Friday, November 30, 2007

Movie Moment #31

Also this week:

Not Just for Kids: The Columbus International Children's Film Festival- playing through Sunday!

Movies We Missed: Interkosmos- seriously folks, this movie is pretty great. And now that it's available on DVD, you can Netflix it. So what are you waiting for? Also, I love that Ruediger van den Boom has a tag on Screengrab now.

YouTube Cabinet of Curiosities: Track 29- thanks, Andrew!

Trailer Roundup- Vantage Point. Midnight Meat Train. Mama's Boy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Famous Last Words- Round 1, Week 9

Until now I've mostly tried to avoid quoting lines from films based on great works of literature, since even people who haven't seen the movies in question might recognize them from the books. But it appears that I've broken that rule for Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, the source of last week's quiz. For my money, it's a movie that is too often overlooked in Scorsese's filmography in favor of his grittier, more violent works. At the time of the film's release, the Merchant Ivory team was at the height of its creative powers, and some critics and audiences misinterpreted Age as Scorsese's stab at period-piece respectability. But handsome though it is, the film's voluptuous style and rigorous attention to detail are pure Scorsese, as are its passions, buried as they are under lavish costumes and regimented social manners. Time has been kind to The Age of Innocence, and I believe the film to be Scorsese's greatest masterpiece. Too few of you were able identify the film, but I'm hoping that its presence here will compel you either to give it a chance or to revisit it. It's well worth your time.

Already nine weeks into the game, and while it's far from over, I'm guessing that at least a few of you who are ahead are making plans for that $20 gift certificate from The Criterion Store that I'll be rewarding to the winner. If not, might I suggest holding on to it a few months in order to apply it to the release of one of these Bilge Ebiri- approved movies from 1987 that are getting the Criterion treatment in February?

I've never seen the Cox film, but based on what I've heard it sounds awfully intriguing.

Anyway, I realize I'm about a month ahead of schedule on this week's quote, but with the confusion of the holiday season (and the possibility of a tie-breaker round for this contest) I decided to go ahead and post it now:

“Although the truth is, with the passing of each New Year's Eve, those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.”

Name the movie. Remember, send your guesses to this e-Mail address by 11:59 Saturday night. See you next Sunday.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Another Side of Bob Dylan

“I always try to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them.” ~ Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm”

Last month, when I saw Bob Dylan and his band in concert, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I knew his plenty of his songs, but which would he play there? More importantly, what style would he play them in? I loved the show, but others around me were disappointed at the relative lack of classics he played. I smiled while they complained about the absence of “Like a Rolling Stone,” or “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” or “Isis,” the favorite of one nearby attendee. In a way, this encapsulates what I love and value about Dylan- not just that he’s got so many great songs to his name that no concert could possibly contain them, but also that he’s always confounding our expectations for him. Much like Joni Mitchell once despaired of becoming “a human jukebox,” Dylan was going to play whatever he damn pleased.

I thought of the concert, as well as every other memory I have of Dylan, when watching Todd Haynes’ latest film, I’m Not There. Rather than trying to pin down this most enigmatic, slippery, and arguably the most important musician of his time, Haynes’ film is a kaleidoscope of Dylan’s life, an image fractured into six distinct pieces. There’s the folkie wunderkind (Christian Bale) who later turns to Christ; the mid-sixties phenomenon (Cate Blanchett) overwhelmed and resistant to his iconic status; the outlaw (Richard Gere), hiding out in the changing West; the star (Heath Ledger) who is falling out with his wife; and the poet (Ben Whislaw) giving an interview that feels more like an interrogation. Perhaps most significantly, there’s the 11-year-old boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) who takes to the road with his guitar under the name Woody Guthrie, and embodies the ramblin’ folkie backstory Dylan painted for himself as a young man. The character name is significant here, providing an added layer of irony to the taunt of a nameless British heckler, who memorably cried out, “whatever happened to Woody Guthrie?”

As you might have guessed from the description, I’m Not There couldn’t be further from the likes of Walk the Line and its ilk. Along with his half-dozen Dylans, Haynes tells each of their stories in a different style, ranging from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid-style Western in the Gere scenes, to the trappings of direct-cinema (with its tentative, reactive camera work) when Bale is onscreen. The era Blanchett portrays onscreen is the best-documented of all, and Haynes isn’t content to ape Pennebaker, instead melding the trappings of Don’t Look Back with the sensual overload of Fellini. Practically the only through line to the film is Dylan himself- his life, his legend, and of course his music.

Naturally, the songs are incontestably great, and Haynes both chooses them wisely and uses them to great effect. The film isn’t quite so consistent- while much of it works like gangbusters, the Gere segments are more interesting conceptually than they are in the execution. Likewise, I thought the film devoted too much time to the disillusion of Ledger’s marriage to Charlotte Gainsbourg, obviously meant to evoke his Blood on the Tracks-era mindset. And frankly, I wanted more of Christian Bale. But the stories involving Franklin and Blanchett more than compensate. Franklin is a natural, engaging performer, and this section’s evocation of Dylan’s falsified persona is spot-on. And Blanchett is sort of marvelous here, capturing both the detached amusement and the cornered-rat vitriol that so famously pissed off Roger Ebert back in the day. This is why Haynes’ homage of 8 ½ is so apt- surrounded by people who makes demands on him, Dylan could hardly be blamed for wanting to back away.

