Tuesday, July 31, 2007


When I first learned of Ingmar Bergman's death Monday morning, the news hit me like a hammer blow. Bergman, a director I've revered since I started getting serious about movies, was no more. I loved his films, but more than that I loved that Bergman existed, and now he was gone. I realize how clichéd this sounds, but I felt like I'd lost an old friend. If I haven't yet posted my thoughts on his death, it's because I wanted to celebrate his life by paying tribute to one of the greatest scenes from one of his greatest films in this week's Movie Moment.

Antonioni, on the other hand, wasn't a filmmaker I felt especially close to. He was certainly a master director, but while I've enjoyed and even loved his films I've never considered myself a huge fan. But all the same, his passing is a huge loss for cinema. Not only was he one of the greats, but he (along with Bergman, Fellini, and the French New Wave) was a key figure of the first golden age of cinephilia in America, back in the 1960s. Films like L'Avventura and Blowup were seminal works for this generation of film lovers, emblematic of the spirit of the age. Hell, the guy was name-dropped in Hair, fer chrissakes. His death, as much as Bergman's, is another nail in the sixties' coffin.

It's impossible to talk about Antonioni's genius without acknowledging that nobody could end a film like him. Watching these on YouTube out of the context of the film can't possibly compare to the real thing, but a lot of the awesomeness comes through nonetheless. Some of my favorites:

The slow "impossible" tracking shot in The Passenger,

The poetic montage of the city streets in L'Eclisse (here set to Prokoviev for some reason),

The mimed game of air-tennis in Blowup,

And finally- speaking of blowing up- the jaw-dropping finale to Zabriskie Point.

Too many cinematic masters are gone, and too few are stepping up to replace them. Farewell, Ingmar and Michelangelo.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From a Polish Movie House #10

Fanny and Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman) [R.I.P.]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Movie Moment #22

Also this week:

The Top 10 Grossest Onscreen Kisses, Part 1 and Part 2- I wasn't especially thrilled with the topic, but you can't go wrong writing about The Shining and Blue Velvet.

Marking Time: The Photography of Chris Marker- a short essay I (co-)wrote on the Staring Back exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts. If you're in the area, by all means go.

Laszlo Kovacs, 1933-2007- a tribute to one of the greats.

His Honor and the Movies?- Ed Koch, movie critic. This is not a typo.

Trailer Roundup- The Brave One. Gone Baby Gone. The Jane Austen Book Club. Guess which one looks good to me. Hint: It's not Jodie Foster's Death Wish.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Guess the Movie Moment #2

This week, I had a hard time pinning down a specific element of the film to reference, so instead I've written a haiku inspired by the film. Here goes:

Long car ride, short flight.
Just as I remember her.

Home again? Or not?

Have at it.

Edited 7/25 to add: What, no takers? I'm bummed out, folks. I know at least one of my readers has seen this movie fairly recently. I won't say who it is, but I'm guessing he'll probably hit himself once he sees the answer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

From a Polish Movie House #9

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Peter Weir)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

My answers to Mr. Shoop's Surfin' Summer School Midterm

I originally posted these over at Dennis' blog, but I figured it couldn't hurt to post them here too. And if you haven't posted your answers yet, what are you waiting for?

1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

“Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my cojones.” - Jodorowsky

2) A good movie from a bad director

I’m guessing most people would disagree as to this movie’s goodness, but despite not being a Tony Scott fan, I love Domino. Normally his hyperkinetic style is distracting at best, but here it perfectly suits the ambitious, wacked-out screenplay. In addition to being an awesome ride, it’s also a clever satire about the currency of celebrity, in which trash TV is the go-to public venue for the poor and anyone can define himself through popular culture.

3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance

There’s no denying the greatness of his Shakespeare work, but I’ve gotta go with Sleuth. Olivier’s Andrew Wyke is a wicked send-up of ruling-class entitlement, and his performance is delicious, especially when he suddenly finds himself interrogated by the decidedly blue-collar Inspector Doppler.

4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds takes place, for example)

The Ferris wheel in the Prater, Vienna. I actually rode this not long after seeing the movie on the big screen, and while the city around it had changed a lot since 1949, the Ferris wheel itself was more or less the same.

5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?

Ponti and De Laurentiis both made loads of schlock, but only Ponti movies for Godard, Antonioni, Melville, Rosellini, Polanski, Forman, Varda, and Demy, all in the prime of their careers. Plus he married Sophia Loren. Twice. By contrast, De Laurentiis gave the world a handful of classics, a whole lot of junk, and a gigantic, turned-on ape, which might fit into either group, depending on your tastes.

