May 2011 posts
Nicholas Roeg’s “Cult Classic” is still fun to watch, but only if you’re in the mood for a wandering indie-style flick that is less about plot and more about landscapes, dreamscapes, sex, betrayal and gin! I remember seeing this film in theaters when it first came out—David Bowie’s first time on the big screen, and he couldn’t be better as the main character, Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien who falls to earth in the opening scene. Carrying a British passport, sporting orange hair and some very good looking suits, and of course looking totally androgynous and alien as Bowie does, Newton is completelycredible when he soon teams up with big time patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (a wonderful Buck Henry) to create his billion dollar empire based on a series of technological innovations brought with him from outer space. His true mission is revealed early—he comes from a planet that is dying for lack of water and he’s arrived on earth to build a spaceship to carry water back—quite a feat, since water is so heavy. Back on his home planet, we see images of his wife and two children, waiting patiently for his return. Meanwhile, here on earth, Newton discovers gin! And a young, naïve New Mexico woman, Mary-Lou (played by Candy Clark who was Roeg’s squeeze at the time), who introduces him to earth-style sex and who falls head over heels in love with him. The other main character is Dr. Nathan Bryce, played by a young Rip Torn, who is the main scientist working with Newton and who eventually betrays him to the government. I won’t say more about the “plot”— watch the movie and try to be patient with it. The film was the third big one for Roeg, preceeded by Walkabout in 1971 and Don’t Look Now in 1973. The BFI (British Film Institute) honored the director, now 82, with a full retrospective of his work this past spring. Good for them. And lucky for us he’s still around.
Grade: A (But really, how can you grade this movie?)
NOTE: Nice interview with Roeg from the Guardian in Britain is here.
ALSO: Not so flattering photo of Rip Torn last December at his sentencing is here!
FINALLY: The movie was filmed almost entirely in New Mexico—here’s a list of the various locations used. Note that White Sands doubled as the dying planet with no water.
ON LOCATION: ST. PETERSBURG (May 2011)
My good friend Fred, a Stanford grad who worked many years for Brown University in the Library, has now lived in St. Petersburg, Russia for nearly 12 years, thanks to a wonderful marriage to a lovely Russian native (also a librarian). When I was with Fred this past month, sitting in the beautiful 5-Star Grand Hotel Europe, he showed me his most recent film purchase! With apologies for the poor picture quality, you can see it’s a kick-ass combo of Alexander Nevsky and The Battleship Potemkin plus one other Eisenstein masterpiece which I confess I don’t recognize. All in Russian, naturally!! Does Fred speak Russian now? No, but he bought the films anyway. He tells me he can buy 20 DVDs for 60 Euros. Not bad. He also said that Black Swan was available in Russia long before the official DVD was released—the only problem: it was dubbed
Glad to be back after a short break. Once again, I sacrifice myself for the fun of you all. What can be said about Timecop? The plot is this: the U.S. Government has created the ability to time travel, and therefore they create a bureau to police this technology and the timeline. At this government division, someone is already using time travel to make themselves rich. The division is headed by Matuzak (Bruce McGill) and his main crime fighter is Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme). They are trying to stop these ”Time Crimes” and save the future. In addition, Walker may be able to change the past and save his true love, Melissa (Mia Sara). The antagonist is McComb (Ron Silver), an evil politician hell bent on winning the Presidency.
Looking at the plot summary, this movie has so many cliches that it is obvious why it is horribly awesome. In addition, JCVD is a master of the art of Horribly Awesome movies (see Hard Target, Universal Soldier, etc.), and we could have chosen any one of his movies. However, this was released at the pinnacle of JCVD’s popularity. It carries the weight of being the apex of JCVD’s career, because it was down hill from this one for him. Within the movie, there are so many aspects that are completely implausible that it makes this one a joy ride/laugh riot. My first favorite thing is JCVD himself. His character’s name is Walker, yet he has a Belgian accent which he uses not to prevent crime but to murder the English language. My second is that at the beginning of the film JCVD has a perfectly normal haircut (boo!), but in the future his mullet takes shape (hooray!). Therefore, murdered wife causing cop to be rouge equals sweet mullet. So we have the accent, we have the hair, so what is missing? That’s right, the implausible fighting ability of a regular cop. The movie’s “Present-Day” section was set in 1994, and apparently either Washington D.C. PD requires all of the police officers to have training in multiple styles of martial arts or they got the best damn cop there is. I side with the latter. So this is what we have so far: a D.C. cop named Walker with a Belgian accent and superior martial arts skills travels through time to stop “Time Crime.” Booyah!!! Blockbuster!!! Read more »
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (2010/IN THEATERS) Werner Herzog’s new 3-D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is not an easy film to write about. Like all of the director’s work, there is much more going on than a simple summary can explain and the tone is so unusual and slippery that you’re really going to need to see it to properly understand it. And you should see this one. Herzog was given very rare access to the Chauvet caves in Southern France, home to the earliest known cave paintings on earth. This artwork is unfathomably old–I thought I misheard Herzog’s delightfully odd pronunciation of “30,000 years” until an archaeologist said it again a little bit later–but still perfectly preserved due to a rock slide that closed the caves off at some point. Now access is restricted to a handful of scientists and art historians who are limited to hour-long visits. Herzog took a skeleton film crew inside the caves and filmed the interiors in 3-D, giving viewers an experience as close as we’re ever going to get to being in the caves ourselves. The cave footage is supplemented by interviews with a variety of researchers, most of whom are amusingly off-center. I particularly enjoyed a German archaeologist dressed in animal hides who plays some “tunes” on a flute made from a bird bone (I think that’s what it was?). Anyone who has dedicated his entire life to recreating the music that may have been played by prehistoric men as they drew on cave walls and hunted cave bears and mammoths is clearly Herzog’s type of dude, and his interviews with these people are as weird as they are informative. There are lots of long lingering shots of the cave walls accompanied by nothing but New Age-sounding music, and I’ll admit to veering dangerously close to falling asleep toward the end of a particularly lengthy viewing of some lovely horses we’d already seen plenty of. But I can see why Herzog wants to force us to sit with the images for as long as possible. It’s hard to fully appreciate how very special these paintings are and how lucky we are to be seeing them in detail until long after the movie is over. Check this one out. It will stick with you.
Grade: A-. Avoid viewing at nap time.
EVERYTHING MUST GO (2010/IN THEATERS) If you liked Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction (2006)–which I definitely did–you’ll really enjoy this small and low-key picture. Farrell plays Nick Halsey, a middle-aged sales manager living in suburban Phoenix, who is definitely having one of those days. To begin with, he loses his job, then comes home to find that his wife has moved out, changed the locks and left all his stuff on the front lawn. She’s also frozen the bank account and all the credit cards. What does Nick do? He buys a 12 pack of PBR and settles into the Lazy Boy on his own front lawn with no intention of leaving. Luckily for Nick, his friend and AA counselor is a cop who gets him a Yard Sale permit that will allow him to continue to live on the lawn for just three more days—after that, truly everything must go. Also lucky for Nick, he meets Kenny, a young kid whose mother is taking care of an elderly woman on the block. Kenny is bored to tears and Nick “hires” him to help get the yard sale going. Played by Christopher Jordan Wallace, Kenny is just what we need for the movie and offers Nick a chance to talk about his life and offer sales tips and instructions. Also great for the movie and Nick is Rebecca Hall who shows up as his new neighbor—just moving in, pregnant and waiting for her husband. She shows Nick real kindness and attention. Ferrell turns in a Bill Murray-worthy performance—he is never over the top and comes across as someone you would really know who is down on his luck, drinks too much, but has plenty to offer. A sweet cameo from Laura Dern as a high school classmate of Nick’s helps him begin to pull it together and the ending is cautiously upbeat. I would sum it up by saying that the film is surprisingly light, with moments of chuckles, but offering a quiet realism and is definitely worth seeing. Check it out!
Grade: A- A bit slow.
BTW: This film actually premiered last September at the Toronto Film Festival to positive reviews, but was just released in the US. It’s the first film for director Dan Rush, who also penned the screenplay from a short story by Raymond Carver entitled “Why Don’t You Dance?”
ALSO: Christopher Jordan Wallace is the son of rapper Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G) and is only 14. He gives a great Movieline interview about acting, life and the film here.
NETWORK (1976/DVD/STREAMING) If you are too young to remember this film, be sure to either rent it or stream it sometime soon. Maybe you know the famous line from one of the film’s main characters, Peter Finch as news anchor Howard Beale—a sort of left-leaning Glen Beck of his day—who tells his audience that he’s “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.” Mad at what? Life, mostly, and also the corporate take-over of network television, network news, etc. Mind you, Beale in this film is not some rational guy—he’s a nut who hears voices in the night telling him what to protest tomorrow (remind you of George W. Bush by chance? –he also heard directly from God, as I recall.) Faye Dunaway plays the ratings obsessed television executive who transforms Beale into a “mad prophet of the airways,” retaining his news show and adding to it a little modern-style reality programming in the form of Sybil the Soothsayer, “Vox Populi” and even a live broadcast of Patty Hearst style radical revolutionaries. Wow…this film is so accurate in its portrayal of our current reality-TV world and what network news looks like today, it is shocking to realize that the film is actually 35 years old. Credit the writing by Paddy Chayefsky (who died in 1981) and the direction from Sidney Lumet (who died just this year). And also the strong cast which included Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty as the embodiment of our corporate present day (“there are no countries, there are only corporations”). Don’t miss it.
BTW: The film received ten Oscar noms in 1977, including Director and Best Picture (it lost to Rocky—ha!). It won four Oscars: Actor (Finch, posthumously—he died in 1977); Actress (Dunaway—her only win, she has two other nominations for Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde); Supporting Actress; and Writing Directly for the Screen (Chayefsky).
Of Note: Also nominated that year, and thus losing to Rocky, were Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men.
Ebertfest Day 4 was an interesting mix of awesome and weird, starting with a mid-morning screening of Jennifer Arnold’s uplifting and, indeed, awesome 2010 doc A Small Act, which tells the story of how poor, young Kenyan Chris Mburu’s life was forever changed by elfin Swedish schoolteacher Hilde Back’s “small act” of kindness, funding his education by paying only $15 a month via an aid program. Now an ambitious, successful, and well-educated Harvard grad, Mburu has started his own Kenyan student aid program, named after his childhood benefactor Back. The film follows his attempts to contact her personally, and the relationship that ensues, in addition to closely detailing his own foundation’s work. It’s the latter that adds a surprising amount of tension and suspense as Arnold focuses on a few likely aid candidate children as they take an aptitude test and wait agonizing days for their scores, and in turn, their futures. Hilde Back’s Q&A appearance received the biggest standing O of the festival. She is adorable and tiny and real firecracker—view the Q&A here.
The second half of Ebert’s unofficial African Social Crisis Double Feature, Life, Above All—a well-intentioned but ultimately somewhat condescending story set around the AIDS crisis in South Africa—did not connect nearly as well with SML. This story of a young girl struggling to care for her mother and younger half-siblings—all in denial that the mother is suffering from AIDS contracted from her drug-addicted second husband—while attempting to attend school, parties, and not fall into prostitution like her orphaned and shunned best friend, is given short shrift by a contrived (somewhat) happy ending (after nearly stoning the family to death when the mother returns to the house to die [after being exiled for months], it takes just a short speech from a neighborhood biddy to turn the crowd into a supportive, teary, choir that sings an uplifting tune to the family over the closing credits), betraying the complexity of the issue and implying that all we need is neighborly love to overcome decades of ignorance. A movie like this can unintentionally diminish the very cause the director claims to support. Meh. SML skipped the Q&A (you can view it here, I guess) and the de rigueur standing O in favor of a second visit to nearby Merry-Ann’s Diner. LIKE.
THE GREATS: We Are Gathered Here In The Name Of The Robert Evans, The Robert Evans, And The Robert Evans
The Kid Stays in the Picture is the story of Robert Evans, or more simply put, it tries to contain Robert Evans. For a behind the scenes player, Robert Evans has led one of the more interesting lives in Hollywood history. It would take far too much time to describe his life events one by one, but here is a quick recap: failed actor turned producer; starred opposite Cagney, Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power, and Errol Flynn; Married Ali McGraw; Lost McGraw to Steve McQueen; out-dealed Sinatra; brought Paramount back from the dead; oversaw the production of The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, True Grit, Love Story, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, and Serpico while head of production at Paramount from 67-74; produced independently Chinatown, Marathon Man, Urban Cowboy, Popeye, The Cotton Club, and The Two Jakes; Married four times; investigated for murder; caught twice with boat loads of cocaine; sold and then payed rent to live in his Beverly Hills mansion; is good friends with Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, and Henry Kissinger; gave Stanley Jaffe and Michael Eisner their first breaks in the biz; made an enemy of Francis Ford Coppola; created Peter Bart‘s career; and had sex with most women over the age of 35 in Hollywood. This man is the Donald Trump of Hollywood, and was well before Trump could start his comb-over.
The film is very good and the book is amazing. The film is an array of pictures from the life of Evans mixed with clips from his and others work he oversaw through out his career, along with Evans narrating it all. The downfall of the movie is that it skips over some of the finite details of Evans’ life that are fascinating. However, for all that the movie lacks, the book has it all and more. Evans is a straight shooter and ego-maniac, which always makes for the best story telling. The book and the film lead with his quote of, “There are three sides to every story: yours…mine…and the truth. No one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.” Much like Trump, Evans has perfected the art of BS, if he says it then it is true somewhere he is sure of it. Read more »
Posted for Justin by Sarah G.
“Squeal like a pig”
If you know this quote, then you know the movie Deliverance. This is a fantastic story of four men from the suburbs of Atlanta, who decide to embark on a journey down the Cahulawassee River in remote Georgia. The river is set to be destroyed because of a dam being built nearby. These men, who are out of their element, decide to take on the river before its destruction. They also decide to take on the people in the tiny rural towns along the river. This is a story of man against nature, nature against man, and man against man. It is one of the most telling stories of how advanced civilization takes us further away from the basic fundamentals of survival.
Based on the novel by James Dickey (who also wrote the screenplay), the story takes us into the minds of Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (John Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty), and Drew (Ronny Cox). These four men are thrown into the thick of moral thought and basic survival. Whether to kill and tell or run and hide is the basic premise of the movie. Without giving too much away, these men make decisions that only men in dire straits could make.
So, enough with the synopsis. Here is why this movie makes you cringe. For starters, you get to see a portly Bobby (Ned Beatty) get sodomized. I don’t know what is worse. Is it the raping of Bobby or is it seeing Bobby in his tiny underpants after a long day of paddling down a river? There is also the scene where Ed (John Voight) is being held at knife point, getting ready to be forced to perform obscene acts upon a toothless man. The cringe factor is diminished, however, because Lewis (Burt Reynolds) saves the day by shooting an arrow through the heart of the man who raped Bobby. There is also the scene where the men find Drew (Ronny Cox) dead, in the river, with a dislocated arm, floating amongst a broken tree. Most cringe inducing, though, is the scene where Lewis (Burt Reynolds) breaks his leg in a canoe. The femur coming out of Lewis’s wet suit and the horrible face he makes when he sees his bone and muscle protruding out of his pants are equally horrifying. Read more »
A surprisingly blustery Champaign, IL, morning started Ebertfest 2011 Day 3 fittingly with the lighter than air 45365, a free-form 2010 doc that takes its name from the zip code of sibling co-directors Bill and Turner Ross’ small Ohio hometown. Eschewing interviews and defined character studies, the first-time directors instead float their cameras voyeuristically from subject to subject, letting the audience glean what they can about the subjects—and in turn, the town—via candid, overheard snippets of conversation. Keep your eyes peeled for the as yet unannounced DVD/BluRay release date—this compelling slice of small-town America is definitely worth a visit…though you wouldn’t want to live there.
Next up was Richard Linklater’s delightfully lighthearted 2009 coming-of-age romp Me & Orson Welles, a mostly fictionalized account of the pre-Citizen Kane titular director’s legendary 1937 modern-dress off Broadway re-staging of “Julius Caesar” as seen through the eyes of a young bit player (played likably here by Zac Efron) who, with no theatrical experience, bluffs his way into a part and under the flamboyant director’s wing. Shining brightest is actor Christian McKay, whose authentic turn as the young Welles feels completely without caricature or artifice–from the voice to the baby-face, McKay is THE definitive Welles. Somebody should use this guy to capture more of Welles’ famously rocky life and career, stat. McKay’s tour-de-force performance alone makes this joyfully crafted comedy worthy of a spot in your Netflix queue, pronto. The laid-back Q&A following the screening touched on how Linklater discovered McKay (the latter was performing in a one man show as a much older and heavier Welles) and how/why the film was shot on location on the Isle of Man (the tiny country’s film bureau’s fiscal incentives, a sweet old theater there fit the bill perfectly). As a fun bonus, Linklater conducted a Welles trivia quiz throughout his Q&A, with special handmade prizes–a few personally redesigned M&OW posters and a few self-burned CDs of a Linklater-approved version of the M&OW soundtrack. Whatta guy. Read more »