Born and based in Ecuador, filmmaker Sebastián Cordero was actually bitten by the cinema bug while living in France as a child, before moving to Los Angeles to attend film school at USC. His 1999 debut Ratas, Ratones, Rateros premiered at Venice, his 2004 follow-up Crónicas screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, and his new film Rage (natively known as Rabia) is currently playing in New York:
Based on a novel by Sergio Bizzio, RAGE tells the suspenseful story of a pair of Latin American immigrants who fall in love in Spain. José María (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), a hot-headed builder, and Rosa, a housekeeper, embark in a passionate relationship. When a violent confrontation with José María's foreman results in the other man's death, José María flees to the mansion where Rosa works, telling no one. Hidden even from her, he watches Rosa be mistreated by her boss as he yearns for the day they can be together.
Currently in Mexico, Cordero called me to discuss his "ghost story without a ghost," the challenge of writing a story whose protagonist is unjustified in his violent outbursts, and why his proposed English-language debut Manhunt—a Lincoln assassination thriller starring Harrison Ford—never quite made it to pre-production.
To listen to the podcast, click here. (16:13) Podcast Music
INTRO: Judas Priest: "The Rage"
OUTRO: Gogol Bordello: "Immigrant Punk"
Indie writer-director Aaron Katz (Quiet City, Dance Party USA) steps up his game with his third feature, Cold Weather. Bringing it all back home to Portland, Or., where he grew up, the 29-year-old filmmaker plays with expectations, adding visual polish and a surprise-laden plot to his always nuanced observations of human chemistry. Doug (Quiet City's Cris Lankenau) returns to the Pacific Northwest to recalibrate his life after giving up his forensics studies, reuniting with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and taking a job at an ice factory. Doug's not enthusiastic for much except the English detective book he's reading, but when his ex-girlfriend visits from Chicago, only to suddenly vanish, he turns sleuth, and pulls his older sibling along for the strange ride.
Katz, now based in Pittsburgh, shot Cold Weather quickly during the winter and spring of 2009, camping out with cast and crew in a large house rented for the two-month production. His parents did the catering. He recently spoke with me about his own mysterious enthusiasms, the pleasures of genre films, and the lack of meaningful brother-sister relationships on screen.
How did Cold Weather turn into a detective yarn?
The first draft was a big mess. I had the idea of introducing mystery a third of the way in. I was reading a lot of detective books at the time. I was up late at night writing and decided to try it out, thought I wouldn't like it, and ended up getting more motivated to write once the mystery was in there. In the first draft, the mystery made no sense at all. We refined it over the next month, and probably had a script that's not too different from what we shot by the end of summer 2008. A lot of people were saying, "We really like the script but what kind of movie is this? It's half a genre film, and half-not." People were being very conservative with their money then.
You were shopping the script around the same time as the 2008 crash.
We were lucky to get it made. Once the money was there everything went really quickly. We got out to Portland at the beginning of February ['09], went through pre-production and started shooting in the middle of March through April.
Which books were you reading?
The one I was reading right at the time, [from which] the mystery element seeped in was the book read by the main character in the movie: Raffles by E. W. Hornung. He's a gentleman rogue of the same vintage as Sherlock Holmes. He's a safecracker, jewel thief and cat burglar, and he has a sidekick—very much along the lines as Watson—named Bunny. Previous to that, I was reading Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. When we were shooting, we would pick out locations that reminded me of what I envisioned Chandler's stuff to look like, stucco apartments and things like that.
Portland never looked so intriguing. Was it difficult to find spots that matched up?
It wasn't too difficult. A lot of the locations were written into the script. Montage is the restaurant where we shot the final scene. They were so into it, they let us shoot for free and fed us. That was indicative of the attitude in general in Portland.
Those elements make this a major change from your two previous films. It takes the story into more of a fictional space. Was this a forethought, or did it just evolve with the screenplay?
It evolved. I went into the script not meaning to [include] a genre element at all. I wanted to write something about a brother and sister. There aren't that many movies like that and I think it's an interesting relationship—being really close to someone, and also not a part of their daily lives. It was going to be a family drama, almost like an Ozu movie, with no outside plot. But once the mystery stuff started coming in, that motivated me to keep writing. I really like genre films. They're the most exciting when they can be more then a genre film. For example, Let the Right One In. The '70s were the heyday of that. It's the kind of film I hope to make more of.
When your leads are a male and a female, you anticipate some sort of romantic relationship. There is one, but it's negated right away, so it's not about the guy and his girlfriend. It's about the guy and his sister.
I wanted to work with Cris again, and also Trieste, who I went to school with. Many of the crew members went to the North Carolina School for the Arts. I thought that maybe they could be brother and sister. That was the very first spark of the idea. Thinking about them, it didn't seem like their relationship would be a romantic one. We shot what was supposed to be the first scene of the movie, with a lot more exposition about what their history is, and explicitly says they are brother and sister. It didn't feel right. So now the movie starts and you're not sure what their relationship is.
What is it about Cris and Trieste that appealed to you?
They're both pretty different. Cris doesn't come from an acting background. He's a guy who happens to be a really good actor. Trieste has gone to acting school and been on TV shows. Cris loosens Trieste up, and Trieste keeps Cris on track. I had them meet a few months before shooting, so there would be some past there even if it was just hanging out in a bar and talking for a little bit. I like them together. When we were done shooting for the day, we'd all go out for dinner. There was a Lebanese restaurant real close to the house we were all staying in. They were still brother and sister even there. They're really good at falling into the roles that the movie demands and not making it too much of a performance.
Did your sister inspire you?
I do have a sister and it was inspired in part by her. But she's eight years younger than I am. She's almost a generation younger than I am.
There's a lot more static camera this time.
We knew we had to take a different approach to it. The more suspenseful scenes especially have to be very precise. That carried over to: How can we shoot the rest to match that and also have the looseness that I like? The looseness makes it feel natural and the more formal stuff makes the suspense work. One thing I talked a lot about with [cinematographer] Andrew Reed was how to light the dialogue-heavy scenes so the actors felt free to move around. Another big thing that gave us that freedom, we had a really good 1st [assistant cameraman]. I don't think there's a single shot where someone's out of focus.
We were going to re-watch some films for inspiration, but in the end, we had so little time we didn't watch anything. We had planned to watch Melville films and other French stuff. For the late '50s/early '60s, French thrillers are the most fun. We were also going to watch Bullitt and The Parallax View. Those films take an approach I really admire. There's not a whole lot of cutting. They're very simple in one way, and also really elegant. A third thing, a bit left-field, is that we're all big fans of the show Friday Night Lights, which does a great job of being very concise with the football action and also real loose.
I thought that show was really unlike anything else on TV. Exceptionally rich characters.
Or movies. It's so naturalistic in a way that only movies are, and it has so long to let characters develop that only TV can do. The marriage between the coach and his wife is maybe the greatest relationship I've ever seen in any format. In any other TV show, there would have been something incendiary. An affair. They're all so normal, but they feel really big in the context of the show. And the camera direction is really great. Season 3 especially finds the perfect balance of everything.
Was it tempting to introduce more action into the movie? Or were you excising those elements?
The hardest part of revising the script was finding the balance, where the characters were all very real, and the events had a feeling of one thing leading to another. At the same time, we really did want the mystery to feel like a real mystery—not a send-up. We went too far at some points. We had a chase on the light rail in Portland that involved some gunplay …
That's what I'm talking about!
...and that seemed like it pushed things too far. If the danger seems too great, as an audience member, you're saying: Why don't these people just call the police?
The microbudget film world isn't known for memorable scores—other than John Medeski's jazz piano vamps for Audrey the Trainwreck. But Keegan Dewitt's contributions to the film are completely integral, and a real advance from your prior collaborations.