6) Best movie about baseball

I’m not a huge baseball fan (or any sports, really), but I sure do love Baseball Bugs.

7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance

What are you trying to do to me, Shoop? How does one choose one performance from one of Hollywood’s greatest and most versatile talents? The best I can do is three: Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Jean Harrington in The Lady Eve, and “the high ridin’ woman with a whip” herself, Jessica Drummond in Forty Guns.

8) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?

I’m not a huge Fast Times fan, but even if I was, Dazed and Confused would still be tough to beat. Linklater accomplishes something tricky in Dazed, mining a fondly-remembered period in his past without romanticizing or whitewashing it. He paints the world of the film warts and all, while at the same time showing love for each of the characters (yes, even O’Bannion). It’s so rich and detailed that you can imagine living there and, more importantly, you’d want to, although maybe not so much as an incoming freshman.

9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)

I finally caught up with Teshigahara’s The Face of Another the other day, thanks to the good folks at Criterion. I’ve wanted to see it for a while, and it didn’t disappoint.

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that serious(ly) affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

Not really. I know that at this point in my life I should be thinking about stuff like having kids, but the possibility just feels too far off to me at this point. However, The Secret Lives of Dentists gave me a greater appreciation of how tough being a parent can be.

11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance

(Warning: blasphemy alert!) Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of Hepburn’s, especially in her early years. Her performances almost always feel too mannered by half. But I have to admit that she’s pretty perfect in The Philadelphia Story, which makes excellent use of her innate patrician haughtiness.

12) A bad movie from a good director

There are so many choices here, but for me the obvious one is Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg, the ultimate awful movie from a master. Bergman’s biggest-budget movie was produced by the aforementioned Signor De Laurentiis during Bergman’s brief exile from Sweden, and it’s no surprise that their styles don’t mesh. But The Serpent’s Egg is borderline inept in parts, and so laughable that one might think it was directed by Andrew Bergman. Most surprising is Liv Ullmann’s subpar performance, as she finds herself adrift in this mess.

13) Salo: The 120 Days of
Sodom-- yes or no?

Haven’t seen it (no video store around here carries it) so the jury’s still out.

14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?

Tough call. Wilder wrote some the greats even before he started directing them as well, and he managed to do it in a language different from the one he was born into. But it’s hard to argue with Hecht’s body of work. I was actually leaning toward Wilder when I scanned Hecht’s list on IMDb, and if you include the films he wasn’t credited on, the list is pretty staggering.

15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended

I know I’m supposed to say Cannes or Venice or Sundance here, but honestly I find them a little intimidating. If I was a paid critic, or I somehow got a film in competition, they might be doable, but for a civilian they’d be tough to navigate. Toronto, on the other hand, is much more user-friendly and accessible for non-industry types. I’ll be attending for the first time this fall, so we’ll see how it goes.

16) Head or 200 Motels?

Haven’t seen 200 Motels yet, so it’s Head by default. But Head is pretty awesome, so I won’t complain.

17) Favorite cameo appearance

Does Charlie Sheen in Being John Malkovich count?

18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance

Finally, a gimme. His Girl Friday, no contest. She was good in other movies, but never this awesome.

19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?

We live in a world where you can get four seasons of ALF on Region DVD, but not Celine and Julie Go Boating or Privilege. But the fact that my all-time favorite movie, Belle de Jour, has a positively awful U.S. DVD is particularly sickening. As with many of the non-Oscar-bait movies in their library, the Weinsteins spared every expense that could’ve given Bunuel’s classic the DVD edition it deserves. It’s not enough that the only extras on this are a handful of Miramax trailers and a dry-as-dust commentary track from “Bunuel scholar Julie Jones.” No, the real shame is the barely-above-VHS-quality transfer of the movie itself. In light of the inspired DVD treatment Criterion gave to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, it’s tempting to imagine what they might do with Belle. I’d love to see interviews with some of the principal players in the film- Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clementi- as well as with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. And a remastered transfer of the film would be a godsend, allowing American home viewers to finally relish the work of Bunuel and his great D.P. Sacha Vierny. But the one must-have in this dream edition would be the world’s greatest DVD case- a wooden box that emits a small, intriguing buzz when you open it. Not even Severine herself could turn that down.

