, when the Vietnam war
was raging, home televisions were still new, and race relations were tenuous at
best (the film was notable for featuring African-American actor Duane Jones as
the male lead). The movie was filmed on a shoestring budget but didn’t stop it from
becoming a cult success that’s still beloved by countless legions of dedicated
A decade later, he came back and made Dawn of the Dead in 1978. It had a
similarly modest budget as his first movie. This film takes place during a
zombie outbreak and centers on a group of survivors who’ve taken up shelter in
the town’s shopping mall. Like the first, it’s full of a ton of symbolism and
was a timely commentary on the day’s rampant consumerism. Despite its highly
graphic content, it became a humongous success both financially and critically,
as it’s almost universally praised by all major movie critics, and it saw its
own re-make in 2004.
Day of the Dead came seven years
later in 1985 and featured a battle between the United States military and a
horde of zombies. Viewers weren’t sure exactly which side to take, as this
installment was pretty ambiguous and caused some watchers to root for the
zombies rather than their very military. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as big of a
commercial success as Dawn was, but it’s a much beloved cult film that
has become a staple of “Grindhouse
Fridays” on El Rey Network, is streamable through some websites, and not only was it remade a few
decades later on, but there is yet another remake in the works.
The trilogy garnered a humongous fan base and inspired many
subsequent movies, but George Romero himself kept quiet on the zombie front for
the rest of the 80s and all throughout the 90s. It was a bit of shock when he
released another zombie flick in the 2000s.
Land of the Dead was released in 2005
in the midst of the Bush administration and featured an opportunistic
politician who tries to use the zombie crisis outlined in the movie as a means
to achieve his own agenda. It was a modern day commentary on war and
xenophobia. Land of the Dead became a great success and grossed over
$46,000,000. It wasn’t considered as good as the movies Night or Dawn, but
critics thought it was an overall decent addition to the Romero library.
Diary of the Dead was the next step
for Romero in 2007. It’s a fictional documentary similar to other cult-hits
like Cannibal Holocaust or The Blair Witch
Project. The film was made to look like amateur footage and makes liberal
use of the shaky-cam technique. This movie strayed rather far from the original
trilogy through its heavy use of CGI but still enjoyed some positive reviews,
although it wasn’t quite as well received as Land.
The final Romero zombie-film was Survival of the
Dead, released in 2010. It took place on a zombie-infested island just
off the coast of North America. This film was both a box-office bust and a
critical failure. It was panned by critics and hardcore Romero fans alike as
being stale and an overall disappointment. This movie alone has likely caused Romero
to lose any future financial investments for a new zombie film down the road,
but luckily it wasn’t bad enough to tarnish the reputation that Romero gained
for his work in the original trilogy.
Apart from his own directorial work, Romero has had a positive and
lasting impact on today’s culture and has inspired a new generation of
directors and filmmakers who grow up enchanted by his work. Zombies have
infected every level of pop-culture from books, to television shows, to movies,
to art, and even to real world events like zombie walks and horror conventions.
He’s inspired many directors to create their own vision of the zombie
apocalypse in new and interesting ways. Danny Boyle, the creator of 28 Days Later, is one of the most
critically acclaimed new director of zombie flicks, and there have been a ton
of other successful zombie stories made that have spanned multiple genres and
George Romero is very much like a modern day Bram Stoker, who took
the old myth of vampires and turned it into a modern day cultural success, and,
like Stoker, his legacy will live on as his movies continues to inspire legions
of fans and newer work based on his original films.
("Casting By", the acclaimed documentary by director Tom Donahue, has been released on DVD by First Run Features. Below is our original review from November 2013 of the film's theatrical release.)
By Lee Pfeiffer
"Casting By" is an extraordinary new documentary by filmmaker Tom Donahue who spent years accumulating interviews and archival materials for this look at the contributions of casting directors to the motion picture business. Most people are well aware of the important roles that composers, costume designers, editors and production designers play in the creation of movies-- but if you say "casting directors", the average person's eyes glaze over. Sounds boring, doesn't it? Donahue's film sets the record straight, pointing out that casting directors are often responsible for bringing to life some of the film industry's most memorable characters. So important is their contributions that Donohue found enthusiasm among esteemed filmmakers and actors to participate in his documentary even among those individuals who are not prone to generally giving interviews. In the film Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, John Travolta, David V. Picker, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Norman Jewison, Norman Lear, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Duvall and Robert Redford, to name just a few, all extol the virtues of casting directors. Woody Allen readily admits that he hates the process of casting because he can't bring himself to choose one actor over another...and that his instincts are often wrong. He credits his long-time casting director, Juliet Taylor, with force-feeding certain actors like Meryl Streep into Allen's films when he didn't see the wisdom of casting them. The film's genesis was as a tribute to Marion Dougherty, a woman whose name won't ring bells with most movie fans, but who was a legend in the industry. It was Dougherty who elevated the status of casting directors when she first went into the profession in 1949. Her keen eye and insightful instincts quickly made her the "go to" person for top directors and studio executives. Dougherty soon became indispensable and set up an office in New York City where she often nurtured talent such as "up and comers" Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Soon, she had a virtual monopoly on high profile casting assignments for films. She acted as mentor for young women who would go on to become successful casting directors and inspired another legendary person in the profession, Lynn Stalmaster. It was Dougherty who fought to get Jon Voight the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy after it had been decided that the role should go to Michael Sarrazin. She gave many other future superstars their first major break when she was casting director for the hit TV show The Naked City in the early 1960s. These actors have never forgotten what they owed her. Dougherty is seen throughout the documentary through interviews Tom Donahue conducted with her in 2007. She passed away in 2011, not having seen the completed film- but her sassy nature and independent outlook on the role of women in the film industry come through loud and clear despite her advanced age.
The film is peppered with relevant film clips throughout and countless other prominent talking heads. The movie has set off a bit of a firestorm in the film industry because of its outright advocacy for the position that casting directors should receive recognition from the Academy at Oscar time. (It is the only single-card credit in the film industry to not have an Oscar category.) Clearly, the filmmakers seen here support such a move but there are some exceptions. Oscar winning director Taylor Hackford, who is President of the Directors Guild of America, vehemently argues against Academy recognition for casting directors because they are not really "directing" anything and that the final casting decisions always rest with the director themselves. Others argue that this in an invalid justification for his position because, in the end, every aspect of a movie needs the director's approval...so why give Oscars for editing, cinematography, costumes, etc? The film points out that casting directors are recognized by the Emmys so there is precedence for this idea. Yet, as far back as 1991, esteemed actors and directors pleaded with the Academy to at least grant a special Oscar to Marion Dougherty, but their efforts failed. As for Ms. Dougherty, she was elevated to VP levels at major studios only to be fired for the crime of having aged in a business in which seniority is frowned up. Other veteran casting directors lament the present state of the industry, saying that too many roles are awarded to flash-in-the-pan celebrities who are ill-suited to play the parts. There are exceptions, of course, and most of them can be found in acclaimed TV series where casting directors are proving to make all the difference when it comes to finding the right actor for the right role.
Casting By is a very unique look at the aspects of the film industry that are not widely discussed and it blows the lid off the dirty little battles that have been going on in terms of trying suppress a key branch of the business from receiving appropriate recognition. No matter where you stand on the subject, you'll be fascinated by this look at film history. The movie is superbly edited by Tom Donahue's wife Jill Schweitzer, who had the unenviable task of culling through 250 interviews with prominent people (only about 50 ended up in the final cut.) The movie is justifiably being touted for a nomination for Best Documentary. It deserves the honor- but one hopes that the criticisms of the very Academy that would make that decision won't render yet another shameless snub, this time because director Donahue has dared to go after some sacred cows.