Thanks. Keegan came up with the idea of trying to use instruments that aren't instantly recognizable from film scores. There are some strings but it's all pizzicato, the percussion is all Asian instruments or junkyard sounds, bottles and cans, harp and marimba. The editing process and scoring process were simultaneous. Keegan is putting together a two-part CD set—one is going to be music from the movie. For people who care about film scores, it's going to be fun and interesting.
The scene people will be talking about is that fancy slow zoom in on the bridge. What was involved in that?
We got a lens specifically to do that shot. It was a lens we could not afford for more than two days. It was an Ingenue 25-250 zoom. That cost more to rent for two days than our entire lens package cost for the whole shoot.
Is the site a notable landmark?
Anyone from the Northwest will immediately recognize Multnomah Falls. It's pretty iconic. Anyone growing up in the area will have gone there dozens of times as a kid. It's 45 minutes east of Portland, in the Columbia Gorge right along the river.
It's got the feel of a Hitchcock location, which fits with your mystery.
Nearby, they shot The Road. Weirdly, The Road shot there and nearby where I live now in Pittsburgh. It shot in Braddock. I live in Wilkinsburg and the next neighborhood over is Braddock. They lost 90 percent of their population between 1970 and 1990. It is one of the most desolate places I've ever seen. You can look right down the river. Steel mill after steel mill shut down. It's ghostly.
As long as we're wandering off-topic, wasn't there some huge screenplay you'd been laboring on for years?
I wanted to try and adapt a Western. A book called Flashman and the Redskins. I would love to do it. It's a great book and would be a great movie. The leap between Cold Weather and a $100-million western is not something that anyone on the money side of things is too interested in. And the author, George MacDonald Fraser, made the proclamation that no more of his books would be turned into movies. There's a terrible movie made from one of his books in the '70s. He died recently.
I am working on something that, for the first time today, I've had to try to describe: maybe a romantic treasure hunt, keeping in mind that I've been reading a lot of P.G. Wodehouse. I've got a movie about a cat burglar, and a movie about a werewolf, so I don't know. I have four scripts I've been working on, kind of going back and forth. I'm not sure what's going to happen next. Hopefully something.
[Cold Weather opens in limited release on February 4, from IFC Films.]
A director's death inevitably casts their last film in a new light. Claude Chabrol's Inspector Bellamy (just Bellamy in its native France) ups that ante in its opening credits, as a POV camera—but whose?—glides through a seaside cemetery, with unknown whistling behind it. It's a lovely moment now, with Chabrol whistling his way to death, even if its suggestion is entirely unintentional. Chabrol's finale has none of the self-conscious gravitas of Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, a film the director announced was consciously about death. Altman knew he was dying, while Chabrol apparently didn't, but the film resonates regardless.
After 1995's La Ceremonie, Chabrol mostly relinquished conventional forms of thriller plot development, often to widespread audience confusion and critical displeasure. Rather than cook up revelations and resolutions, Chabrol often redirected audience attention to sideways character and social concerns; whether or not he'd eventually deliver conventional suspense became a form of suspense in itself. That withholding game wasn't new: 1968's Les Biches is a sharp, fun thriller that enjoys teasing its audience with the prospect of girls making out, only to withhold that vulgar delight entirely. But the rigor of his elisions grew with the years. He enjoyed putting off revelations as long as possible: Ceremonie, a cutting portrait of literally murderous class warfare, nonetheless holds out its final twist until the very last second of the end credits, long after an impatient audience would've left. Many Chabrol films linger with a final shot that may or may not have a post-credits revelation, another form of oblique suspense. The camera may track over for one final punchline, or it may remain fixed. We never know.
Abandoning the concealment game, Bellamy is all too eager to share meaningful information with viewers. After Ceremonie—Chabrol's last universally acclaimed thriller, and the last one in which he didn't deliberately slack-out—many films would end ten minutes early, with one final arrest or development permanently deferred; The Flower of Evil, Comedy of Power and The Bridesmaid all end just before the proverbial other shoe can drop. Bellamy plays a different trick: not only does it go on long after the central mystery has been resolved, it eventually becomes clear that the suspenseless narrative is a red herring. That opening whistle is soon revealed as that of a hardware store clerk: one Claire Bonheur (Adrienne Pauly), whose last name, given her amiability, appropriately means "happiness." That ties her in to some other big "names" in the cast, as noted by the New Yorker's Anthony Lane: diligent inspector "Bellamy" (Gérard Depardieu) is also "bel ami" (good friend), while the first pseudonym of the criminal begging for Bellamy's help is Noel Gentil (Jacques Gamblin), whose last name translates to "Gentle."
Fat chance: names don't mean much here except to confuse the issue. Gentil, after all, will take on two more names before the film is over (without spoilers, it's safe to reveal Gamblin has more than one onscreen incarnation). He thinks he's killed someone, but he's not even sure who he might have murdered, or if it was his fault. Meanwhile, the inspector's brother shows up: he has the entirely different last name of Lebas (Clovis Cornillac), aka "the low." This is, after all, a murder mystery, a genre which has never disdained symbolic signposting, and the central whodunit is resolved fairly early on. Every subsequent hypothesis underlines the obvious.
The real mystery is the contentious relationship between Bellamy and brother Lebas, one in which the former tries to act benevolently to a sibling who drinks hard, insults his wife, takes his friends' money and generally guns for the title of World's Most Irredeemable Familial Black Sheep. Their relationship is a bigger mystery than the ostensible murder plot, which isn't accidental.
In Chabrol's annals of deliberate late-period audience frustration, Bellamy is distinctively human-sized, avoiding big questions about power structures. The Flower of Evil argues against anti-Americanism; Comedy of Power analyzes flaws in the French justice system. By contrast, Bellamy's subversion of expectations serves a decidedly modest end, a personal rather than political one. There's a bit of echo here between the film and The Eye of Vichy, Chabrol's found-footage documentary on France's collaborationist years: the contrast between venal but friendly accomodationism (represented by Depardieu) and rough-but-loyal surliness shown by his brother is a potentially key analogy. Is it more important to be overtly likable and indolent (like Depardieu) or to nurse seemingly small resentments no matter how they look (like his brother)?
Even for a hardcore fan of late Chabrol, Bellamy's sleight of hand can, at times, grow exasperating. It's an unsubtle lecture about judging on appearances, a lesson any seasoned moviegoer will recognize is built into both the familial and mystery plots. Deliberate frustrations and all, it's still a valuable addition to the Chabrol canon, with a enjoyably (typically) self-centered Depardieu performance anchoring the unshowy but gracefully composed shots, frequently thrown off balance by aggressive, unexpected cuts. Here, the aging auteur started moving even further past suspense, discarding the pretense of using it as a framework for social critique and comedies of bad manners (as he had been for the previous 15 years) and placing the brotherhood motif in direct opposition to the mystery. Whatever his reputation, Chabrol's films weren't just genre game-playing or coldly technical exercises. In its final seconds, Bellamy pulls back the curtain to unveil a sad, humanely conceived plea for greater kindness and understanding, a bolder mystery still.
Everymen in Trouble: The Punk-Rock Comedies of Sabu
by Steve Dollar
If there is a signature sequence that defines a movie directed by Sabu, it's the never-ending chase that pretty much consumes the entire 82 minutes of his 1996 debut, Non-Stop (aka Dangan Runner). Tomorowo Taguchi, rock singer and star of the all-time Japanese cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is Yasuda, an everyman as inept as he is desperate. His plans to pull a bank heist go haywire, since everything always goes haywire a few minutes into a Sabu plot. But they go haywire in really nutty, unpredictable ways. In this case, the would-be bandit stops by a convenience store to shoplift a gauze mask for putative use as a disguise. As we see in a fantasy staging of the robbery, it makes a lousy and absurd choice. And Yasuda isn’t even much of a petty thief: A quartet of schoolgirls observes his actions amid giggles: "It's so embarrassing," one says. And when the long-haired clerk Aizawa (fellow rock musician Diamond Yukai) confronts him, the dope clumsily fires off a shot from a handgun. For a single heartbeat of a frozen moment, this hapless loser is vaguely in control. But then he quickly loses his grip. The clerk grabs the pistol and Yasuda hurtles out the door, running for his life.