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason

How did Awards Season 2005 pass with nary a mention of Damian Lewis’ towering work in Keane? Oh yeah, because nobody saw the movie. That’s a pity, since it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen all decade. So many actors take mentally ill roles as an excuse to overact, but Lewis’ achievement isn’t that he portrays the title character as a man at war with himself. Unlike so many “crazy” performances, Keane is cursed with self-awareness, and he struggles every minute of every day with the realization that he could lose control. Some of the credit should go to director Lodge Kerrigan, who keeps us with Keane every step of the way, but without Lewis, the movie would fall to pieces.

21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?

I’m always a pushover for a scrappy underdog, so I’m leaning toward Cohn here.

22) Favorite John Wayne performance

Again, how can I possibly choose one? I’m tempted to say Red River, when he displayed the authority and elder-statesman presence that would carry him to the end of his career. However, I have a soft spot for his performance as Ole Olsen in The Long Voyage Home. His Swedish accent was a little suspect, but his boyishness is extremely touching, and he more than holds his own with a cast of Ford regulars.

23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?

What is this, the 1991 cult-movies-about-writers, starring-Judy-Davis Deathmatch? I love both of these, but only one gives me that Barton Fink feeling. Plus no performance in Cronenberg’s film even comes close to John Mahoney as W.P. Mayhew. Kind of sad that most of America thinks of the guy only as the dad from Frasier.

24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice

Jason and the Argonauts. Although I haven’t watched any Harryhausen since I was in middle school, so I’m really overdue to revisit them.

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?

No, I don’t think so. Creatively bankrupt bad movies are forgettable enough that nobody misses them when they’re gone, and out-and-out fiascos are at least interesting in their badness. So while I’m getting really sick of hearing people tell me how awesome Garden State is, I don’t begrudge people their favorites, just as I hope they don’t begrudge me mine.

26) Favorite Dub
Taylor performance

The only one that springs to mind is Bonnie and Clyde.

27) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?

I’m tempted to be a smartass and answer Satantango, Out 1, and Berlin Alexanderplatz, but if I knew my life was going to be over once the third movie was finished, I’d want to pick movies that would make me forget that. First, Belle de Jour. As I said before, my favorite, and such a given in times like this. Second, A Hard Day’s Night! For me, there are few films more joyous. And finally, 2001: A Space Odyssey, because if I knew I was about to travel beyond the infinite, I’d want a film to take me there.

28) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?

The Royal in Anarene, Texas. How fitting would that be?

Bonus questions:

A) Your proposed entry in the Atheist Film Festival

In Kevin McDonald’s documentary Touching the Void, Joe Simpson relates his experiences of being trapped in a mountain crevice for days with no food and a severly broken leg. He was near death and he knew it, and yet by his own account, even in a situation that seemed hopeless, he couldn’t bring himself to believe in God. According to Simpson, it was this belief that nothing awaited him after death that inspired him to try to save himself. So many movies operate under the oh-so-pious belief that salvation comes through God (think of the Jesus/water bottle scene in World Trade Center) that it’s more than a little bracing to hear the other side of the coin. Many devout people treat atheists as merely lapsed believer, waited to be jolted out of darkness, but Simpson’s story tells us otherwise.

B) What advice on day-to-day living have you learned from the movies?

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ Master Ittei commented, ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’” It’s originally from Hagakure, but I learned it from Ghost Dog, and it’s proven to be sound advice. Perhaps I haven’t gotten rich off of it, but it’s helped me stay levelheaded and relatively happy, which is nothing to sneeze at

Memorable death addendum #2

A few months ago, we ran a list of the 20 Most Unforgettable Death Scenes of All Time over at Screengrab. This one didn't end up getting posted because Bilge wanted all of the entries to include video of the death scene in question. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to rustle up this one in time. Too bad, because it's frickin' amazing. Since I have no such standards (and I'm not exactly sure how to post video anyway) here it is for your enjoyment. Don't say I never did anything for you.

John Cassavetes, The Fury

Understand that I don’t condone violence simply for violence’s sake.
When a character the audience doesn’t care for one way or another gets killed, it doesn’t really make much of an impression, no matter how creative the death. But there’s something to be said about a hateful villain finally getting his comeuppance, especially the cathartic charge that comes when he gets it real tasty. So it is with Cassavetes in Brian DePalma’s THE FURY. Cassavetes plays Childress, a renegade government agent who kidnaps partner Kirk Douglas’ telepathic son (played by Andrew Stevens) in order to develop his talents as a weapon. On top of that, he tries to have
Douglas killed so that Stevens can see him, which in turn gets used to heighten the son’s rage. In fact, Childress has a hand (the other has been rendered useless by Douglas) in most of the deaths in THE FURY, up to and including both Douglas and Stevens. That’s right- Childress is a real piece of work, one of the most despicable characters in any of DePalma’s films.

In the film’s final scene, Childress tries to comfort another telepath, played by Amy Irving, who had a psychic connection with Stevens and witnessed the unspeakable tests and experiments that were performed on him by Childress and his team of doctors. He tries to get her on his side, but she’s having nothing of it, unleashing all of her psychic wrath upon him. First he begins bleeding profusely from his eye sockets, stumbling around the room in total blindness, and then he begins convulsing violently. But Childress only gets his just desserts when Irving delivers the final telepathic death blow, causing him to explode, the pieces of his remains splattering all over the room like half-cooked meat. “Don’t judge me too harshly,” Cassavetes implores Irving just before she takes her revenge. Fat chance- we think he more or less got what was coming to him. DePalma, true to form, doesn’t skimp on the gory details, showing the explosion from about a dozen angles, including an overhead shot so that we see Childress’ head flying up into the camera; knowing there’s nowhere he could possibly go from there, DePalma simply cuts to the credits.

Face Time #11 (give this man a hand)

Tony Hale

Muriel Awards 2007 FYC #4

Best Lead Actor: Sam Rockwell, Joshua

For a movie that's advertised as an evil-kid chiller, Joshua is positively awash in thematic richness. The eerily self-assured Jacob Kogan perfectly embodies the title character, a crafty pint-sized manipulator whose selfish shenanigans tear his family apart. But Joshua wouldn't pack half its punch if not for the performance of Sam Rockwell as Joshua's father. Rockwell, who usually gets cast as oddballs, works wonders in the role of an average white-collar shmoe who is in over his head with his son. Rockwell's Brad isn't perfect, but his minor foibles- a slacker-ish obliviousness, for one- only make him more sympathetic as an audience surrogate. We're with Brad, and Rockwell, all the way, and so the thematic issues that spring from his relationship with Joshua become much more than simply academic. We honestly sympathize as he struggles with a son who has turned out nothing like him. But it goes deeper than that. Brad came of age at a time that when Whitney Houston (no great mom herself) sang "I believe that children are the future/ teach them well and let them lead the way/ show them all the beauty they possess inside," and when Brad finds himself confronted with his own son, who not only doesn't wish to be taught but possesses no beauty within, Rockwell's pain becomes ours. The horror of Joshua comes not from cheap scare tactics but from profound psychological dread, and Rockwell's performance makes this possible. By the end of the film, Brad begins to act in ways that our child-sanctifying society deems inexcusable, but under the circumstances, I'm not sure I would act any differently. In short, Brad is us, and in the end, that becomes his tragedy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Movie Moment #21

Also this week (I've been busy):

Half Measures 2007, Part 4- My top 5 movies from the first half of '07. Hey Steve- have I mentioned lately how awesome Everything Will Be OK is?

When Good Directors Go Bad #7: The Cotton Club- in which I chronicle the beginning of Coppola's slide into semi-obsolescence.

Trailer Roundup- 1-18-08 and the Iraq War prestige pic double feature of In the Valley of Elah and Lions for Lambs.

"Head or 200 Motels?" and Other Important Questions- a spotlight on Dennis Cozzalio's latest movie mega-quiz.

Video: Blanchett as Dylan- I don't know about you, but I thought this was pretty awesome.

"Your word is... darjeeling."

Hell yes. All you recent Wes-haters can suck it. This is going to be awesome. The only thing that saddens me is that since it's opening NYFF, it most likely won't be at TIFF. Ah well. Guess I just have to wait a little longer.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Let's play a game.

I'm not big on trumpeting the films I plan to spotlight in my upcoming Movie Moment columns. But as some of my friends know, I'm willing to give out hints. So as an experiment, I'll post a hint about this week's column on the blog. I figure this is as good a way as any to see who's reading and following these things. And just to show what I nice guy I am, I'll even make it easy. Here goes:

Dressed like Little Red Riding Hood.

Just post your answers in the comments. Let's see how long this takes...

From a Polish Movie House #8

Help! (1965, Richard Lester)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

Movie Moment #20

Note: It was posting the Face Time a few weeks ago that made me re-watch this, not the other way around.