DAVE WORRALLreports from London, where the film is scheduled to open this week.
There was no laughter in the audience
following this morning's press show for David Ayer's WWII drama Fury - just stunned silence, as we all
walked out feeling battered and bruised after watching two hours of the most
brutal and realistic scenes of war ever captured on film. Set in the last month
of the European theatre of war in April 1945, as the Allies make their final
push into Nazi Germany, we are introduced to the world of four tough GI's and
their new rookie, who go into battle in their tank named 'Fury'. It's dark and
grim, and portrays the horrors of war similar to that of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan - but far worse. As
the film unfolds you start to feel as claustrophobic as the crew of 'Fury'
themselves, and whilst the characters are not that likeable, you start to
respect just how frightening it must have been for real soldiers in that
situation. By the end you feel as though you have spent two hours in the tank
with them. Yes, it's that tense. The
Telegraph newspaper likens it to Peckinpah's Cross of Iron and Fuller's The
Big Red One. I agree, but there's no Hollywood slow-motion deaths here -
they are all sudden, quick, and sickening. One sequence, where three Sherman
tanks take on a German Tiger tank, is absolutely terrifying, and the final 15
minutes are a tour-de-force of cinema that had my stomach tied in knots. I was
genuinely frightened. Superbly cast, with top-notch cinematography, production
design, special effects and great music score, this is a 5-Star movie any day
of the week. But it's not for the faint-hearted.
Ron Howard has announced he is working on a major documentary tracing the live performances given by the Beatles up to their final concert in San Francisco at Candlestick Park in 1966. Howard is doing the film in cooperation with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono and Apple Corps will be producing. The relationships between the Beatles had been famously fractured throughout the decades. After John Lennon's assassination, Ringo, Paul and George Harrison did team for a tribute song to him titled "All Those Years Ago". The three were also interviewed separately for "The Beatles Anthology" video and music project. The tensions between McCartney on Ono ultimately led to the breakup up the band but apparently in their golden years, their relationship seems to have improved, as evidenced by their mutual cooperation on the Howard film. The movie is set for release next year and Howard is said to have tracked down enough footage to make the project viable.
Film historian Max Tohline provides a fascinating 13 minute video essay that delves into insights about the editing process used in Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". Even if you've seen the film countless times (as we have!), this is sure to give you a renewed appreciation for the work of director Sergio Leone and his editors. Click here to view. (Thanks to reader Vip Patel for the head's up on this.)
a meticulous 4K restoration by none other than the Criterion Collection, the
Beatles’ first film, A Hard Days Night, was unveiled at LA’s Raleigh
Studios.Yes, the image was crisp and
clean, not a smudge or scratch in sight. (No surprise there as the film’s
director Richard Lester personally approved the restoration.) And yes, the
music sounded glorious in a new 5.1 mix. In fact, George Harrison’s iconic opening
riff on the title track just about knocked this Cinema Retro scribe off his
seat! But what was really special about this whimsical film was watching it
through the prism of fifty years.From
frame 1, we know how we lost both John Lennon and George Harrison.We are living with climate change, al-Qaeda,
overpopulation and deforestation, so this movie is a welcome relief, capturing
a simpler time in a quainter London which was then still throwing off the
shadows of WW II.Most importantly, the
film delivers The Beatles in close-up after close-up – all are young, strong
and so full of life.To say they “stole
the show” doesn’t apply, they ARE the show.The plot, about the trials and tribulations of getting the white-hot
group to a live performance is basically filler between musical set pieces, but
it earned writer Alun Owen a 1965 Oscar nomination. George Martin’s thumping
score also landed an Oscar nod.
for the ride is Paul’s cranky grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) who keeps the band
and their managers (dour Norman Rossington and goofy John Junkin) on their toes.
Odd looking and angular, Brambell, a major UK TV star at the time, was a
sneering contrast to the Fab Four’s glowing charisma.
film is as much about movement as it is music. The band is always on the move, -
on foot, in trains, cars and a helicopter. Richard Lester’s cameras are on the
move as well, with numerous hand-held shots and a beautiful aerial sequence
where the band escapes a stuffy rehearsal to mess about in a playing field accompanied
by Can’t Buy Me Love. With much of the
dialogue improvised on the spot, A Hard Day’s Night has a breezy, cinéma vérité
feel that obviously worked for its stars as they seem to be having a blast from
start to finish.
The Beatles finally go “live”, the climactic concert delivers vintage “Beatlemania”
in all its screaming glory. The lads blast out Tell Me Why, If I Fell, I Should Have Known Better and She Loves You, intercut with an audience
full of hysterical teens and the show’s harried director (Vincent Spinelli) having
a meltdown in the control booth. It’s
all innocent, upbeat and just simply, fun. Are there plot holes you could drive a
double-decker bus through? Sure. But who cares? For a brief shining moment the Beatles are
together again and all is well with the world.
July 4th, Janus Films will re-release this restored version of A
Hard Days Night in more than 50 cities across America.
(Cinema Retro's next issue (#30) presents a 50th anniversary tribute to the film.)
What can one say about a movie that is nothing more
than 90 minutes of a guy trying to start an old VW bus? That’s what Ryan Steven
Green’sCircle the Wagens seems
to be, as we follow a couple of good-hearted fellows in their attempt to bring
a “baby blue ‘72” across the country to California. The vehicle, a rusted Volkswagen Transporter
Deluxe won on eBay, is affectionately known as “The Croc.”It breaks down. It starts up. It breaks down.
It starts up. Somebody paints it. It breaks down. And that’s the story.
The movie is supposed to amuse us with the camaraderie
of men linked by their love of VWs, but there’s really not enough here to hang
a story. It grows monotonous to hear someone groping for words to explain why
these vehicles inspire such devotion. No one really has a good reason, although
a few people correctly point out that all cars “look the same nowadays.” True, the old VWs stand out and have some
character, but what’s the point if yours won’t start?
Our happy go lucky protagonist, Dave Torstenson,
doesn’t help matters, labeling himself early on as someone who knows nothing
about cars. Great, just the guy we want
to spend 90 minutes with as he fumbles with his heap. We’re told constantly
about his adventurous spirit, and how he went to Iraq in 2006 to teach
elementary school, but while I’m sure he’s a nice guy, none of this makes one
care if he gets his piece of junk bus across the country. Green even stops the movie halfway through so
Torstenson can enter a steak eating contest at some hillbilly dive, as if
watching someone chew a steak is any more interesting than watching someone try
to start up an old rust bucket.
According to the movie’s website, Green “made his first documentary at the tender age
of 19. Its subject was the ‘blue flame,’ that is, lighting farts on fire. The
topics of subsequent films are equally symptomatic of an unfashionably happy
childhood: snails, moustaches, modern homesteaders, coffee, and now Volkswagens.”
Well, I haven’t seen his movies about farts or mustaches, but if Circle The Wagens is any indication,
I’ll avoid them. Circle the Wagens is almost saved by cinematographer Lawson Demming,
who shoots the roadside motels and the big sky scenery with élan. It’s not enough, though.
The movie has been well received on the festival circuit,
and given a surprisingly high rating on the IMDB, I imagine due to its DIY vibe.