The marathon that ensues will soon collect a third competitor: a low-level Yakuza (Sabu's steady lead actor, Shinichi Tsutsumi, who turns out to be the junkie clerk’s drug dealer, bowled over in the street as the pair carom into him—and a bystander gets shot to death). Speechless minutes go by, leaving the audience time to ponder the influence of silent comedy and vintage inanities like The Three Stooges and influence on contemporary inanities like Rush Hour, and the trio rounds a corner to spy a beautiful young woman in a short skirt bending down to retrieve a fallen handkerchief. Close-ups of each man trigger three different sex fantasies, scaled to varying degrees of passion, aggression and nudity, and offset hilariously by the physical rigors they endure—heavy breathing becoming a double entendre. On the soundtrack, bongos percolate amid the tinny drizzle of a xylophone. And the fantasies and flashbacks continue.
As if these guys aren't trouble enough on their own, they become somehow enmeshed with a gang war.
Sabu, born Hiroyuki Tanaka in 1964, is not to be confused with Sabu, the two-time ECW World Heavyweight Champion, or Sabu, the star of Robert Flaherty's Elephant Boy or The Thief of Bagdad, who died in 1963. He's an actor (best-known credit: Ichi the Killer) with a solid, masculine appeal who adapted easily to directing—immediately establishing his own peculiar niche in a film culture built on peculiar niches. Starting Wednesday, the Japan Society welcomes Sabu to New York, feting the director with a six-film retrospective, Run, Salaryman, Run! Though amply championed by the thrill-addicted crew that runs the New York Asian Film Festival and featured at the 2009 New York Film Festival (for the atypical maritime period piece Kanikôsen), Sabu seems to be underappreciated in the English-speaking market. His immensely likable capers are grounded in quotidian realities that suddenly blow up into man-in-peril action comedies. But they're more screwballsy than psychotronic, and Americans (myself included) who fetishize the work of Japanese cult auteurs love our Miikes, Nishimuras, Tsukamotos and Wakamatsus for their unabashed taste for the extreme, the fanastical, and the transgressive.
Stacked against those crazy dudes, Sabu is practically genteel. The workaday hero of films like Postman Blues (1997) and Drive (2002) is your basic mope whose unfortunate arrival in the wrong place and wrong time puts him in a world of shit that feels transcendent (if supremely hazardous) compared to the daily boredom and neurosis that is his common existence. He is not, to borrow a comic strip title from the late graphic novelist Harvey Pekar (Cleveland's best-known salaryman), waking to the terror of the same old day. He is waking to good, old-fashioned terror. Or something like it, usually by the agency of two-bit Yakuzas, keystone cops, and a bad habit of daydreaming about alluring women he likely will never have. The plot of Postman pivots around mistaken identity (and an amputated finger), while Drive kicks off as a cabal of double-crossed robbers turn the long-suffering Tsutsumi into an accomplice via carjacking. Conflating Murphy's Law with a kind of Zen resignation to the untamable whirl of unseen forces, the narrative tracks constant detours—including a brilliant set piece that haphazardly plants one of the gangsters onstage with a punk rock band, verbally trashing the audience to rapturous cheers.
Program notes typically namecheck Doug Liman, whose Go! and The Bourne Identity owe a genuine debt to Sabu's aesthetic. Likewise, Tom Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run, with its formula of adrenaline + novelty + danger. Yet, the most emotionally affecting selection in this series is Sabu's stillest, slowest-paced film, The Blessing Bell (2002). Susumu Terajima takes the lead this time, playing Igarashi, a factory worker who gets laid off one morning only to experience the longest day of his life. Long, stationary takes frame existential wandering across Tokyo as Igarashi encounters a bizarre gallery of characters: a dying Yakuza, a jealous husband who kills his wife's lover, the ghost of an old man (legendary filmmaker Seijun Suzuki) who has died in an adjacent bed in a hospital (where our hero lands after being felled in a hit-and-run accident, after which he wins the lottery, after which he is robbed, but before he saves a child from a burning house... or something like that). Anything can happen and it probably will, but Terajima holds the movie together with the centrifugal force of his sadsack face. Should anyone ever get around to adapting Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, impossible as that could be, the actor would be perfect as the metaphysically burdened protagonist. Here, a heartwarming finale lends something like grace to a phenomenal story arc, as the Salaryman learns finally to walk, not run.
["Run, Salaryman, Run!" opens Wednesday and runs through Feb. 5 at Japan Society (NYC). Sabu will be present for the opening night screening (and afterparty) of Monday, as well as at screenings on Jan. 28 and 29. EDITOR'S NOTE: GreenCine carries Sabu's 1998 feature Unlucky Monkey, not included in the series.]
Since I consider actor, director and respected film bloggerMichael Tully both a colleague and friend, I've chosen not to write a proper review of his third feature, Septien. Set in the dreamy Tennessee boonies, Tully's darkly eccentric (and if you can forgive the bias, quite remarkable) familial fable makes its world premiere simultaneously at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and nationwide on VOD via Sundance Selects (January 24):
Michael Tully's SEPTIEN follows Cornelius Rawlings, who returns to his family's farm eighteen years after disappearing without a trace. While his parents are long deceased, Cornelius's brothers continue to live in isolation on this forgotten piece of land. Ezra is a freak for two things: cleanliness and Jesus. Amos is a self-taught artist who fetishizes sports and Satan. Although back home, Cornelius is still distant. In between challenging strangers to one-on-one games, he huffs and drinks the days away. The family's high-school sports demons show up one day in the guise of a plumber and a pretty girl. Only a mysterious drifter can redeem their souls on 4th and goal. Triple-threat actor/writer/director Tully creates a backwoods world that's only a few trees away from our own, complete with characters on the edge of sanity that we can actually relate to. A hero tale gone wrong, SEPTIEN is funny when it's inappropriate to laugh, and realistic when it should be psychotic.
Tully invited me to his Brooklyn apartment on the night before he left for Sundance to discuss Septien's "little pot of gumbo" tone, the delicate concerns of being both a critic and a filmmaker, and whether an unearthed camcorder and the casting of Harmony Korine's wife Rachel were a combined onscreen ode to Trash Humpers.
To listen to the podcast, click here. (20:25) Podcast Music
INTRO: Michael Montes: "Septien Opening Titles"
OUTRO: HAM1: "It's Only a Dream Unto Itself"
One of winter's great flops—The Tourist, in which Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie failed to, in Variety trade-speak, attract domestic auds (yet grossing twice as much overseas, validating the continual attractiveness of household names and glossy production values in foreign markets)—has prompted inquiring minds to wonder why a film concocted from such promising elements fell apart. The answer, according to one source among a post-mortem smattering of anonymous voices close to production, laid much of the blame at the feet of director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. He wanted a style piece, the stars didn't want to be stylish (Depp insisted on an elaborately ugly goatee, to the alarm of all involved) and the production went downhill from there.
Von Donnersmarck had come to Hollywood with big ambitions: his 2006 Best Foreign Film winner The Lives of Others was exactly the kind of historically weighty but easy-to-watch film Academy members love. If his attempt to go Hollywood failed, perhaps it's because he aimed too high, with an outsized budget and a story anchored by people and plot rather than a concept that sells itself. Over the last decade, many foreign directors have quite deliberately emigrated for American studio budgets and never gone back, but they keep their ambitions modest and pragmatic. At home, aping Hollywood on a small budget is a dream. In California, you can do it without the struggle.
