July 31, 2003
Summer Reading. 10.This time around, a collection of book reviews from the December 15, 2000, issue of the Austin Chronicle:
July 30, 2003
Summer Reading. 9.
I know you probably didn't get the chance to see the film yesterday and, actually, I'm not that upset. Maybe it's for the best. Slipping in alone, on the spur of the moment, is often a good way to see a movie - expectations are more reasonable and the Saturday night hassle avoided--but one of The Last Days of Disco's themes is, precisely, the allure of "group social life." It's definitely a good "date movie," and making arrangements to go with the right person might take some thought and planning. Better still, go with a group of eight or so, with some romantic matching or rematching possibilities involved. Afterward you could go out for drinks, dinner, or even dancing, depending on the time zone. In any case, try to slip a cold beer into the screening. It goes very well with popcorn, balancing the salty taste. There should be no awkwardness with the sound of the beer can's pop-top as the film's start is pretty loud (if it isn't, please complain to the projectionist).
This is supposed to be a diary, but last week was more interesting than this one for me. On the weekend of May 29 the film opened, and we also had to vacate the loft we've occupied since 1984. The symmetry goes even further: The first shot of what lay ahead came the morning after Barcelona opened four years ago - the landlord's son called to 1) congratulate us on the reviews and 2) raise the rent.
July 29, 2003
Summer Reading. 8.
The directorial profession is wide enough to encompass wanderers and regionalists, pastoralists and city rats. "We're all gypsies," the nomadic David Lean said in a 1985 interview, but some directors repeatedly gravitate toward their old metropolitan haunts, even if most eventually range beyond them.
Spike Lee, Hal Hartley and Abel Ferrara are other directors proffering radically opposed visions of New York. John Waters presents a camp alternative to Levinson's Baltimore and Gus Van Sant a poetic Portland, Ore., Further afield, there is Pedro Almodóvar's melodramatic Madrid, Terence Davies's working-class Liverpool and Wong Kar-Wai's kinetic Hong Kong. In the past, there was René Clair's studio-rendered Paris; Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles of boule, pastis and the waterfront; Federico Fellini's circuslike Rome and Yasujiro Ozu's middle-class Tokyo.
Some film cities are best represented by one or two indelible visions: Carol Reed's labyrinthine postwar Vienna in The Third Man; Alfred Hitchcock's dreamy, deceptively manicured San Francisco in Vertigo; Francis Ford Coppola's illusory Las Vegas in One From the Heart and Mike Figgis's Stygian equivalent in Leaving Las Vegas; Volker Schlöndorff's Beirut of political and sexual treachery in Circle of Deceit and Ziad Doueri's version of the same wartorn city in the recent West Beirut; Goran Paskaljevic's necropolitan Belgrade in The Powder Keg, and Wim Wenders's celestial Berlin in Wings of Desire.
Graham Fuller, "When the City Steals the Show," New York Times, November 14, 1999.
GreenCine Daily online tip:
An online tip: For the next week Ian Whitney will be highlighting a story that's been bugging us, too. Mouseamax (aka Disney's "indie" company) will be releasing their mutilated version of Shaolin Soccer. On his site, he lays out out the argument for a boycott. "I don't expect it to be highly successful," Whitney says, "but I've been a fan of these films for too long to see one as good as SS be abused (not to speak of Miramax's treatment of "Hero" or a dozen other HK films)."
ComicCon! A Last Report
And now the exciting conclusion of Dennis' report from San Diego's Comic Convention. Remember to click on the links for all of his groovy pictures.
16) QT got a question that must follow him around a lot: "Would there be a Vega brothers prequel movie starring John Travolta and Michael Madsen?" (FYI, Travolta's Pulp Fiction character Vince Vega is a brother of Madsen's Mr. Blonde, Vic Vega, from Reservoir Dogs in the QT-verse. But you already knew that.) He said that John Travolta and Michael Madsen are getting a little too old to do a prequel. Then another audience member stepped up to the mike and grumbled, "Who's too old?" It's Madsen, who promptly crashed (?) the panel. And QT right away massages the "too old" remarks. "Have you seen Reservoir Dogs lately? That was more than ten years ago."
17) QT premiered a promo of "Kill Bill" he edited together in a 1970s exploitation movie style. The studio rejected it, he said, saying the trailer spoke to _his_ fans and, well, a trailer is supposed to get people who are NOT his fans into a theater. The promo definitely looked like Bonus Disc fodder. Questions came regarding Uma Thurman's yellow jump suit, which resembles Bruce Lee's get-up in Game of Death. QT said that Thurman's was a two-piece, not a one-piece like Bruce Lee's, and they were riffing off Uma's hair color in designing the outfit. And would QT ever direct a comic-book character movie? He remarked he probably wouldn't but that Kill Bill pretty close to being a comic book movie with the action and revenge plot.
18) QT didn't seem miffed that the studio had decided to cut his movie into two, with release dates set a few months apart. He recounted as a kid watching The Three Musketeers, and then learning there'd be an additional movie, The Four Musketeers and being overwhelmed with the epic nature of it. He said he did his own edit, cutting off the end of the first movie and the beginning of the second to make one sweeping 5 hour movie. So considering all this, in his eyes the epic release of Kill Bill was not a bad thing.
19) One audience member asked to give him a business card, which he told the security staff surrounding him he would accept. ZZZZZtttttttt! The staffers have a little heart attack as he fakes an electric shock and tumbles over the panel table. Okay, he didn't really fool anyone but it was still funny as hell. Afterwards, he did Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver blasting Harvey Keitel: "Suck on this!" "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" For those six people who got the reference it was pretty amusing.
20) Later that same day...Writer and producer Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) introduces a clip for one of three new FOX TV series, Still Life, which is kind of Seventh Heaven narrated by a character who is dead and cremated. His brother carries around the ashes in an urn. Okay. More promising is Wonderfalls, focusing on an underachieving Ivy league graduate working as a Niagara Falls gift shop employee who has inanimate objects talking to her. It looks better than it sounds -- it's obviously aiming for a Northern Exposure sense of whimsy, and the lead, newcomer Caroline Dhavernas, has a charming sort of Alexis Bleidel blitheness. Look for it come January.
21) Further up on the FOX schedule is an outing by a different Buffy alum -- Eliza Dushku (right), who plays Tru in Tru Calling -- a collision of Run Lola Run meets Early Edition meets Groundhog Day. Her character works in a morgue where persons who "died before their time" are brought. The first such corpse speaks to her Tru finds herself waking up to re-live the previous day of her life, which is just enough time to solve the murder of the speaking corpse. Okay. Dushku gets to run around a lot in the pilot (which was aired in its entirety to the Comic-Con audience). "I hope your character gets a car," quipped one audience member in the Q & A afterwards, "or she'll be the one that's dead by the third episode."
22) Other con tidbits: There will be a Starship Troopers 2. There will still be no powered armor. There will be another Robocop ("Robocop's back...and this time he's black!" -- no joke). The Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars series will be about 10-3 1/2 minute episodes, filling in the story between Episodes II and III of the Lucas saga. By the animators of Samurai Jack -- looks really fun, though their Senator Amidala looks a bit like Cindy Lou Who, said one con-goer. Will Smith said hello to conventioneers on videotape from the set of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Here's hoping it comes off better than the other recent Asimov robot story, The Bicentennial Man (ugh). Harvey Pekar's American Splendor will be coming out as a live-action movie -- it seems from the trailer the film will be based on the story The Cancer Years. Perhaps the strength of Ghost World is giving chances to reality grounded stories like that of Pekar. Let's hope. Pixar looks as though they'll continue their winning streak with their next CGI venture, The Incredibles, about a misfit superhero family. A new Loony Toons adventure combining live-action in a Roger Rabbit style is also up to bat. And topping off, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been remade and will be out this October. (editorial note: For the love of God, why??)
23) Gotta hand it to the SDCC folks -- the con is always a great show but the last two years have been a special boon for starseekers and learning the inside track. Check out their site . Drop me a line if you want to know anything more about the con or the pix.
July 28, 2003
In other news...
Lots of obits on the 'net on the passing of Bob Hope this morning; a good one is Vincent Canby's in the NY Times. On the one hand, it was hard for me to feel sad because a) I kept thinking he had died a long time ago (but was continually wrong); b) was never a big fan; c) the fact that GW is leading a big tribute to him. However, a lot of people I am fans of swear by his earlier movies. Woody Allen claims his onscreen persona was influenced as much by Hope as anyone. And you can see this if you watch, say, Love and Death or Sleeper, and then watch Hope's The Road to Bali or The Paleface -- the irreverent, fearful character who wisecracks his way through nervousness. Woody, in a statement released after Hope's death, admitted that his fellow comedian was "not so funny" in television as he was in movies.
"But if you look at `Monsieur Beaucaire,' for instance, he's very, very funny," Allen declared in the 1993 book "Woody Allen on Woody Allen." "There are a number of films where he's allowed to show his brilliant gift of delivery, his brilliant gift of comic speech. He had a very breezy attitude, he was a great man with a quip. Those one-liners and witticisms they're just like air, he does them so lightly."
I highly recommend checking out some of Hope's earlier film work and forgetting about his TV-golfing-with-President-Ford persona, to get a sense of why he deserved the reverence.