(Green edited the thing on a computer inside the Croc, which earns him some
points from “do it yourselfers.”) Some viewers may be satisfied with the
colorful photography, the nostalgia for cheap roadside kitsch, and the
earthiness of the characters. Some may
find a metaphor here for an old America that is dying. Some may even be tickled to know about this
Volkswagen subculture. To me, watching this was like listening to someone who
doesn’t speak a language try to bluff his way through a conversation. The
rhythms may be there, and the right facial expressions, but there’s nothing
If you can’t wait for this one to hit the cable
channels devoted to cars and such, it will be available VOD on 7/29, and DVD
8/26. For more about the film, visit CircleTheWagen.com.
Rod Barnett, writing on his blog The Bloody Pit of Rod, has an intriguing take about what went wrong with both attempts to make The Lone Ranger the subject of big screen feature films. The first debacle, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was a costly flop back in 1981 but it looked like a smashing success compared to the 2013 Disney version, which is estimated to have lost $250 million despite the presence of Johnny Depp. Barnett's article, written contemporaneously with the release of the latter film last summer, examines why both films veered far off course. Click here to read
The first image we see in Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, a handsome new
documentary byNicholas D. Wrathall, is
of Vidal at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., standing over what will
soon be his own tomb.He’s heavier than
we remember, leaning on a cane for balance. He recalls a few friends who are
already buried nearby, mentions his “pathological hatred of death,” and ambles
away. This is the titan at midnight, crumbling at the edges,still formidable.
The movie’s cryptic opening segues into a respectful,
occasionally moving, look back at Vidal’s life. It’s more a tribute than a
full-blown biography, for Wrathall presents Vidal as a kind of intellectual
colossus, utterly devoid of faults, a near perfect thinker, and the last lion
of America’s golden age of liberalism.The movie stops short of hagiography, but just barely.What keeps it interesting is Vidal, a born
entertainer who, even in his final years, could still spin a tale, drop a name,
or do an impression of JFK.
Vidal seems a natural subject for a documentary - there
have been several already, including a 2004 episode of the PBS American Masters
series - for his life was very much like a long, American novel of the 1920s.
His mother was a ditzy alcoholic. His father was an aeronautics instructor at
West Point, had an affair with Amelia Earhart, and wanted to be the Henry Ford
of aviation. The job of raising Vidal was left to his blind grandfather, the
fiery Senator T.P. Gore of Oklahoma.When
Vidal reminisces about the senator, the respect and awe is palpable.T.P. passed on to Vidal not just his liberal
politics, but also a love of literature, and a fearsome oratory skill.
After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, Vidal
went on to become a scandalous novelist, a playwright, a screenwriter, a
television dramatist during TV’s golden age; he was a self-described member of
the ruling class who struggled to escape it; he never referred to himself as
‘gay,’ but wrote books and essays defending bisexual and homosexual lifestyles;
he was deeply involved in politics, and later, was a TV gadfly, appearing on
The Tonight Show a dozen times, as well as many other programs, even lending
his voice to The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Wrathall taps most of those aspects of Vidal’s past
(not, alas, the cartoon work), but focuses mainly on Vidal the political
commentator, the weary traveler who sees America as a series of shams and
failures, the gruff grumbler. Indeed, the movie shows Vidal holding court at
various speaking engagements; all he has to do is call George Bush “a fool,”
and the walls of the joint practically come down.If the movie has a glaring fault, it’s that
we see Vidal go from being a young author of gay themed novels to a
socio-politico bon vivant, with very little in between to illustrate his
journey. Instead, Wrathall relies on nameless, faceless narrators to offer such
bromides as “Gore was everywhere, like a shape shifter.”
The cornerstone of any documentary about Vidal will be
his televised 1968 debates with William F. Buckley. Wrathall includes a hearty
helping of them here, and they still bristle nearly 50 years after their first
airing on ABC. Buckley is especially fascinating – he’s so effete he doesn’t
even know how to show anger. He bites his lip and cranes his neck like a man
having a fit.Vidal doesn’t come off
well either. He and Buckley were both trying so hard to be witty, and so unable
to conceal their hatred of each other, that whatever topic was on the table
grew cold quickly.
Much of the footage comes from late in Vidal’s life,
when he was bothered by physical problems and needed help getting around.
Hence, we see Vidal being helped up stairs, helped across bridges, helped up
hills, helped onto a stage at the 2005 Pen awards, and carted around in a
wheelchair.These scenes are interwoven
with a sort of “greatest hits” collection from Vidal’s past, where the great
pundit railed at this and that, his words rolling over his enemies like a
tank.The effect is entertaining enough,
and if Wrathall intended to depict Vidal as a fallen hero, he sort of succeeds.
Still, a more thorough and less deferential documentary might have considered
some of Vidal’s resounding flops. Remember Caligula?
Vidal’s long life, which included friendships with
Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman, and other bright lights of our popular
culture, can’t be jammed into a 90 minute documentary. For instance, Truman
Capote is barely mentioned, whichis
akin to leaving Joe Frazier out of a movie about Muhammad Ali.The saucier aspects of Vidal’s life, such as
his affairs with women, are not mentioned here, either.His engagement to Newman’s future wife,
Joanne Woodward, is ignored, although there are several odd photos of the
Newmans with Vidal, including one of Vidal and Newman fondling a statue’s
Wrathall doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on Vidal’s
books, or the notion, held by many, that Vidal possessed a great facility with
words but could not quite write a masterpiece. Instead, Wrathall gets cute and
shoots close-ups of Vidal’s pithy quotes, including “Whenever a friend
succeeds, a little something in me dies.” And, “Never offend an enemy in a
small way.”Anyone who doesn't know
better might think Vidal composed blurbs for fortune cookies.
Where Wrathall succeeds grandly is in showing Vidal’s
soft side. It's touching to hear of Vidal's relationship with longtime
companion Howard Auster, and Wrathall is smart to let the camera linger when
Vidal turns melancholy. Watch how Vidal pauses when recalling a childhood
friend who died in WW2, or the way his eyes mist over when he recalls “school
boy’s stuff, at a boys’ school, long, long, long ago.”These moments, and the gorgeous scenery
surrounding Vidal’s Italian home, make the documentary worth seeing. Wrathall’s
movie is like one of Vidal’s novels in that it’s not great, but very good.
(The film has just opened theatrically in New York. Click here to view trailer.)
The Empty Canvas (original Italian
title La Noia), is a 1963 Italian drama waiting to be rediscovered as a
classic by retro film lovers in America.Besides being a solid outing for Horst Buchholz and part of Bette Davis’
1960’s resurgence, this film is a reminder of why French-born Catherine Spaak
was the “IT” European teenager of the period.She was described by critic Rex Reed as "[h]alf kittycat go-go
girl, half petulant defiance, … like a sexy lollipop [with] soft hair the color
of maple syrup.”In The Empty Canvas, the 18-year-old actress gave the best performance
of her career in a role intended to make her an international star.That performance earned a special Golden
Plate award at the David di Donatello awards (presented by The Academy of
Italian Cinema) in 1964.
Based on a novel by
Alberto Moravia, the film follows Dino (Buccholz), the twenty-something artist
son of a rich, American ex-patriot from New Orleans (Davis). Dino has
lost his way in life and no longer feels inspired to paint, or inspired for life
in general, so it seems. He resents his mother and her money, spending as
little time with her as possible.
Dino's life changes,
however, when he meets Cecilia (Spaak), an amoral young woman. Cecilia
has been carrying on a torrid affair with a much-older married painter, who is
Dino's neighbor. Upon the painter's death, Dino and Cecilia slide into a
torrid affair of their own. As their affair progresses, Dino, suddenly filled
with feelings and purpose in his life, becomes obsessed with obtaining
commitment from Cecilia. In the film's penultimate scene, Dino covers
Cecilia's nude body in lira notes in an effort to win her commitment.
