Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Ok, he's a had couple of films he took some crap for (and I'll take some crap for admitting I like). Like, A Life Less Ordinary. screw you - I enjoy it. It's quirky and fun. completely weird. and I dig it. You think you're going in for a romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor (pre-Star Wars) and Cameron Diaz (pre-There's Something About Mary). what you have to remember though is you're watching a romantic comedy by the guys that did Shallow Grave. It also has a pretty amazing soundtrack.
The Beach - probably one of the most misunderstood movies of the last decade. At the time it wasn't taken seriously because it starred Leonardo DiCaprio, who was just coming off Titanic. and those who went to see it for Dicaprio were confused and disappointed because 'hey - this isn't Jack!' this fella Richard wouldn't keep Kate Winslett from drowning... Now that Dicaprio seems to have gotten some street cred back with The Departed and Blood Diamond, I dare those of you now rolling your eyes to take another look at The Beach. Did I mention the soundtrack? no? pretty fantastic again. and the non-pop music bits of the score were by David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti.
There's also Millions, which no one seemed to notice. It is essentially Shallow Grave with 8 year olds. Obviously not as dark, but thematically very similar. There are some others I won't go into, like Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise or Alien Love Triangle - you're on your with those for now.
But then there's 28 Days Later. Screenplay by Alex Garland (who wrote the book The Beach) and produced by Andrew McDonald. Absent was John Hodge, who wrote the original screenplays Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary, and adapted both The Beach and Trainspotting (brilliantly I might add, as the book Trainspotting was thought to be unfilmable and should have been an utter disaster, like Welsh's The Acid House ended up). I can't say I'm a fan of modern horror movies. "Torture-Porn" does nothing for me (Eli Roth, I'm looking at you). I like the classic stuff of course, and if there's something unique or special about the concept (Shaun of the Dead) I'll give it a shot. This was Danny Boyle and the guy who wrote the novel The Beach doing a zombie movie. I'm in! So maybe the concept isn't particularly original. It owes a lot to Omega Man (and obviously the book I Am Legend), a few of Romero's films, and it's main inspiration - The Day of the Triffids, but there was still something new about their spin on the zombie flick. you didn't see the running zombie too often before, at least I never had. and with the virus element, there was a reality to it you don't find in your average modern horror pic. Hey, there's probably even a political message to be found without much effort...
And finally, the reason for this post, now that I've written about everything except what I meant to - Sunshine. There was no film I was looking forward to more last year. I was excited from the moment I heard about it. Danny Boyle was directing a space epic (he had been attached to Alien 4 early on, but sadly it didn't work out). We have another more or less original Alex Garland script. and a score by Underworld (who also recently worked on the score for Breaking and Entering) and John Murphy (28 Days Later, Lock Stock, Snatch...).
So, just to recap, we have working on this film: 1. one of my favorite directors. 2. one of my favorite authors. 3. one of my favorite bands. How could this possibly not be instantly headed for a spot in my top 5 favorite films of all time? I was there the first show, the first night it played at the Arclight. I was even it the first hour or so. some absolutely amazing imagery. beautiful score. Underworld and John Murphy knocked this one out of the park. then all of a sudden it turns into a cheesy slasher flick for what seems like absolutely no reason. there might even have been a way that could have logically happened. but it didn't. one minute we're watching this glorious hardcore 70's style science fiction pic, in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Tarkovsky's Solaris. and then we slip into something Rob Zombie might've had his way with. and don't get me wrong, I'm not against a well planned genre switch. the first Alien film does that in a way this one could have. It feels very much like an afterthought. like someone was afraid it wasn't interesting enough. It feels like they set out to make an actual SCIENCE fiction film, not a fantasy like Star Wars or Star Trek, but lost their nerve halfway through and chickened out.
So here's my plea to Danny Boyle: PLEASE, give Garland a break. Call up John Hodge (who is currently wasting his time and talent on a seriously lame fantasy series). Get the team that gave us your first 4 movies back together. it's a partnership that works well. and while you're at it see if you can mend that fence with Ewan McGregor over his exclusion from The Beach. Irvine Welsh wrote a fantastic sequel to Trainspotting that is begging for you to get the band back together, so to speak.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Backstory: If I was forced with a Congressional subpoena to testify and I didn’t want to purger myself, I would say Brando is my favorite actor of all time, but that Nicholson has probably had the greatest career and that Shelly Winters might rank as my favorite actress, but if I went back in time Gloria Grahame is whom I would choose to stalk. But right up there near the top for me would be Burt Lancaster.