Watched Miller's Crossing on DVD the other night -- first time since seeing it in the theaters -- and liked it more this time around. Pretty damned serpentine plot but it works on several levels. A great film. Anyway, made me wonder... what are the Coens up to now?
A lot, apparently. Including (probably old news but...) a remake of the Ealing Studios classic The Ladykillers. Tom Hanks, not Alec Guinness but he'll have to do, is starring in it. I can see Hanks in that, actually, just not in a film that demands multiple personalities (which Guinness and Peter Sellers were masters of). But Ethan Coen seems to be in a remaking frame of mind -- he also co-wrote the script for Barry Sonnefeld's Fun With Dick and Jane, and why anyone thought we needed a remake of that mediocre 1970's comedy is a mystery but with Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz now playing the bank-robbing couple it has potential (to either suck or be a smash). Bad sign: Ethan Coen is one of 4 credited writers. Good sign: Joel C is one of the others.
But then, there are 7, count 'em, 7, writers credited on the Coens' next film to be released, Intolerable Cruelty, with George Clooney. I guess we can officially stop calling them "indie auteurs" now, but whatever they come up with is usually worth seeing.
Random poll idea: Johnny Depp, over Christopher Walken or Michael Keaton? For Tim Burton's (speaking of remakes) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Personally, I'd vote Keaton, but maybe Depp would bring more depp-th, or shading, to the role. What do you think?
Speaking of Hollywood studio crap, David Poland wonders where have all the directors gone?
And speaking of indie directors shooting for more mainstream success (in order to bankroll some of their bigger-budget visions), try Richard Linklater on for size. In particular, his upcoming School of Rock, starring Jack Black. Harry from Ain't It Cool says it does indeed rock, but we shall see.
Summer Reading. 7."People like movies, but they really really like making lists of movies. We at Club Havana like making lists too. We like making lists so much we decided to make what, on the basis of comprehensive study, we hope and fully expect will be the list to end all lists: the ten best movies of every year since 1928."
Chris Fujiwara and A. S. Hamrah didn't get far, but they got off to a very, very good start.
July 25, 2003
ComicCon! A Report
We bring you now an exclusive report from our own Dennis Woo on San Diego's Comic Convention last weekend, replete with glossy (well, pixel-glossy) photos and all the dirt. Take it away, Dennis!
The San Diego Comic-Con is that city's largest yearly convention, with membership for the 2003 event estimated to be more than 70,000. It's pure nerdvana.
"Starbuck was a cigar-chewing womanizer. What about your character?" Katee Sackoff stars as the new all-female Starbuck in the all-new "reimagined" Battlestar Galactica coming to the the Sci-Fi Channel. Speaking at a panel at the SD Comic-Con the past weekend, her Starbuck will also have a penchant for cigars. Or at least some chewing gum, as the photo shows. She also said she wouldn't mind her character taking a few gents for a ride, as long as she got to do the casting. Visual FX supervisor Ronald Moore, vet of numerous Star Trek series, explains there'd be no major fleet action seen in the new Galactica. Expect production influences from In Harm's Way, the movie focusing on an American battleship out at sea while Pearl Harbor takes place. The Cylons will be more Borg-like and the product of human creation.
The vision is at odds with Richard Hatch's (not the Survivor player -- the original "Captain Apollo" from the 1970s Galactica) sense of the Cylons, which to his mind have been and always will be reptilian. Hatch complains that the head of the Sci-Fi Network doesn't even like science fiction, and that Glen A. Larson, producer of the original, is p.o.ed about the re-imagining. Hatch holds out hopes for his dibs on a movie version, claiming that Larson has those rights. Realists probably wouldn't count on it. However, Hatch's new thought-child "Magellan" sounds interesting. He claims to have finished the bible on that universe, and is going around pitching.
Hatch WOULD NOT SHUT UP after we flagged him down in front of the Con. I guess Jonathan really had him against the ropes. Actually, he was very friendly and very generous with his time considering he was due at a panel at 11am and was obviously on his way there. Interestingly, he referenced Galaxy Quest once or twice and he LOVES Lord of the Rings. The new project he's been pitching is called Magellan. Younger folks, check him out on Battlestar Galactica. Check out Julie and Matthew waiting patiently in the background while Richard is pitching Jonathan. We think he'll be up for an interview on the site, though, as he accepted our biz cards graciously.
2) Maybe Hatch would like to cast Deborah Van Valkenburg, at 50, still spritely and "still fun," as she claims. You probably know her as Mercy from The Warriors or the cute brunette sister on the Ted Knight series Too Close for Comfort. A 17-year blink later, she's opposite William Shatner in Free Enterprise. How time flies.
3) A Disney-esque ghoul sits on the panel for the Haunted Mansion movie. But how will you get out? As with the theme park ride, the movie will be funny as well as scary. (See Craig's thoughts on Disney Theme Park Movies in a previous entry.)
4) The lovely Ms. Halle Berry gets the crowd going in talking about her character Storm in the X-Men movies. She will be in the upcoming Gothika, playing a doctor who wakes up in her own mental hospital wondering what just happened. Notice the cast -- Halle broke her arm in a scene with Robert Downey Jr. which "wasn't even a stunt scene." Is Halle the most accident-prone actress in Hollywood or what?
5) Angelina Jolie greets a crowd of thousands (4,500 actually...8,000 were trying to push into the room). With her extracurricular work in Cambodia, and with her portrayal of 1970s supermodel Gia winning her plaudits from the AIDS activist community, Angelina arrived as a virtual saint seeming to push the forthcoming second Tomb Raider movie as a kind of afterthought. Angelina was gracious enough to blow a kiss or two for the crowd, and found herself shedding tears when an HIV-afflicted fan made mention she'd travelled from Arizona only to see her and had been in line since 2 in the morning. And to answer a question, guys (and gals), yeah, she is pretty hot in real life.
6) Kevin Smith is a convention regular but always entertaining. "What are you guys really here for? Hobbits? No really, what's up next? Spider-man 2?" His default joke is to bag on Ben Affleck. He claimed that he couldn't log onto the Internet anymore because he spent far too much time trying to prove he wasn't an asshole. "You come to the realization, 'He's right. I am an asshole. I do keep making the same movie over and over. Frodo12 is right.'" Anyway, I hear "An Evening with Kevin Smith" is pretty much like what we saw, so you should just check that out and not feel you missed anything.
7) Freddy Krueger is back. What else need be said?: Freddy vs. Jason is nigh upon us. If you're betting anything but Freddy, you're nuts. On the flip side of evil, Robert Englund also plays the nicey-nice turncoat alien in the original NBC science fiction mini-series V, which is soon to be revived. He dropped some tidbits, nothing substantial.
8) This was pretty cool. Sala Baker, who plays both Sauron in costume and the lead orc Lurtz in the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, appeared in full Lurtz garb on stage. Costumers from the LOTR movies were on-hand with a pretty impressive costuming demonstration, outfitting a elf-warrior-maiden in the garb of Lothlorien and a Rohirrim guardsman before the audience.
9) Billy Boyd (Pippin) himself gets on stage to check out the hobbit hair. Also on hand from Middle-earth were Andy Serkis (Gollum), and later Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins, at left, left) and Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee, right). What's with the hair and hat? The third and final installment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy promises to be one of 2003's biggest film debuts. Wood claimed that of what he saw, Return of the King will be better than the first two movies combined. Whew.
10) Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, spoke about the upcoming movie starring Ron Perlman and directed by Guillermo del Toro . According to Mignola, del Toro graciously wanted to direct a vision of Hellboy very close to that seen in the comics. Reports of washed-out black and white scenes with Hellboy as the only color element have a "they're doing it right" ring to them. Do you think the red shirt has any signifcance? The clip from Hellboy looked fab and Perlman's make-up is dead-on right. For those of you unfamiliar with the comicbook and mythology, check out the Hellboy web site.
11) Is is boring to look so beautiful? Here's the story of the Americanization of Kate Beckinsale. She's first known mostly as an english flower for her mannered roles in vehicles like Emma, Cold Comfort Farm, and Much Ado About Nothing. Later, she turns to pragmatic leading lady roles in Last Days of Disco and Pearl Harbor. USA! USA! She now eschews the talk and lets her guns do the acting in the forthcoming Underworld -- a Romeo and Juliet story of werewolves vs. vampires...okay, there's a little bit of Shakespeare in there...Felicity's Scott Speedman (dude! Hair!) plays her Lycan honey-bunch in this romantic thriller with Matrix-esque action. Doesn't seem groundbreaking but it did look like fun. She's also a kick-ass rapier wielding gypsy in Van Helsing, which looks Ken Russell's Gothic on steroids or the League of Extraordinary Monsters. Hugh Jackman is also in this one. Kate had the best hair flip of any of the major panelists at the Con.
12) Sam Raimi is at it again. He was slated to be at the con (was there two years ago promoting the first Spider-man) but was sick, so he sent his neck-tie instead, worn by producer Laura Ziskin. Seriously, that's what she said. The villain in the web-head's second big screen outing will be one of his best known comicbook foes, Doctor Octopus ("Doc Ock"), played by Alfred Molina(fresh off his celebrated portrayal of Diego Rivera in Frieda) . Clip shown at the presentation showed the Doc stretching his arms against the medical staff about to remove his new metal tentacles -- he lashes out with a chainsaw (in a hospital??? They were well-equipped...) in classic Raimi fashion. Considering the success of the previous movie, the studio really budgetted for this one hinted Ziskin. Yeah, this one's gonna be a big one.
13) Okay, so is Hugh Jackman as hunky in real-life? Who could tell under that hat? He and the cast of Van Helsing did kindly stick around for better than an hour signing autographs with multiple hoots coming from the autograph area for god-knows-what during that time. So you can't say he isn't fun.
14) Meanwhile, in autograph alley, we find Robia La Morte, "Jenny Calendar" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 , with Mark Lutz, Groosalugg aka "Groo" from second season Angel. The argument at the booth was who was more hot. Big shrug from both on "will you ever be back"? Showbiz, erg.
Coming Tuesday: QT, Eliza Dushku, a little Richard Hatch, some tidbits without photos on still life, wonderfalls, the cartoon network clone wars animated shorts, starship troopers 2, and a black robocop.
July 24, 2003
Summer Reading. 6.
Both Perez and Bordwell have a quarrel with "theory," and Perez has an additional quarrel with the quarrel. Film theory became just Theory in the Seventies, Bordwell suggests, a major excursion into a combination of semiotics, feminism, Marxism and psychoanalysis. By the Eighties, "history had come to be more intriguing than the minuet of Grand Theory," but this didn't stop people from theorising.... "This is a book of film criticism consistently drawn to theory but as consistently sceptical of what these days is called 'theory.'" Bordwell is always sharp and often funny; Perez is always subtle. But it isn't enough to mark off what you don't like by satire or punctuation, by upper-case letters and quotation-marks. All you're doing is refusing to argue, evoking other views as monolithically foolish and faddish, saying that what you don't like about them is that you don't like them. What if theory, as Brecht thought, is another name for curiosity? What if there are theoretical questions to be asked about models? What if you read the Frankfurt School and also crank through microfilm? This in fact is what both Bordwell and Perez do. What's mildly worrying is not their practice but their rhetoric of disavowal, their willingness to sound like the intellectual philistines they are not.
In "Cheerfully Chopping up the World," Michael Wood opens with a close reading of the opening sequence of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and then proceeds to review the following books for the July 2, 1998 issue of the London Review of Books: The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium by Gilberto Perez, On the History of Film Style by David Bordwell, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine by D.N. Rodowick, The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema by Jean Mitry and Signs and Meaning in the Cinema by Peter Wollen.
Did I mention I was excited about the upcoming Looney Tunes DVD set? Well, I am. If you are, too, you can now see what 'toons are actually on the collection. So many of my favorites on the list, sigh. Okay, I'll shut up about the cartoons, already.
Also on The Digital Bits was some news that really caught my eye: Once Upon a Time in the West is finally coming to DVD. The first ten minutes or so of this film offers one of the great, nearly wordless openings ever. A film sound design workshop I once attended used Sergio Leone's film as an example of filmic storytelling with great sound, but no dialogue. I much prefer this one to his later Once Upon a Time in America, which is impressive but more erratic and bloated. The cover art for Once...West's European DVD is pretty darn cool, too (and, agreeing with Digital Bits, hopefully they'll keep this for the US DVD, too).
I'm not exactly sure why Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was pulled from the release calendar once before -- perhaps director George Clooney wanted to add more extras to it, perhaps Chuck Barris freaked out about something -- but no matter, it's back on track, for a September 9th release. The film was a mixed bag but I liked it. There was no real story arc or dramatic momentum, and yet between the darkly comic tone, Sam Rockwell's kick ass performance as (game show creator-slash-CIA assassin) Barris, and some great set pieces and period detail, it's still very worth seeing.
Speaking of which, Drew Barrymore.... Did anyone catch her on Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio recently? ... Is that show stretching it now or what? I thought A&E's Biography was slumming these days ("Next on Biography: Cristina Aguilera" -- what is she, 16? "Doris Roberts," "Geraldo Rivera"... actually Geraldo might be interesting, in a f***ed up kind of way.)
'member when Bravo was more like IFC?
Anyway, you might be amused to check out AmIAnnoying's survey of Inside the Actor's Studio guests, ranked from least annoying to most annoying. Least annoying: The Simpsons voice cast. Most annoying: Spike Lee and Sarah Jessica Parker. Barrymore ranks pretty poorly but not as bad as expected. Host James Lipton gets a pretty high annoyance rank, too, and deservedly so. All snarky-ness aside, though, many episodes of that show -- before they ran out of talented people to have on as guests -- were highly illuminating and would even be worthy of a DVD release.
But now... now they have Jay Leno as an upcoming guest, which, as as Ken Parish Perkins notes, might have something to do with Bravo now being owned by NBC. Another reason why it is no longer a respectable channel, and why it's really hard to take that show seriously.
On an artistically happier note, Israeli's legendary filmmaker Amos Gitai has a new one screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Jonathan Curiel in today's San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting piece about Gitai and his tumultuous relationship with his home country. The new work, Kedma, is like a more realistic version of Exodus, capturing, as Gitai puts it, "all the dilemmas and contradictions."
July 23, 2003
Summer Reading. 5.
What, then, comprises this "resistance" I have noted in "those who hate Magnolia" to acknowledging the lesson about action and passivity? The answer: Freedom. Freedom thought as an absolute value, that is, as the priority, the very foremost, top shelf, upper deck, blue ribbon, gold medal of human values, is what forms the stuff of this resistance. To get the point of Magnolia is to admit that freedom is not our highest value (and this is not the same as saying that freedom is not important)--and this is precisely what we've always been taught (especially as red-blooded Americans) we must resist admitting.
-- From "Act Passively, Pass Actively," by Jill Stauffer. The h2so4 piece is subtitled: "Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia: Unsuspecting Nietzschean Case Study in How to Reconcile Will to Power with Eternal Return of the Same, or, Love, Soft as an Easy Chair in which it is exceedingly difficult to sit."
July 22, 2003
(While David Hudson is traveling, these film news tidbits will be even shorter and occurring a bit less often -- but we'll get 'em up here when we can.)
This has nothing to do with anything, but since I've been too cranky here lately, I wanted to mention something that's made me happy. From The DVD Journal, comes word that Warner Brothers is finally getting ready to put out their first DVD releases from their substantial animated holdings, starting with The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, a four-disc box featuring 56 all-time classics; a two-disc The Looney Tunes Premiere Collection, which will offer 28 shorts with the debuts of Warner's major animated characters; and two other discs. These are out October 28 (sufferin' succotash). Do you remember laserdiscs? They were those things shaped like records, but shinier, that played movies, like DVDs, except they weren't DVDs, and now they've become the BetaMax of our era. Anyway, my dad had a laser player, and bought a few Looney Tunes collections that were incredibly wonderful, even if they were a bit randomly arranged. I miss those discs, and my crappy VHS dubs, which were taken from when a lot of these classics were still being shown on TV in the late afternoon, just don't cut it. So, besides the obvious -- What's Opera Doc?, One Froggy Evening, etc -- what Looney Tunes/WB cartoon would you most like to see on a collection?
180 degrees from that: Stephen Frears' new film, Dirty Pretty Things, is opening around the U.S. this month. It stars Amelie ingenue Audrey Tatou, who I would happily watch do her taxes for 90 minutes. But what's interesting, and maybe even important, about the film is how it depicts London as seen by, and changed by, immigrants. Patrick Goldstein, in the LA Times, sees a trend with this film and two others (by Michael Winterbottom and Jim Sheridan) about immigrants in the U.K.
Goldstein makes a connection with working class film in the early days of cinema. It's an interesting little piece. And IndieWire offers up an interview with Frears, in which he sounds extremely cranky, like some character from a Nick Hornby novel. But it is amusing indeed to hear him talk about both the organ trade (which sounds like something from Monty Python -- "live organ transplants," but is in actuality no laughing matter) and about the fact that the guy who created the TV series "How to Become a Millionaire" also wrote the script for Dirty Pretty Things (!).
Also in the LA Times (a newspaper I grew up reading and still miss when stuck reading the SF Comicle, whose Sunday Datebook section takes about 5 minutes to read): Funny, I was just thinking about the topic of deceased filmmakers whose work, whether finished or incomplete, is unearthed and produced into a posthumous salute of sorts. F'rinstance, Krysztof Kieslowski co-wrote the script that became Heaven; and now Akira Kurosawa's script The Sea Is Watching has been made into a movie by Kei Kumai. The Times' offers up a review of the Kumai film by Kevin Thomas, who, frankly, is probably my least favorite, or least trusted, reviewer there, but his review is quite good. On the other hand -- a friend of mine saw it at that San Francisco International Film Festival and both he and his wife, who is from Japan, found the film pretty snoozeworthy. From the coming attraction, it looks lovely but unremarkable.
I have mixed feelings about scripts produced posthumously. On the one hand, as a wannabe scriptwriter myself, the thought of one of my early dreadful drafts, of which I have shoved in a drawer many times, often with good reason, being unearthed without my knowledge, consent or ability to either edit or set aflame... is deeply disturbing. On the other hand, the thought of some film great whose passing still saddens me, especially someone like Kieslowski, who was taken too early from us, the thought that they still somehow live on, is very hard to resist. Especially when someone who knew the person is involved in the unearthed project -- like Krysztof Piesiewicz, with Heaven. But there are times when it would have been better to leave well enough alone. Same thing happens in publishing: When Robert B. Parker "collaborated" with Raymond Chandler on Poodle Springs, or especially when they published Douglas Adams unfinished novel, The Salmon of Doubt, when many people who knew Adams felt he would not have been pleased with the publication of this rough book. On the other hand, as a huge Adams fan still a bit stunned by his untimely death (what death is timely come to think of it), I can appreciate how other fans could feel that any work of his keeps his flame burning.
Still, I think I come down on the "Against" side. What about you?
July 20, 2003
Yar! Theme Park Rides as movies.
Saw Pirates of the Caribbean the other day -- and just a bit surprised that I liked it (except for it being overlong, but what else is new?). Johnny Depp, doing his best Keith Richards-as-a-pirate impression, singlehandedly raises the overall grade of the film up from a B- to a B+. I was surprised because, even though there have been some good reviews and the cast is pretty high quality, it was hard for me to let go of my initial skepticism: "A movie based on *that* ride??" But since Hollywood movies, in recent years, have become more and more like theme park rides (some even literally becoming theme park rides), it's not a huge surprise that the reverse has also become true.
Before Pirates, I saw a coming attraction for a new movie starring Eddie Murphy, called Haunted Mansion. Yes, as in that haunted mansion, as in Disney, as in Disneyland. (I'll save up any potential concern about seeing black people cast in a haunted house movie -- throwing us all back to 1930's era "comedy" with "pickaninnies" being spooked -- for later.) This was on the heels of The Country Bears movie, and now the Pirates film, which all has made me wonder what could be next... So herewith are my grades of other Disneyland rides and their potential for a film spin-off -- not counting any rides directly based on a prior Disney film.
1) Matterhorn. Ride itself: Dated but still amusing bobsled-train excursion into faux Alps. Movie potential score (out of 10): 2 (Not enough in the way of interesting characters or storyline, and we've already had enough "Heidi" movies... although I wouldn't be shocked to see another.)
2) Space Mountain. Ride itself: Hold on to your stomachs! Movie potential score: 3 (Would have to concoct a real storyline, characters, at that point you might as well steal some good, already existing science fiction story.)
3) Tom Sawyer Island/Riverboat. Ride itself: More just a pointless little mound of dirt on a pond, with Mark Twain theme tacked on, although the boat is fun to sit on. Movie potential score: 1 (why not do a new Tom Sawyer movie? Er, actually, why not just make the kids read the book instead.)
4) Jungle Ride. Ride itself: A childhood favorite, this "lighthearted cruise" seemed pretty dated on a recent visit. I heard they remodeled it a bit since then, but... Movie potential score: 1 (I'd rather watch The African Queen again.)
5) Splash Mountain. Ride itself: fun mix of thrills, chills (literal) and spills, with some goofy B'rer animatronic characters to break it up. Movie potential score: 4 (Would have to improve and modernize the B'rer story, or turn it into a "race for your life, Charlie Brown"-like river race movie.)
6) It's a Small World. Ride itself: Sheer torture. Movie potential score: -2 (Sheer torture. )
7) Big Thunder Mountain. Ride itself: Sort of fun Old West-themed rollercoaster. Movie potential score: 3 (could see them stretching it into a runaway train in the old west sort of movie, but it really would be... stretching it.)
9) City Hall. This was already a movie starring Al Pacino and John Cusack. I didn't really see much connection to the Disney location but... Wait, what'd you say? They're not? Oh... well, that's very different. Never mind.
10) Autopia. Ride itself: Eh, dated, Disneyfied bumper cars without the bumping. Movie potential score: 0 (Unless The Fast and the Furious was based on this?)
11) The Monorail. Ride itself: Like BART except it goes over Disneyland instead of east Oakland. Movie potential score: 2 (The Simpsons monorail episode can't be topped, anyway.)
12) Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Ride itself: Animatronic president with goofy (er, I mean great) sound effects. Movie potential score: 10! I see Robert DeNiro as the legendary leader, and Johnny Depp as John Wilkes Booth, and Claire Danes as Mrs. Lincoln.
If I missed anything let me know.
As a footnote to Pirates of the Caribbean, I noticed only a few scenes that reminded me specifically of the ride; one of which involves their entry into Tortuga, with the sight of all the men lifting up whores' dresses, drunkenly singing while holding bottles of rum, all your basic jolly-spirited raping and pillaging, just like in the ride! Then there's the hanging skeletons, dangling as a warning to other pirates. But, the ride still creeps me out more than the movie did.
Summer Reading. 4.
Clearly, a man with a phantom project called Megalopolis on the back burner has a whole universe in his head, far more expansive and more magical than anything possible in drab old reality. And what's so touching is the way he attempts to share the oceanic vastness of his imagination with his audience. Thus the very public tug of war between projects both manageable and unmanageable, real and unreal, between supreme confidence and punishing self-doubt, and between the grand gesture and the intimate exchange. The man who once dreamed of turning Goethe's slim Elective Affinities into an epic holographic movie to be projected on special glass screens that overlooked the Rockies is the same man who cooked up a big batch of sausage and bean soup and ladled it out to the customers waiting on line to see One from the Heart at Radio City Music Hall. There's something uniquely moving about Coppola's need to bring us all under his tent and waltz together to the music of the spheres. It accounts for the lovable goofiness of some of his smaller films, where he's looking for a shortcut to grandeur. Like The Outsiders, his little teenage film "without any English on it," in which the bodies appear mountainous and the images seem like they've been coated with the nectar of the gods. Or the lunatic gorgeousness of the reviled but hypnotic One from the Heart, in which a quartet of affable performers playing "ordinary people" is sent gliding through action that feels like it could be taking place on the moon.
More than any other director since the silent era, Coppola thinks like a conductor.
The similarities between Coppola and Welles are illuminating, particularly their ability to galvanize troops and their experimentation with every element of film. But so are the contrasts. Welles' Othello won the Golden Palm at Cannes, but hardly anyone went to see it. Apocalypse Now not only co-won the Golden Palm, but also grossed more than $150 million worldwide. Welles made a living in his later years as the spokesman for Paul Masson wine. Coppola has made a fortune manufacturing his own wine.
Michael Sragow, "Francis Ford Coppola," Salon October 19, 1999.
Had someone said, Francis - you know I always dreamed that it would be like that, that people would say, Francis, what movie do you want to make, pick any movie you want to make, but you know, they don't say that to anyone. None of my colleagues, including the wonderful Martin Scorsese, do they come and say, make any film that you want.
Coppola, interviewed in Cannes last year by Roger Ebert.
July 19, 2003
Summer Reading. 3.Having left Berlin a week ago, and now, ready to pull out of Munich and head down to Croatia, I could leave you with "Travelling to the Margins of Europe," a big chewy piece on two German road movies by Ewa Mazierska for the Fall 2001 issue of Kinema. But you probably wouldn't find it as interesting or as fun as this one:
Sometime around 1895 Albert Einstein, a 16 year-old schoolboy from Ulm, in Germany, began to think about what it would be like to ride on the crest of a light wave - or, as one could say, to surf it. Ten years later he published 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies', a paper that dramatically changed our way of perceiving space, time, and their relationship. Given that cinema was officially born in that same year 1895, one could wonder if the new invention, with its ray of light clearly visible against the darkness of the auditorium, played any role in the young boy's reflection. Probably not. Nevertheless, the theory of relativity and cinema do have something in common - a fatal attraction for time travel.
July 18, 2003
Reckless speculation.Wiley Wiggins has been posting quite a few noteworthy items over the last several days at his blog, News of the Dead. Explore some of those online viewing tips, for example. Two entries, though, are particularly worth note. The first involves rumors, evidently sparked by a looser-than-necessary translation of an off-the-cuff answer to a wildly speculative question. I went looking for the full story and found it at Macworld UK:
The newspaper asked [European Vice President of Apple, Pascal] Cagni: "Do you believe that Apple will one day offer movies in the same way that it offers music downloads via its iTunes Music Store?"
While reminding his inquisitor that Apple does not comment on future products or services, the European chief agreed that "it is, however, surely a good idea".
Nothing more, nothing less. At least that's the story so far, of course. We may be watching an ace PR machine floating a trial balloon. It certainly wouldn't be a stretch. If Apple could persuade the major record companies to sign on to iTunes, well, let's not forget that most of the major movie studios are clustered under the very same corporate umbrellas. And the foot's in the door; besides having the business world equivalent of relatives in the industry, i.e., Pixar, Apple runs the go-to site for trailers. That may sound very lightweight - trailers?! - but think about it.
If Apple continues to lose market share in the computer business to the point that it truly begins to hurt - still a very big "if" at this point, but not an unthinkable possibility for the hopefully very distant future - might it transform itself not into primarily a software company, as Steven Johnson once suggested in a piece for Feed all those Web years ago, IIRC, but into a distribution company? For the age of the "digital lifestyle" that's been on Steve Jobs's mind all these years.
To brush off another ancient artifact of almost pre-dotcom vintage: Wouldn't that trailer site make one helluva "portal"? The traffic is already there, its interest perked, just a click or two away from saying yes to a purchase.
Shorts, 7/18.Second entry of note. Wiley Wiggins points to a Pitchfork piece by Ed Howard who summarizes the final days of My Bloody Valentine only revive hopes that we will be hearing some of the tunes that previously seemed indefinitely lost - at the very least on the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola's next movie, Lost in Translation. Track listing, the works, over there at Pitchfork.
Ella Taylor, one of my favorites at LA Weekly:
Short of the Renaissance, though, there is probably no period, place or sensibility more glamorously made for cinema (indeed, cinema was first made during it) than fin-de-siècle Paris and Vienna, whose heady innovations in politics, culture, ball gowns and all-around decadence are the subject of "La Belle Époque on Film," a selection of mostly French films (from Max Ophüls by way of René Clair, Truffaut, Tavernier, all the way through Olivier Assayas's most recent film) that recapture the era from a more chastened vantage point, two world wars later.
In a distantly related vein, Dave Kehr reviews two docs showing at the Anthology Film Archives, Be Seeing You and An Injury to One. Again, interesting, brief reading even if you're not in NYC. Also in the New York Times: Stephen Kinzer on Broncho Billy and Alessandra Stanley on the Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene, highlighting on Sunday the making of Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists, and HBO's Project Greenlight, "essentially Real World Hollywood, a shameless rip-off of the MTV franchise by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Miramax."
Hadley Freeman sounds like he's off to a cruel start in a piece on Elizabeth Taylor: "How - or more precisely, why - did that raven-haired, lilac-eyed beauty of National Velvet and Suddenly Last Summer become the Henry VIII of the cinematic world, more famous for her bizarre appearance and over-weighted wedding finger than for any of her accomplishments?" But I'm glad he lands where he does: "Perhaps the statement that sums up Taylor best is said by Big Daddy at the end of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: 'This woman's got life in her.'"
Also in the Guardian: Xan Brooks on the Kill Bill split, Geoffrey Macnab on British filmmakers getting mightily disgruntled with UK Film Council chairman Alan Parker and Molly Haskell makes the Nantucket film festival sound so delicious it's now on my to-do-before-I-die list. A highlight this year: "A roster of first class actors reading the adaptation-in-progress of John Kennedy Toole's cult novel, A Confederacy of Dunces."
So I've watched the trailer for Mel Gibson's The Passion and, while it's always insane to make predictions, I think it's going to be very, very large. Maybe not so much on the media landscape, but it will definitely, if quietly, make a solid return on the investment. I see whole congregations attending en masse.
Word from Moviehole: Richard Linklater has teamed up again with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for an untitled sequel Before Sunrise. "According to Variety, the sequel's set nine years later and Jesse is on the French leg of the book tour for his novel when he finds Celine once more. Awww... Now if only he'd consider Dazed and Confused worth seconds." Here, here. I think. Sequels to favorites are always risky business.
So soon: Another Shelf Life appears after yesterday's late one.
Ray Pride on Bad Boys II: "If anyone wants a colorful illustration of the psychosis of big-budget movies that fully explore the sensibilities of its runamok auteurs, hooboy, I don't want to see anything nuttier or more nihilist than this for a long time to come." But the column moves on to better things, such as Claire Denis's Friday Night, Liz Phair's album - no one, it seems, is without an opinion, but I do like this line: "It's strange when critics assume a work isn't on purpose." - Garage Days and Stone Reader.
Also in Movie City News, David Poland's very fun "Premature Wrap-Up Column," about the summer season, of course.
Online viewing tip. Icon's Story.
Summer Reading. 2.
"Gentlemen Prefer Haynes," Chuck Stephens, Film Comment, Vol. 31, No. 4, July/August 1995:
John Travolta's immuno-deficient Boy in the Plastic Bubble and Joseph Cornell's jeweled-beetle dioramas; Jean Genet's radiant convicts and Alfred Hitchcock's tormented dolls; homemaker Jeanne Dielman and chanteuse Karen Carpenter; Sigmund Freud's elaborative slapstick and I Love Lucy's interpretation of dreams. Run a namecheck on Todd Haynes's influence-roster and you're likely to find yourself wading through a palimpsest of moldering TV Guides and fine art melodramas, random grossout images from fringe horror flicks, and a few impenetrable back numbers of the crit-journal Screen. Is there another contemporary independent filmmaker whose remote-control rifling through American teleculture and European high conceptualism emerges in film politically engaged and free of Peckinpah-inspired male-crisis blood squibs? Is there another young American filmmaker whose work so thrives on contradiction?
July 17, 2003
Shorts, 7/17.La Dolce Vita is coming to DVD. Eugene Hernandez has the story in indieWIRE. Koch Lorber Films is launching a new DVD label, striking deals with smallish distributors and building up a library that'll include titles ranging as widely from Patrice Chereau's Intimacy to a whole line of Bollywood films. And Fellini's romp will be coming out in September.
Segue alert. A very fun "La Dolce Musto" this week in the Village Voice: "Everyone was dumbstruck when Ed Norton and Oscar nominee Salma Hayek broke up - but did I not tell you about the Academy Awards relationship jinx?... I'm not saying awards are the only factors in these breakups, but honey, they usually play more than a supporting role."
Then, via MCN, a report on the latest twist in the perpetual saga at Bayreuth: Lars von Trier has been picked to stage the Ring next go-round; but Wagnerians probably know they have more to fear from Christoph Schlingensief.
Planet Bollywood chalks up the hits of the first half of 2003.
"Mexican cinema seems to have everything going for it these days, except money," writes Elisabeth Malkin in the New York Times. And you know, that sounds a bit familiar. Probably because, just a couple of weeks ago, we linked to a piece in the Guardian by Jo Tuckman which also harked back to the successes of the last three years - Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También; Malkin leaves The Crime of Father Amaro out of her intro, though - and also established early on, "The problem, as always, is money. There isn't enough."
Rex Reed on Richard Chamberlain: "Onstage, Mr. Chamberlain is starring in a new play entitled The Stillborn Lover as a gay Canadian ambassador who has spent his entire career in the diplomatic corps living a lie. Awash with ironies, the similarity to the star's own life has not gone unnoticed." Further in the same column: the new Stephen Frears, Dirty Pretty Things (which, of course is what that Tautou interview is about), and the Polish brothers' Northfork. Also in the New York Observer: Louis B. Mayer biographer Scott Eyman on Kate Remembered.
Heavens, Doug Cummings has been journeying up a storm lately.
Time for more challenging tales of hope and survival from around the globe. Time for more splintered boards piercing eyeballs and jugular veins being pulled licorice-style from open necks. Time for more underwater battles between sharks, zombies, and topless female scuba divers. Time for more glowing Cadillacs that descend from the sky, more synchronized dance numbers on escalators, more kaleidoscopic drug-drag orgy sequences. Time for more images of heads being trampled by stampeding horses and people being sewn up within the carcasses of recently slaughtered bulls. Time for more flaming nuns.
Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: B. Ruby Rich praises the city's Jewish Film Festival for "consistently challenging the Jewish American community's comfort zone by pushing questions of identity past the sacred themes of Zionism and Holocaust survival" but ultimately slaps it because it has "failed to capitalize on its historic mission and moment: there are no Palestinian films in the festival."
With a wide eye on "Eyes Wide Open: The Evolution of Widescreen Cinema" and "Cinemascope Films," the Voice's Michael Atkinson offers a few surprising thoughts on how size matters.
Derek Malcolm on the passing of Alexander Walker, the influential film critic for the London Evening Standard and author of some 20 books.
Quite a story in the Los Angeles Times: Within two years, Mark Alessi's CrossGeneration Comics Inc. has scored eleven movie and TV projects, reports Thomas S. Mulligan. Also:
And more weirdness from Fox Searchlight. A blog. A Blogspot blog, no less.
Bamboo Dong returns to the Anime News Network for an "insanely long" Shelf Life column. Six new releases are deemed "Shelf Worthy," six more are best rented and three you can forget altogether.
Online viewing tip. ACSII Bullet Time.
July 16, 2003
Just read a piece in the NY Times about the eagerly anticipated (including by yours truly) new Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill. I am now no longer as eagerly anticipating this film. As many of you know by now, QT and Miramax have decided to release this chop sockey epic in two parts, ostensibly due to its three hour running time, and because QT, touted by Harvey Weinstein as the man who helped build Miramax, was given carte blanche. All understandable, if a bit exaggerated, as QT's Pulp Fiction did make a ton of money for the once fledgling studio, helping usher it to the forefront of non-majors and probably helping to finance other, smaller indies. (Ever since Miramax was bought by The Mouse, though, and has become much more commercialized, it's hard to get all misty about its beginnings. But I digress. And Tarantino is certainly a God among indie filmmakers (okay, can we stop calling him indie now? Tully, now that's indie. Focus is indie. Kill Bill is a major studio film. But, again, I digress.) And it's admirable, or at least surprising, as the article points out, that Harvey Scissorhands didn't freak out about the running time and insist that QT cut it up (although I'll have an opinion on that, too, in a second).
But, what is this, Lord of the Rings, for Godsakes? It was irritating enough when The Matrix ReBloated came out and we had to deal with the wholly unsatisfying ending that left us all in a rabid froth eager for more, as starving dogs only given half a bone, then forced to sit through what seemed like fifteen minutes of credits to have the privilege of watching the coming attraction for the next and final (or... is it? [cue sinister music]) installment. But at least we knew what we were getting into long beforehand, and, maybe it's just the huge scale of the thing, but it's (a little) easier to accept The Matrix becoming a trilogy.
QT, meanwhile, issued a statement via indiewire, in which he says:
"It seemed pretentious like an art film meditation on a grindhouse movie, but two 90 minute movies coming out fairly rapidly, one after another, that's not pretentious, that's ambitious, that's the proper scale -- two 90 minute grindhouse movies."
We wouldn't want him to do do anything pretentious now, would we? Don't get me wrong, I like Tarantino, despite his many faults, because the guy knows how to make a movie that zings, because he knows his stuff, and because he's a character in an era that lacks just that. But, first of all, he was the one that made this film 3 hours in the first place.
And now we're all supposed to remain cynicism-free (bite tongue). Um, I was never great at math in school, but, hmm, let's see here, if people have to pay two separate entry fees to see a film's entire story arc through to its conclusion, then, let's see, hmm-mmm, la di da, carry the one, yep -- just as I suspected -- then that means the producers get double the money. If I was being cynical, then I'd think we were being gouged for Tarantino running over budget ($55 million and counting) and his inability to edit himself.
If I really wanted to go off on a tangent (and I don't, really I don't), I'd go into this whole, geriatric-sounding thing about how in the old days of movies, they used to get an entire (Gasp!) storyline into (Gasp!) 90 minutes or so. Back then they didn't call this being "grindhouse" -- they was just makin' movies. (Of course, another part of me acknowledges that back in the old days they also used to make a lot of running serials, franchises of sorts -- of which I remind myself when frustrated about the number of pointless sequels released these days. They're just serials! Of course, that first, more cynical side of me, answers back: Yes, but back then they were screened as part of double or triple-bills. You got your money's worth. Then I remember I'm only 34 and too young to remember any of this, so I shut up.)
Too bad about Kill Bill, QT and Miramax are going to let a real good opportunity to expand the director's audience go to waste in one greedy swoop. We can take heart in knowing there will be different versions available overseas, and eventually, of course, on DVD. (And if I was going to be cynical, I'd add to that, "yeah, but how many versions of DVDs will there be, released in a spread out pattern to make people buy, buy, buy" -- but I'm not, so I won't.)
Summer Reading. 1.Starting today, and over the next couple of weeks, excerpts from longish pieces you might consider taking to the beach or the porch or elsewhere in whatever form. Summer reading. Oh, we'll still point to the newsy stuff. But the pace won't be as hectic until things start roaring again sometime in August. And we begin with a piece that brings news to the notion of reading itself, "Six degrees of Nosferatu" by Thomas Elsaesser, from the February 2001 issue of Sight & Sound:
What is this surplus energy or meaning that brings forth these figures of excessive but also inextinguishable desire? Excess there is, yet is it actually a matter of desire? "We bring them the plague, and they don't even know it," Freud is supposed to have said to Jung the day the two of them disembarked in New York harbour in 1908.
Psychoanalysis and the cinema - born together, but on a collision course ever since. Freud was right: they are antagonists, but they came together against a common enemy it now seems it was their historical mission to kill - literature and the literary author. For the first 100 years, the technological media and psychoanalysis competed over literature's prime task and near-monopoly: representing, that is recording, storing and repeating, individual human experience. Cinema and psychoanalysis translated experience into images and sounds, texts and traces, manifest as physical symptoms or as phantom sensations.
July 15, 2003
Shorts, 7/15.Only two new reviews from Midnight Eye, but they're biggies. Jaspar Sharp asks, "Battle Royale II is bigger, bolder and bloodier than the original, but is it any better?" Ultimately, he decides that only another viewing can answer that one, but the train of thought getting there is worth the ride: "Whereas the intra-personal dynamics of the first film depended on what the individual viewer brought to the table, there's little such room for ambiguity in the sequel... The metaphor is lost in favour of more obvious allusions to the current global state of affairs."
Just a few more days and the Bandai Museum opens.
Manu Joseph reports in Outlook India on the bustling off-off-Bollywood scene: "In these spirit-stabbing ancient looms and other dark corners of Malegaon, there are boys in leather pants and cotton who dream of a life in the movies... It was inevitable that this Muslim-dominated town would recreate a few classics, meant entirely for its 14 small video halls. Like in Mumbai, here they watch other people's films and then make their own. But in Malegaon credit is given to the original."
In the Los Angeles Times:
The dream of many a screenwriter has been to live in the San Francisco Bay Area and "commute" only when absolutely necessary to, you know, down there. You don't hear much about that anymore, but Pam Grady explains how the Bay Area has become a post-production... "paradise"? Well, she is writing for the SF Chronicle, after all. Via Movie City News.
Another way to spend six hours: Watching Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Gambon and James Cromwell in the HBO production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols. Which you'll be able to do in December.
Bits from the Guardian:
In the New York Times, AO Scott on "a new Hollywood subgenre, the summer-reading-list blockbuster," and Emily Yoffe on why kids want to see movies again and again and again. Speaking of whom, when they're a tad older, say eight to 13, they become tweens, a target group to reckoned with - and exploited, of course, reports Grace Bradberry in the Observer.
Bryan Curtis reminds us why Pirates of the Caribbean is the exception that proves the rule: Pirate movies are often not only stinkers, they lose bundles as well.
Online viewing tips. A few today. Rhizome's Rachel Greene points to BCC, Flash animations by Motomichi Nakamura: "The colors reference the influences of the Japan-born, New York-dwelling artist: Japanese manga, the Russian avante-garde, and 1920s Dutch design."
Subscribers to the alerts already know: "4 Months. 300+ shots. 7 parts. 80 minutes. The finale to the saga of the saints is upon you. Turn off the lights... Unplug the phone... Lock the doors... Breathe. Word is Bond." Broken Saints.
A Ping Pong match comes with the following incentive via Signal Station: "If I could grab your clothing, I would propel you bodily towards clicking on the above link." And Michael's got another one, too: Move Your Feet.
July 14, 2003
Storming the towers.On Bastille Day, no less, the merde may be about to hit the fan on the Film-Philosophy list. David Weddle has lobbed a furiously packed grenade at academia with a cover story for the Los Angeles Times Magazine with the snappy title, "Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology." Early on in the piece, offered a glance at his daughter's final exam in film theory, he gets his own credentials out of the way:
I took it from her, confidently. After all, I had graduated 25 years ago from USC with a bachelor's degree in cinema. I'd written a biography of movie director Sam Peckinpah, articles for Variety, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, and written and produced episodic television.
Then, the glance. Passages are quoted, followed by a sample question:
"What kind of pressure would Metz's description of 'the imaginary signifier' or Baudry's account of the subject in the apparatus put on the ontology and epistemology of film implicit in the above two statements?"
What's going on, he asks himself first, then, Roger Ebert, who provides the succinct gut reaction he'll flesh out in the pages that follow. Film theory, according to Ebert, is "a cruel hoax for students, essentially the academic equivalent of a New Age cult, in which a new language has been invented that only the adept can communicate in." It isn't long before the French get what Weddle deems is coming to them. The auteur theory was just the beginning: "French theorists of the New Left pushed their own liberal social agendas. They discredited the auteur theory as sentimental bourgeois claptrap.... New Left theorists decided film viewers should liberate themselves..."
Now the article, in full, has been posted to the F-P list. Well, except for one irate post from Turkey, Damian Sutton has summed up the level-headed response:
The immediate feeling I get is to defend film theory. Ultimately, however, the article is rich pickings for both sides, so perhaps it's not a bad idea that it's out there. Yet again, the article does read rather like an irate parents' trip to see the college professor to ask why his daughter didn't get high grades.
What it probably really boils down to is the necessity for a common sense approach to the curriculum in any communications department. Weddle's daughter wants a career in film. Most likely on the very pragmatic end of things as well. In my mind, Weddle's ideas about what sort of texts are applicable when and where aren't all that unreasonable.
The price is right.A potentially pretty darn big thing is going on with regard to the pricing of DVDs. Mark Boydell, writing for the UK's DVD Times, is one of many who've taken note that the French company Cdiscount has snapped up regional rights to oodles of films, some of them immediately forgettable, but others very interesting, and of those, several not yet available as Region 1 releases. The company then collects orders, possibly even before the DVDs are pressed, and simply produces according to demand.
Cdiscount's approach is not absolutely unique in the world, of course, but they do seem to be among the most extreme when it comes to pricing. DVDs can be had for as low as 2 euros a pop. Granted, the euro is soaring at the moment, but still. "The unnerving thing about these DVDs is that the quality is well above average," adds Boydell, who gets around Cdiscount's policy of not shipping to the UK via contacts in France (in his case, his parents).
Boydell also points out:
July 12, 2003
Weekend Shorts.Let's start right off with the online viewing tip. The Utopia Project we mentioned last month - the one being curated by Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rirkrit Tiravanija, the one sending artists' posters out into the world from the Venice Biennale - has added another large group, and among them is this one, from Jonas Mekas.
Wonder if this works as a segue: Mekas's films are mostly silent, and hey, guess what? GreenCine is a sponsor of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival running two days only, this weekend. Not a particularly smooth segue. But along the same vein, many, many GreenCiners will be heading to San Diego later in the week for Comic-Con 2003 where the program for the International Independent Film Festival (CCI-IFF) is definitely worth a browse even if you can't actually be there.
It is real clear to those of us who understand the Twelve Step program that these are very dysfunctional times. We live in a very dysfunctional society, and this is a very, very dysfunctional Administration. The proven way for this Administration to keep power is to keep us all in fear. As long as we are afraid of the unknown and afraid of each other, he, or anyone like him, can rule. It's like they will take responsibility for protecting us. It's when we take back the responsibility for protecting ourselves that they get scared.
Steve Rose in the Guardian:
[Bruce] Lee may be one of the most famous Chinese people who ever lived, the figurehead of an enduring martial-arts cult, and the man Hong Kong's film industry has to thank for its now global reach, yet his memory has not been well preserved. In fact, as Hong Kong has built and rebuilt itself into a first-world city, any trace of Lee is rapidly being eradicated.
Which leads me back to one of my favorite film-related reads, The Phantom Empire by Geoffrey O'Brien:
The Sudanese question, or the very existence of Sudan: how likely is it you would even have a glimmer of them without the cultural accidents of The Four Feathers and Khartoum? Khartoum and Omdurman are old news events accidentally preserved in movie plots, like the mammoths and saber-toothed tigers caught in the La Brea tar pits. For that matter isn't the British Empire by now remembered chiefly as the occasion for Alexander Korda movies, for C. Aubrey Smith's impressions of blustery colonels and old India hands, for Sanders of the River and Gunga Din and The Charge of the Light Brigade?
George Thomas sets 'em straight regarding Kol Mil Gaya: "It's being billed as 'the first Sci-fi film in Hindi'. Well, we faithful viewers of all trash coming from Bollywood know very well that making scientific fiction (read: anything scientifically impossible) is second-nature for Bombay's film capital."
Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle is moving onto more cities, Austin and Seattle among them. The Stranger runs a trio of related items, a talk with artist, a how-to piece, as in how to watch it, and a breakdown of what to expect from the individual parts. Oh, and in the same issue, Sean Nelson has gone and made me laugh again. On The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: "First of all: DORIAN GRAY? What's he going to do, quip them to death?"
Congrats to Jeremy Harrison for wrapping his shoot.
In the Los Angeles Times:
A few tech notes. A company called DKP Effects Inc is betting that you want to determine the course of the plot when you watch a movie. That's a gamble that goes back, via the CD-ROM, to the pressure on Dickens to come up with happy endings to stories set in unhappy times. Myself, I wouldn't bet on the DVDn, but then, I'm not exactly rolling in it, so don't listen to me. Via Movie City News. And then, the Economist on the self-destructing DVD.
July 11, 2003
More room at the bottom.
So you blow out the savings, you max out the credit cards, you make your movie. Then you take it on the festival circuit, you score some good reviews, maybe nab a few prizes. And then there is a dull thud, and you realize, despite every effort, your film has died on the vine. You made a movie, and nobody wanted it.
Well, not nobody. Just not the usual suspects - the niche distributors that signify success in industry terms. But isn't the very point of indie film not to speak in industry terms? With that in mind, filmmakers are now loudly, proudly not taking no for an answer and embracing unconventional means to find their films an audience.
Kimberley Jones's Austin Chronicle cover story checks in with the teams behind four struggling features - Melvin Goes to Dinner, The Gatekeeper (trailer), My Name Is Buttons and Funny Ha Ha - to flesh out the outline right there in those two short paragraphs.
Very interesting stuff. A couple of thoughts:
One thing I notice right off, naturally, is that the whole idea of going straight to DVD is written off in a single sentence. John Carlos Frey, who made The Gatekeeper, is offered $40,000 by an unnamed "direct-to-DVD outlet" - "'not a slap in the face,' he's quick to say, but he thought his movie was worth more than that." It could well be, but one of the reasons he probably thinks so, among other possible reasons, is that he seems to have sunk a lot more than that into making it.
But for Courtney Davis, John Merriman, and David Layton, who've evidently spent a total of around $10,000, post-production and marketing costs included, making My Name Is Buttons, would quadrupling their investment really be so bad? And what goes completely unconsidered is what might happen for the film and its makers once it's released on DVD. Via rental outlets, online and off - but particularly online, where word-of-mouth promotion can be several times more effective than it is off - the audience is potentially a lot larger than that of all the festival screenings a film might see combined. If, as Jones writes, "what we really want is for our work to be seen," the DVD now (and years down the line, video-on-demand) ought to be an increasingly tempting alternative, as I argued nearly a year ago. And since then, too, the numbers of DVD players and quite decent home systems (especially relative to some screens at some festival venues) have ballooned, only strengthening the argument.
More power to microcinemas and all that, by all means. There is a lot to say, obviously, for the instant real-life community of a theatrical screening, for the lights going down, for celluloid, etc. And Jones is certainly right to admire Frey for taking his film directly to the audiences he wants to reach, for example, to the maximum-security penitentiary in New Mexico.
One historical footnote might have been mentioned, though (and granted, you can never get it all in). And that would be the long tradition in indie film, particularly in the US, of filmmakers taking their movies on the road, city by city, hustling and bustling throughout film history as long and as hard as these filmmakers are now. But filmmakers today actually have many more options, and frankly, I'm surprised that there aren't at least as many of them aiming for the straight-to-DVD market as there are aiming for, say, a one-off screening on the Sundance channel or, if things are really going splendidly, getting the film picked up by HBO.
The final hope for many, of course, as Jones notes, is that the completed first film will serve as a calling card for getting the second one made. Now, with DV making it possible to keep production costs relatively low and a greater variety of ways available to reach audiences, there is more room at the bottom, not less, and it's not unreasonable to hope for a modest profit. And that's a real calling card.
July 3, 2003
It happened here.Sometimes the shortest blog entries are the most effective. This isn't going to be one of those, though. But an example of the "briefer is better" dictum can be seen at Couch Pundit. At first, it looks like you could just brush it off as another one of those "Bush makes another funny face" items, but then there's that clever juxtaposition of a quote and a rather malicious misspelling of "Il Duce." The quote: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."
And it comes from Benito Mussolini. That throws another angle on the relatively recent Nettime list "Fascism in the USA?" thread and is perhaps the strongest argument yet against my own inclination that the term "fascism" is the signpost to be following in pursuit of an understanding of what's going on. The "empire" buzzword has always seemed to me to provide the more likely clue. Either way, no term with so much historical baggage will cough up a key that'll fit perfectly in the jammed lock of the present.
Now that we're slipping into hot, lazy peak of summer, it's easy to let complacency set in, and frankly, in part, somewhat deserved. It's been a rather strenuous 21st century so far. But the emotional trauma of 9/11 has eased off, Iraq is receding from the headlines and, as long as it's still to early to apply the word "quagmire" in earnest, may even slip from the front pages. Ask any stranger you bump into, and I'd wager he'll have completely forgotten that there was a war in Afghanistan in between. But as the cover package of this week's LA Weekly reminds, something's still going on: our civil liberties are slipping. For now, it's a quiet, seeping sort of slippage, but just imagine how it might switch to a torrent if the suicide bomber or dirty bomb some experts have predicted actually materialize.
It's not an unhealthy time to take a look at the sort of films Doug Cummings or J. Hoberman have been watching lately. The first of three films Doug reviews at filmjourney.org is Edward Dmytryk's Christ in Concrete, "notable for two reasons: it was a movie produced by filmmakers blacklisted during the 1950s, and it's a vivid representation of the socio-economic impossibility of the American Dream for many people living in the US."
In other words, this 1949 film conjures two elements - a clampdown on free speech (Doug points to a backgrounder on the blacklist) and economic hard times during which the rich accumulate more while the poor scramble in silence - that are not only a nasty and potentially combustible combo but also have a certain present-day resonance.
The exhibition "Entertaining America: Jews, Movies and Broadcasting," co-curated by J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler revisits the blacklist as well and reminds us that it was a helluva lot more far-reaching than just the Hollywood Ten. Tellingly, what began as a purely political frenzy quickly turned anti-Semitic, the whole point of fighting the Good War just won be damned. In other words, when people dust off buzzwords that may seem a bit extreme and you think, Couldn't happen here, don't forget: To one extent or another, at various points throughout the history we're all set to celebrate this weekend, it already has.
At least once, J. Hoberman has also spent nearly six hours with a film "meant to evoke the unfamiliar sensation of revolutionary euphoria, of living - and dying - in a sacred time." That film is La Commune, the film Hoberman pronounced the best of last year and directed by Peter Watkins, who made the legendary pseudo-doc The War Game in 1965 and appeared a year later in another what-if horror flick, It Happened Here. War Game, which picked up an Oscar for Best Documentary even though it wasn't one, depicted an English town in the radioactive aftermath of the nuclear holocaust we were so close to at the time, while Happened portrayed an England under a fascist regime it may have been closer to than we'd care to imagine.
As for Watkins's latest, Dave Kehr, writing in the New York Times, is diplomatic: "In these risk-averse times, it is a pleasure to see a film that fails by attempting too much." Armond White is decidedly not, lobbing a barely disguised salvo from one competing New York alternative weekly to another: "The only viewers likely to be impressed with La Commune are die-hard lefties nostalgic for revolution."
If it weren't White stooping so low, you could dismiss that as just another bitter New York Press slur meant to smudge the Village Voice (which the Voice, as nearly always, is in a position to simply ignore), but a provocation from White is never simply blunt or dumb. Myself, I don't always agree with him, but I do always read him.
If you're already packing for long weekend, one more thing before you go. What sort of worries are best to have grinding away at your head and gut: fears that the country you're living in could slip into some form of totalitarianism or that revolution could break out? We've had the first sort of fear often enough. As for whether the second scenario could ever actually happen here, well, many worried quite a bit about it in the 60s. Because, of course, it had happened before. In 1776.
July 2, 2003
Shorts, 7/2."You have to be absolutely sure of what you want to do. Then not only make the film, but still want to do promotion and the rest afterwards. You keep company with a film a long time. But I can sense which stories have only a fleeting interest for me. Others hang around obsessively in my head." Erica Abeel interviews François Ozon in indieWIRE.
This time around, he's talking about Swimming Pool, starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier as, well, as Dennis Lim puts it in his Village Voice review, "the veddy English old maid and the ooh-la-la French slut." A. O. Scott also reviews the film today in the New York Times: "The two women, the handsome waiter, the hours of idleness, the swimming pool: it sounds like, and on one level is, a scenario worthy of Eric Rohmer. But Mr. Ozon is as perverse as he is resourceful, so he slyly turns his delicate study in generational and cross-cultural sexual rivalry into a suspense thriller."
The big, new issue of Midnight Eye opens with an interview with Yusuke Iseya and Takamasa Kameishi - not exactly household names yet, even among fans of Japanese cinema. But their new movie, Kakuto, sounds promising and was produced by the director of After Life and Maborosi, Hirokazu Kore-eda. Then there are reviews of Seijun Suzuki's Story of Sorrow and Sadness ("this long-overlooked work simply cries out for revival") and Hidenori Sugimori's Woman of Water ("cinema reduced to a moving picture book") and the whole is rounded out with a big special on Tom Mes's new book, Agitator - The Cinema of Takashi Miike. As it happens, we've just put up our own interview with Takashi Miike. Complementary reading, all around.
G. Beato at his excellent Soundbitten:
How would Arnold govern? I'm not really sure, but ideally the job would keep him too busy to make movies, and that would be good for California, good for the United States, good for the world. If Arnold served a full eight years, Hollywood could presumably invest $640 million (eight movies with a budget of $80 million each) in more interesting, more commercially viable products.
Right up to her death last week at 96, millions of people still cared very much what she said and did because she represented precision, order, character, taste, standards, integrity and determination - qualities as rare as Christmas bluejays.... Audrey was the Hepburn women wanted to look like. Kate was the Hepburn they wanted to be like. Nobody really knows why, although whole books have tried to analyze her strange and powerful influence on her own time.
July 1, 2003
Anime in LA.We'll know when anime has truly gone mainstream when we no longer see stories in the papers on how it's going mainstream. This week's Anime Expo is reason enough for Charles Solomon to whip out the boilerplate once again for the Los Angeles Times and plug in the new numbers and quotes. And why the hell not. The show will be huge this year.
You probably don't need me to tell you Bamboo Dong got another column up today at Anime News Network. Like any good host, Dong opens with an anecdote again and then reviews and ranks the new releases. Two are "Shelf Worthy": NieA_7 and Adventures of the Mini Goddesses. Five rental recs follow, and hey, a good week: No perishables. Maybe there was simply no time to waste on them; Bamboo is off to Anaheim as well.
This next story, via Anime News Service, is only marginally related to anime, but I just love it. Instead of buying magazines, some Japanese are using their cell phones to photograph them. Publishers are up in arms and have launched a campaign to halt this "digital shoplifting."
Three online viewing tips, all previews for anime movies, and all via Natsume Maya: Chikyu ga Ugoiita Hi (The Day the Earth Moved), 5-tou ni Naritai (I Want to Become a 5th Grader) and Nasu - Andulusia no Natsu (Eggplant - Andulusian Summer).
Shorts, 7/1.The July issue of News Reel at Wim Wenders's site has appeared right on schedule, but this month it happens to coincide with the release of the DVD version of probably his most popular film, Wings of Desire. There's a major pointer there to p.o.v., a Danish film journal published in English. Issue Number 8 (December 1999) is devoted exclusively to Wings of Desire with no fewer than five interviews and nearly twice as many articles. Heavens.
Werner Herzog is gearing up to shoot a doc (laced with a few dramatic reenactments) on the Loch Ness monster. He tells Scotland on Sunday: "It's not so much the so-called monster that's important in this, it's more the question why is it that we need a monster." He goes on a bit about Scottish and Celtic culture, but actually, the most fun quote comes from Willie Cameron of Loch Ness Marketing: "It's probably one of the most important events that's happened in the Scottish film industry for a long time as far as world-recognised names go... The last time must have been Mel Gibson coming to make Braveheart." Via Weblogsky.
"Now officially hip, documentaries are gaining more and more converts among aficionados of fiction. For New York City-based First Run/Icarus Films, commitment to docs started long before they were cool." At indieWIRE, Howard Feinstein helps the distributor celebrate its 25th anniversary. So does Anthology Film Archives.
A. O. Scott perfectly captures a movie lover's end-of-summer weariness (and it's only July 1!): "For all the hype and the inevitable (and most likely short-term) box office bonanza, Terminator 3 is essentially a B movie, content to be loud, dumb and obvious, and to leave the Great Ideas to bona fide public intellectuals like Keanu Reeves and the Hulk."
So I follow the Movie City News link to the trailer for Mona Lisa Smile, watch it and think: Thanks, Sony Pictures. You've now not only shown me the entire movie in two-and-a-half minutes but also convinced me that I have no interest whatsoever. Moving along...
Also via MCN, a long and rambling yet thoroughly absorbing and entertaining transcript of an evening with William Goldman, still one of the most sought after (and highly paid) screenwriters/screen doctors in the business. If you know his books, there may not be a whole lot of news here, but it's fun nonetheless. If you don't know his books, you'll likely be tempted to go out and find one after breezing through this chat.
Speaking of screenwriters, David Newman, who wrote Bonnie and Clyde ("Memorable Quotes"), has died. Also in the LA Times: Wayne Kramer's The Cooler has William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello and "critical plaudits" but it's also been smacked with the "kiss of death," an NC-17 rating. Patrick Goldstein argues that it's high time the MPAA ratings board catch up with the 21st century.
Along the same lines, MCN's Patricia Vidal celebrates July 4: "I am happy to be an American. Our moral safety is kept locked up so that a woman pointing an unloaded breast at a man’s head gets an R rating and a man pointing a loaded submachine gun at a woman’s head gets a PG-13." Also: Gary Dretzka interviews Ludivine Sagnier.
More on Kate."More than a movie star, Katharine Hepburn was the patron saint of the independent American female. Spirited, direct, in charge of her own fate, but not above falling head over heels in love, often scandalously. She was well-spoken, well-educated and very disciplined. She played tennis and ran before it was fashionable; for decades, she famously swam every day, often in the frigid ocean, and it showed." - Mary McNamara (with comments from Molly Haskell, David Ehrenstein and many others).
"She reminded us again and again that self is a gift not to be doubted or squandered or pawned for less than it's worth." - Verlyn Klinkenborg
"Possibly because she got to me so young, her effect is rather out of proportion with what any movie star should mean to anyone, but I am immensely grateful for it. The kind of woman she played, the kind of woman she was, is still the kind of woman I should like to be, and an incidental line of hers, from the aforementioned The Philadelphia Story, remains my lodestar every time I pick up a pen to write anything all: 'The time to make your mind up about people is never!' This line was written by Donald Ogden Stewart, but in its utterly humanist commitment to the peculiarity and beauty of individuals, it was 100% Hepburn." - Zadie Smith
"She made her first film in 1932, her final film in 1994, and embodied during all of that time one of the most distinctive of screen presences. She almost always played a lady - sometimes with grease on her face, as in The African Queen - and her characters were resolute, forthright, self-assured and unbending (but able to bend in moments of tenderness or hilarity). She played opposite the top leading men of her time, including Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, James Stewart and John Wayne, effortlessly upstaging all of them when required." - Roger Ebert.
"Crisp and strange, her line readings were always attuned to her own specially calibrated inner clock - no actor, either among her contemporaries or her heirs, would dare imitate it, simply because there's no way to pull it off. Her rhythms have always belonged solely to her, and it took audiences many years to fully adapt to them." - Stephanie Zacharek
"Hepburn, not Giorgio Armani, most helpfully advanced the cause of androgynous clothing for women." - Valli Herman-Cohen
"Kate and Spence rarely if ever made the columns. Somehow it was as if the Hollywood press corps responded to the dignity with which the couple conducted their lives and their relationship." - Charles Champlin
"Katharine Hepburn was the only great star of Hollywood's golden age to live into the 21st century, and that is somehow fitting. For not only was she arguably the best actress the studio system ever had, she was also, both on and off the screen, the most indomitable." - Kenneth Turan