Cecilia, on the other hand, is just out to have fun and do whatever makes her
feel good. Dino is in danger of letting his obsession with Cecilia
destroy his life, just as the old painter’s life was destroyed by his obsession
"money" scene, director Damiano Damiani was quoted in The Saturday Evening Post as saying that
"It was the most important scene of her career in her first
English-language picture, one that would either make or break her as an
international star. And she was cold as ice."While she may have been cold as ice in
controlling her nerves, as Cecilia, Catherine exudes a sensuous quality that
leaves no doubt about how a man like Dino could become obsessed with her
charms.In one scene set at an outdoor
cafe overlooking the city, as Rita Pavone sings "Now That You've
Gone," Cecilia dances seductively while Dino watches attentively from a
swing. Without a word being said, you can see Dino's resistance falling
and his obsession budding. That is one of my all-time favorite scenes
from any film.
Shot in gorgeous,
mood-setting black-and-white around Rome in the summer of 1963, the film's set
was a linguistic adventure. Director Damiani spoke English to Bette
Davis, German to Buchholz, French to Spaak, and Italian to others. The actors
spoke their lines in English for later dubbing. It had to have been interesting
to watch Bette Davis try to reign supreme over such an eclectic mix of
talent.In Rex Reed's N.Y. Times
profile of Catherine in 1966, he quoted her as saying: "I acted with
Bette Davis in 'The Empty Canvas.' Everyone in Rome was terrified of
her. I said only one thing to her: 'Hello'."
On a curious side note,
Bette Davis biographer Charlotte Chandler recounted in her book an odd incident
concerning Bette's arrival in Rome for filming. She was greeted at the
airport by Buchholz, who wanted to get things started off on a good note with
the notoriously persnickety Davis. Buchholz leaned forward to kiss Bette
on the cheek, as custom would dictate, whereupon Bette proceeded to put her
tongue in Buchholz's mouth in a more-than-friendly kiss! Buchholz never
knew whether she was just trying to shock him, or whether she had other
It is also interesting to note that Sophia
Loren’s 18th century castle, renovated at a cost of nearly $2,000,000, was
loaned by her to represent Bette Davis' villa in the film.Furthermore, the filming of the garden party,
which provides the setting for the "money" scene, included the
participation of more than 150 leaders of Rome's cultural set, who were there
to honor Bette Davis' first film in Rome.
The Empty Canvas was a hit in Italy
before being distributed in the U.S. in March 1964 by Joseph Levine’s Embassy
Pictures.Levine was quoted by The Saturday Evening Post as saying that
“[Catherine Spaak] will be the biggest new star of the 1960's. This girl
will be the Bardot of her generation. Ten years from now there will be
girls billing themselves as the new Catherine Spaak.”In Bardot tradition, I suppose, some of the
advertising showed Cecilia draped only in a towel and was considered too risqué
in some circles.As a result, some of
the advertising was censored. Levine even took to Variety to express anger about the ad censoring by the L.A. Times and the L.A. Examiner.Censoring can
still be seen on many of the surviving lobby cards for the film.My how times have changed!
The Empty Canvas generally received mixed-to-negative
reviews at the time from American critics, but it did respectable business and
garnered considerable attention for Catherine in the U.S.She was featured on the cover and in a story
in the July 1964 issue of Cosmopolitan, and she was also the subject of
a feature story in the May
2, 1964 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
was a dream come true for the press, because she was the daughter of well-known
screenwriter Charles Spaak, was the niece of famed Belgian politician
Paul-Henri Spaak, and had married actor Fabrizio Capucci (of the Capucci
fashion-design family) in February of 1963, while seven months pregnant with
their first child.Amazingly, after
giving birth to daughter Sabrina in April of 1963, Catherine shot a film called
The Little Nuns before commencing
work on The Empty Canvas in
July.By the time the film reached U.S.
shores, Catherine and Capucci had already split, including a well-publicized
incident at the Italian border, where authorities stopped Catherine as she was
trying to leave the country with her infant daughter.I am sure that the tabloids of the day were
all over this story.
The Empty Canvas has never been released on DVD
in North America, but it was released by Embassy Home Entertainment in an
English language version on VHS in 1987. With The Criterion
Collection’s impressive recent release of the 1962 Italian classic Il sorpasso (aka The Easy Life), in which Catherine has a prominent supporting role,
the time is ripe for rediscovery in America of her classic work in The Empty Canvas as well.Furthermore, there should be no Bette Davis film
from the 1960’s that is unavailable on DVD
in the U.S.
On a windy night, a black-clad stranger
rides into Daugherty City, Texas.He
flips a coin to ascruffy drunk who is
strapped for the price of a drink. He exposes a crooked dice game in the local
saloon, where most of the townsfolk seem to be congregated.Then he departs.In the meantime, down the street, a gang of
acrobatic robbers breaks into the bank and heists a safe containing $100,000 in
Army payroll money.The getaway crew
escapes town before a wounded trooper can raise the alarm, but out on the trail
they run into the stranger, Sabata, who picks them off with a tricked-out rifle
and recovers the stolen money.
Thus, in under 15 minutes of running time,
Gianfranco Parolini neatly sets up the events that will drive the remaining 90
minutes of his 1969 Spaghetti Western, "Ehi amico... c'è
Sabata, hai chiuso!" -- better known simply as “Sabata,” as United
Artists retitled the English-dubbed version that debuted in the U.S. in
1970.The original Italian
title translates to something like, “Hey, Pal, Sabata’s Here, You Lose” . . .
or maybe closer to the film’s rambunctious spirit, “. . . You’re Screwed.”
Bracketing the opening credits, Parolini
economically introduces most of the movie’s main characters, establishes their
personalities, and through their interactions with Sabata and each other,
defines the interpersonal relationships that will drive the plot.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef), the sharp-eyed “man
who knows,” as the drunk Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez) calls him, deduces that the
men behind the attempted robbery are the local businessman Stengel, his partner
Ferguson, and their crony Judge O’Hara (Gianni Rizzo).He approaches them and demands $10,000 in hush
money.Refusing, Stengel dispatches one
assassin after another to kill him.Stengel’s henchman Slim, a hulking gunman named Sharky, two hit men
dressed like the Earp brothers, and a nervous killer disguised as a clergyman
all try and fail.With each attempt,
Sabata raises his price higher and higher.
An old acquaintance, barroom minstrel Banjo
(William Berger), one of the supporting characters deftly sketched in the
opening saloon scene, ambles in and out from the periphery, toting his own
tricked-out weapon, a carbine hidden under his musical instrument.Sometimes he sides with Sabata for money,
sometimes he works for Stengel; in any event, not to be trusted by either.He and a greedy saloon girl, Jane, have a
sort of romance characterized by mutual boredom and availability.Carrincha and a mute Indian acrobat, Alley
Cat (Nick Jordan), help Sabata.
Arguably, “Sabata” represented the high
tide of Spaghetti Western popularity in the States in 1970, benefiting from the
box-office success of Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking films and preceding the
decline of the genre as it sputtered toward a slow box-office death in the
mid-‘70s.Where Leone’s movies were
generally panned by mainstream U.S. media on their initial release, but
nevertheless attracted a small early following of more progressive critics,
“Sabata” ironically met the opposite reception.