The prototype for this transition is the nakedly commercial Finnish director Renny Harlin, who smartly titled his first film Born American (and settled for Chuck Norris' son Mike when Chuck had to back out) and moved on to A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master, Die Hard 2 and other conveyer-belt product. (Thankfully, some—like the super-intelligent-sharks-go-homicidal ride Deep Blue Sea or the schoolteacher-cum-amnesiac-CIA-agent thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight—have an appealing sarcasm, offering guilty pleasures within slick, well-shot productions.) Harlin is on the record as being highly self-aware: "In Europe, film making is perceived as an art form with marginal business possibilities, and in the US, film making is a business with marginal artistic possibilities." His preferences have been made clear by the news that he'll be returning to Finland for the war drama Mannerheim, slated to be the most expensive film in the country's history, which is exactly how Harlin left: Born American once claimed that honor. Harlin may shamelessly work for easy money, but his craftsmanship is honorable; he's a forgivable hack who deserves career imitators.
Other directors have taken responsibility for pricier fare, allowing them to pay it back to their homelands. Among them: Kazakhstani schlock-meister Timur Bekmambetov, whose success with Wanted has enabled him to exit the ugly Russian film industry (where he achieved fame with Night Watch and Day Watch), instead supporting the budding one in Kazakhstan. He filmed a comedy there last year before returning to prepare Wanted 2), and helped establish his country's first film festival. Similarly supportive of his homeland while continuing to reap better paydays in America is Alfonso Cuarón, who continues to produce films in Mexico (Rudo y Cursi, Pan's Labyrinth) even while graduating to more expensive projects. Of the two cinematic philanthropists, only Cuarón seems to have leveraged an artist's persona from his toils.
Less concerned with supporting developing film scenes are the European directors, who come from backgrounds with stable financing systems already in place and don't have to worry about helping to create infrastructures for systematic studio filmmaking. When Susanne Bier (After the Wedding) got to America, she tried to make the same hothouse, shouting drama she specializes in; after Things We Lost in the Fire flopped, she went back home. Durability is for the more sensibly ambitious: Robert Schwentke moved on from the Seven-baiting thriller Tattoo to Flightplan, The Time Traveler's Wife and the surprisingly successful Red. Similarly impersonal: French genre specialists Alejandre Aja (who followed up the gory, cult-growing Haute Tension by putting Kiefer Sutherland through the horror-trope paces in Mirrors) and Louis Leterrier (Luc Besson's most successful protégé, who helmed the first two Transporterfilms overseas before becoming a full-on FX wrangler with The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans).
On the whole, it's not a wildly inspiring list, consisting mostly of directors who made Hollywood-lite movies on small budgets so they could come over and make the real thing with more money and less impetus to excel. It's useless to complain that the fleeing European talent who pumped fresh blood into high-end studio filmmaking (Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, et al.) apparently no longer exists: comedies and dramas are now made nearly exclusively by Americans, with foreign directors brought in for less exciting assignments. Some bring their best: Bekmambetov channeled the steroid-addled paranoia of his Russian work into a dumbed-down Fight Club with gleefully stupid action sequences, while director Mikael Håfström went from representing Sweden at the Academy Awards with 2003's Evil to enabling John Cusack's best film with 1408, whose freaky spatial relations complemented Cusack's inspired, jittery performance. That was preceded by failed thriller Derailed, and shortly audiences will get the winter doldrums dump of Hafstrom's exorcism cheapie The Rite, which means even better-than-average genre fare is tough to assemble. Presumably, even January horror frustration (or the experience of making Shanghai, now approaching two solid years in the Weinstein vaults) is better than attempting large-scale Swedish productions.
One question remains: Why do we bring directors over, especially those trained here (as in Antal, Schwentke and Leterrier's case)? Perhaps because they're happy to conquer the tedium of corralling productions and treating it as any other grunt work: something to be executed for pay, without arguing. Good help is hard to find.
"Not just the year's most impressive first feature, but also the strongest new movie of any kind I've seen in 2010," praised The Village Voice's J. Hoberman about Samuel Maoz's Lebanon, available today on home video. On behalf of GreenCine and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, you may enter to win the DVD of what Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called "A terrifying, absorbing 93 minutes spent in hell." More on the film:
In 1982, during the First Lebanon War, a tank manned by a novice crew of Israeli soldiers are led into a town previously bombed by the air force. Young men who have never fought before are now placed inside of a killing machine and thrown into a situation that quickly spins out of control, testing the mental toughness of the men inside of a confined space, with only the lens of a periscopic gun sight to see the madness outside. In LEBANON, writer-director Samuel Maoz has created a compelling, visceral drama in the tradition of DAS BOOT. Based on his personal experiences in the Israeli army, the film is as much a personal work of filmmaking as a triumph of powerful storytelling.
To enter, email firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, email address, mailing address, and, if you're a GreenCine member, your username in the email, and "Lebanon" in the subject header. Entries without all this information will not be considered. (You will not be added to a mailing list!). One winner will be selected at random from all valid entries. You must be a US resident to enter. The deadline to enter is January 24. Winner will be notified by e-mail and announced in future editions of the GreenCine Dispatch newsletter.
See the Lebanon trailer below:
What a piece of work is Lemmy. Keith Richards gets all the credit for being the rugged Jack Sparrow of rock'n'roll, but he's not the only pirate sailing under a black flag. And he doesn't even play for a band with an umlaut in its name.
And you might argue that Ian Fraser Kilmister, born on the first Christmas Eve after the end of World War II, makes a far sturdier badass icon. Better known as Lemmy to the gazillion fans of Motörhead, the bruisingly influential English metal band of which he is the only abiding member, the author of such live-fast-die-ugly anthems as "Eat the Rich," "Killed by Death" and the immortal "Ace of Spades," seems as indestructible as the Terminator. To paraphrase one of his enthusiastically besotted fans, interviewed outside a concert in the documentary Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch: "If they ever drop a nuclear bomb on this world, the only thing left behind will be Lemmy and cockroaches."
The new film, directed by Greg Olliver and music critic Wes Orshoski, doesn't have to work hard at establishing Lemmy's persona. It's all right there on his face, a weather-beaten canvas of excess, cracked and riveted under thick mutton-chop sideburns, graced by a pair of massive, signature warts, and The Voice? That voice. Vocal cords scraped raw in the devil's own toolshed, a rasp that could make Jimmy Durante sound as mellifluous as bird song. His perpetually black-on-black garb, affection for iron crosses and custom-made leather boots, and beat-up cowboy hat mark him just as distinctively. As show-biz buddy Billy Bob Thornton decodes it, "Lemmy looks like an L.A. rocker to me. He's got that part that's combination biker, musician or guy that works at the car wash. He's got that old school L.A. look. He doesn't change it and I don't think it's created. And that's what the good part of L.A. is, the people that don't try to be."
This affable peek behind the metal curtain makes out Lemmy to be pretty much what you'd expect him to be: a good ol' punter who loves his homemade chips, his video games, his formidable collection of weaponry (hundreds of knives from far-flung armies around the world), his "Marlboro Reds, his Jack Daniels, his speed, his strippers and his gambling," as a road manager testifies. And presiding over Sunset Strip haunts like The Rainbow as a kind of mayoral imminence. If all you know of him is "Ace of Spades"— adorably performed by a schoolgirl chorus at the same hometown school that once expelled the adolescent Lemmy—there's a lot of history here. Much of it is told by old bandmates and sidekicks, including those in the seminal UK space-rock act Hawkwind, who once abandoned their bassist in Detroit. "We were in a band where everyone was taking different drugs," says saxophonist Nik Turner, "so you had this disparity." Not so in Motörhead, a band built for—and by—speed. Critics called them the worst band in the world. "But it was in big letters," recalls guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke.