In the latest edition of the Sight And Sound, Philip Kemp gives a terse overview of Burt's career, much better then I could offer (it’s a British publication, he knows how to write all fancy).
"BURT LANCASTER CHARMER CHAMELEON. A former acrobat with a firm grasp of economics, Burt Lancaster had great acting abilities that were reckoned by some to be based on his multiple personalities. But above all he conveyed a unique sense of male mystery." Go read it.
You done? You back?
I’ll just add a few titles, for the newbies I COMMAND YOU TO RENT & WATCH LIST, some of my favorites...
Lancaster won a deserved Oscar for the awesome Elmer Gantry (Brooks 1960)
He took the bad guy roles in Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick 1957) and Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer 1964).
And he showed regret in the strangely wonderful The Swimmer (Perry 1968) and Atlantic City (Malle 1980).
He did cool action in The Professionals (1966) and recently released as part of the John Frankenheimer Collection The Train (1964) (also includes Lancaster in the never before available The Young Savages,1961).
Strangely John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger (Huston 1963) hasn’t made it to DVD yet nor has Carol Reed’s Trapeze (1956) (article to follow).
if you want more Lancaster titles of note here goes....
He did a string of cool 70’s anti-westerns including Ulzana's Raid (Aldrich 1972) and Valdez Is Coming (Sherin 1971).
Some international art house fare The Leopard (Visconti 1963), 1900 (Bertolucci 1976), Local Hero (Forsyth 1983).
He pops up in the bizarro casts of such oddities as the euro- disaster flick The Cassandra Crossing (Cosmatos 1976) and the Altman anti epic, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) and Peckinpah’s last flick The Osterman Weekend (1983) .
And he’s been in numerous other flicks considered classics by man including, Birdman of Alcatraz (Frankenheimer 1962), Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer 1961), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Sturges 1957), From Here to Eternity (Zinnemann 1953).
So many more including his political flicks period and you can also explore his swashbuckling films and the noir films he broke into Hollywood with Etc. So many....
Recently inspired by a couple of friends, one old chum just got cast in Cirque du Soleil's next show and another friend has been taking trapeze classes and is looking to go pro. So I thought it was time to check out that video copy of the long out-of-print Trapeze.
I was immediately struck by those crazy tilted angles, director Carol Reed also employed in his classics The Third Man (1948) and The Fallen Idol (1949) (which recently was released on DVD for the first time, which gives hope that perhaps Trapeze may follow). Though here, those skewed angles are used while high-wire bars swing back and forth, helping to create a sense of danger.
Burt Lancaster in full brood, is the washed up ex trapeze artist now pursued by the young Tony Curtis to teach him the trade. Meanwhile they both fall for the sexy scheming Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) which could jeopardize the future of the act.
Yeah it’s a familiar plot. And it is a sudsy soap-opera, but unlike say Cecil B DeMille’s earlier (once overrated, later maligned, but still entertaining) The Greatest Show on Earth, which went for the epic spectacle of the circus, Reed is into the seedy, the Euro-sexyness and the strange characters standing in the background. Like The Third Man, Trapeze has great locations, those decrepit back alley cobblestone streets. it’s about the passion required to be fearless and the desperation that creates the passion (and it shows that Big Tops are great place to meet foxy ladies, at least better then acting classes and video stores)
I expressed my admiration for Lancaster earlier. And he is undoubtedly in his element here. He appears to be doing all his own stunts (unfortunately tricky editing was used to mask Curtis’s double, much better then, say Roger Moore’s Greek stunt double in Octopussy).
Curtis has run hot and cold for me, he peaked later, again with Burt in Sweet Smell Of Success (Mackendrick 1957) and then in Some Like It Hot (Wilder 1959) and the peek of his oeuvre The Boston Strangler (Fleischer 1968).
Gina Lollobrigida is incredibly alluring as Lola (I have a thing for manipulative foreign chicks). I was surprised to realize that John Huston’s Beat the Devil (1953) was the only other flick I’ve seen her in, Need to see more of her.
Interestingly of Reed’s seven films he directed after Trapeze only his corny Oscar winning musical Oliver (1968) and his Chuck Heston as Michelangelo flick The Agony & The Ecstasy (1965) have reached DVD,most aren't even available on VHS here. That wasn’t counting Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) which Brando got him fired from after a few weeks. Hopefully one day a Carol Reed Box set will be released. Until then, I don’t think Netflix is gonna have Trapeze.... only at Rocket.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
I’ve never been a fan of director Gregg Araki (The Living End (1992), The Doom Generation (1995), Nowhere (1997),
Mysterious Skin (2004) etc).
I can appreciate his independent spirit.
I just always found his films kinda pretentious and not really as smart or dangerous or artistic as they thinks they are. And maybe the worse sin of all, I just find them usually boring.
So when his latest opus Smiley Face (2007) started getting good review on the festival circuit, I still had my doubts. A flick about the day in the life of a stoned actress and the wacky misadventures she gets herself into. Yikes, sounds lame. Then it opened in LA for a week and went straight to DVD couple months later. For whatever reason I decided to give it a looksy.
Though, there's still a little of that 'I’m clever' -pretentiousness we come to expect from the Araki-cannon and there's his usual touch of over acting background actors... Still I must declare, I LAUGHED A LOT....
But the reason...for my enjoyment was this actress, this flower among the muck, this wonderful inspiring talent, I was blown away by...
Anna Faris, let’s see, I remember her well as the obnoxious actress in Lost In Translation (2003) and as the coworker in May
(2002) and I guess I vaguely recall her being funny in what I’ve seen of the Scary Movie trilogy. And I'm gonna be re-watching them, along with all the other crappie comedies she’s been in like My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), Just Friends (2005),
Waiting (2005), The Hot Chick (2002). I need to see all she’s done. Everything.
Seriously, her performance as Jane in Smiley Face is a piece of epic slapstick acting. I think she joins that French actress who played Edith Piaf & that Euro-babe from Black Book & Ashley Judd in Bug as the best actress performances I've seen from last year's flicks
She’s in almost every frame of the Smiley Face and her character is stoned-outta-her-skull the whole time. The way she uses her body and her face is some of the funniest acting I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not always easy for funny actresses to get a chance to really let go and put all vanity aside. This is a brave performance. She is a very cute. Adorable. She has a budding career going . But she shows no ego in this work. It’s an exhausting performance, you can see Jane’s brain trying to unscramble from the fog she’s stuck in and it can be painful to watch.
And she keeps it up and never let's go. If I may get personal... I bet Anna (may I call you Anna? Can I call you Annie?), I bet my little Annie was so beat after each day of shooting when she got home. Man, in the evenings, her needing to forget the stressful day, that awful director barking orders at everyone, I woulda rubbed her feet and ran lines with her, ordered us a little dinner from her favorite West Hollywood eatery. Oh my, what is this feeling I have rushing through my blood? I think, I think I like - LIKE her.
If I may give myself a plug. Boy, if me and her made a movie together. We could have a funny-face off. We would be electric together. With her talent and my sexual charisma there would be no stopping us.
And I bet- off-camera... I bet we could really hit it off... Controversial on the set, us always sneaking off to my trailer to bang. Holding hands all the time. Laughing. My little Annie. But then when the shoot is done, what'll become of us? I’d have to dump you, because I... It’s not you Annie, you’re great, you’re gonna find happiness. I don't wanna hold you back. You see, it’s me. Baby, my sweet little monkey-face Annie, I... I can’t feel love. I did once upon a yesteryear- Oh Annie, baby forget me. You got a big career ahead of you and I’m gonna be rooting for you...
I'll always like LIKE you lots.
Take care kiddo,
Friday, January 25, 2008
Confessions of a Superhero (Ogens 2007)
Let me say, I go to the Chinese Theater fairly often, saw Cloverfield the other nite (dug it), I like eating at that Mongolian Grill in the food court above it. But I try to get by all the crowds on the Blvd as fast as I can. I usually find the costumed freaks just annoying and scuzzy.
That said, i was really taken by surprise how charming documentary was. And not surprising, how rather sad as well.
It follows the scrawny Superman, a good natured fell who takes his ‘work serious’. And comes off as a likeable oddball. There’s also the creepy Batman who feels that his “acting career” has been hampered by his strong resemblance to George Clooney (he delusionally mentions the former “Facts Of Life” star constantly). Did I mention he has some temper-issues. But the chubby southern Wonder Woman steals the flick. On a whim she marries some goon and later in a moving scene, teary-eyed, confesses to what a blunder that’s been. While the other would be actors seem to think the way to success (becoming “stars”) is to cross paths with producers and directors (who I presume would be hanging-out in souvenir shops), Wonder Woman is the only one who says she would settle for acting in plays for no money, because she just wants to act (as oppose to the others who want to be “stars” and desperately need attention).
VIY (Kropachyov, Yershov 1967)
A slight little Russian folk tale based on a story by Nikolai Gogol. It’s kinda a primitive almost kiddy ditty about an young drunken would-be priest who after an encounter with a witch is forced to pray over the corpse of of a young woman (Natalya Varley whom I must say, before she dies and even after, is one sexy lil’ Bolshevik minx).