Major outlets like The New York Times gave
it good notices, but the pioneering book-length studies of the genre by
Christopher Frayling and Laurence Staig & Tony Williams were lukewarm.Staig and Williams dismissed it as “a mixture
of gimmickry and borrowed themes.”Citing Banjo’s hidden carbine, Frayling said that the movie was one of
the “derivatives” inspired by Leone’s scenes in which “guns are fired from
Other commentators over the years have
noted additional Leone influences.Before you see Sabata’s face in the opening scenes, Parolini gives us a
shot down the main street of Daugherty City, framed between Sabata’s boots in close-up
--a favorite Leone visual angle.Paralleling the three lead charactersof “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,”
Parolini (who also co-scripted with Renato Izzo) builds the action around an
unflappable protagonist, an icy bad guy, and a talkative, slippery secondary
lead.Sabata’s black suit, black
military coat, and fanciful weapons recallColonel Mortimer’s from Van Cleef’s break-out Spaghetti role in “For a
Few Dollars More.”
The argument that Leone cast a long shadow
over Parolini’s movie is valid as far as it goes, but then Leone cast a long
shadow over all the Italian Westerns that followed after his enormously
successful pictures with Clint Eastwood.If we acknowledge that “Sabata” often follows the visual and dramatic
conventions of Leone’s movies, it’s only fair to Parolini to note that he
alsodeparted from those conventions in
ways that other Spaghetti directors such as Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima,
and Luigi Vanzi generally didn’t.
For example, like John Ford, Leone held a
sentimental reverence for the sanctity of the traditional family; the families
in his movies symbolize social stability.There are no traditional parents and children in Parolini’s universe,
even if a kid’s chorus heard in the movie’s bouncytitle tune suggests there will be.The only offspring and parent in “Sabata” are
Sharky -- a burly, slovenly adult -- and his gray-haired old virago of a
mother, who berates him verbally and physically for not settling a score with
their neighbors the Mallorys.“They stole
your woman, didn’t they?”she
shrieks.No, Sharky retorts, “you sold
her to the Mallorys.”
Carrincha, who looks a bit like Sharky in
girth and disheveled appearance, laments his life of thirst and poverty: “I
curse the mother who bore me, and my brother, and my whole family.”Almost everything Carrincha says is prone to
exaggeration, so it’s difficult to know whether this sentiment is real or
not.Regardless, it mirrors and
reinforces the satiric relationship between Sharky and his mother, poles away
from the traditional relationships portrayed by Leone and Ford.
Playing with the “trio” aspect of “The
Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Parolini assigns the trickster role of “the Ugly”
not to the boisterous Mexican (in name, at least) Carrancha, as Eli Wallach’s
Tuco was “the Ugly” in Leone’s movie, but to theAnglo drifter, Banjo.This way, Parolini finds not only differences
but also similarities between the two characters, including allusions to a
shared history during and after the Civil War and maybe a shared past outside
the law.This gives their relationship
an extra dimension not present in the relationship between the Good and the
Ugly in the Leone movie.
Critics and fans who appreciate “Sabata” on
its own terms usually employ terms like “hectic and chaotic,” and
“fun” that’s “not to be taken too seriously.”The movie hardly lets up for a moment (none of Leone’s long, measured
takes), but a term like “chaotic” can be misleading if you think it means slipshod.In fact, even though Parolini doesn’t build
the movie around a mystery asLeone does
in “For a Few Dollars More” (what do those seemingly shared flashback memories
by Colonel Mortimer and Indio mean?) or around a character arc as Sollima does
in “The Big Gundown” and Corbucci in “The Mercenary,” “Sabata” has its own
ingenious design.Beyond the action,
stunts, and cynical humor, “Sabata” bears repeated viewing to appreciate the
two techniques that Parolini uses to bring unity to the film.
One technique is
repetition.Little details that appear
in one scene in the visuals or in the dialogue will unexpectedly and sometimes
subtly reappear later in a different context.Slim’s loaded dice in the opening saloon scene always come up 7.There are seven men in the getaway crew from
the bank robbery whom Sabata ambushes.When Sabata checks into a hotel in Daugherty City, Banjo’s squeeze Jane
gives him Room 7 -- “next to mine,” she says suggestively.(Sabata isn’t interested.As Jules Feiffer once observed of Superman,
he is so self-sufficient and self-confident that he doesn’t need to pursue
every woman he encounters, or even to respond to every pass that comes his
Parolini’s other technique is
music.Like Ennio Morricone’s
compositions for Leone, Marcello Giombini’s score is integrated into “Sabata”
as an essential part of Parolini’s fabric.Like Morricone, Giombini
tailors certain musical themes and cues to specific characters in the
story.As John Mansell observes in his
liner notes for a 2001 CD soundtrack edition, Sabata’s theme incorporates “a
rather buoyant sounding guitar piece … interspersed with a solo muted trumpet,
occasional harpsichord flourishes plus the added support of choir, which is
carried along on a backing of slightly upbeat percussion.”Banjo’s theme is a cocky melody plucked on
his namesake instrument, sometimes augmented by jingling bells like those sewn
on his trousers.
But Mansell’s description of Sabata’s
theme, while insightful, fails to note that the theme also incorporates a
glissando passage like the swirling of the wind.Sabata is associated with the wind throughout
the movie.In the first scene,
tumbleweeds blow down the street and lamplight flutters as Sabata rides into
Daugherty City.In the closing scene,
Parolini and Sabata use the wind to the same ironic effect that John Huston
used it at the end of “Treasure of Sierra Madre” and Stanley Kubrick in the
finale of “The Killing.”Although Judge
O’Hara wonders if Sabata is a government agent, and Stengel snaps back that
“he’s nothing -- just a drifter who’s after our money,” the man in black
perhaps suggests his true elemental nature when he advises Stengel in one
exchange: “Don’t shoot at the wind.”
Parolini and Giombini also take their
partnership one step further than Leone and Morricone did in their
collaborations.In Morricone’s scores,
Leone’s primary characters have (in the words of Staig and Williams) their own
“individual musical signatures” -- the template followed by Parolini with
Sabata’s and Banjo’s themes.The
difference is that, in Morricone’s scores, in any one scene where the character
either enters or dominates the action, his theme predominates.Parolini combines his individual themes for
Sabata and Banjo as point and counterpoint in the same scene to underscore the
two gunmen’s shared history and one-up rivalry.
Banjo’s theme sounds a little like the old
military marching tune, “The British Grenadier,” a reminder of Banjo’s allusion
to his and Sabata’s Civil War past on different sides of the conflict: “You in
the North and me in the South.”In their
first meeting after Sabata’s arrival in town, Banjo plays a mocking version of
the tune, in increasingly frantic tempo, as if trying to get under the other
man’s skin.Sabata stops the performance
by shooting one of the pegs off the banjo.“You were out of tempo,” he says dryly.
the end of the film, as Banjo leaves Daugherty City in apparent triumph after a
pivotal final encounter with Sabata, a merry version of his banjo theme begins
to play, bolstered by a fife and drum that underlines the similarity to
military marching music.The jingle of
bells joins in with a close-up of the bells on Banjo’s trousers.The viewer senses that this is the victorious
music that Banjo probably hears in his own imagination.However, Sabata’s wind-theme presently swirls
in.As if in competition, the strum of
the banjo gains tempo, becoming increasingly insistent.Remembering the association of the fast-tempo
strumming with the much earlier scene in which Banjo was humiliated, you may
anticipate that Banjo’s present victory will be short-lived, too.
There isn’t an official 45th anniversary
edition of “Sabata,” but the Swiss label Explosive Media recently released a
new Blu-Ray combo pack that also includes a DVD print, a supplemental disc of
interviews and features, and a nice souvenir booklet in German, copiously
illustrated with stillsand pictures of
various international posters.