The anecdotal nature of Lemmy is never less than entertaining, but the endless gallery of rock hagdom—from inevitable talking heads Slash and Dave Navarro through seemingly every now or once-famous musician who gigged on the Sunset Strip—threatens to turn the film into an awards banquet, even if crisply shot and edited. The intimate confessional moments carry so much more weight, as when Lemmy shares a couch with his son, Paul Inder, and they recount how they first met (the boy, now grown, was 6 years old at the time). Lemmy makes a joke about his mountain of memorabilia, all crammed into a shadowy archive of his $900-a-month apartment a block off Sunset:
LEMMY: "I just like stuff. I always liked stuff. Stuff is what happens. In your life you get stuff. Then you lose some stuff and keep some stuff and in the end you leave it to some other poor bastard to be saddled with."
PAUL: "I'd rather have you than all that stuff."
LEMMY: "I can never image why that is. Why'd you rather have some gob-smacked human than a load of money?"
PAUL: "Well, money can't love you back."
LEMMY: "You can imagine it does."
Those couple of minutes are worth more than everything else. Lemmy may be too fast for love, but he takes his bonds seriously. The stage and touring road are the loves of his life.
"You have to make up your mind between rock'n'roll or your beloved one," he says, offering a life's philosophy. "And since sex only lasts for what, half an hour at the very top—a rock'n'roll set lasts for an hour-and-a-half—I think we got that one sorted out."
[Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch opens January 21 at Cinema Village in New York City.]
For an actor who has been praised for playing a sad-sack wine snob (Sideways), a socially backward everyman (American Splendor), an irascible leader (HBO's John Adams), even a gloomy actor named "Paul Giamatti" (Cold Souls), Paul Giamatti would still have a diverse oeuvre if you only counted his onscreen cranks. Perhaps the most complicated of the bunch would be Giamatti's role in the new film Barney's Version, for which he has been nominated for a Golden Globe:
Based on Mordecai Richler's award winning novel—his last and, arguably, best—BARNEY'S VERSION is the warm, wise and witty story of the politically incorrect life of Barney Panofsky (Giamatti), who meets the love of his life at his wedding—and she is not the bride. A candid confessional, told from Barney's point of view, the film spans three decades and two continents, taking us through the different acts of his unusual history.
His first wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), is a flame-haired, flagrantly unfaithful free sprit with whom Barney briefly lives la vie de Boheme in Rome. The Second Mrs. P. (Minnie Driver) is a wealthy Jewish Princess who shops and talks incessantly, barely noticing that Barney is not listening. It is at their lavish wedding that Barney meets and starts pursuing Miriam (Rosamund Pike), his third wife, the mother of his two children and true love.
With his father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) as his sidekick, Barney takes us through the many highs, and a few too many lows, of his long and colorful life. Not only does Barney turn out to be a true romantic, he is also capable of all kinds of sneaky acts of gallantry, generosity, and goodness when we–and he– least expect it. His is a gloriously full life, played out on a grand scale. And, at its center stands an unlikely hero—the unforgettable Barney Panofsky.
Sitting down together at the Crosby Street Hotel in NYC, Giamatti and I extolled the hidden virtues of the quick-tempered Barney, then discussed the actor's desire for vice, naked existential fear, what attracts him to playing curmudgeonly souls, and whether Lady in the Water was misunderstood.
To listen to the podcast, click here. (13:58) [WARNING: One minor plot point spoiled herein.]Podcast Music
INTRO: Heyoka: "Big Bud Barney"
OUTRO: Barney from The Simpsons: "A Boozehound Named Barney"
The Green Hornet was supposed to be Michel Gondry's directorial feature debut in 1997, starring Greg Kinnear as Marvel's comic-book hero. As it was, it took 2001's Human Nature for Gondry to break into cinema, and Kato's first fight in the 2011 model is a retread of Gondry's video for The Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be." It's a nifty bit of trivia or validation that the project ended up with the same filmmaker 14 years later, but the project resulted from multiple corporate disputes, with reshoots and a shoddy 3D conversion to boot. The Green Hornet proves to be the sloppiest, most inept action franchise-launcher helmed by a frail visionary weirdo since Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. At least on that production, Jack Nicholson ran interference for Burton, sparing him from the worst of Warner Bros.' meddling. This is a film made by a director who is not allowed to be himself.
Michel Gondry has never made a more impersonal film, although how much of this he actually got to complete to his own satisfaction is questionable. The post-converted 3D, per usual, isn't bad on separating the layers of action, but it's not continuous; every layer registers as a separate plane of depth. Not only does the disingenuousness of the effect sap the movie of any visceral effect (screening it for the press in 3D actually does a disservice, avoid that version at all costs), it turns already incoherent action scenes even more indecipherable. Chaotic digital mud unfolds as chaos on multiple planes of action that appear disconnected from each other.
The number of Gondry-esque scenes can be counted on one hand; the number of cool sequences unrelated to his trademark ingenuity can be counted on the other. The Green Hornet bears every sign of a product that satisfies no one, leading to the sadly stigmatic January studio dump. There's precisely one action shot that shows why Gondry might want to be involved in the first place: Seth Rogen, a deconstructive Green Hornet who snarks his way through the origin story, gets one beautiful, climactic action shot, decimating multiple enemies across one clear line of slo-mo ass-kicking. Otherwise, again, Gondry recaps "Let Forever Be" (the one-person-across-multiple-lines effect brought back as Kato's fight-mode vision). Other treats for fans who want to see the master technician giddy with a blockbuster budget: A cut from a crane shot of Rogen's father's estate dissolves to Roger's father's corpse, and the geometric lines of seemingly everything are aligned in match cuts. Sped-up, Three Stooges-inspired shots are meticulously choreographed yet faithfully stupid, and one well-organized flashback montage looks like a music video that's trying too hard. Cameron Diaz gets in a few jabs about how old media's fallen to the new, responding by writing shorter and shallower stories in a misguided effort to keep up (maybe this is actually 1997?). Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen struck gold once with their Superbad screenplay; here, they stumble through a creative dust bowl.
There's little point in slagging on a film this poor with irrefutable faults. Far more interesting is how Michel Gondry is one of the only mainstream American filmmakers interested in promoting gay rights. In 2008's Be Kind Rewind, Jack Black and Mos Def formed an inadvertent couple who never got the girl (Melonie Diaz). Instead, Def argued with Diaz when she aggressively tried to make out with him. Def poses a hypothetical back at her: what if you dream about someone all the time, but that person's a man? It's forgotten, the potential intercourse evaded, and at the end, Black and Def have arms on each other. Why Gondry might be interested in gay rights (more than your average liberal director anyway) became clearer in 2009's family documentary/portrait The Thorn in My Heart, about Gondry's Aunt Suzette and her son Jean-Yves. It only becomes clear as the film ticks along that Jean-Yves is gay, and the otherwise genial Suzette has very big problems with that. The film shifts from a portrait of an aunt to one of an unfairly picked-on cousin.
It's only worth mentioning because The Green Hornet is essentially gay. Rogen's Britt Reid and Jay Chou's Kato have a competitive relationship, and part of that competition is hot secretary Cameron Diaz. Eventually, she threatens to sue for sexual harassment if Reid doesn't knock the leering and overt ass-checking that would get him kicked out of any office. Meanwhile, he talks about testicles a lot, mostly hangs out with Kato ("It's boys night!"), and Diaz's character makes him back off with "We don't make out! Maybe you guys do!" The film somehow lies between the usual jokey (maybe) gay panic of the Apatow factory that launched Rogan's career... and Gondry's usual concerns.
Still, the execution's such a sludgy mess that it's hard to care beyond an auteurist appreciation, and it's sadly hilarious that it was easier for Gondry to smuggle in gay subtext than to make an action movie with his stylistic signature. The Green Hornet rarely bears Gondry's fingerprints, and the sporadic appearance of his personality smudges the lens. It's strangely sad when a White Stripes song counts as a personal touch, even one he didn't direct the video for (James Newton Howard's score is fundamentally appalling, a generic nightmare fit for sitcom regurgitation). One Gondrian theme remains the same: boys will be boys, and sometimes more.