With a running time under eighty minutes, What makes this flick notable and worth seeing are the crude special effect and images in the last half hour when the corpse comes back to life, some truly creepy moments.
Sahara (Korda 1943)
When I was young seeing the ‘classics’ for the first time, I became fascinated with Bogart and caught all his major films. Brando and the generation that followed were the actors I most revered, Bogart so different, was the anti-Brando for me. He was never in doubt, he never wavered, he seems to always be smoking and always so cocksure of himself (though that changed in the 50s as he started play more character roles).
Recently seeing Sahara for the first time, I hadn’t caught a Bogart flick in a while. I was really struck now with how unattractive he was physically. He’s kinda weasely and has a lisp and overbite. Maybe that’s what makes him so compelling. He has the swagger of Gable but in the body of Steve Buscemi.
In Sahara as a WWII tank commander, he leads a lost group of British troops in protecting a desert watering hole against a German attack.
Standard stuff, but with a lot of style. It’s shoot very realistically, by the great Polish DP Rudolph Maté, who was Cinematographer on the great Carl Dryer flicks of the ‘20s. And most impressively it uses very believable locations (it looked like the Middle East as opposed to so many of WWII flicks of the 40s that say, used Griffith Park as a stand in for Burma).
One interesting subplot, the allies mercifully take a couple prisoners, one a nasty Aryan Nazi, who proves to be very Nazi-like. The other a sweet simple Italian soldier (Oscar nominee J. Carrol Naish) who shows pictures of his little ‘bambino’ back home and sides with the heroes. The contrast presented of the two American enemies is interesting. By 1943, they presented the Nazi as a true believer, while the Italian was let off easy as just a gullible schlep who fell for Mussolini's jive, but now regretted it.
In the Heat of the Night - 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Jewison 1967)
I’ve seen this over the top Southern Fried Pulp a couple of times before. I only took it home to check out the Making-Of Doc, which proved unspectacular.
But I ended up put putting the film on (while I spent an hour trying to figure out how to spell, Bolshevik). And I got sucked in to watching, again.
Though, as a crime solving mystery yarn it’s about as credible as Scooby-Doo episode. And while, I understand that culturally, socially and politically in it’s day it was very significant, it feels very redundant. It’s does have a lot going for it, it’s beautifully shot by Haskell Wexler (check out the documentary about him by his son, Tell Them Who You Are, 2004) and it acclaimed score by Quincy Jones is appropriately jazzy (another all-star behind the scenes, it was edited by Hal Ashby). What really sucks me in is the acting. And I don’t mean Sidney Poitier, True he was a trail blazer and deservantly, now iconic, but physically he feels awkward, he’s almost overly graceful and looks a little fay in the action scenes (or anytime he walks), though In The Heat Of The Night does hold up better then the heavy handed Guess Whose Coming To Dinner and the dull Lillie Of The Field.
Nope. Whom I can’t get enough of, two of my favorite actors
Rod Steiger and Warren Oates.
Steiger is such fun to watch act. Like the best almost-over-actors he goes to the limits of ‘methodyness’ and walks a thin line, sometimes going over the limit (The Pawnbroker) but usually he’s at just the right ham level, whether it was chewing the scenery in Doctor Zhivago or having a mumble-off with Brando in On The Waterfront or just going insane as Mr Joyboy in (one of my favorites) The Loved One. The guy loves to act and he shows it. Oh did I mention Sergio Leone's Duck You Sucker.
Chewing gum and brooding up a storm in In The Heat Of The Night focus is almost stolen from King Steiger slyly by the mumbly funny Oates. Another guy with a interesting career. During the seventies maybe only Bruce Dern rivaled him for playing a range of psychos, drunks, killers and good ol’ boys (Race with the Devil, Badlands, Cockfighter, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 1941 Etc.
Interesting. In the Making-Of, Jewison say they wanted but couldn’t get George C Scott for the Steiger role. And I’ve read before that Steiger was the first choice to play Patton, but he turned it down and regretted it when Scott won an oscar for it. Imagine if Scott and Steiger had starred in a movie together (I don’t think they ever did) that would been an acting-off for the ages. There would be no room on screen for another actor to breath.
Death Sentence (Wan 2007)
Kevin Bacon’s yuppie family man dons the Charles Bronson role in this stupid ultra-vile, ugly Death Wish ‘re-imagining’. worked for me as a guilty pleasure. Though it’s incredibly unbelievable, it passes muster as a guilty-pleasure thanks to some invigorating action sequences. There’s is a great steady-cam chase sequence, that’s worth the price of a rental.