Also this week:

Weekly Top 10: Songs That Were Redefined by Movies, Part 1 and Part 2- I wrote up "Candy Colored Clown They Call the Sandman" and "Theme From Gutterballs"

Our Last AFI-Related Post for a While (We Hope)- about the alternate top 100 poll going on at Daily Film Dose

Trailer Roundup- Hitman. Rocket Science. Arctic Tale.

Also, I compiled and guest-edited the recent feature Half Measures, in which some of the Screengrab contributors sounded off on their favorites from the first half of 2007. The first got posted yesterday, which I guess means the rest- including mine- will go up by next week.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Leprosy Update

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with my goings-on at my "personal" blog, Conquistador Instant Leprosy (as infrequently as it gets updated, who could blame you), I was recently tagged by Dennis for the 8 Things meme that's been sweeping the bloggers' ranks. So if you want to see my dirty laundry- as opposed to My Clay Feet- check it out. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Jason, Steve, Mark, Jay, Kent, Tosh, Danny and Kevin.

Movie Moment #19

Also this from the last two weeks:

When Good Directors Go Bad #6: New York, New York- taking down Dennis' favorites, one title at a time.

The Greatest Disses in Cinema History, Part 1 and Part 2: I blurbed George Méliès and Orson Welles

Trailer Roundup for 6/25- submitted for your pleasure/scorn: Mr. Bean's Holiday, Margot at the Wedding, and Rush Hour 3

Trailer Roundup for 7/2- Eastern Promises and The Hunting Party? Awesome. The Nanny Diaries? Eh... not so much.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Face Time #9 (shoes, baby)

Amitabh Bachchan

More Don-related awesomeness: As it turns out, I share a birthday with the great Pran, who memorably plays the fallen ex-trapeze artist in Chandra Barot's classic of Bollywood cinema. Bachchan played the lead, back in his younger years. Man, I need to watch that again. If you think Bollywood cinema is just sexy girls lip-synching to Hindi songs, you need to check out Don, stat.

Monday, July 02, 2007

From a Polish Movie House #6

A Shot in the Dark (1964, Blake Edwards)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

Normally I will post stuff like this on my screening blog as soon as I see the movie, but given the Disney embargo on reviewing their films before the release date, I thought it best to just hold out and then post it here.

After my second viewing of Ratatouille I had a few small objections to the film that I didn't have the first time around. The biggest thing is that for some reason or other I felt a tiny bit of revulsion at the film's central storyline- namely, a rat in the kitchen. Yes, I realize that's the point of the movie, and that Bird and company are using the unlikeliness of the story to underline the film's theme, that greatness can come from anywhere, even from places where you wouldn't expect it. Yet when rodent protagonist Remy starts running around underneath human pal Linguini's chef outfit and biting him all over, I couldn't help but think of, oh I dunno, stuff like the Black Plague. No matter how much of a foodie Remy is, or how clean he fancies himself to be, this is still a concern.

But still, this is a damned entertaining film, and great technical eye candy to boot. Owning a handful of rodents myself, I appreciated the care with which the rats were animated- the movement of their little noses and the whiskers perched at the end of them, the rising and falling of their chests when they breathe, the tiny sound of their feet, and so on. Another major geek-out moment was a panoramic shot of the kitchen, in which I could see that some of the floor tiles were crooked. It's this attention to detail that sets Pixar far apart from its competition.

One objection others have made that you won't hear about from me is to the Anton Ego, the fearsome food critic voiced by Peter O'Toole. Some critics have seen this as a smear on their honorable profession by a critical favorite- Bird's no Shyamalan when it comes to critical antipathy. Yet I didn't see it that way- Bird isn't attacking critics as a group, but a certain strain of snooty critic who has let the influence afforded him by his position overwhelm his love for the food about which he writes. We're all familiar with critics like this *cough*Rex Reed*cough* and besides, it's not like Ego is the only critic we meet during the course of the film. What's more, Ego's eventual change of heart is handled with such inspired simplicity that it deserves to be mentioned with The Grinch's literal change of heart (in the Chuck Jones version, naturally) when it comes to scenes of this sort. Plus O'Toole's voice work is so bleedin' awesome here, joining such greats as Joan Cusack's Jessie, John Goodman's Sulley, Ellen DeGeneres' Dory, Holly Hunter's Elastigirl, and yes, Bird's own Edna Mode in the Pixar voiceover performances hall of fame.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Bow your head.

And now, a moment of silence, in memory of the great Edward Yang (1947-2007).