Thursday, December 08, 2005

Movies And Books, Movies And Books...

Pony-boy (C. Thomas Howell): “All I did was walk home from the movie.”

Darrel (Patrick Swayze): “Movies and books, movies and books! I wish you could concentrate on something else once in a while”

Sodapop (Rob Lowe): “Try girls and cars. Works for me.”

From Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation of S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel THE OUTSIDERS.

A recent Time magazine article titled Books Vs. Movies (I'd link it but it's premium content - greedy corporate bastards!) again put up the ancient argument - "which is better" in the context of such event movies coming out before this years end like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA as well as the already released HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, SHOPGIRL, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and even WALK THE LINE which was based on two Johnny Cash autobiographies, Man in Black and CASH: The Autobiography.

I've only seen a few of the movies I mentioned above (SHOPGIRL and WALK THE LINE) but lately I have noticed I have a tendency to read or re-read the book before I see the new movie version.

Anticipating CAPOTE a couple of months ago I bought a paperback of Truman Capote's 1966 true crime novel "In Cold Blood" and also watched the 1967 movie version - I guess as a way of doing some homework on the subject or maybe just a geeky habit of wanting to know all the source material available. Sigh. This makes me recall that back in '92 I read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" a few months before Spike Lee's epic cinematic rendition hit the screens. Jeez! I guess I got it bad.

Despite the old cliche "the movie is always better than the book," there are a number of notable exceptions like BEING THERE, THE GODFATHER and FIGHT CLUB. Many people love certain movies never knowing there was a book and vice versa. I, for years, never knew that HAROLD AND MAUDE was originally a novella written by Colin Higgins who adapted it into the screenplay for the hal Ashby film.

A few movies I've seen lately that were based on books:

COLD MOUNTAIN  (Dir. Anthony Minghella, 2003)

Yes, I know just about everyone, especially here in N.C. read the 1997 Charles Frasier novel at the end of the last decade and then saw the movie a couple years ago, but I only just caught up with both. The book was elegantly written, with details that were almost too much to absorb (the food descriptions were crazy!), all of which I enjoyed immensely. The movie not so much. While well cast (Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zelleweger, Philip Seymour Hoffman were all perfect for their roles) was icky, overly glossy, stupidly reducing the love story elements into romance novel fodder. Dammit! They TITANIC-ized it!

(Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/2005)

I read the S.E. Hinton book of this way back in Jr. High School in the early 80's like most people in my demographic I guess and was interested to hear that Coppola had restored footage to the movie to make it closer to the book. It does work a little better though despite its boys-club cast (Swayze, Cruise, Lowe, Estevez, etc) its still the feminine cheesy melodrama it will always be in our hearts. Or at least my demographic's hearts.

THE WARRIORS (Dir. Walter Hill, 1979) 

This is another one that I didn't realize til now was based on a book (by Sol Yurick) until recently. Though it was originally a pulp novel, the new Ultimate Director's Cut has wipes and transitions added to make the film look more like a comic book - characters morph into still frame cartoons contained in black border boxes at the end of sequences and then we are whisked away to another panel. 

The effect doesn't bother me but on this here internet there are many fan-boy complaints about Lucas-like tinkering and some such spoiling of a masterpiece. Yeah, its like someone painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, sure.

More later...

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Now out on DVD:

THE INTERPRETER (Dir. Sydney Pollack)

This came out last summer and failed to make a splash. I watched it on DVD this last week and could see why. Not that it is outright horrible just pretty bad. Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn (once again humorless as Hell) aren’t convincing as their characters, particularly not with Kidman’s accent or always perfect hair. 

Catherine Keener as Penn’s Secret Service partner has very little to do. There are so many lamely plotted sequences and laughable conveniences that any element of suspense or actual sentiment is in vain. Pity too. Pollack has made a number of fine films, a much better example of a political thriller of his was THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). 

Honestly though, Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway looked like just like the big name movie stars they were in that too, but they sure sold it better than Penn and Kidman here. Maybe the only thing worth seeing on the DVD is a bonus feature about Pollack's choice of the widescreen format over full frame: "I'm making a plea for my colleagues and myself who spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to tell you the story in the best possible way visually and then someone else has to come in and cut the edges off of all of that and pan and scan it so you're not seeing what story we tried to tell you." 

Pollack once brought a lawsuit on a Danish TV station for how they pan and scanned one of his films, "mutilated it" he said. To fight to preserve the full visual imagery of one's art is a pretty cool stance - too bad THE INTERPRETER is not. 

Special Features: Audio Commentary by Director Sydney Pollack, alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes: "Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room," "Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen," "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters," and "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations."

More later...

Monday, October 17, 2005

R.I.P. Charles Rocket

I just heard that former Saturday Night Live cast member Charles Rocket commited suicide by slitting his throat sometime in the last week or so.

