Monday, May 26, 2008

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)


“I don’t value a film I’ve enjoyed making. If it’s good, it’s damned hard work.” - Sydney Pollack 


Earlier this evening I was working my part-time job at the Varsity theater here in downtown Chapel Hill and overheard a few folks in the lobby talking about OUT OF AFRICA for some reason.

I almost said “Best Picture Winner, 1985” in a silent space between their comments about how much they loved it. I caught myself because well, I wasn’t really a part of their conversation and I didn't want to broadcast my film geekery to total strangers for no real reason.

And maybe because I’d never seen the movie. That's right, I've never seen OUT OF AFRICA. Spouting out trivia, especially a uninvited comment, about a movie I’ve never seen just seemed to be such an uncool move (and still does) so I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.

So, it was a bit of a shock to get home and find out from a fellow blogger that the director of said film Sydney Pollack, who has had his hand in over 40 movies as either director, actor, or producer (or all three), has shuffled off this mortal coil at age 73.

Now, I’ve seen his movies all my life but can't honestly say he’s one of my favorite directors ever. In fact in a post from last year - “Clooney Is The New Redford & 5 Pivotal Sydney Pollack Parts” I wrote that “I like Sydney Pollack as an actor more than I do as a director.”

I still stand by that statement but have enjoyed a few of his films as director including THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR *, TOOTSIE, and ABSENCE OF MALICE. The news of his death hasn't fully spread yet - the IMDb hasn't even reported it yet but then this is a holiday.

I'm sure tomorrow the mainstream media and the film bloggosphere will be filled with Pollack tributes. I’m looking forward to the appraisals from film folks better qualified in terms of Pollack than me and the reactions from his colleagues in the days to come.

Well, I’m going to go put OUT OF AFRICA in my NetFlix queue and maybe add his last film which I had been curious about before - the documentary SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY (2005). Yeah, that sounds like a plan.


*By the way, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), which incidentely is my favorite Pollack film, is on TCM at 1:30 AM tomorrow night. Do yourself a favor and DVR it if you haven't seen it.

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack 

More Later...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Helen Hunt's Directorial Debut & A Few New DVD Reviews

THEN SHE FOUND ME (Dir. Helen Hunt, 2007)



Best known as Paul Reiser’s wisecracking wife on the rom sit-com Mad About You, Helen Hunt has forged a cagey career on the big screen. 

Despite her Best Actress win for AS GOOD AS IT GETS her other roles have been less than stellar - her sideline spouse part in CAST AWAY could’ve been done by just about any actress and her tone and delivery in Woody Allen’s THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION were so off the mark that I would consider it among the worst acting of the last decade. 

So, surprise surprise - I wasn’t looking forward to her first-time out as director but lo and behold, I actually ended up being won over.

Based on the 1990 novel by Elinor Lipman, it’s being marketed as a comic drama but I’d but the emphasis on drama and as such it's definitely a more genuine work than Noam Murro’s recent SMART PEOPLE - another piece about aging, pregnancy, and over educated middle-class white anquish. And it has a cameo by Mr. “Satanic Verses” himself Salman Rushdie as Hunt’s gynecologist!

Hunt casts herself as a withdrawn elementary school teacher and Matthew Broderick as her pensive husband. Shortly after their marriage he tells her he doesn't “want this life” and moves out after she isn't able to change his mind with some spontaneous kitchen floor sex. 

Within 9 hours of the break-up, Colin Firth as a befuddled divorced parent is hitting on her in the parking lot of her school but her biological clock is ticking so loudly that it barely registers. 

Then, if the timing couldn’t be any worse (or better for the sake of the drama) Bette Midler, as a local TV talk show host, shows up out of the blue saying she’s Hunt’s long lost Mother and drops another bombshell: Steve McQueen was her father. 

Hunt is skeptical of this, and rightly so, but charmed by Midler’s schtick - which is undeniably the funnybone of this film. Wanting to pursue a relationship with Firth is confounded by Hunt finding out she is pregnant with Broderick’s baby. 

Broderick, in a part that's more pathetic ELECTION-style than FERRIS BUELLER-ish, wants back into Hunt’s life...maybe. 

Hunt, using long takes and a good sense of lighting, effectively portrays the stressful pulling of her character’s sensibilities in every direction and does it with a nice lack of snarky one-liners and manufactured quirk. T

HEN SHE FOUND ME shows that Hunt has learned a lot from the film makers and actors she's worked with (James L. Brooks, Robert Altman, Nancy Meyers, Jack Nicholson, et al) and, weirdly enough, makes her a film maker to look out for. Never thought I’d be writing that. 

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 2007) 

When Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar last year the award was presented to him by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. 

That wasn’t just a group of honored directors walking off the stage afterwards, that was what was once called New Hollywood.

The surviving members of the maverick auteur movement that saved the movies in the late 60’s and 70’s were still majorly representin.’

Of course we know where Marty’s at with his DeCaprio epics and rock docs, and Spielberg/Lucas, of course, we know what’s going on with them with the #1 movie right now, sure but what of Francis Ford Coppola? 

Well, for his first film proper since 1997’s THE RAINMAKER it appears that he’s the modern movie maker equivalent to Sisyphus from Greek mythology. 

If you don’t know, Sisyphus was a King cursed to have to roll a huge boulder up a steep treacherous hill, only to see it roll all the way back down again and then have to repeat this action til the end of time. 

So Coppola, yet again at square 1 gives us this curious case - a movie about a 70 year old man struck by lightning that makes him young again and gaves him another chance at love and finishing his previous life’s philosophical work. 

Tim Roth, as the old man turned young, has a gravitas and intensity apt for the part but the premise is far from satisfactorily played out. His tortured, and unfortunately tedious, time recovering in his hospital bed as too many headlines tell us the timeframe (World War II) takes away from the story’s momentum. 

Roth meets Alexandra Maria Lara, (a stunning woman even when speaking in tongues) who also plays his lover from his early life, who is overtaken by the same lightning shining (or whatever it is) and they form a bond which of course becomes something more. The fractured-ness of the film gets a bit tiring - right when I was thinking ‘hey, that last shot didn’t make much sense’ Coppola starts showing shots upside down. 

There's a lot that’s confusingly mismatched in the material here - I’m seriously unsure what the point was to a lot of it. I got that Coppola was trying make some sort of a new cinematic language (he says something like that on a “making of” featurette on the DVD) out of choppy yet beautful imagery interspersed with trying narrative introspection but come on! 

There’s very little here that someone who is not a hardcore film buff would care to follow. 

If APOCALYPSE NOW was a failed film experiment that still turned out to be a great movie, this is a failed film experiment that just ends up a puzzling curio. So come on Sisyphus - it’s time to start rolling that boulder again!

DELIRIOUS (Dir. Tom DiCillo, 2006)
 

As I wrote before (Buscemi Now? – Dec. 17th, 2007) Director Tom Dicillo doesn’t think his film, which got good reviews, didn’t get a fair shake at the box office.

Well having finally seen it upon its recent DVD release I can honestly say he’s right. While no masterpiece it is a better than average independent movie that surely deserved better distribution and surely would’ve gained some audience support. 

Michael Pitt plays Toby, a homeless 20something New York kid who by chance comes across a plethora of paparazzi waiting for a chance to photograph K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman) – the pop star flavor of the day. 

After that shoot goes awry, Toby makes an unlikely friend in Les the acerbic (Steve Buscemi) who doesn’t consider himself to be paparazzi but a “licensed professional” and declares: “Rule #1: There are players and there are peons – I am a player.” That becomes a running joke as there are many Rule #1’s throughout the film as in “Rule #1: Never let a hooker slip you the tongue.” Les, for all his cynical arrogance prides himself on getting photos of Goldie Hawn eating lunch and Elvis Costello without his hat. 

Toby as an unpaid assistant joins Les in his celebrity stalking quests and learns the tricks of the tawdry trade driving around in Les's beat-up station wagon, hauling around gear, and trying to crash into celebrity parties. 

At one such event Toby gets swept up into K’Harma’s entourage. K’Harma and Toby hit it off back at her hotel while Les is left in the dust. Toby and Les patch things up the next day but then Les blows it by taking photos at K’Harma’s birthday party (of Elvis Costello!) that he weaseled his way into. 

“Rule #1: Know where you belong” Les says but by this point Toby has tired of his teachings. Gina Gershon plays a sexy saavy sop opera casting director that helps Toby on to the ladder of actor success he longs for while Les (Buscemi in full bug-out mode) toils on the lowest rung. 

The themes of parasitic tabloidism and the trials of being a celebrity in the spotlight are obvious but it's the chemistry between Buscemi and Pitt that makes this work. 

Lohman’s diva issues with stardom are fairly transparent and there are some unneeded artsy interludes (such as the one with flower petals falling from the sky) but DiCillo has made a funny appealing film with a heart that beats through the equal measures of grime and glitter. 

It would make a good double flipside feature with INTERVIEW - Buscemi’s fine film about a serious journalist having to do a piece on a B-movie/TV star (Sienna Miller). In my before mentioned Buscemi Now? post I said that Buscemi pulls off the task of being “extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time”, the same could be said about DELIRIOUS

More later...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL - The Film Babble Blog Review

I just got home from a midnight show of the new Indiana Jones movie and am ready to blog ‘bout it so here goes: 

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2008)



The most anticipated movie since the first of the STAR WARS prequels has had fans worried the world over that their beloved childhood memories may again be in jeopardy. 


That’s right, of all the threats that our whip cracking archaeologist hero has to face, the wrath of the hardcore fanboy force may be the scariest. Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas knew going in that this franchise was in the current CGI era of comic book superheroes a murky cob-webbed temple filled with elaborate traps and to enter and go for the gold one more time may result in getting crushed by a giant boulder of condemnation. 


Well, somehow they amazingly emerge with an entry that is as good an Indiana Jones movie as could be made today. Right off the bat it’s an old school blast set in 1957 with the villains being the KGB (since Nazis would be out of date) led by a dominatrix-like Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone as a now you trust him, now you don’t partner of Indy’s and Shia LeBeouf as a WILD ONE attired motorcycling youth who ropes our Dr. Jones into another globe trotting adventure. 


The first shots of the grizzled grey haired Ford scowling like only Ford as Indy can are a bit of a shock. I mean, he’s 65 but within moments the manner in which he naturally assumes the role of his most iconic character again can be considered one of the best special effects on display here.



It’s fitting that my last post was about self-referential moments in Lucas/Spielberg movies because this is self-referential city! To go into any in any detail at this early point though would be major Spoiler action so don’t worry I won’t go there. 


I will say that all the elements you would expect and want from an Indiana Jones movie are here in abundance including the multitudes of close range shooting by groups of military men with machine guns that don’t hit anybody, legions of bugs, snakes (of course), those dusty skeleton filled caverns with still working mechanizations, bickering with the leading lady (welcome back to the spunky Karen Allen who seems to be really enjoying herself) in moments of extreme danger, and my personal favorite - the amount of times, with great classic sound effect, that Indy can be punched in the face and then be fine less than 10 seconds later. 


Ford is more engaged here than he has been in ages but with projects like HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (2003) that’s not too surprising. It does seem like LaBeouf is being groomed to take over the series (hope that's not a Spoiler) which is not a notion I’m comfortable with but hey, I’m getting ahead myself. 


It’s just so nice that unlike the STAR WARS prequels there is nothing here that embarrasses the series and I predict this will be embraced by the faithful fans for the most part. 


Despite that Indiana Jones has a new catchphrase with “this can’t be good” and even recites Han Solo’s classic “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is very good entertainment with just the right tone and humor. So join the rest of the world in breathing a sigh of relief at the multiplex. 


More later...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

10 Self Referential Or Crossover Moments In The Films Of Lucas and Spielberg


“I don’t know, I'm making this up as a I go.” - Indiana Jones



A few months back I joked on this blog about doing a post about self referential moments in the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and now in anticipation of their  new movie INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (only hours away!) I thought, hey, why not really do it?

It's fun to look at the touches that tied their films together as if all the characters and stories occurred in the same cinematic world. 

So here I go with another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Self Referential Or Crossover Moments In The Films Of George Lucas And Steven Spielberg

1. The number 1138, coming from the Lucas written and directed film THX 1138, appears in all of the STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES movies. Sometimes the ‘THX’ appears too like in my favorite reference (although a ‘1’ is missing) in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. John Milner’s (Paul Le Mat) yellow Deuce Coup’s license plate was a cool visual reference/plug.

According to Wikipedia the number appears in many non-Lucas films and TV shows too - from SNEAKERS to The West Wing. Also funnily enough on the STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH DVD if you go to the Options menu and highlight the THX, then press 11-3-8 “allows you to watch Yoda breakdance”. Well, how’s that for an Easter Egg?

2. E.T.'s in THE PHANTOM MENACE: Yep, a brief shot that wowed hardcore fanboys all over the whole wide web. In the first STAR WARS prequel you can see 3 E.T.’s in the galactic senate scene. The idea that E.T. is from the same universe that the STAR WARS series takes place in is an especially cute connection. And man it gets even cuter from here on out:


3. An Image of C-3PO And R2-D2: In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: This is the one I joked about a few months back but I think it justifies this list. As I wrote before, on the wall in the background of the Egyptian temple that Indiana Jones finds the Ark in you can see C-3PO and R2D2 illustrated in Hieroglyphic form.

It’s funny to see the iconic robots in Ancient Egypt. Hmm, is that telling us how long a “long time ago” really was? And that a galaxy far far away wasn't too far for a visit for the intrepid droids. They always have speculated how aliens helped build the pyramids, you know? Okay, I digress... 

4. Club Obi Wan in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM: This is a blink and miss it, like much of the humour in this oft dissed dark sequel, bit that has another shout out from one galaxy to another. The opening scene takes place in a ritzy Shanghai nightclub with an elaborate soundstage-sized floor that can accomodate what looks like 100 dancing girls in shots that look removed from their supposed audience. Of course the Force is with them so why nit-pick?

5. Yoda in E.T.: Hey wait, if E.T.s exist in the STAR WARS universe, how come Yoda is a Halloween costume in E.T.? Also, Elliot (Henry Thomas) has a bedroom full of clearly visible STAR WARS toys, and on somewhat of a related note, this deleted scene features Harrison Ford, who you only see in over the shoulder shots and hear the voice of, as the Principal at Elliot’s elementary school.

6. An opening scene satire of JAWS in 1941: This may be the most blatant example of a director satirizing his own material. In what is known as his biggest flop, Spielberg recreates the opening of JAWS exactly down to having the same skinny-dipping young woman (Susan Blacklinie). This time however, Blacklinie is violated by the periscope of a surfacing Japanese submarine instead eaten by a shark. At least this time she escapes with her life, if not her dignity, intact.

7. JAWS 19 in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II: I hate including this one but I just can’t help it. Especially because it’s only executive produced by Spielberg and all but the mocking of the ill-fated JAWS series as it gets more and more gimmicky in the near future still makes the cut on my blog. Just got a thing for the trials and tribulations of Marty McFly I guess.


8. The collapsing ferris wheel from 1941 in A.I.: This was mocked by a number of critics and in light of all the Spielbergian self-referential segments over the years I can see why.

Still, I feel it was somewhat un-intentional - I mean would Spielberg really want us to be reminded of one of his film flukes when trying to re-imagine what was originally a Stanley Kubrick project? I think not.

9. Character connections in RADIOLAND MURDERS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI: Lucas has said that Roger Henderson (Brian Benben) and his wife Penny (Mary Stuart Masterson) are the parents of Curt Henderson’s (Richard Dreyfus) from AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I like the notion but have to admit I haven’t seen RADIOLAND MURDERS. Sigh.

10. The Bicycle In WAR OF THE WORLDS evokes E.T.: Lucius Shephard of ElectricStory.com wrote “Spielberg indulges in an in-joke with a bicycle a la E.T. Wikipedia also chimes in with “there are several references to other movies, mostly movies directed or produced by Steven Spielberg.

For example, the bicycle falling from a hook is similar to a scene in E.T. The movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND also uses a low reverberating note, although both movies may have gotten the idea originally from the novel.” Yes, this one is kinda flimsy as that Wikipedia quote implies but Hell! These lists have got to end somewhere.

This geeky as all get out list is in anticipation of INDIANA JONES AND THE LONG ASS TITLE NOBODY WILL USE (yes, I know I've made this lame-asss joke before).

More later...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Call-Out For Film Blogger Support Against A Bitchy Critic

A week ago a certain article was listed on the IMDb Hitlist. If you don't know the Hitlist, it's what the popular movie site the Internet Movie Database calls: “a group of interesting links to external articles that is updated daily.”


It is located on the IMDb homepage - just scroll down to the bottom and you'll see it. This recent added article - “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Movies” (of course, click the title to read the article) by New York Press critic Armond White really pissed me off.


It's a 5 page rant against the film bloggosphere filled with outrageous comments like “the joke inherent in the Internet hordes is that they chip away at the professionalism they envy, all the time diminishing cultural discourse - perhaps as irreversibly as professional critics have already diminished it themselves” and “the love of movies that inspires their gigabytes of hyperbole has been traduced to nonsense language and non-thinking. 


It breeds a new pinhead version of fan-clubism”. I mean, WTF?!!? I love the film blog community and enjoy reading the views and info sharing of a great many blogs - my favorites are listed in my Friends Of Film Babble links column on the right below. 


In Armond White's Wikipedia entry it is written that: “Many mainstream critics accuse White of contradicting the grain of mainstream criticism only to provoke debate.”


Seems about right, even with that [citation needed] notation. So since I hated Mr. White's dissing of the cyberspace critics that I love, despised his smarmy putdowns of Papa bear Roger Ebert (“Despite Ebert’s recent celebration in both Time magazine and The New York Times as ‘a great critic,’ neither encomium could credit him with a single critical idea, notable literary style or cultural contribution” - again, WTF?!!?), and especially resented this comment: “Critical babble doesn’t talk about what matters”, I decided to email some fellow film bloggers and get their takes.


So, in hopes of forming a resistance to White's whacked words here’s a few of the first responses: Julie of Misfortune Cookie Blog said she started out writing a blurb for my blog but did a post of her own with A Rebuttal To Armond White. It's a great piece that I hope you visit. A little Sampling:


Armond, honey. Were you ever a young boy that liked to talk about movies? Perhaps you would go to the theater with some friends and then afterwards discuss what you saw? Or was that banned in the apparent dictatorship you grew up in? No, it wasn’t, because you’re from Michigan, not Maoist China. So, what us bloggers did is take that discussion that I absolutely know you’ve had all your life and transplant it to the interwebs. We have no hidden agenda! We just like to discuss film!


Amen. Another blog I love, :: The Playlist ::, had already commented on White's bitching in this post: Beef Watch: Movie Critic Dick Battling Edition


About the article they accurately access: 


It's typically obtuse, long-winded and self-importantly suggests that no one outside of himself knows what they're talking about (as critics are wont to do, but especially the intolerable White). 


I was ashamed I hadn't seen this post before I wrote them but that's because :: The Playlist :: is updated so often that it can be hard to keep up, but that's exactly why I love their blog too. 


Evan Derrick from the marvelous MovieZeal (which I happily contributed to a month ago) offered his two cents: 


“In all fairness, Mr. White has a few worthwhile points: the idiocy of focusing on box office numbers, how the critical hive-mind gravitates to whatever shiny object Hollywood is dangling in front of it, and how good, smaller movies get left in the dust. ‘You can’t praise the Pirates of the Caribbean movies or the Bourne movies and then expect benumbed thrill-riders to sit still for A Prairie Home Companion, Neil Young: Heart of Gold or Munich.’ 


Well said, Mr. White. Healthy points aside, the article contains a distinct tone of desperation. Good or bad, the internet is here to stay, and Armond has seen the writing on the wall. It's as if his elite country club just opened the doors to the lower income riff raff, and darn-it-all if he's going to tee off behind Billy Bob and eat posh meals at a table next to Betty Lynn. Honestly? I just feel sorry for the guy.” 


Paolo Cabrelli - a wonderful writer for Gentry Style and Film Slash had this to say: “Criticism is an intellectual practice open to everyone, not just those lucky enough to draw a salary from an established publication or those who live in such fear of critical competition that they hasten to kick away the ladder with which they have arrived at their own apparently lofty position. Now that opinion is being funneled the other way, it's only reasonable that some will resist. There's no difference between a blog and an underground magazine.


some are good, some are bad. It's ignorant to dismiss them all.” A fellow film blogger that I talk to fairly regularly on the Aol Instant Messenger deal - TheSophomoreCritic offered these comments: “I think his first point is a humongous generalization but after that he might be saying some things that make sense. Like maybe overdiscussing blockbusters is a tacit support of them.” 


On the same AIM chat he wrote: “I think this guy has like 8 or 9 articles that he merged into one, he is clearly making some generalizations which don't hold true, but you have to read it like a big long textbook and agree with some and disagree with some.” 


Okay, so I'm getting more responses to my email as I write this so I will definitely follow up on this debate. I hope other bloggers will take a stand against Armond White's hateful diatribe and in the process I hope to be turned on to more cool film blogs. 


So please fellow film bloggers - write me and together we can build a bigger better bloggosphere where haters like White will just have to deal with being outdated snobs while we thrive! I can dream can't I? Won't you help me dream? 


More later...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Orson Welles Wannabe Responds

I got some cool comments on my post A Birthday Tribute To Orson Welles With 10 Welles Wannabes (May 5, 2008) but the one that really takes the cake is from one of the Orsons - #10. Jean Guérin to be exact. I had written that I could find very little info about Guérin's 2 performances of Welles in HEAVENLY CREATURES and LA VENGEANCE DE LA FEMME EN NOIR so it is great to get it right from the source. Here’s what he wrote along with a few great photos he sent along as well: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hello, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jean Guérin. I am a film teacher/writer/actor residing in Montreal, Canada. Recently, I was alerted to your blog's posting regarding fake Orsons where I made #10. Thank you for giving me credit. A recently published book states that Peter Jackson used computer technology to bring Orson back to life. Seems I don't exist but am some sort of virtual construct. Coincidentally, this pic was taken on OW's birthday 15 years ago. Creatures was a silent part in a fantasy sequence. Jackson & Walsh recruited me at a film festival in Montreal, where I had volunteered to drive them around. I wasn’t an actor at the time. I got teased a lot in film school about my resemblance to OW but hadn't heard it in a few years until Fran Walsh brought it up. Originally, the plan was to pull OW out of footage of The Third Man but PJ found himself limited in his action choices.Our chance meeting not only saved the scene but enabled Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to play with it and expand on it. The scene involves notorious teenage lesbian schoolgirl murderers Parker and Hulme, played by Kate Winslet and Melanie Linskey going to see The Third Man and pretending Orson is stalking them outside the theatre. They run home where Mel morphs into Orson and seduces Kate (technically making me the first guy to kiss Kate Winslet in a movie). In order to further the illusion, PJ made OW “monochrome” and shot close-ups of me to substitute for those of OW in the Third Man footage. As a film buff, this was totally cool. Especially when I got to shoot “M” (Bernard Lee). The subterfuge worked. At the 1994 Venice film festival , Robert Zemeckis approached PJ to ask him how he managed to do the reverse of what he had done in Forest Gump. It was an ice breaker which led to RZ producing PJ’s next feature, The Frighteners. The best part of working on the film is that no one believes it. On occasion, I do get a student inquiring if it's me and I tend to brush it off by saying “I get that a lot”. I do get a great kick out of mentioning the movie in a context where people think I'm joking and/or won't believe me. “The director of Lord of the Rings flew me to New-Zealand to play Orson Welles in a lesbian love scene with Kate Winslet”. When you phrase it like that- who would? As a lifelong Orson buff, this remains one of the best experiences of my life. The same cannot be said of my other Orson portrayal. La Vengeance De La Femme En Noir is a 1997 Quebec production directed by Roger Cantin. It is a sequel to his popular L'Assassin Jouait Du Trombone. Again, Orson is used as a figment of the character’s imagination. In the film,the main character Marleau (Germain Houde), imagines his conscience (himself) talking to him. In the climax, his conscience abandons him, leaving “Harry Lime” in his place. It was supposed to explain the character's change of heart in the unfilmed sequel. Only a few people got the reference , and even then, it's because the director explained it to them personally. The film is full of visual references to classic film noirs which are wasted in this broad humour farce. The film is in French. Despite doing a really good Orson voice (deviated septum and all), I was re-dubbed over because Welles’ real voice is not familiar to French speaking audiences. The result is awful, with Orson sounding Haitian. The director has since apologized for the choice but the damage is done and the scene is a cringer- especially to Orson buffs. Fortunately, the film played less than a week theatrically and was never released on DVD. It does show up on late-night cable in Quebec from time to time to haunt me. On the practical side, it allowed me to break into the local actor's union. However, it does give me the distinction of having played OW twice and in two languages. I actually played OW a third time on a segment of a local magazine show where I finally got to do the voice. Hope this was informative or at least entertaining. Regards, Jean Guérin ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Wow, that indeed was incredibly informative and extremely entertaining! I emailed Mr. Guérin to thank him for writing and ask for his permission to post it here which he nicely allowed. He also added that in the color photo above he had “prosthetic makeup on this film which made me look more like Karl Malden as the day progressed. The New Zealand make-up artist did way better with stage makeup than all that rubber.” Man, what it takes to recreate Welles! More later...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

New DVD Diatribes For A Dreary Rainy Day

Yep, a few NetFlix envelopes torn open and their contents digested on a cloudy drizzly May day goes somethin' like this: 

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (Dir. Amir Bar-Lev, 2007)


Is Marla Olmstead just a regular 4 year old who likes to paint or is she a artistic genius on the scale of the great masters? Bar-Lev's documentary filmed a few years back follows the Olmsteads - a family from Binghampton, NY whose youngest daughter's abstract canvasses cause a sensation in the art world. 

Her paintings are sold for thousands attracting media attention and then controversy. A 60 Minutes piece claims that Marla's father (Mark Olmstead) actually coached the work out of her or actually produced the paintings himself. This is where the narrative arc becomes “a story about a story” as Elizabeth Cohen (the columnist who first broke the original story of Marla as child prodigy) says. Parents Mark and Laura Olmstead are outraged at the accusation that they are exploiting their child and attempt to prove that Marla is the sole author of her work by filming her with a hidden camera. The plot thickens even more as filmmaker Bar-Lev has growing doubts and voices them, at first alone to his camera in the car driving from the Olmstead home then directly to the parents in an extremely uncomfortable but still compelling scene in their living room. 

The cleverly named MY KID COULD PAINT THAT is one of the best of the current crop of documentaries and one that leaves you guessing about what really went down much like CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS or the more recent THE KING OF KONG. Having been introduced to these folk through these visual essays, whether or not they are balanced portraits, we can follow up through the further internet coverage and make our own conclusions. In Marla's unique case we are shown many of her paintings and much footage of her at work. Her father Mark does seem to have a controlling influence and her work when filmed on her own appears to be different by style and method to the previous examples. 

Mark Olmstead also seems overly defensive and makes some 'digging a hole' type comments like: “I don't want this documentary to be about 60 Minutes although everybody wants to talk about 60 Minutes but I'm not! Because I don't talk about it ever until you guys are around!” 

Still, as Bar-Lev sensitively stresses through-out the film Marla and her family seem like nice people who got caught up in the craziness of modern art marketing and manipulation. It's hard not to have sympathy for their situation but if the attacks on the arts authorship have truth to them it's pretty damning nonetheless. 

Mother Linda at a frustrated moment says “documentary gold” right before tearfully walking off camera - she says it extremely sarcastically but it may be the most truthful remark made in this movie. When Marla comes of age it will be interesting to hear what she says about her parents and painting dominated childhood - a prospect that I'm sure Bar-Lev is looking forward to.

CONSPIRACY (Dir. Adam Marcus, 2008)


I've been working on a book about conspiracy movies for some time so I feel obligated to see every such related movie so it's obvious why this made my NetFlix queue.

A quasi-remake of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, this awful unimaginatively titled film features a chunky Val Kilmer acting as wooden as possible returning from Iraq to seek out a fellow soldier friend from the war. He travels to a town in the South West which is being re-built as a corporate-run old timey tourist trap by an evil millionaire played by the slimily charming Gary Cole. 

Kilmer, suffering from constant over dramatic Iraq flashbacks, finds that his friend is missing and everybody is mum on the subject and of course that Cole wants him out of town. 

One cowboy hatted cliché even says: “ Throw in local hottie Jennifer Esposito, a Keystone cluster of corrupt cops, the most predictable shoot-outs this side of YOUNG GUNS II and the result is craptacular. 

Cole, an under-rated actor (TALLADEGA NIGHTS, OFFICE SPACE, THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE), is the only one who seems to be having fun with his hackneyed character. His smirking scene stealing makes me think that they should have handled this material satirically. 

Kilmer can do comedy too, as his performances in TOP SECRET, THE REAL McCOY and even in his overblown impression of Jim Morrison in THE DOORS (well, I laughed) attest so really I wish they had gone that route. 

Instead all we have is this predictable retread through the leftover plot devices of the before mentioned BAD DAY... mixed with the lowbrow aesthetics of the WALKING TALL series and severely sucky remake. 

As a lover of both good and bad conspiracy themed movies I couldn't even make counting the clichés a fun game with this being just downright dreadful and well deserving of its Direct-To-DVD status.

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH (Dir. Jeff Garlin,  2006)


Garlin's debut as triple threat leading man, writer, and director is somewhat slight but like Garlin himself - it's a lovable schlub of a movie.

Best known as Larry David's manager Jeff Green on Curb Your Enthusiasm Garlin has a long list of credits in comedy and casts lots of longtime buddies from his Second City days and sitcom background in this film. 

Garlin plays a guy not unlike himself - had he never left Chicago and lived with his mother (Mina Kolb - an original Second City Player). He hears about a remake of the classic Ernest Borgnine movie MARTY, a film he's convinced he's perfect for, and pines for an audition. He meets a quirky ice-cream parlour clerk played by comedienne Sarah Silverman and he pines for her too. 

Then there's Bonnie Hunt as a “chubby chaser” school teacher (as Amy Sedaris labels her in a nice cameo) who actually may be a more sensible choice for Garlin.

That's about it for what we've got here plotwise but Garlin makes it a breezy affable affair at an economical 80 minutes with a nice helping of heart. I'm glad that I watched MARTY (Dir. Sydney Lumet, 1956) for the first time not long ago. I think it's the definitive good, not great, movie to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Garlin's I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH references MARTY so often that it posits itself as a companion piece.

It indeed would make a good double feature. If you want to make it a triple feature throw in John Candy in ONLY THE LONELY (1991) - another film about a frustrated fat man that owes something to Ernest Borgnine's turn. I, like many, can relate to Garlin's struggles with his weight, love-life, and crumbling career.

The tone and timing with so many recognizable comedy folk including Dan Castelletta (Homer Simpson!), Tim Kazurinsky (SNL in the 80's), and Richard Kind (Mad About You, Spin City), all hitting their marks is right on the money - and I mean the low budget money. 

Jeff Garlin says on the commentary that he feels he made a good, not great movie. He's right - like the movie he's giving props to (MARTY of course) it is good and while it would never get an Oscar I'm sure it'll gain a lot of fans. Now I'm gonna go check out if I have any cheese...

More later...

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Birthday Tribute To Orson Welles With 10 Welles Wannabes

“I'm not very fond of movies. I don't go to them much.” - Orson Welles



Tomorrow is Orson Welles' birthday (May 6th, 1915). Since he died of a heart attack hunched over his typewriter in Los Angeles in 1985 his legend has grown immensely. The accolade “cinematic genius” as well as sayings like “larger than life” feel like they were coined for him. 

CITIZEN KANE still tops critics' lists, including mine, of the greatest movies ever and the rest of his fascinating filmography (what's available, that is) is both passionately studied by scholars and enjoyed by movie-lovers by the millions. Along with his birthday there are also a few notable anniversaries this year to pay tribute to - the classic thriller TOUCH OF EVIL turned 50 a few weeks back (it was released on April 23rd, 1958), his magnificent MACBETH hits 60 (Oct 1st, 1948), and this Halloween will be the 70th anniversary of the famous War Of The Worlds broadcast (Oct. 31st, 1938) that put Welles's name on the media map.

Since, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I thought it would be fun to look at Orson Welles as played by others. Many films and television shows - both live action and animated, have had actors portray the mighty moviemaker. IMDb even lists a separate page: Orson Welles (Character). Some of course pull off the impression better than others but they are all amusing attempts to capture the offbeat charm of one of the most well known figures of the 20th Century. So let's take a look at the men who would be KANE:

10 Orson Welles Wannabes

1. & 2. Maurice LaMarche & Vincent D'Onofrio - Why am I listing 1 & 2 together? Because LaMarche and D'Onofrio have both played Welles more than once and one time they played him together!


LaMarche, a gifted mimic, has provided his pitch perfect approximation of Welles' voice to The Simpsons, The Critic, and his character of the Brain on the cult favorite cartoon Pinky And The Brain is heavily based on Welles.


D'Onofrio who has a striking resemblence to Welles also played him in the short film FIVE MINUTES, MR. WELLES but in Tim Burton's 1994 tribute to the twisted filmmaker ED WOOD, D'Onofrio appears with LaMarche's voice dubbed in - that's right it took two people to play Orson Welles. 


Tempting to make a fat joke here but I'll let it go. Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) spies Welles sitting at a table in a bar nursing a cocktail, smoking a cigar, and working on pages of a screenplay. Wood introduces himself to Welles and shares his movie production frustrations with Welles who sympathizes offering: “I'm supposed to do a thriller at Universal, but they want Charlton Heston to play a Mexican. It's a good line but highly inaccurate - Heston insisted on Welles directing the project which was TOUCH OF EVIL but this doesn't marr the scene. 


Wood's meeting with Welles is relevatory to the aspiring director - the light of inspiration that glows in his face when Welles tells him: “Ed, visions are worth fighting for, why spend your life making somebody else's dreams? is a nice touching effect. 


Burton pulls off a bit of movie magic - for a brief instance we have Welles back and it's the young robust Welles not the bloated wine swigging caricature that most people think of when his name is dropped. Watch the scene on YouTube.



3. Angus Macfadyen in CRADLE WILL ROCK (1999) Far from as convincing as D'Onofrio & LaMarche, MacFadyen does have plenty of Welles's theatrical flair as he moves like a storm through Tim Robbins' romantised re-creation of the world of the theater in 1930's New York.


Based on the true story of a troubled production for the Federal Theater Project, Welles with the aid of John Houseman (more accurately portrayed by Cary Elwes) he fights to get the play of the title staged. 


Macfadyen does at key moments have the right Wellesian swagger though as Roger Ebert, a huge Welles scholar himself, wrote “Welles comes across as an obnoxious and often drunken genius in a performance by Macfadyen that doesn't look or sound much like the familiar original.” 


Very true and also Macfadyen is too Scottish for the part too. Still though in the context of Robbins' fine film he somehow makes his Welles work.



4. Liev Schreiber in RKO 281. This a bit of stretch but a tasty one. This telefilm made for HBO tells the story of the making and aftermath of CITIZEN KANE. Schreiber is in way over his head for the role and the facts are fumbled with ferociously. Still, the talented Schrieber does a fair impression of Welles speaking voice though only when imitating his soft spoken tones. RKO 281 (named after KANE's studio issued working title) is so littered with annoying inaccuracies and cheesy cliches that Welles expert (and longtime friend) Peter Bogdanovich said that it "was poorly acted by just about everybody" and that It had about as much connection to the Orson Welles I knew as the man in the moon. Ouch! Okay, let's move on...

  5. John Candy on Second City TV (1976-1979) - Of course the obvious reason that Candy was cast as the later day Welles in many SCTV sketches is his ginormous girth. He didn't really look like him facially and his voice doesn't quite sound like him but the material was funny and Candy could definitely bring the battered bombast. Check out this clip of Candy as Welles in a bit based on a tape of Welles recording a British frozen-peas audio advertisement (which you can listen to here). 


6. Eric Purcell in MALICE IN WONDERLAND - I haven't seen this TV movie from 1985 about the gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper played respectively by Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Alexander. Obviously I can't judge Purcell's performance - nor can I find any info about it online but I'm including it here because the film has Tim Robbins as Joseph Cotten! Maybe it's just me but that sounds like pretty juicy casting. Anybody out there seen it?



7. Danny Huston in FADE TO BLACK (2006) - Another I haven't seen but did locate the trailer. Judging from the preview Huston doesn't really seem to have the Welles vibe going. That's only based on 1 minute 46 seconds of footage mind you. From one of only a few reviews that are online of this British production set in Rome, Xan Brooks of the Guardian U.K. writes:


The role of one great director falls to Danny Huston, the son of another, who comes weaving through the action with his theatrical bearing and disreputable air, a cigar between his teeth and his pockets rattling with slimming pills; every inch the faded Hollywood idol.


Sounds like it may be worth a viewing - that is if it were available on NetFlix.

8. Paul Shenar in THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA - I saw this TV movie years ago and I do recall that Shenar did a pretty decent job of mimicing the master. He should also get props for being the first actor on film to play Welles. Dramatising the historic War Of The Worlds broadcast inside and out this sadly isn't available on DVD but I hear that it pops up on TV from time to time. That's good 'cause I'd love to see it again. 

9. Christian McKay in the upcoming ME AND ORSON WELLES - Richard Linklater's next film (set for 2009) like CRADLE WILL ROCK depicts the theatrics both onstage and off of Orson's literally go-for-broke 1930's lifestyle.


McKay has portrayed Welles on stage and the word is that he has got the delusion of grandeur goods. Of McKay's performance in the Broadway production of “Rosebud: The Lives Of Orson Welles” 


The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Christian McKay plays this celluloid colossus to perfection… anticipating the many facets of Welles’ personality that then sparkle through the show… The stories are so fantastical and various that Rosebud would mesmerise someone unacquainted with his work as much as a film buff. The arc of his career, from overachieving wunderkind to an overweight clown who endorsed frozen peas in television commercials, has the simplicity of classical tragedy and makes for compelling theatre.” Since Linklater is one of my favorite current directors and Orson is a ongoing obsession for me I'll be really looking forward to this one. 


10. Jean Guérin in HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994) - It's been a while since I've seen this movie and to be honest I don't remember Guérin as Welles in it. He makes the list because he also played Welles in LA VENGEANCE DE LA FEMME EN NOIR (1997) - another film I haven't seen and can find very little info on. Sigh. 


There you go - 10 Orson Welles impersonators. It should be noted that Linklater's film isn't the only Orson related activity on the horizon. Reportedly Peter Bogdanovich is looking to finish work on one of Welles last films - THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. The excellent site Wellesnet has this insightful article about the project


That's all for now - Happy Birthday Welles wherever you are! 


Such a great if compromised career - from Martians to the Muppets! Hope you're grandly laughing it up at the great moviehouse in the sky. 

More later...