They call Southern California's adult film industry "the other Hollywood." And much as their mainstream counterparts, porn stars, too, gather during awards season to hand out trophies to their best and brightest. Although you'll likely never see Meryl Streep nominated for best performance in a double penetration scene.
As the XXX elite gathered in Las Vegas for tonight's AVN Awards ceremony—the Porno Oscars, if you will—I chatted with a few notable talents to get their favorite contenders in that "other" race.
[WARNING: Far safer for work and more thoughtful than you'd expect.]Tom Byron (adult movie legend, owner of Tom Byron Productions, "Best Parody – Comedy" nominee for The Human Sexipede, in which he also performs)
OSCAR PICKS: none
Like I said, I saw the trailer. I didn’t have time to sit there and watch it, The Human Centipede. Crazy German doctor, I could probably handle the role. I didn’t need to study. Who was the guy, Dieter?
Dieter Laser. What’s the name of your character?
Doctor Heiter. We used the same names. We don't really follow the story. It's much more sex-positive than the Centipede. The guy just wants everyone to be happy. He doesn’t want to kill them. He doesn’t make them eat shit. He just wants everyone to have sex for-EVAH!
You've played famous roles in a ton of porno knock-offs.
We did Kinky Business back in '84. We did a lot. That's what we used to do. When the industry runs out of ideas, the parody is always handy. I did On Golden Blonde. Was I in Ramb-Ohh!? Remember Ramb-Ohh!, with all the extra "H's"?
Charley Chase (nominated for "Unsung Starlet of the Year")
BEST PICTURE: The Fighter
Best movie I have ever seen in my entire life. Just the way they shot it, the camera angles. It looked like they used an older camera or something. It's perfect. I feel like I was there in that day. It wasn't even like a movie, it was like a documentary, but not necessarily a typical documentary. Mark Wahlberg is great, and his brother...
Unbelievable. For someone who's not really on drugs to be able to portray that kind of character, it was unbelievable.
Which guy would you go for?
I'm definitely more of a Mark Wahlberg kind of girl. I just hear he's really short. I like a guy to be a little bit bigger. Somebody who can hold me down. I'd like to do The Rock. You know he's a big guy.
Yeah, Bale is kind of scrawny in this one.
He's got great muscles.
And he plays a good psycho.
Yeah, I want angry though, not so much neurotic. Someone who's insane, but pissed off.
Asa Akira (nominated for "Female Performer of the Year")
BEST PICTURE: Black Swan
It reminded me a lot of Jacob's Ladder. It was actually the scary that's psychological scary, not the horror. But there were points where I couldn't look at the screen because I was scared.
Porn is, obviously, a very physical and sometimes bruising field to work in. Do you see any parallels at all?
I didn't even think of that. Personally, no. Porn is not as serious, for lack of a better word. But my AVN dress is Black Swan-inspired. I got a little obsessed.
Were you a fan of Natalie Portman all along?
Definitely. I think the Oscar usually goes to someone who's deserved it a few times and I think she fits with that. She was really good in Closer. I think she deserves it.
Would you rather do a scene with Natalie or Mila?
You know what? I like doing girl-girl, I don't like watching girl-girl. But that scene was so hot. At the end of it, I noticed my fists were clenched and I was holding my breath. It was that hot. I probably want to go with Mila Kunis though.
Tim Von Swine (director-performer, co-star with Claire Robbins and Katie St. Ives in "Best POV Sex Scene" nominees Jerkoff Material #4 and #5)
BEST WORST PICTURE: The Other GuysThe Other Guys was the best bad film made in the history of big-budget movies. They went out of their way to pull gags and let stunts run that were so flat and so uncomfortable. I really respected how they ran with the gags in the wrong direction so many times. They made a whole movie out of bad jokes, and not in a cheesy way. They were trying to be sharp with it but it can go over so many people's heads. The best bad movie ever made, and some of it was pretty funny.
Manuel Ferrara ("Male Performer of the Year," "Best Three-Way Sex Scene" and "Best Director, Non-Feature" nominee for Slutty & Sluttier 11)
BEST PICTURE: The Social Network
Great movie. Great movie. I think this movie is going to win.
Are you a David Fincher fan?
Who doesn't like Se7en? But I'm not really a director's fan. There is one director I am a fan of, a French director named Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Paul Thomas Anderson. But otherwise, I hate Michael Bay.
Many of your colleagues seem to like Black Swan.
I didn't see that one! I want to see it bad! That's a director I really, really like. One of my favorite movies is Requiem for a Dream. Incredible. The Fountain was really good, too.
You're from Paris. Any other French films you liked this year? A Prophet. Unbelievable. He did such a good job. When I was done watching it, I was... Oh my god. Being from France, I can see how people in America could watch it and not see how really real it is. MicMacs I love.
Some of this year's biggest AVN Awards categories are devoted to the dozens of feature parodies produced this year. But your movies are more like porno vérité.
Let's face it. We are terrible at acting. The number of people who can act in this industry is... count 'em on one hand. You can't find people who can fuck and act. It's either one or the other. The fucking is more my thing than the acting.
What about the flipside? Have you seen any sex scenes in mainstream movies that really clicked for you?
There's one in A History of Violence where they do a 69 on the stairs. I had never seen that before, they did it really good. And also there was a movie with Joaquin Phoenix and Eva Mendes [We Own the Night]. The sex scene at the beginning of the movie was really very realistic.
French filmmakers often push the envelope, but you never see real actors doing it. They always bring in Rocco Siffredi.
You know that [French-Vietnamese performer] Katsuni and I did something for Gaspar Noé a little while ago. He filmed it. We were fucking for real.
Yes. Gaspar is a really nice guy. Super cool guy. Very out there. He wants to do things. He has these ideas and he changes it at the last minute. But very cool. It's funny to work for a guy like that. He says, "Just fuck, guys, and I'll film around it."
Bobbi Starr ("Female Performer of the Year" nominee and collegiate oboe-player)
BEST PICTURES: Black Swan, True Grit
Coming from a classical music background I could relate, in the sense that I played Swan Lake several times. The score was incredible with the combination with the original music. The cinematography was amazing. The sets, the art direction, the costumes, everything. The suspense was real. The feeling you get having that much pressure to perform is real and it makes you crazy.
How about the sex?
It was one of the worst sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. But the lingerie was hot.
Did you act in any porn parodies this year?
I played Charlotte in Sex in the City and then I played Daphne from Scooby Doo. I was also in a mainstream movie called Drive, a Nicholas Refn movie. I played a battered wife. I didn't have any lines, just reactions. It was with the actor who played my husband and Albert Brooks. I was so starstruck. I remember watching Defending Your Life when I was younger. I'm like, "That's Albert Brooks! Oh my god, I don't know how to talk to this person." I'm pretty shy in general.
Any other movie picks?True Grit. I love the Coens. That was one of the best Westerns, probably one of my favorites since The Proposition.
You're up for "performer of the year." Any others you're proud of?
I'm nominated for "Most Outrageous Sex Scene" again. I won it last year. It's me and Andy San Dimas and Rocco Siffredi. We were in a pool playing with soy milk. Then "Best Girl-Girl," "Best Girl-Girl Group" ... I have four nominations in girl-girl.
So I guess you are perfectly qualified to rate the action between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
Heck yeah. I am the best person to ask.
So what could they have done better in that scene?
Maybe had sex.
Ulrik (Skarsgard) is a somewhat gentle man, as far as gangsters go. Reluctantly back on the streets following a stint in prison, Ulrik's boss greets him with open arms and a plan to settle an old score. With a demented sense of professional pride, Ulrik's boss sets in motion a plan to right the wrong done to his star employee. The problem is Ulrik would rather go about his own business, however mundane, than get involved with his ragtag colleagues again. This dark feel good comedy delivers laughs and gasps in equal measure.