You may not remember him - nobody I've spoken to today does - because he was in the first cast to replace the original Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players when they departed after the 1979-80 season and those shows are almost never rerun.

Rocket and most of the cast and writers didn't make the whole season.

The shows were so bad - so unfunny and full of cringy moments and horrible attempts at off-color satire - they are now only note-worthy because they introduced little-used supporting player Eddie Murphy to the world.

Rocket was primed to be the heir to Chevy Chase-Bill Murray leading man status but his Weekend Update reports were seldom greeted with laughter and his smarminess was unbearable at times. The fatal blow to not just his SNL career but his career in general came when he said "fuck" on live TV.

It was in a DALLAS-style "who shot J.R." sketch and he pondered in awkward close-up "I'd like to know who the fuck did it." This got him and producer Jean Doumanian fired and pretty much cleaned the deck of what was SNL '80.

Now Rocket had some decent work after that - a part in DANCES WITH WOLVES, a gig as Bruce Willis's brother on the show MOONLIGHTING, and was Geena Davis's no good husband in EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY. Recently he had done mostly voice-work and bit parts on TV shows. I bet most people reading this still can't picture him. Even though he is a mere footnote, hardly a blip on the pop culture radar, I dedicate this film babble post to him. Lame gesture, I know, but it is all I got.

Last week this ancient Disney strip was making the internet rounds: (if the link doesn't work - try to cut and paste it on to your browser) This links to a series of strips from exactly 75 years ago (Oct. 8th, 1930 - Oct. 24th, 1930) depicting a heartbroken Mickey Mouse on the verge of taking his life.

Like many I was shocked that suicide was funny-paper fodder in 1930. Seeing the beloved children's cartoon character struggle through several supposedly comical attempts to off himself is unsettling to say the least.

The same link above has links to some Woody Allen cartoons too (yes there was a strip based on Allen's stand-up material that ran for a short time in the late 70's) - it is weird how it is Mickey not Woody who went through darker existential despair. Isn't it?

Anyway - I'll post about what this blog is supposed to be about - movies - later. Join me, won't you? 

(Dedicated to Charles Rocket 1949-2005)

More later...

Friday, September 30, 2005

Let Them All Talk

Last night my brother and I were watching the new DVD - THE RIGHT SPECTACLE - THE VERY BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO - THE VIDEOS (sorry - no IMDB link yet) and discovered that it has subtitles for Elvis's commentary track and not for the song lyrics in the videos. I thought that was odd at first but it seemed preferable to watch the videos with the subtitles on but Costello's voice commentary track off so the music wasn't obscured. It reminded me of that VH1 show - Pop Up Videos. My brother Dave said it was like what geeks at conferences call the backchannel - people attending a public event with laptops, meet in a chatroom to talk about the presentation/talk or whatever possibly ragging on the speaker/band/whatever. Sometimes, not often, the backchannel chatroom is displayed on big screen for all to see. He concluded by saying that commentaries are kinda like a backchannel, but later after the fact. This got me to thinking about commentaries. That and listening to the delightfully pretentious commentary on the DVD of Igmar's Bergman's 1967 classic PERSONA by Bergman historian Marc Gervais ("oh my goodness, personality disintegration!"). A lot of people never turn on the commentary track - indeed many directors, actors, and other participants can be heard saying "do people really listen to these things?" Well after getting a number of emails from film babble blog readers who said they were offended by my calling listening to commentaries "an extremely geeky process" in my August 28th post I see that many do actually listen to these things and I decided to pay tribute by listing : 10 Great DVD Commentaries This is by no means a 'best commentaries ever' deal. I haven't listened to enough to judge that - I just enjoyed the Hell out of those below. Some great movies have bad commentaries I must say - GOODFELLAS has a track patched together from interview soundbites (to be fair the other track has the real Henry Hill with his actual arresting officer and that's actually pretty cool), THE PLAYER has a verbal tug-of-war between director Robert Altman and writer Michael Tolkin, and Quentin Tarantino can't seem to give commentary to save his life! Plodding through anecdotes unrelated to the action on the screen, Tarantino offers very few insights into RESERVOIR DOGS except to why his other films on DVD are commentary-less. The best commentaries make it feel like you're hanging with the directors, actors, crew members or critics watching the movie while absorbing conversationally juicy back stories. Here's my 10 favorites: 1. CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles 1941) Yes, you should be skeptical of any movie list that begins with this movie but damn it this DVD has good fuckin' commentary! Whatever you may think of Roger Ebert, his spirited narration is surprisingly a lot of fun while being informative as Hell. Ebert offers that "oddly enough because it broke with all the traditions of editing and photography up until that time many audiences found that it looked anything but realistic. They were put off by the deep-focus photography, the use of long takes, the lack of cutting in order to tell the story, and the relying on movement within a scene" and that because of that "you have to be an active viewer when you look at CITIZEN KANE - it challenges you". Director and Welles friend Peter Bogdonovich presents a more scholarly and insiderly take on the film, while not as entertaining as Ebert's, is still worthwhile. 2. THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (Dir. Joel Coen 2001) Just a few Coen Brothers movies have commentaries (BLOOD SIMPLE has Kenneth Loring of Forever Films delivering an odd play-by-play, while director of photography Roger A. Deakins does FARGO) but this track with Joel and Ethan Coen chatting it up with Billy Bob Thornton is absolutely hilarious. Notable because the movie alone is anything but hilarious. Discussing the stoical mannerisms of his barber character Thornton says "I know we're doing a DVD commentary but it's hard not to laugh about Ed Crane. Joel, Ethan, and I have a sort of weird relationship with Ed Crane. He's become this guy to us that just exists in our lives." He goes on to point out the "Ed nod" - Thornton: "Ed would always just accept the most horrible things with a tiny little nod." Joel remarks that the nod is "the biggest outward manifestation of Ed's personality." So as the movie goes on charting the "Ed nod" almost becomes a game - "here comes a classic Ed nod". Also amusing is when over a shot of Thornton sitting listening to Scarlett Johansson playing the piano, he asks "you notice something? Ed has a boner!" They all giggle. A lot of laughter for a dark morbid film noir piece from the Coens - seems oddly appropriate doesn't it? 3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dir. Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, 1975) 2 audio tracks split between the directors (Gilliam, Jones) and the performers /writers (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin) all the currently existing Pythons enhance this comedy classic with wonderfully amusing tales about where jokes originated, the hassles of cheap location shooting, and the contagious laughing at material that amazes them as well as us that it never gets old. Some random quotes - Gilliam: "in England blood is called Kensington gore". (a simple google search confirms that this is indeed theatre slang about stage blood). Palin: "Llamas - another Python favorite like moose, Nixon and fish of any kind". Idle: "Michael Palin clearly had a very bad agent because he gets no close-ups whatsoever in this scene." 4. THE WAR OF THE ROSES (Dir. Danny Devito, 1989) You may scoff at this appearing on this list - but this being one of the first commentaries ever (recorded for an early 90's laser disc release if I'm not mistaken) Devito made the most of the warts-and-all approach for an essential listen. Consider how he starts off : "In 1933 this famous fox logo theme was written by Alfred Newman. In 1990 Alfred's son David Newman re-recorded it for WAR OF THE ROSES enabling it to have the final note of the theme segue into the overture of our film." Very few commentaries begin with that sense of purpose. It also seems appropriate that this Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner dark marital disaster comedy is decorated by occasional Devito self-criticisms : "boy, do I look fat - look at me!" 5. JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) The grand-daddy of all conspiracy films gets a passionate paranoid Stone audio guide that goes through its whole damn exhausting 3 hour + run. Theories on top of the theories in the movie abound : "If for example the hit had taken place in Miami it is quite possible what I'm trying to say that there was an Oswald that could of has a Miami identity in the same way that Oswald had a New Orleans and Dallas identity. They have people who have patsys ready to go." I'll take your word for it Oliver. Also you hear career defining statements like : "I don't care what they say, this is my GODFATHER! As far as I'm concerned NIXON is GODFATHER II for me and this is my GODFATHER I. I feel good about it even if nobody agrees." The often un-remarked upon sentiment in JFK comes out best when Stone recalls that he wrote much of his own life strife with his soon to be ex-wife into the arguments that protagonist Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) and his wife Liz (Sissy Spacek) had over how JFK assassination obsession had come between them. After Liz has stormed off, Jim escorts his kids (Sean Stone, Amy Long) out the front door and onto the front porch swing comforting them by saying that telling the truth can be a scary thing. Stone chimes in : "It's my Norman Rockwell scene, so leave it alone! Everyone has a right to their Norman Rockwell moment." 6. ELECTION (Dir. Alexander Payne, 1999) Payne gives good commentary. This is interesting from start to finish - the comparisons to the original novel, the pointing out of the "obsessive use of garbage cans", and most surprisingly his admitting when talking about Matthew Broderick - "his casting has for a lot of people played with his image, almost his iconography as Ferris Bueller, but not for me because I've never seen the film (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF)." Another great commentary moment comes when Reese Witherspoon is setting up a table in the High School lobby by extending the legs one by one - "Tracy is introduced with straight lines - the chair legs. Careful viewers may want to go back and count how many chair legs." He says chair but it is definitely a table she's setting up and there are 5 separate shots of individual legs being extended - on a 4 leg table. Oh Alexander, you wacky cinematic prankster! 7. The Simpsons (1989-1996 Seasons 1-6) I figured one TV show DVD set ought to make this list and while such worthy shows as The Sopranos, Mr. Show, Six Feet Under, and even Newsradio have fine commentaries - the chaos, the camaraderie, and fly-on-the-wall fun Simpsons commentaries contain blow them all away. Usually populated by series creator Matt Groening along with writers, producers, show-runners, voice-actors, and other relevant parties they come packed with statements like: Jon Vitti: "You guys were very specific that we shouldn't come up with clever original tag-lines for Bart Simpson - they were supposed to be things he had heard from TV and repeated and then when the show got so popular it somehow seemed as if we were claiming these were original sayings. So I'd like to say that at the outset we never thought 'eat my shorts' was an original tag-line." James L. Brooks: "I thought we weren't going to do mea culpas!" A early classic - Bart Gets Hit By A Car - epitomizes how the show's themes have changed drastically from the financial pressured world the Simpsons used to live in as opposed to the pop culture parody social satire status of recent years. Marge blows a huge cash settlement and Homer goes into a dark funk. Confronted by his wife at Moe's Tavern Homer even says that he may not love her anymore. A dramatic moment is finally punctuated by his declaration: "Oh who am I kidding? I love you more than ever!" Mike Reiss (I think) responds "the writers being very offended including John Swartzwelder who wrote the episode saying 'why does he love her more than ever? We're happy to see it, ah - life goes on but why does he love her more than ever?" But the cream of the commentary crop is "Marge Vs. The Monorail" from the 4th season - mainly because it was written by Conan O'Brien who contributes (albeit on satellite from New York while Groening and the other participants are in LA) a consistently funny commentary: Conan: "I am the author of this episode. I created the character of Bart." The stories about the conception of the episode get increasingly more amusing as the show progresses: Conan O'Brien: "Originally when I wrote the episode the guest star was supposed to be George Takei (Sulu) from Star Trek. We contacted George Takei, just certain he would do it 'cause this was after Michael Jackson...I mean everybody was killing themselves to be on the Simpsons. We contacted George Takei and he told us he wouldn't do it because he was on the San Francisco Board of Transportation and he didn't want to make fun of monorails. We were just stunned and I was heatbroken. Then I came into work and Al said 'hey, we just got a phone call and George Takei and he won't do it but Leonard Nimoy will' - I remember thinking that's better!" It sure was, Conan It sure was. 8. AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980) This is a particularly funny commentary because after describing how much of the film was based narratively and shot-wise on the 1957 airport disaster movie ZERO HOUR and making fun of the cheap production values - "you can see tape holding the set together there!" - the directors (the Zucker bros. and Abrahams) run out of things to talk about and even start discussing other movies - "I saw GALAXY QUEST yesterday." Also notably towards the end of the flick they all state that they made a pact to never see AIRPLANE II - THE SEQUEL which was made by others. Wish I had made that decision.* 9. BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Paul Thomas Anderson opens before the movie has properly begun with "Hey roll it - 'cause I'll tell you, you're listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies by watching laser discs with director's commentary. My favorite is John Sturge's BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK." Man, I'll have to check that one out. Interestingly enough after acknowledging the influence of Scorsese over the first scene with the long tracking nightclub shot Anderson declares that Jonathan Demme is his "most profound influence". There's a separate track with Anderson and various actors (Mark Wahlberg, Julliane Moore, John C. Reily, Melora Walters, Don Cheadle) recorded at diferent times - at Anderson's apartment with phones ringing, lighters flicking, and a lot of alcohol being consumed. While I don't usually like commentaries that are hodgepodges of different recordings - this one works because of actors comfortably speaking over their specific scenes relaying that apparently everyone enjoyed their wardrobe fittings as much as the actual shooting and the constant questioning by P.T. Anderson of the cast "was Luis Guzman stoned during filming?" 10. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1984) Just to get it straight there are 2 different DVDs of this movie with notably different commentaries. How notably different? Well I'll tell ya - the CRITERION (1998) version (you know the company that does high-brow deluxe DVD editions of classic cult movies) has a commentary by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as well as a separate track by Rob Reiner with producer Karen Murphy and a few editors. The MGM special edition (2000) has a commentary by Spinal Tap (that is Guest, McKean, and Shearer in character). Since the Criterion one is out of print and copies of it go for $85.00 and over on Amazon we'll just concern ourselves with the MGM version. Approaching the film with the oft-repeated "hatchet-job" accusation on its maker Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) - Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls (c'mon play along) have a lot of axes to grind 16 years later. On their first interview session in the film: Nigel: "you know when he was asking us these questions you you remember we didn't know what he was going to say... Derek: "and he had notes!" Nigel: "yes, he had notes." David: "That's not fair. That should have tipped us off." Derek: "It's cheating! He had an agenda." On David's current stance on his astrologically guided controlling girlfriend Janeane who shows up mid-way in the tour - "a turning point" says Derek: David: When the millenium changed so did she." On Derek being trapped in the stage pod which sabotaged the number "Rock 'N Roll Creation": Derek: "This only happened once - why doesn't he (DiBergi) show any of the other nights?!!?" When band manager Ian Faith and Nigel leave because of tension within the group, horribly mangled gig scheduling, and Janeane's ambitious infiltration David has this to offer about his girlfriend's managerial style when she took over from Ian: David: "Things went more profressionally wrong." In the final segment at one of the last shows on the tour Nigel returns to tell them that "Sex Farm" is a hit in Japan and would they consider regrouping. After some harsh words the band leaves with David and Nigel sharing a silent stare at each other. In the now reflective commentary which also is silent for a moment, St. Hubbins breaks the mood: David: "You had me at hello". * Post Note: The Zucker bros. and Jim Abrahams commentary for their follow-up to AIRPLANE! - the Elvis meets World War II spy thriller satire TOP SECRET! plays like the Onion's "Commentaries Of The Damned" - you know the AV Club's feature about less than worthy films adorned with inappropriate commentaries. For TOP SECRET! the filmmakers/writers complain about the movie never making a profit, how the slow pace ruins the jokes, and most amusingly they forget why they originally thought certain material was funny - a theater marquee for the film's protagonist Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) says beneath his name "with time permitting - Frank Sinatra". "Why did we pick on Sinatra?" one of the Zuckers (I think) wonders out loud. Good question. More later...

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Day In The Company Of A Musical Expeditionary

Although it is officially releasing tomorrow a local record shop had a copy of the new highly anticipated (at least by me) Martin Scorsese documentary DVD - NO DIRECTION HOME * on their shelf this morning. The store was breaking the street date (which is actually illegal) but I wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I purchased it and went home to spend the day with Dylan. A trailer which made the internet rounds a few months back had made my mouth water with snatches of never seen before footage and promises of absorbing insights about one of the most fascinating performers ever when they were most on fire. From the kick-off - beautiful technicolor film of Dylan with his hair glowing in the stage-lights howling "Like A Rolling Stone" with the blazing Band (then called the Hawks) on fire behind him in Newcastle, England on the infamous '66 tour it was more than obvious I was in for a treat. The film is in 2 parts over 2 DVDs with a smattering of extras - roughly 4 hours of amazing stuff! It's airing on PBS next week I think too. It is largely in traditional chronological structure but does cut ahead to the '66 tour footage heavily implying that that is the meat of the matter but also maybe because Scorsese couldn't wait to give us hints of the climax. A recent interview with Bob as well as comments from other key era players (Dave Von Ronk, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Pete Yarrow, etc) forms the narration as the film takes us from Hibbing, Minnesota through Greenwich Village to the controversial electric debut at Newport then lands us onto a hostile British stage where the showdown between artist and fan reached its zenith. For those of you unfamiliar with the story - basically this: a kid who considers himself a "musical expeditionary" achieves fame and fortune as a folk singer but betrays the movement to become a rock 'n roll star. Audiences booed, critics cooed, and music and the times were changed incredibly. Then he got into a motorcycle accident and it was all over. Dylan didn't tour again for 8 years and while he created lasting work the break in momentum appeared to do some notable damage. Okay, that's a simplistic as Hell telling of the tale granted but it is still the basics as I see 'em. NO DIRECTION HOME is an emotional experience and as cheesy as it may sound it really left me feeling like I had been on a visceral journey. Many segments I'm not ashamed to say made me cry - Dylan's performance at the March on Washington in 1963, Baez's portrayal of her relationship with him, and the many many comments about the intensity of the Man's talent like : "God, instead of touching him on the shoulder kicked him in the ass! Really! He can't help what he's doing. He's got the holy spirit about him. You can tell that by looking at him." - Bob Jonhston (producer of "Highway 61 Revisited") What really adds to the entertainment factor is how funny this film is as well - young baby faced Bob blatantly lying about his background ("I was raised in Gallup, New Mexico"), his stealing hundreds of rare record albums from his peers, his continious baiting and press conference put-ons - Reporter: "do you think of yourself as a singer or as a poet?" Dylan: "I think of myself as a song and dance man." With its stunning footage and powerful narrative progression this is without a doubt one of the greatest documentaries made about a performer that I've ever seen. Unlike the Beatles Anthology there are no unnecessary stylistic touches like people's images disappearing from photographs, no flashy polishes - just the footage and comments alone and the flowing approach to the material is intoxicating. This is a documentary that I know I'll come back to again and again for decades. No direction home maybe but fortunately road-maps for the soul like this are available. * The IMDb wrongly states : Plot Outline: This is a four hour documentary on Bob Dylan that ends in 1965. To any casual observer this film ends in mid 1966! Jeez. I may have to make a film babble blog post about the many mistakes on the IMDb like : Steve Martin an extra in Bruce Lee's second movie, Jing Wu Men (1972). He plays a policeman who shoots Bruce at the very end of the film. That's completely bogus. I've seen the film and neither Martin appears nor does the movie end that way. If you have any IMDb mistakes - send 'em on! More later...

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Writer Writes

Right after I decided to make this blog just me talking 'bout movies - I started to get submissions I couldn't deny. This great list comes from Diana DeVeaugh-Geiss :
44 (Because I Like Palindromic Numbers?) Films On/About Writers and Writing
I compiled this list in no particular order and with the aid of "Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide" and as references. It is by no means, of course, a comprehensive list...
1. IL POSTINO (Michael Radford, 1994) -- an Italian postman develops a love for poetry while delivering mail to the famous Chilean poet Pablo Naruda, starring Philippe Noiret.
2. QUILLS (Philip Kaufman, 2000) -- about the imprisonment to an insane asylum of the infamous 18th-century French writer The Marquis de Sade, played by Geoffrey Rush.
3. SYLVIA (Christine Jeffs, 2003) -- profile of poet Sylvia Plath, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and her relationship with fellow poet Ted Hughes.
4. BARTON FINK (Joel Coen, 1991) -- black comedy about a self-important NY playwright, played by John Turturro, who goes to 1940s Hollywood to write a screenplay and discovers it's a living hell.
5. WONDER BOYS (Curtis Hanson, 2000) -- about the bond between a writer/professor and his gifted student, starring Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire; adapted from the Michael Chabon novel.
6. HENRY FOOL (Hal Hartley, 1998) -- about the relationship between a garbageman and the free spirit who encourages him to begin writing poetry.
7. NAKED LUNCH (David Cronenberg, 1991) -- a graphic filming of the William S. Burroughs novel, weaving together elements of the author's life with fictional material.
8. MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE (Alan Rudolph, 1994) -- profile of Dorothy Parker, fabled writer and member of the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Campbell Scott.
9. BELOVED INFIDEL (Henry King, 1959) -- about the romance of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hollywood Columnist Sheilah Graham, starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr.
10. DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (Woody Allen, 1997) -- a writer uses his life as fodder for work, much to the dismay of his family and friends, starring Woody Allen and a large ensemble cast.
11. THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (Scott Kalvert, 1995) -- profile of 1960s poet-musician Jim Carroll, played by Leonardo Dicaprio (notably, in a role originally intended for River Phoenix)
12. BIG BAD LOVE (Arliss Howard, 2001) -- tale of Vietnam vet/struggling writer Leon Barlow (played by director Howard); based on Mississippi author Larry Brown's stories.
13. BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (Julian Schnabel, 2000) -- story of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), starring Javier Bardem.
14. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Woody Allen, 1994) -- story of a 1920s playwright who quickly "sells out" when he's offered a chance to direct his latest work on Broadway with a gangster's moll in the lead role; starring John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palminteri, and an ensemble of others.
15. CELESTE (Percy Adlon, 1981) -- from Celeste's memoirs about her relationship with prolific French writer Marcel Proust.
16. DEAD POETS SOCIETY (Peter Weir, 1989) -- about a charismatic English teacher at a New England prep school for boys who inspires his students to revive a secret, student poets society; starring Robin Williams.
17. TOTAL ECLIPSE (Agnieszka Holland,1995) -- about 19th century French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. 18. HENRY AND JUNE (Philip Jaufman, 1990) -- adaptation of the Anais Nin diaries, named for Henry and June Miller (Incidentally, controversy over this film caused the MPAA to implement what is today's NC-17 rating.)
19. WILDE (Brian Gilbert, 1998) -- profile of writer Oscar Wilde, starring Jude Law.
20. SHADOWLANDS (Richard Attenborough, 1993) -- tale of British writer C.S. Lewis, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
21. ADAPTATION (Spike Jonze, 2002) -- story of a lovelorn screenwriter who turns to his less talented twin brother for help when his efforts to adapt a non-fiction book go nowhere; inspired by a Susan Orlean novel; Nicolas Cage stars as both brothers.
22. MOULIN ROUGE! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) -- tale of a penniless poet's love for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor; nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture.
23. ALEX & EMMA (Rob Reiner, 2003) -- story of a writer who must turn out a novel in thirty days or face the wrath of loan sharks, starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson.
24. DREAMCHILD (Gavin Millar, 1985) -- the woman for whom Lewis Carroll invented "Alice in Wonderland" visits America for the writer's centenary.
25. NORA (Pat Murphy, 2000) -- set in 1904 Dublin, about Nora Barnacle and her relationship with prolific writer James Joyce.
26. BARFLY (Barbet Schroeder, 1987) -- based on the autobiographical writings of Charles Bukowski, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.
27. TOM & VIV (Brian Gilbert, 1994) -- about the relationship between poet T.S. Eliot and his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, starring Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson.
28. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (John Madden, 1998) -- speculation about the love affair that inspired the writing of "Romeo and Juliet"; nominated and awarded numerous Oscars and starring Ralph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow.
29. THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (Dan Ireland, 1996) -- profiles pulp novelist Robert E. Howard and his relationship with aspiring novelist/schoolteacher Novalyne Price, starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Renee Zellweger.
30. GOTHIC (Ken Russell, 1986) -- depicts the night in Italy in 1816 when Mary Shelley and Dr. Polidori became inspired to pen their classic goth novels "Frankenstein" and "The Vampyre", respectively; this was also explored in the earlier film The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935), and later in Haunted Summer (Ivan Passer, 1988.)
31. ABSCENCE OF MALICE (Sydney Pollack, 1981) -- a reporter is duped into writing and running a story that discredits an innocent man, starring Paul Newman and Sally Field.
32. THE HOURS (Stephen Daldry, 2002) -- story of how Virginia Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway" affected three generations of women, all of whom, in one way or another, had to deal with suicide in their lives; based on the novel by Michael Cunningham and starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Ed Harris; nominated for and awarded numerous Oscars.
33. THE ABSENT MINDED POET ( Herbert M. Dawley, 1923) -- a silent, animated short film about, well, an absent minded poet.
34. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (John Carpenter, 1995) -- story of the search for a reclusive horror writer, derived from concepts created by H.P. Lovecraft and starring Sam Neill.
35. LA DOLCE VITA (Federico Fellini, 1960) -- story of a tabloid writer's crisis over the shallowness of his life's work in Rome, starring Marcello Mastroianni.
36. MISERY (Rob Reiner, 1990) -- story of a successful romance novelist who's nursed back to health following a car crash with a lunatic fan, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan; based on the Stephen King novel; later adapted for the stage in London.
(Alan J. Pakula, 1974) -- story of a reporter who investigates the assasination of a senator, starring Warren Beatty.
38. MORVERN CALLAR (Lynne Ramsay, 2002) -- about a supermarket clerk who, following her boyfriend's suicide, passes off his unpublished novel as her own; starring Samantha Morton.
39. ROMAN HOLIDAY (William Wyler, 1953) -- about a princess who flees her palace in search of a "normal life" and has a romance with a writer/reporter, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck (Incidentally, this was Audrey's first break, and for which she received an Oscar.)
40. THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (Henry King, 1952) -- about a renowned writer critically injured on an African safari, starring Gregory Peck and based on the Ernest Hemingway story.
41. THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed, 1949) -- Graham Greene's account of a pulp-writer's manhunt for Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) in post-WWII Vienna.
42. ALMOST FAMOUS (Cameron Crowe, 2000) -- tale of a 15-year-old boy given the chance to write a story for "Rolling Stone Magazine" about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies them for their concert tour.
43. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Frank Capra, 1934) -- about a writer/reporter and runaway heiress, played by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, who fall in love on a bus trip; based on Samuel Hopkins Adams' story "Night Bus". More later...
44. THE PLAYER (Robert Altman, 1992) -- black comedy about a paranoid movie exec who begins receiving threats from a disgruntled screenwriter, starring Tim Robbins; notably, slathered with inside Hollywood jokes and references.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Medium Blizzard In A Moral Universe

I haven’t seen any new movies lately. I’ve re-watched a few flicks between writing and other life crap including, one of my favorites, Alexander Payne’s ABOUT SCHMIDT ‘cause a friend had never seen it.

I was reminded how Scott Tobias really nailed SCHMIDT in his Onion A.V. Club review: “In one of the many simultaneously funny and heartbreaking scenes in Alexander Payne’s wonderful ‘About Schmidt,’ recently retired Omaha insurance salesman Jack Nicholson steals away to a local Dairy Queen and orders a medium Blizzard. That he has to sneak off from his wife (June Squibb) to do it is telling enough; that he treats himself to a medium instead of a large speaks volumes about his character's diminished sense of self-worth.”

“Medium Blizzard” seems to really sum it up. So much so that Tobias brought it up again in his reviews of Payne's Schmidt follow-up SIDEWAYS: “Payne (Election) defines his universe through these sorts of wry behavioral observations; in his last film, ‘About Schmidt,’ Jack Nicholson's order at an Omaha Dairy Queen says more about him than reams of dialogue would have accomplished.” Yep, that medium Blizzard really made an impact on Tobias.

As well it should - the most effective devices in character presentation are the tiny seemingly meaningless day-to-day decisions and off the cuff behavior that speaks volumes as Tobias says. “The Devil is in the details” as the expression goes.

I’m still making my way through the 4th season of Six Feet Under, which is a good example of the little-things-say-so-much deal I was just babblin’ about. One particular intense episode, “That's My Dog” (involving Fisher Funeral-home family member David being abducted by a crackhead con man), which originally aired last summer struck me as both outrageously manipulative and wickedly brilliant.

I know it can be seen as an extremely geeky process, but I watched it a second time with the commentary track by director Alan Poul. Poul addressed viewers’ negative reactions, told me things that were intended as fantasy but I wrongly interpreted as reality, and pointed out an excellent article written by Emily Nussbaum in New York Magazine that anyone with even a passing interest in the show should check out: “Captive Audience” (New York Metro 8/04)

At one point during his insightful and economically worded commentary, Poul also touchingly said: “You put stuff out there in order to get a reaction from the world with the best of intentions and what you get back is often not what you expect or deserve or even consider to be an answer.

There is such a thing as a cry that goes unheard but all that added up does not mean we're not living in a moral universe.”

That immediately brought to mind this Woody Allen quote: “An artist creates his own moral universe” (from Allen’s 1994 comedy BULLETS OVER BROADWAY).

Definitely heady stuff, though on the other hand - in its obnoxious glib quick wham-bam style an episode of Family Guy that aired earlier tonight made a jab at Six Feet Under. In one of their patented cut-away gags an intestinal worm says: “You know, I’m 3 weeks old, my world view spans no further than the walls of this dog's intestines and I still find Six Feet Under pretentious.”

Take that Alan Ball! From an astute New York Magazine appraisal to some TV criticism voiced by a cartoon worm I think I can see the takeaway balance. Anyway, I need to go and get a medium Blizzard. Actually, maybe just a small one. Depends on if I can steal away I guess.

More later...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

BROKEN FLOWERS And More Random Babble

The most recent movie I’ve seen in the theaters was BROKEN FLOWERS, the new Bill Murray flick directed by Jim Jarmusch. It seems to be another entry in the minimalist phase of Murray's career. In earlier work like MEATBALLS, STRIPES, or GHOSTBUSTERS, Murray’s wise cracking persona worked every angle. Now he appears to be so jaded and too tired to even approach any angle.

Murray even has to be cajoled into this slight premise - revisiting past loves because of an unsigned letter saying he may have a 20 year old son- by an over-eager neighbor (Jeffery Wright). As much as I was amused by certain moments (Jessica Lange’s bit as an animal communicator particularly) I thought the movie was just okay. Not especially involving as Murray's character and a lot of the movie seemed underwritten.

Scenes made out of shots, like the one above, of Murray sitting inactive in his house seem artsy for artsiness sake, and the whole project feels like its piggy-backing on Sophia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION, which featured a much more nuanced performance by the same former SNL cast member.

Anyway, apart from plowing through the 4th season of Six Feet Under this last week, I also watched Igmar Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). Because of a recent episode of Ebert and Roeper that told me about Bergman’s last film, SARABAND, updates the story of SCENES’ central characters played by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, I decided that I had to put it in my Netflix queue. 

SCENES was originally broadcast as a 6-part TV series in Sweden in the early ‘70s, but Bergman also edited the episodes together into a theatrical version that was released worldwide. The theatrical version, clocking in at 2 hours and 40-something minutes long, is what I chose to watch. I was struck about how close Woody Allen’s HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1995) was to it. I mean I knew Allen was a Bergman disciple but damn! SCENES’s documentary like set-up, the long involved and tortured conversational break-downs, and the probing close-ups are all used to great effect in HUSBANDS.

Film historian and supposed Bergman scholar Peter Cowie told me in the Criterion Collection edition’s sole special feature that it was best to watch in segments. But I watched it all in one sitting because I wanted to take it all in, then promptly return it so I could get more Six Feet Under discs.

However, I found that there was no way to rush a viewing of this pristine movie and found myself going back to re-watch various segments. I got wrapped up in the emotional turmoil surrounding the relationship of Josephson and Ullman’s Johann and Marriane so much that I decided that Six Feet Under could wait.

Now I feel like I should put the longer TV version in my queue. Damn my completist minded film addiction! Or actually, thank the Heavens for it. Not sure what I'd do with these random hours otherwise. Now with hope, Bergman’s 2003 follow-up SARABAND will come to my area.

More later...