“Sabata” and the two Parolini films that
immediately followed it are popularly known as “The Sabata Trilogy,” although
only one is a true sequel.“Indio
Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di . . .,” released in Italy in
1970, was imported to the U.S. the following year as “Adios, Sabata.”Yul Brynner played the hero who wears black,
this time a black fringed shirt and bell-bottom trousers instead of Lee Van
Cleef’s more formal outfit.In the
Italian version, he’s Indio Black; in the dubbed U.S. print, Sabata.
Both movies are strongly linked in casting
and style.Three of the major supporting
roles in the two movies are occupied by the same actors (Jordan, Rizzo,
Sanchez) and fulfill similar functions in character and plot.Dean Reed, who looks like the young Roger
Moore, plays an opportunist named Ballantine who serves as this film’s surrogate
for Banjo.There are several big-action
set pieces, mostly involving Sabata’s mission in Mexico to relieve a tyrannical
officer, Colonel Skimmel, of a hoard of gold during the revolution against
“Adios, Sabata” is an entertaining Spaghetti
with a bigger cast of extras and more explosions than its predecessors.One set piece, in which Sabata sends the
no-good Murdock Brothers to their “just reward” in a showdown at the Bounty
Hunters’ Agency, is particularly well dialogued and choreographed.
But “Sabata” is the better movie, partly
because Van Cleef and Berger had stronger chemistry than Brynner and Reed, and
partly because Brynner’s character is a more traditional soldier of fortune and
do-gooder (he’s friends with benevolent old priests and small children) than
Van Cleef’s enigmatic loner.Although
Bruno Nicolai’s score for “Alias Sabata” is quite good on its own terms, the
title track emulating the full-on symphonic, choral sound of Morricone’s
Spaghetti music, it isn’t as ingeniously integrated into the movie as
Giombini’s composition was.
authentic sequel to “Sabata,” released in Italy in 1971 as "È
tornato Sabata... hai chiuso un'altra volta," reached the States in 1972
as “Return of Sabata.”Lee Van Cleef
returns as the lead character, and Giombini returns as the soundtrack composer,
but unfortunately this movie doesn’t measure up to its predecessors.
As in “Sabata,”Van Cleef’s character rides
into a town where a cabal of seemingly respectable citizens is engaged in nefarious
activity.This time, the heavies are
the outwardly pious McIntocks who trumpet civic expansion in Hobsonville by
raising money for new buildings and businesses.They do so by imposing exorbitant taxes on the town’s goods and
In truth, patriarch Joe McIntock is
conniving with his brother-in-law, banker Jeremy Sweeney, to smuggle the money
out of town for his own enrichment.Sabata, who arrives in Hobsonville as a sharpshooter in a traveling circus
sideshow, following a hunch about something being rotten somewhere, uncovers
the fraud.As in “Sabata,” he demands
blackmail from the bad guys in return for keeping their secret.The McIntocks, reluctant to pay, send a
series of would-be assassins after him.
Again, Parolini employs his stock troupe of
Jordan, Rizzo, and Sanchez in supporting roles, and inserts a slippery
intermediary character, Clyde (Reiner Schone).Clyde, like Banjo, shares a Civil War past with Sabata.Giombini’s music isn’t as ingenious as his
score for the first movie, and the circus aspect of the story never quite jells
with the plot about the McIntocks’ scam; as a whole, the movie lacks the little
visual and aural details that wove “Sabata” together.
Another problem: Sabata loses much of the
steely, enigmatic quality that defined his personality in the first movie.In “Return of Sabata,” an old girlfriend, a
hooker named Maggie, drifts into town, and Sabata shacks up with her.Maggie is never quite integrated into the
story either.Sabata as a mysterious
loner in the original film was intriguing.As a more conventional character with a sexy main squeeze, like a hero
out of a paperback adult western, he isn’t.Still, “Return of Sabata” hardly merits a place among the “50 Worst
Movies of All Time,” as the Medved brothers asserted in their 1978 book.Maybe Parolini has the last laugh: the Sabata
movies live on while the Medved book is long forgotten.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE SABATA TRILOGY" FROM AMAZON USA
(For information about Explosive Media's Blu-ray European special editions, click here. For more information, see the story in Cinema Retro issue #29. Click below to purchase).
Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (2014) is the one of the creepiest, most brilliantly
photographed and edited psychological studies I have seen of late.An utterly frightening and unsettling concoction,
The Canal, which screened last month
at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, pulls no punches in creating an overwhelming
feeling of dread while constantly keeping the audience on its guard.
David (Rupert Evans) is a film
archivist who appears to have a wonderful home life. He and his expectant wife Alice (Hannah
Hoekstra) visit a prospective house, with a canal not far off, to settle in. As Alice inspects the layout, David sees what
appears to be someone walking through the first floor. Vexed, he swears that he saw someone. Or did he? Five years hence their lives appear ordinary with the addition of their
young son, Billy (Calum Heath). Alice
keeps telling David she loves him prior to leaving for work or following mechanical
sex. It arouses suspicion; at a dinner
party, Alice rushes off to speak with a client, Alex (Carl Shabaan), but David
notices intimate exchanges between the two and when she returns to dance with him,
and we see the estrangement on their faces.
At work, David’s work partner Claire
(Antonia Campbell-Hughes) tells him that new footage has come in and needs to
be viewed for archiving. He is shocked
to learn that it is a detail of a 1902 crime scene that took place inside the
bedroom that he and his wife now occupy (this is a point that the estate agent
naturally neglected to impart to the couple.) The footage has the look and feel of authenticity (the effect could have
probably been created in post-production on a computer utilizing a high brow
software package) and director Kavanagh shot the crime scene aftermath with a 1915 Universal movie camera by using the
lowest speed black and white 35mm stock that he and his crew could find. The film delves more into a ghost
story that recalls The Shining
(1980), The Ring (2005), and The Innkeepers (2011) in terms of
imagery and mood. Veteran composer Ceiri Torjussen provides a brilliantly
effective, frightening and memorable score.
David starts to become unhinged. When his wife prepares to go to work, David
pleads with her to come straight home and she promises to. After work, David follows her as she and
Alex, their affair now obviously confirmed, walk to Alex’s house which is
opposite a canal. David follows them
from a distance, and catches them in the midst of sexual passion, leaving him
feeling betrayed and disillusioned. He
stumbles into the worst cinematic toilet seen since Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) and begins to see
flashes of the murder that occurred well over 100 years ago. Like the best ghost stories, The Canal presents us with images that
give us pause to determine if they are real or if they are just happening in
the mind of the protagonist.
When David’s wife goes missing, he
contacts the police and tries desperately to locate her. The lead officer on the case (Steve Oram)
immediately suspects David killed her and asks him straight out; David is
bewildered by the inquiry. His son Billy
is too young to understand the concepts of disappearance and death; Sophie the
nanny (Kelly Byrne) is concerned for Billy’s welfare but is also afraid for her
own safety and as David becomes more and more frenetic she feels the need to
The film is beset in imagery that
references pregnancy and childbirth; water, as it did in Robert Altman’s
dreamlike 3 Women (1977), plays a big
factor, as does duality. The references
in The Canal are two-fold – there is
the canal where David’s wife’s body is found, and the birth canal is referenced
in a scene of unnerving horror.
Canal had me watching the end
credits in silent anticipation, holding my breath until the final sounds on the
soundtrack ended abruptly. It is a
visceral, gripping film experience, one to be ideally experienced
theatrically. Viewers will get that
chance in months to come when the film is released in 20 market
In 1977, a
low-budget flick about the New York disco scene became a sudden sensation.
Today it looms large in the pantheon of iconic cinema. Several of its moments,
however, allude to another equally iconic film. Well, more so than that Wizard
of Oz/’Dark Side of the Moon’ myth, anyway.
Saturday Night Fever’s success was undoubtedly attributed
to several factors. There are gripping performances, multi-dimensional
characters and a soaring soundtrack featuring the Bee Gees that steals the
show. At the heart of it all is an undeniably compelling story.
Travolta) lives in Brooklyn with his parents, sister and grandmother. He works
at a hardware store and on Saturdays, treks to the local discotheque where he
reigns supreme as the neighborhood’s premier disco dancer. He parties, drinks
and carouses with his buddies then goes home and sleeps it off, dreaming of
more in life. ‘Night fever’: he knows how to do it and has fun but something is
missing and at age nineteen he’s “gettin’ old”. The adoration he receives is
only so rewarding, his relationships superficial. His ignorant friends provoke
outside ethnic gangs, plunging them into brawls and Anette (Donna Pescow), a
confused young woman who tags along, pressures Tony with advances in hopes of
joining the ranks of her “married sisters”. His home life is no less
complicated. Dinner table spats, though run-of-the-mill for the Maneros are
exacerbated by Dad’s unemployment. Nevertheless, we see beneath the surface a
caring, loving family. The “character” of Tony’s nearly silent grandmother is
really to exemplify the multi-generational unit of the Italian-American family.
brother, Frank Jr.(Martin Shakar), the priest who “ain’t a priest no more”. His
decision to leave the church causes a rift within their household and makes
Tony reexamine his own choices. Tony’s brother often comes off as a surreal paradox.
Though repeatedly spoken of, he curiously is never seen with any family members
other than Tony. Were it not for his character being discussed in other scenes,
he would seem a figment of Tony’s imagination. It’s even tempting to think of
him as a component of Tony’s inner psyche. The name ‘Father Frank Junior’
itself, a contradiction in terms, he is essentially a cautionary figure for
Tony to observe. He warns his brother not to act out someone else’s dream but
to do what feels best for himself.
feels very wrong to say the least. His friends are treading down a path of
drugs and recklessness. Misogyny and racism are ingrained in their sub-culture (Tellingly,
network and basic cable presentations of the film censor its racial slurs until
the pivotal diatribe where Tony denounces the group’s bigoted ways. To the
censors, these slurs are deplorable and unnecessary unless used sympathetically).
Looking for a way out, Tony searches new paths. He stares oddly at the Verrazano
Bridge to “get ideas”.
One idea he soon
gets is to try his hand at the club’s dance competition with the slightly
stuck-up Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a fellow Brooklynite who shares a
slowly developing sexual tension with Tony. They meet for lunch and she
belittles him, condescendingly boasting about big dreams and famous people she
has met. His ostensible unfamiliarity with the names she rattles off is belied by
the numerous pop culture images adorning his wall at home. Appropriately, one
of them is of Rocky.
1976, Rocky made a household name of Sylvester Stallone who portrayed
Rocky Balboa, a Philadelphia underdog willing to subject himself to anything
for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the world heavyweight championship title.
A Stallone motif
arguably surfaces throughout Tony Manero’s life, even if that name could have stumped him too. Compare Fever with
Rocky and interesting parallels are obviated. Both center on characters
who “take a shot”, using God-given gifts to attain something better in life
than the perfunctory humdrum they face. Tony and Rocky both excel at their craft yet are still perceived as local losers
and each go out of their way to win the heart of a woman who seems their
virtual opposite. Both men sadly realize they have settled in with negative
people who keep them subjugated and bury their dreams. And… oh yeah, did I
mention their names almost rhyme?
significantly, in Rocky, the title hero advises a young girl on the dangers of
allowing boys to mistreat and disrespect her. In vain, he explains how it will
only leave her used, hurt and alone. In Fever, Tony takes on this similar
role of the sage, educating Anette on how there are only “two kinds of girls-nice girls and pigs!” He elaborates on how she cannot be both and must decide
early on in life which to be. From what annals of wisdom this philosophy is
taken we simply do not know, but it is certainly likely that he ‘gets ideas’
from more than a bridge.
In the end, it
would seem, the story resumed with a closing credit sequence as the Bee Gees crooned
“How Deep is Your Love”. Who could have guessed then that the connection would
be driven home when Stallone himself would write, direct and produce Fever’s
sequel, Staying Alive. Tony’s rollercoaster life is further chronicled
a few years later, still ‘taking a shot’, this time on Broadway. And… speaking
of Broadway, guess where Rocky is slugging it out right now?
It was the oddest entry in the film career of esteemed director Arthur Penn. The 1969 film adaptation of folk singer Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant has endured as a popular cult hit. Writer Christopher Robinson provides an interesting analysis of the movie on the Rare Cult Cinema web site. Ironically, the movie is out of print on DVD. How about bringing out a special edition? Click here to read.
"More Than thea Rainbow" is director Dan Wechsler's homage to New York street photographer Matt Weber. What is a "street photographer"? He/she is someone who simply wanders around the city they reside in snapping photographs at a rapid-fire rate in the hopes of capturing some spontaneous bit of magic. Weber prowls the back streets and main drags of Manhattan, the beaches of Coney Island and anywhere else he might find everyday people engaging in interesting activities. These might include playing with children, having casual sex in an open area, frolicking at the seaside, sleeping on sidewalks or park benches or engaging in violence. Weber's photos tell the story of a city: the good, the bad and the ugly. Weber looks like an unmade bed and talks in machine-gun fire fashion to such an extent that it often becomes exhausting just listening to him. However, he has an interesting story to tell and his photographs, which are seen abundantly throughout the film, are indeed mesmerizing. Weber began driving a taxi cab during the 1970s when Scorese and De Niro immortalized the profession in their classic 1976 Taxi Driver. In those days, Gotham was a deteriorating behemoth, with crime and pollution out of control. Weber ultimately sold his cab (an action he still sometimes regrets) in order to take to it to the streets to photograph the most exciting city on the planet. He admits that he got a significant financial boost to his meager income when he accepted $500,000 to move from his apartment many years ago. (The developer ended up going bankrupt before he could renovate the building into a luxury complex.) With a degree of financial security, Weber shoots photos virtually non-stop, admitting that the most memorable photos come about unexpectedly. He asks no permission from his subjects and shoots their photos before most of them have time to react or object. He's strictly old school, shooting in B&W on 35mm film. He describes the wonders of using his darkroom equipment to see an image appear from a blank piece of paper before his eyes-- and the viewer ends up sharing in his enthusiasm. (He does acknowledge the expense and limitations of 35mm vs. digital and seems to be weakening in his refusal to work in the format.)
The movie, which is set to funky jazz music by Theolonius Monk and Keith Gurland, is a rich looking production, considering its a rather low-budget affair. Wechsler, like his subject, is also old school and has shot at least some of the film in 35mm. The movie is bit schizophrenic in terms of its content. Although Weber is clearly the main subject, Wechsler also interviews numerous colleagues of his who are also street photographers. The problem is that the film begins to treat them not only as people who comment on Weber's life and work, but also subject matters themselves. Thus, the movie often drifts from its original intention, which is to present Weber as the focus of the piece. The other photographers are an interesting lot, however. Some are likable and engaging, others are so pretentious they remind one of the types of pretentious snobs who are satirized in Woody Allen comedies. One of the photographers, Eric Kroll, seems a bit out of place here. He does offer some biting criticism of Weber's work, which is refreshing in an otherwise cinematic wet kiss to its subject, but Kroll is not a street photographer in the traditional sense. Rather, he specializes in elaborate, staged sexual fetishes and there are plenty of eye-popping examples of his work in the film. He is also inexplicably joined throughout the interview by a lovely, well-endowed young lady who is virtually silent and sits attired in a corset that presents her two main assets in an almost 3-D effect. But what is she, or Kroll for that matter, doing in the film? They seem placed there purely for purposes of titillation.