The biopic genre is full of movies about major figures, but few of them get the films that their lives actually deserve. Thankfully, Haynes does his subject justice. Fittingly, it has less to do with historical record than what Werner Herzog refers to as “ecstatic truth.” We don’t come out of the film knowing any more of the facts about Dylan, but we learn about him all the same. During the film, one of the Dylans states, “I accept chaos. I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” In the organized chaos of I’m Not There, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Face Time #30 (Genetic Arithmetic, The Sequel)

Catherine Deneuve


Marcello Mastroianni


Chiara Mastroianni

Friday, November 23, 2007

When Good Directors Go Bad(?) #15

"You know, for kids!"

Also these past two weeks:

Free at Last: Peter Watkins' Privilege
- Yesssssssss!!!

Trailer Roundup- Jumper. P.S. I Love You. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Trailer Roundup- Valkyrie. Atonement. Meet the Spartans.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Guess what showed up in the mail today?

Now to find the time to actually WATCH the blasted thing.

Also, from this month's Criterion Newsletter, here's a clue to a DVD they've got in the pipeline:

That's gotta be the Michael Powell version of The Thief of Bagdad, right?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Famous Last Words- Round 1, Week 8

If there's anything better than a great last line, it's a great last line delivered by one of cinema's greatest voices. Yes, Orson Welles' final bit of narration in his film The Lady From Shanghai (the source of last week's quiz) is one for the ages. not least because it was his bittersweet kiss-off to the film's leading lady, Rita Hayworth, to whom he was married. Even after cropping her lush red hair and dying it platinum blonde, Hayworth remained undeniably luscious in the role, and it's possible that only a soon-to-be ex-husband could have possibly tried to forget her. Lady isn't one of Welles' masterpieces, but it's full of stunning moments, especially the famed hall-of-mirrors finale. I just missed being able to see it on the big screen in Cleveland a few years ago- I moved up there just after they screened it- and I'd love to see it projected larger than life.

By contrast, the film from which the following final line was taken is a masterpiece, one that deserves much more love than it gets:

“Just... say I’m old-fashioned. That should be enough. Go on, go on.”

Name the film. Send your guesses to this e-Mail address by 11:59 Saturday night. Go on, go on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Muriel Awards 2007 FYC #8

Best Body of Work (new award): Josh Brolin

You may not know this about me, but when it comes to actors, I've long been partial to man's-man types. Nothing against the Cary Grants and Laurence Oliviers of yore, but my kind of star is someone like Lee Marvin- tough, terse, able to define himself through his actions. Guys who always think but never make a big deal about it, and rarely say any more than necessary. Today there are still a few of these guys floating around Hollywood, but they're mostly upwards of fifty now, and Nick Nolte can't play these roles forever, much as I'd love him to. Well, fear no longer, for Josh Brolin is ready to assume the mantle. Previously relegated mostly to straightlaced cop roles, with the occasional foray into bland supporting work in movies like Hollow Man, the son of James and former child star suddenly broke through as an actor, giving vivid performances in three of 2007's most high-profile releases. First came Grindhouse, which found him one of the few bright spots in Rodriguez's Planet Terror, playing the snarling doctor-gone-bad with a ridiculousness that was positively sublime. Then came his sleazy police detective in American Gangster, strong-arming both the criminals and the good cops around him as the embodiment of 70s era NYPD corruption. Best of all was No Country for Old Men, in which he played the tough-guy role to absolute perfection. Lewellyn Moss was a man's man for the ages, a crafty, rugged man of the world with the rotten luck to tangle with the wrong baddie. Lewellyn's a tough cookie all right, but Brolin makes him all-too-human as he reckons with a force that's working on a different plane entirely. Javier Bardem's performance is getting most of the accolades, but as scary good as he is in the role we wouldn't have cared unless his prey were just as compelling. Brolin more than delivers- he was positively revelatory, all the more so because I didn't see him coming.

Face Time #29 (still walkin' about after all these years?)