In late December, Skarsgård phoned me from Sweden to briefly chat about his third collaboration with director Hans Petter Moland (after Zero Kelvin and Aberdeen), David Fincher's upcoming remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, cooking for his own family, and atheism.
To listen to the podcast, click here. (10:56)Podcast Music
INTRO: Python Lee Jackson: "In a Broken Dream"
OUTRO: Julie Walters & Stellan Skarsgård: "Take a Chance on Me (from Mamma Mia!)"
One of the incidental pleasures of watching even a mediocre movie is experiencing the way a specific song is used. As long as they're not the bland sonic equivalent to wallpaper for montages (e.g. the breathy singer-songwriter blandness of Morning Glory, or any peppy pop-punk shopping sequence), most movies make a token stab at rewiring the associations of a given song. Here are 10 of my favorite examples from the past year, with any film-length scoring (like Shutter Island's primer on 20th-century chromatic classical music, or the ever-popular BRAAAAAAAHM of Inception) disqualified:
(heard in And Everything Is Going Fine)
This comes from an excerpt of Spalding Gray's 1999-2000 monologue "Morning, Noon and Night." It's one of his softer orations, a divorce-remarriage-parenthood saga with lots of awestruck descriptions of his kids. Gray was a preternaturally hypnotic speaker, though, so even a potentially maudlin moment—a description of dancing with his kids to Chumbawumba's permanently ubiquitous, much-loathed drinking anthem—transcends the sensation of someone droning about the photos in their wallet. This is also the only performance I saw Gray do in real life; it was April Fool's Day, on which he announced from offstage that as "Gray" made his way to the theater from a late flight, his good friend Regis Philbin would entertain the crowd. The Chumbawumba bit was showy but effective, clearly an easy highlight to summarize for reviews; it's one of the instances in Steven Soderbergh's retroactively constructed autobiography for Gray where what Gray's saying onstage is exactly in sync with where he is in his life right then.
"Helicopter," Bloc Party
(heard in Charlie St. Cloud)
Much like The White Stripes' "Ball and Biscuit" firmly places The Social Network's opening in 2003—a time just long-ago to require a specific song choice to set the mood—so does a lesser tune in a much sillier movie. Bloc Party's "Helicopter" plays as Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) drives his little brother to a party; "is this 2005?," you may wonder. Sure enough, the film flashes forward five years to 2010 (and Andrew Bird), a neat trick. It's better than most of director Burr Steers' previous musical choices, which most unforgivably include a suitcase being set down while a Travis cover of "The Weight" plays in Igby Goes Down (and using "Bust a Move" in 17 Again). Here, music's just a timepiece.
"Loveless Love," The Feelies
(heard in Carlos)
The song that gets Carlos moving, The Feelies' tense, frustrated "Loveless Love" immediately establishes a few things. Most notably, it answers the question "Will director Olivier Assayas bring his beloved post-punk collection into anachronistic territory?" He does, though besides simply creating a cool playlist, the point might be that politically feckless post-punk has had more lasting impact (for better or worse) than the Cold War politics the film focuses on. More potently, it kicks the film into unexpected action-movie gear really fast.
"Fly Me to the Moon," Frank Sinatra
(heard in Dogtooth)
The monstrously protective (?) parents in Dogtooth, who corrupt their teenagers' vocabulary enough in Greek with false definitions, do even worse things to Frank Sinatra's English, rendering it as their grandfather's pledge to love and protect his grandchildren. The savage, didactic rasp dad delivers the cuddly sentiments in is amusingly pedagogic. It also, thankfully, erases the song's connotation with Space Cowboys, in which Clint Eastwood stupidly literalized it in a final shot that left a dead Tommy Lee Jones gazing at earth from lunar orbit.
"Saints," The Breeders
(heard in The Fighter)
There's a strange culture war going on in The Fighter. David O. Russell's ostensibly straightforward, inspirational boxing drama takes place in the mid-90s. After a hiatus, Micky Ward returned to boxing in 1994, the same year Russell completed first feature Spanking the Monkey. As a former angry, countercultural filmmaker insurgent (or something marketable like that), Russell seems to take a slightly unhealthy amount of glee in pitting Mark Wahlberg's horrible, frumpy sisters/Greek Chorus against new girlfriend Amy Adams, who they promptly dub "MTV" as code for "skank." Russell synthesizes Boston prole and spiky outsiders with a training montage set to the Breeders—some of Boston's finest, to be sure, but also outliers of mid-90s alternative nation. "Saints" was no "Cannonball," the popular crossover single that's been in no less than five films (from Moonlight and Valentino down to Whip It). "Saints" was their third and final single from accidental blockbuster Pod, which ended up as a used-CD store staple once people realized most of the album sounded nothing like "Cannonball." This is the first time "Saints" has finally gotten film time.
"Strange Overtones," David Byrne/Brian Eno
(heard in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)
Like Bloc Party or the White Stripes, using music from 2008 to soundtrack a film set in 2008 is oddly over-specific for a time in recent memory, but can still be oddly evocative. Oliver Stone soundtracks his entire movie with David Byrne, mostly from the 2008 Bryne/Brian Eno collaboration Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Sometimes the music really is just wallpaper, pleasant but insignificant except as a time marker. But "Strange Overtones" stands apart within an already-hyperactive movie's trippiest segment, a dramatization of economic turmoil as seen on TV news, laid out against freefalling stock numbers that form collapsing skyscrapers, a surprisingly apt metaphor from the normally overheated music. Byrne's cooing paranoia and pessimism ("strange overtones" indeed) is an aural and thematic fit.
"To All the Girls I've Loved Before," Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias
(heard in Everyone Else)
This global '80s staple has aged poorly, big drums and all. Its placement in Maren Ade's savage breakup drama serves a double function. First off, it provides a startlingly insensitive backdrop for Chris (Lars Eidinger) to drunkenly dance to, underscoring—maybe a little too hard—the fragility of his relationship to Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr). By the time it's disclosed that Gitti is a music publicist (as the saccharine balladry of German favorite Gronemeyer plays in the background), the joke gets sharper: she may work for a big music label, but Gitti has nothing good to listen to.
"The Chaffeur," Duran Duran
(heard in Greenberg)
More about '80s superhits deployed ironically: lots of people were thrown off or perturbed by the high emotional damage content of Greenberg, but some people just bitched about Korn. At a coke-fueled party of twentysomethings, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) bitches about Korn and puts on this song instead, only to have his choice booed off. As the L.A. Times' Todd Martens noted, it's an "odd reference," which is a polite way of saying many people had surprisingly vigorous arguments about whether kids these days actually still listen to Korn. That seems to have left more of an impression than this '80s staple, considering there's not actually any Korn in the movie. (Trivia: Greenberg also uses Albert Hammond's "It Never Rains in Southern California." Hammond was also the writer of "To All the Girls I've Loved Before.")
"Chances Are," Johnny Mathis
(heard in I Love You, Phillip Morris)
This is a staple ballad you don't need to consciously have heard from start to finish to know-it's acquired through osmosis. There's only one thing to do with an evergreen wedding song like this, and that's to use it for incongruous but sincere romance: a lovely night between two men in prison, meant non-ironically. One of the film's strongest points is that gay couples deserve to be just as materialistic and vacuous as straight ones. Yoking the song to that sentiment brings it very close to diamond-ring commercial territory, only with actual feeling rather than venal calculation.
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," The Eurythmics
(heard in Tron: Legacy)
Aside from the Daft Punk light show, there's the surprisingly pleasing use of this most overplayed of pop songs. Since no one really wants to sit through all the real-world exposition, the use of the well-known title lines signal that the big Wizard of Oz descent will be forthcoming in under four minutes.
by Steve DollarBernardo Bertolucci, absent from the moviemaking world since The Dreamers seven years ago, sounds unexpectedly chipper. Reached by Skype at home in Rome, the director has just returned from a late afternoon swim, where he met with novelist Niccolò Ammaniti. Though he's been crippled by back problems for several years, Bertolucci is optimistic about making Ammaniti's latest book, Io e te, into a movie. "I sublimated everything about the body so I have more room for the mind," he says, in deliberate, accented English, "and thinking about a new project."