The movie is at its best when it sticks with Weber himself. He relates his transformation from taxi driver to photographer and along the way there are interviews with his wife (presumably ex-wife, as it is revealed they were in the process of getting a divorce during filming.) She is a rather unique character in her own way. She damns Weber with faint praise by listing his attributes while simultaneously telling viewers he's virtually impossible to live with. In a bizarre moment, she also assures the viewer that, not to worry, despite problems in the marriage, their sex life was satisfactory.
More Than the Rainbow's greatest attributes are Weber's photographs and director Wechsler wisely lets the pictures do the talking throughout most of the film. His cameras linger lovingly on some fascinating slice-of-life shots that are mini works of art. A homeless man with a resemblance to Van Gogh sleeps on the sidewalk under posters that promote an exhibition of the artist's works. The beginnings of a brutal fight between two men arguing in the street are caught on camera. Small children in Harlem stand outside a seedy bar in their Sunday finest on Easter. A group of young sailors give Weber a cautionary glance as they move past the porn palaces of old Times Square. Weber is clearly among those who extol the virtues of that era. Many don't. The past is always glamorized but, while the edginess and danger of New York in those days does have an appeal in retrospect and in Weber's photographs, for many of us the "new" New York, with its cleaner streets and low crime rates, is a far better place. Still, it's fun to revisit the bad old days through Weber's extraordinary photos.
More Than the Rainbow is an ambitious and highly entertaining film about a genuine New York "character" who is every bit as intriguing as the subjects he photographs.
The film opens in New York at the Quad Cinema on May 2 and in L.A. at the Arena Cinema on May 24.
Sheila Exteberria and Ed Ryan in Nathan Silver's new indie film Soft in the Head.
By Don L. Stradley
There is a
startling scene in Nathan Silver’s Soft
In The Head where Natalia, a reckless woman/child who causes trouble
wherever she goes, looks at her
reflection in a cracked compact mirror. The effect of the crack distorts
her face to where she looks like one of the garish women in a Willem De Kooning
painting.It’s jolting, for we’ve
suspected Natalia is a monster of sorts, the type of young woman who is
destined to be a skid row casualty, but is still young enough to manipulate a
few men here and there. In the cracked
reflection, we get a glimpse of Natalia’s true self, or at the very least, a
peek at her grotesque future.
When we first
see Natalia she’s being smacked around by her boyfriend. She leaves him, but
intends to go back at some point because she believes the reunion will be
passionate. Love and self-destruction seem abutted in her mind. After
showing up drunk at the family home of her friend Hannah, Natalia wanders into
the night, oblivious to the catcalls from street people who mock her. She
intends to spend the night on the sidewalk, until she meets Maury, a
well-meaning fellow who has turned his home into a sanctuary for derelicts. Maury invites Natalia over for dinner where
she sits among men seemingly plucked from a touring production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Natalia isn’t intimidated, though. She’s
in her element, letting a bunch of homeless men fawn over her.
Even at her
lowest, Natalia’s able to work her way into the hearts of vulnerable males,
including Hannah’s shy brother Nathan. He’s so smitten by her that he
steals one of his mother’s necklaces for her, which sets off a major row in his
very old-fashioned Jewish household. Nathan’s parents seem a bit thick – their
son can barely dress himself or hold a conversation (Natalia describes him at
one point as “mildly autistic…like a baby…”) but they spend an entire scene badgering
him to meet a nice girl and give them some grandchildren. When he
announces that Natalia has won his heart, their shock is off the charts.
have already compared Soft In The Head
to the films of John Cassavetes, but the comparison works at only the most
superficial level. Cassavetes’ casts were headed by highly charismatic
Hollywood actors – Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, etc. Soft In The Head has no such glossy
veneer, being made up of unknown New York actors who often look like they’re
reaching, trying to be “real,” but also struggling to be amusing.
Silver, to his credit, allows his actors plenty of room for a kind of
realistic give and take, but his scenes can’t match one of Cassavetes’
high-wire acts. Also, Silver’s not aiming for the kind of philosophical
statements that gave Cassavetes’ films an ersatz profundity. Silver’s aiming at smaller targets, but even
so, his scenes feel self-conscience, as if he’s a bit too in love with the idea
of being a filmmaker. Silver lets the camera linger on
Natalia while she combs her hair out of her face, or sucks at her crooked teeth;
it’s rare in recent movies that a camera has so desperately adored a female
subject, as if Silver, too, is under Natalia’s spell. (Still, even with
shots that go on too long, Silver brings the movie in at a tight 75 minutes,
something Cassavetes could never do!)
Soft In The Head doesn’t remind me of Cassavetes as
much as it reminds me of certain films, novels and plays of the 1960s (i.e. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Dutchman, Tell
Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon). It was a genre with no name, but the
distinctive trait was a melting pot of disparate characters (usually one African-American,
a Jew, a war veteran, a hooker, a homosexual, an old man, and a hippie). They’d
be thrown together, usually during a power failure or a housing shortage, or they’d
be stuck in the same subway car. Tempers would flair. The stories usually ended with a murder or a
suicide, the remaining characters huddling together, waiting for the
police. Soft In The Head goes
that way, too, but not in the way you might imagine.
the usual narrative pattern we’d expect in a film like this one. He’s less
interested in developing plots than in throwing some characters together to see
what transpires. You can feel his love for these people, but this technique doesn’t
allow the characters to take charge of the story. They have altercations that feel like acting
class exercises, but nothing moves the plot forward. The sense we get is that the story is
fidgeting, chasing its own tail. More, for instance, could have been done with
Maury and his band of idiots. Where
Silver really dropped the ball was in the storyline involving Natalia and
Nathan (their names even mirror each other) are two sides of the same person.
Both are painfully immature, unable to stake out a spot in the adult world: one
is homeless; the other still lives with
his parents. Both could be described as
soft in the head. Nathan is pure,
knowing nothing of the weird games that go on between males and females, while
Natalia, dense though she may be, has mastered those games. Nathan is horrified
by Natalia’s revelation that she actually enjoys being abused, but just when
that part of the story is gaining momentum, Silver lets it trail off…
Perhaps from a
youthful flaunting of the rules, Silver shuffles the deck on us and gives us an
ending that is unexpected, but also unengaging. He might have been better served if he’d
chosen one of his plot strings and followed it to a conclusion, rather than
floating from one plot to the next. Silver has some good instincts, though, and I’ll
look forward to the day when he acquaints himself with the nuts and bolts of
storytelling. As it is, Soft In The
Head is a strangely intriguing work. It’s flawed, but unique. No one but Silver could have made it.
is believable as Natalia, bringing to the role a kind of ratty vulnerability.
There are some good turns by other actors, too, including Ed Ryan as
the enigmatic Maury, and Theodore
Bouloukos as David, the most volatile of
Maury’s guests. Carl Kranz, bless him,
has an almost thankless role as Nathan. Here’s
an isolated young guy who decorates his room with Woody Allen posters as
if he’s searching for the right nebbish to model himself after, but instead of
meeting Diane Keaton he meets Natalia. Something tells me he’ll soon tear
down Sleeper and replace it with The Blue Angel.