David Gulpilil

(even more than most of the faces I include here, I would call Gulpilil's a "comfort face," in the sense that I'm always happy to see it turn up in a movie no matter how small the role. Heck, the guy never seems to play anything but the token Aborigine in various Australian productions, but though I admit that typecasting is a bitch I always feel like I'm catching up with an old friend every time I see him in a movie. The years haven't necessarily been easy on the guy, but take another look and try to tell me that isn't a face with character to spare.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Famous Last Words- Round 1, Week 7

For many purists, the only true Zatoichi was Shintaro Katsu, who portrayed the legendary warrior in over two dozen films and a television series. So when Takeshi Kitano decided to revisit the character, there were quite a few who denounced the film sight unseen. However, Kitano's Zatoichi (released in the U.S. as The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and the source of last week's quiz) is a blast in its own right. Kitano's take on the character is a far cry from Katsu's lovable clown, with the eternal badass playing him with brutal efficiency. But while the original Zatoichi movies were merely above-average entertainment, Kitano's direction makes his film a work of art as well, with CGI blood that's both fake-looking and aesthetically gorgeous, and an affecting supporting performance by Tadanobu Asano as a sad-eyed ronin who joins up with gangsters purely for financial reasons. And in the final reel, it turns into a musical, complete with extended foot-stomping dance numbers, much to the chagrin of at least one of last week's contestants. Zatoichi didn't make much of a dent at the U.S. box office, but it was a hit with festival crowds, taking home the audience awards at both Venice and Toronto- in the latter case, surely the oddest film to win the award since Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing in 1980.

Well, we're halfway through Round 1, and I'd say it's gone well thusfar. A handful of people are ahead of the pack, but there's still six weeks to go, plenty of time for the rest of you to catch up. So if you're just joining us or even if you're lagging behind the leaders, you could still potentially win. Even if you're not sure, don't be afraid to guess. Don't cost nothin'.

Now for this week's quote:

“Well, everybody is somebody’s fool. The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I’ll concentrate on that. Maybe I’ll live so long that I’ll forget her. Maybe I’ll die trying.”

Sound familiar? Name the movie. E-Mail your answers to this e-Mail address by 11:59 pm Saturday. See you next Sunday.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Face Time #28 (what's in the satchel?)

Kelly MacDonald (finally seeing her in No Country for Old Men this week after missing it at Toronto. Also, she's the hottest Peter Pan ever. Suck it, Robin Williams.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Movie Moment #30

Also this week:

Long Live the New Flesh!: Top 12 Bodily Transformations on Film, Part 1 and Part 2- I wrote up Mariel Hemingway in Star 80. I did NOT write up Melanie Griffith in The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Trailer Roundup- Cassandra's Dream. Kung Fu Panda. Rambo.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Famous Last Words- Round 1, Week 6

Seems that I was finally able to stump most of you with last week's quotation, taken from George Miller's Lorenzo's Oil. I've been told by more than one of you that you own a copy of the film that has gone as yet unwatched. Is this because of the depressing subject matter, or its superficial resemblance to the kind of disease-of-the-week weepie that clogged network television during weekend prime time programming slots throughout the 90s? Rest assured that Lorenzo's Oil is a different breed altogether, a film too tough-minded to angle for cheap sentiment. While it acknowledges the role that love and determination can play in getting through a disease, it also shows that it also takes ingenuity and a whole lot of luck. Another thing that distinguishes it is that the fruits of the Odone's labors helped not only their son but thousands of boys throughout the world. Thanks to Miller- then best known as the director of the Mad Max trilogy and himself an M.D.- it's a highly distinguished entry in an undistinguished genre, and one of the few Hollywood melodramas of the last few decade that actually earns your tears. In my opinion, there are few 1990s Hollywood movies more unjustly underappreciated than Lorenzo's Oil, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

For this week's quote, we'll switch gears a bit:

"Even with my eyes wide open, I can't see a thing."

Name the movie. Remember to e-Mail your answers to this address. See you next Sunday.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When Good Directors Go Bad #14

Also this week:

Seagalogy: A Life in Badass Cinema- my first book review. As Soderbergh said when accepting the Palme d'Or, it's all downhill from here.

Face/Off: Breaking the Waves- in which I, clearly overmatched, tiptoe trembling into the ring with Scott Renshaw to spar over the final shot of Von Trier's near-masterpiece. Thanks for going easy on me, man.

Halloween Trailer Roundup- The Eye. One Missed Call. The Orphanage.

Vintage Trailer Roundup: Halloween Hangover Edition- Werewolves on Wheels. Torso. The Shinnin'.

Muriel Awards 2007 FYC #7

Best Cinematography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Roger Deakins)

Normally, when I do this FYC posts, I try to avoid the obvious choices, but this is so worthy that I can't resist. I mean, just look at it. Even setting aside the use of strange lenses, Assassination will almost certainly be the most visually ravishing film that gets released in 2007. The quality of the sunlight, the warmth of the candlelight in the interior scenes- one could be content just to bask in this movie's glow. But the film is also an act of conscious mythmaking even as it rewrites the popular line of thinking on its villain, so no less than a ravishing visual treatment of the story is required. Roger Deakins, long one of the best cinematographers in the business, has outdone himself again here, and director Andrew Dominik is to be thanked for bringing out the best in him.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Your questions, answered

I'm not really looking forward to this movie. But based on the one-sheet, I'm hoping that maybe Nic Cage will solve the mystery. The mystery, that is, of how it got burned.