But the occasion of our conversation is everything else Bertolucci has done, spotlighted in a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, which runs through January 12. With the 15 features, three documentaries, one short, and a few films made by others about him, it's a comprehensive tribute to the 69-year-old director of The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, who first made a splash at Cannes with his 1962 debut, The Grim Reaper. He was 21.
"It's healthier not to watch your old movies," he says. "My expectation is always more than what the film gives." But still...
Are there any particular films you're happy to have shown again?
Thinking of New York, yeah, there are two or three movies. One has never been seen in theaters in New York, my first film The Grim Reaper. Or movies that found a bad reaction. I remember very well when I showed La Luna. Vincent Canby, on the day when the movie was shown, had already reviewed it, which was really cruel and bad. I knew that probably most of the people in the theater seeing it for the first time at the New York Film Festival had already read [the review] which took away the mystery of the film. It was so moralistic. Alas, it was quite a typical reaction of an American viewer. The subject of the film, incest between mother and son, was a theme that in the states was not accepted, period. I will see if the movie will have redemption. I'm quoting Vincent Canby. His last line was 'This film has no redemption.' So it's a revenge.
Of course, Jill Clayburgh, who you cast as the mother, died recently. So the screening is kind of a memorial.
It was very sad in a quiet way. Years ago, Jill came to Italy and she told me that she was ill. She went on for a long time. So this acceptance that she had of her illness I think gave her the time to make her ending long, and able to go on working. She was an extraordinary character.
The women you've casted in your films have always been fascinating to watch, from Dominque Sanda in The Conformist to Eva Green in The Dreamers. Over the decades, how have they changed?
Each one is very, very particular and different from the others. Let's imagine that every time a director has a love story with the actors of his movies, so every time is a love story and sometimes the love has been consumed. So maybe I won't tell you their names, but there are more memories added to the memories of the movies.
I was reading an interview with Eva Green talking about her experiences in The Dreamers, and there was a discussion of Maria Schneider's reaction after Last Tango in Paris came out, that she had felt taken advantage of. Green seemed to have a more mature attitude about the physical exposure and the sex scenes.
Every actress, same thing is true of the actors—now you say actor also for the ladies—is there in the movie, and it's made by what the character is in the film and what the person was in real life during the film... Why are you asking me about the women and not about the men?
The women in your films compelled my focus [laughs].
Exactly. I was complimenting your taste, in a way. I suppose you've gotten in as much trouble for what the men...
Ah, okay. Let's take the case of Maria. She was wild in the moment. I remember when we opened Last Tango in Paris in New York, she had a page in the New York Times where she was saying, "I slept with 74 men and 55 women," really talking in a wild way. But then time passes and she starts to complain and to let me know through interviews that I stole her youth. How can you say that to somebody? To a director who went looking into your personality—as I try to do every time with a person in front of my camera. In that particular case, the girl wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on. 1972 was the beginning of feminism. In Italy, I had a kind of trial made by a group of feminists. It was done as an article for a magazine. There was a journalist and four or five feminist leaders, asking questions and accusing me of things. My advocate was Germaine Greer. That was fantastic.
But the Italian government really did want to throw you in jail.Marlon Brando, the producer Antonio Grimaldi and myself, were sentenced to three months of prison, [suspended] with conditions, which for me was one more gold medal on my jacket. But, then I found out two months later at the moment of voting, that I didn't receive my electoral certificate. I asked what happened, and they went to look in a big black book. I had lost my civil rights for five years. It was a big humiliation. It was a special case which was collecting the worst old-fashioned old ideas, moralistic and inquisitor-like. After that big case, there was a liberation. The most horrible, obscene porno movies were allowed. But the symbolic film was condemned.
Is it still possible for sex on film to provoke?
I could swear that when I shot Last Tango with this frontal nudity, I never thought that I was doing something provocative. I thought that what was provocative in the film was the despair in the character of Brando. That was the real thing I wanted to talk about. It was this desperate version of An American in Paris. He was old-fashioned macho in a way, but meantime he was wearing despair all the time, like it was his camel-hair coat. I was feeling like I had the key to get Marlon far away from the Brando-esque mannerisms we had seen in all his movies. I wanted to see who was the man behind all these masks, to get to the real man—more than the super actor.
Could you get there in a few takes or was it a more consuming process?
He didn't speak to me for years after the movie. I couldn't understand. I was going to LA, calling him, and he wouldn't answer, and I knew he was sitting by the phone. I was casting 1900, and I called a great friend of his, and she told me that in doing the film he wouldn't realize how much of his truth was delivered for the camera. He felt tricked. When he saw the movie, he realized he went much further than he thought. I'm not talking about sex. But how much of his real humanity I'd been able, let's say in quotes, "to steal from him." I thought, my God, I am 33, he is 50. He is incredibly experienced, more than me. How could I have done that? There were years he disappeared. Years later, I called him. He said, "Oh, why not come to see me?" I drove to Mulholland Drive, and thought I will crash. I will vomit, because the emotion is too strong. I tried to drive so cautiously to his place. We talked for hours and hours. I was forgiven.
When you made 1900, it was rejected by Hollywood. A decade later, you came back with another epic, The Last Emperor, and they couldn't give it enough Oscars.1900 was like an illness, a disease. I invested so much in that film, and my dream was to be able to talk about socialism and farmers where I was born, to the United States. To go with a film that had a definite political position, into the country that was the other part of the Cold War. But I was stopped by Paramount. I fought and fought and at a certain point I give up. I was becoming sick. The president of Paramount was saying, "This film is no good at five hours. It will not be good at four, or at three hours. In this film, simply, there are too many red flags. Period." I wanted that all these red flags had to be accepted by people in the United States. I had a group of American movie critics creating a manifesto defending 1900. When after months and months of discussions I accepted to make a four-hour version, these people who defended me were very upset. So I even betrayed the ones who believed in me, it was terrible. But I had to do a shorter version.
You've been widely quoted as saying "I am no longer interested in making political films." What changed?
[Bertolucci seems to take issue with the source or accuracy of the exact quote, then continues.] It's a bit primitive and brutal the way things are said. The fact is, when I was making political films, politics were one of the most important things in the life of a person in Europe. What I meant is that politics is no more a major and burning subject, a passionate subject because young people are so far from politics. In the same country where young people in the '70s killing—it was terrible, Red Brigades and things like that—politics is simply finished in that way. The investment people had in politics 30 years ago is 100 times bigger than now.
What do you think happened to cause that?
The way the world went, what was called—now it's a ridiculous term—consumerism. Consumerism made individuals all alike. Where are they today? I would have to invent a situation that is not real anymore. In '68, is what I tried to say in The Dreamers, young people were really thinking they could change the world. I don't see many around with this kind of mission, this kind of hope. In my country, you have 20 years of fascism, then you have the war, then you have the Resistance, then you have the liberation from the Nazis. And you have these people who want to create a new country. You can see that in the neo-realistic cinema of Rossellini and De Sica. They took the cameras outside the studios and they started to shoot in the real street. It was the feeling in those years after the war—there was a generation able to create a new Italy. You don't have these kinds of emotions at the moment.
Going back to where the conversation started, it's exciting to hear you've decided to make another movie.
For two years I was really thinking I would never do another film, and accepting that—a bit. Then, maybe the coincidence of the trip to New York, and this retrospective, and to read a book I loved, helped me a lot. Now I am just trying to take it easy, not to be too excited. Too much excitement kills.
[MoMA's Bertolucci retrospective runs through January 12. For more info, click here.]
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GreenCine Daily is primarily written by GC Editor Aaron Hillis with contributions as noted. We encourage comments here and appreciate tips via email: